The Places We Will Go–Together

September 17th, 2017

The Places We Will Go—Together
Mark 3:31-35
September 17, 2017

As the earliest Gospel written, there are at least three interesting things about the Gospel of Mark. First, Jesus heals more than he teaches and when he heals someone, he tells them to tell no one. What this suggests is that Jesus was known as a great healer. Marks seems to have wanted to affirm that but to say, “Look again, though…there is something more to this man!” This is known as the “Messianic Secret.”

The second really interesting aspect of Mark’s Gospel is it’s completely unsatisfying ending. The risen Jesus never appears (at least until someone wrote a second ending!) What kind of an Easter is that? This would suggest that in Mark’s day, the emphasis of the very earliest Christians was not on resurrection. (Knowing what we know about those earliest days, the emphasis may have simply been on evading the authorities and staying alive!) This is the reason why Mark’s account of Easter is known as, “The Version that No One Ever Preaches!)

The third fascinating “wrinkle” in Mark’s Gospel is that there are all sorts of disturbing moments around family and community ties. In our world, where we have so much emphasis on freedom and where so many people move so often, where community and even family can sometimes seem disposable or at least secondary to whatever my needs might be, we have a hard time imagining Jesus’ world. People didn’t move. Families didn’t live hundreds of miles away from one another. People stayed put. They took care of their families. Very few things changed.

Today, we think of Jesus as “family friendly.” In his own day, Jesus was viewed as the leader of an assault on the family and on community. He challenged the way things had always worked. We saw this last week. He shows up at the sea and calls four fishermen to follow him. Today, we see this as the epitome of faith. Back then, the families and the community that they left behind would have been horrified. Two of them left their father in the boat. The village depended on all four of them for food. People weren’t supposed to walk away from their responsibilities. Jesus and these men were bad sons! They were a threat to the community!

In our text for this morning, Jesus is traveling the countryside. Some folks say to Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” Jesus doesn’t stand up and run to them. He doesn’t invite them in and introduce them to everyone. Instead, he asks a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then, he says this: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Now, in that ancient world, this would have been a totally foreign concept. Family was a blood tie! You may have been born lucky and entered a rich or powerful or loving family. Or, you may have gotten the “short end of the stick” and been born into violence or dysfunction or poverty. Either way, your family was your family. Jesus is challenging this. Family isn’t blood. Family is what you do and who you follow. I can’t imagine that Jesus’ family or the family of anyone else who followed him was all that pleased…

Interestingly, though, this may explain why so many of the people who did follow him were the poor and the outcasts and the sick. These would have been the people whose families would have disowned them. These would have been the people whom no one cared about—the lonely and the anxious and the afraid. When one of the primary things that Jesus of Nazareth has to say is, “Join the family! Come and belong! Don’t be my slave. Be my brother or my sister, instead!” that is a powerful message to those who are alone. Jesus invites them to belong, to be included, to join the family.

Most of us live in a very different world. Family is much looser. We talk on the phone or email or check in occasionally in person. Our primary world is not defined by living under the same roof with several generations of relatives. We don’t spend our whole lives doing the same thing in the same place. If anything, there is a loneliness or a longing that runs through many people’s lives for a different kind of closeness as families and as communities. (I think that this explains at least some of the appeal of social media. We get to feel like we are maintaining ties across distances, although the “gussying up” that most people do of what they present “on-line” seems to often increase the sense of loneliness and being left out.)

In our age, one of the most powerful things that the church has to offer (which is totally in line with the original spirit of what Jesus taught) is the chance to be a part of the family. In a lonely world, one of the things the church should offer is the chance to belong. Of course, we have to resist the temptation to only include those who are like us or those whom we like right away (A family can be diverse!) We have to resist the temptation to require that people think exactly what we think before they are granted admission. (A family can disagree!) We have to resist the temptation to think that we have to choose to do the same things to be included. (A family is stronger if its members have different strengths and interests!) What makes us a family is that we are all children of the same God. We each reflect different aspects of God’s presence.

Historically, the church has been defined by people adhering to the same list of beliefs or ideas. In contrast, Jesus talks about people who “do the will of God.” It’s not what you say. It is what you do. It is how you choose to live. And remember, Jesus never cast that faithful living in a “goody two shoes” light. Rather, he talked about forgiving over and over again, about loving even your enemies, about going last rather than first, about being self-sacrificing. These are really concrete acts that we choose to do in a day. Faith is all about who you choose to be and how you choose to be that person. It’s about deliberately and intentionally doing what you can do to love God and love your neighbor and love yourself. It’s not what we think. It’s what we do.

Not long ago, I was talking with someone about living in Lake Bluff and they said something really fascinating. They said that this is a place where it is easy to meet people but where it is hard to get to know them. Everyone is so busy. Everyone is nice but everyone feels a little unavailable. It’s not that we don’t want to spend time together or get to know folks better. It’s more like we don’t get around to it. We definitely don’t have the strong extended families and life-long, close knit communities of the ancients. However, we have freedom that they could never have imagined. The problem with that freedom, though, is that we have to actually make the choices that are ours to make that build family and strengthen community. We have to freely and intentionally commit to doing certain things. And the truth is…well…it’s tempting to hedge our bets and keep our options open instead.

I think our church is a family. (I talk about that all the time!) I see children who find “grandparents” to adopt here. I find older folks who find “children” and “grandchildren” with whom they can spend time. I see folks who never would have known each other who end up being like “brothers” and “sisters.” Usually these relationships deepen not because people sit down and come to agreement about what they believe. Instead, the relationships grow because people spend time with one another: in coffee hour, in Sunday School, in a meeting, in Bible Study, at the Church Ladies table or on a Work Trip. We do something together. We risk getting to know each other. We grow closer.

For me, as a pastor, this truth plays out over and over again because more chances to grow close come my way. When worship is done, I get to shake everyones’ hands and check in. People stop by and close the door and tell me what’s happening in their lives. I’m pretty much at any event that’s going on, in some form or fashion. When the amazing joys happen (a baptism or a wedding or some other wonderful life event) I get to be at the center of those moments. Most powerfully, when tragedy comes (a divorce, losing a job, a death) I get to be at the center of those moments, too. I’m telling you, with the advantage that I am given—the honor and privilege of being a part of your lives—I can tell you that you are amazing people-gifted, resilient, fierce, compassionate, dedicated children of God. To get to know you is to come to love you. It’s been that way for a long time for me.

I want you to have that chance with these people and this community, too! Some of you have found that chance in choir or volunteering for PADS. Next week, you will see the slides and hear about the experiences on this year’s work trip. Perhaps as our most extreme example of commitment, those intensive 6 days that we spend together—sweating and laughing and eating and sleeping and talking—generate a kind of closeness that we miss the other 51 weeks. There is a shared purpose. Everyone has “skin in the game.” There is the real possibility that we’ve “bitten off more than we can chew.” Then, we get it done. Then, we feel such a sense of accomplishment—like we’ve made a profound difference in someone’s life but we have also changed our own. We did something based on what we believe and we did it…together!

So, as you look at the list of opportunities for involvement this year, I want you to ask yourself, “What is calling to me?” By design, none of these options should be overwhelming. They are all time limited: a class that meets once a month, a service opportunity that is once a month, a retreat that is only a few hours. And yet, I think if you choose, intentionally and deliberately and willingly, to try one of these new things, you will meet some new people. They will come to matter to you and you will come to matter to them in a whole new way. This place will feel more like home. And these people will become even more of your church family.

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