Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
...and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
The True Kindred of Jesus Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
Families That We Value: Mark 3:20-35
All week long, or at least as long as I have been thinking about what to preach this week, I've been thinking of this story that I don't fully remember. I've tried looking it up and I've tried asking people if they've heard it, and so far nobody has heard this story, or at least, what I can remember of it. But, even though I don't remember the whole story, I think I remember enough to share it with you. There was once a family who lived in California. There was a mother, a father, and a son. There may have been more kids, but most of the story happens between this one son and his mother. This young man, like many young men, had something important to tell his parents. He told them he was gay. Now, for those of you who haven't had to do this or haven't had someone in your family have to do this, coming out can be a very scary thing. Not every family is happy to hear such a revelation. Not only can these conversations be uncomfortable, they can be downright dangerous, especially if you are at a point in your life where you depend on your parents for shelter and food. As of 2013, about 40% of homeless teens identify as LGBTQ. Many of them are homeless because they were kicked out or had to leave for their own safety after coming out to their families. This young man came out in the late 1980's or early 1990's. It was even more difficult then.
Things did not go well between this young man and his family. He left his town and moved to San Francisco. Many young people did this. San Francisco was a safe haven. When their own families rejected them, they could build new families among their friends in the city. However, even as San Francisco existed as a safe harbor and place to re-construct a family, something dangerous was happening in the city. Beginning in the early 1980's, people started dying. At first, physicians thought it might be some kind of cancer. Eventually, they realized that it was a particularly virulent virus. The virus itself didn't seem to kill you. But, it destroyed your immune system and left you exposed to all kinds of other illnesses that would. Early efforts to research the cause of, and treatments for, the disease were stymied by the fact that the people mostly likely to get sick, sexually active gay men and IV drug users, were not exactly considered to be worthy patients. More than a few people seemed to think that they brought this upon themselves. Others went so far as to say that this virus, HIV, was their punishment from God for behaving in such sinful ways. Meanwhile, while healthy people debated how much money it was really worth to spend on the people who had contracted HIV, people continued to die. The young man I told you about, the one who had come out to his family and had taken refuge in San Francisco, was one of them.
His mother received a call one day. The person on the other end said, "You're son has died. I thought you should know." I must say, I don't remember this part well. I don't think she ever saw her son alive again. I don't think she visited him. I don't even think she knew he was sick. I think she just received a call that he was gone. A story similar to this happened all over the country, anywhere where families had been broken up, and unable to reconcile even in the face of disease and death. What a life this was... to be facing death and at the same time feeling so disconnected from your family of origin that you don't even call them to tell them that you are sick.
Eventually the mother, who, if memory serves me, had been sober for many years, ended up relapsing into drug abuse. She left her family and left her town. She ended up in San Francisco, too. This city, for as much as it could be as safe haven, was also a place where you could get lost in whatever fed your addiction. And, she got lost. She ended up contracting HIV. She struggled to get sober and find a safe place to live. She ended up in a set of apartments where many people in a similar position lived. It was affordable. I think it was somehow connected to a clinic or treatment community. And, it was full of people who had a sense of what you were going through. It was mostly safe and mostly clean. It was a place that she could try to pull together the pieces of her life.
Soon after she moved in, she met a guy who lived down the hall. He had been there a while and could show her the ropes. He'd also been diagnosed as HIV+ for a while. He could help her navigate these waters, too. They became friends and took care of one another. He eventually developed full-blown AIDS and began that painful decline into the opportunistic infections that would eventually take his life. The woman, who had lost the opportunity to care for her son in his last days, would support her friend in his. One day, she was in his apartment. I don't remember if she was helping pack up things after he died or if she had just run in to pick up something for him while he was at the hospital. She found a box of photos and began to look through them. Imagine her surprise when she saw a face she recognized. In her friend's photos, she saw her son. No. I don't mean metaphorically, like she saw some features that reminded her of her boy. I mean she actually saw her son's face. In some of the pictures, he looked healthy and happy. In others, she could see that he had begun to decline. And, by his side was her friend from down the hall. As her son grew sicker, her friend, who had first been his friend, took care of him. It was this friend who was by his side in the hospital in his last days. And, if memory serves me, it was this friend who called her and said, "Your son has died. I thought you should know."
I'd like to tell you another story about a different family that seemed to be in conflict. A son had left home. A lot happened while he was away. His reputation grew, and not always in very good ways. His family heard some scary things about him. They heard stories about death and illness. They heard wild tales of spirits and demons. They heard about holes broken through roofs and fights with community leaders and about a whole host of new friends, none of whom seemed to have a job or anything productive to do with their days other than walking around making people angry and trying to figure out riddles. They heard all kinds of strange stories and they were worried about the son and brother. When they heard he had come back home, they went to find him because they had been told that he was literally beside himself and needed someone to take control of him before he hurt himself. Some people even said that his demons had gotten the better of him and he needed to be stopped.
His family came to get him, but he was surrounded by all the new people that he had been hanging out with. One of the newbies said to the son, "Hey, your mom and brothers and sisters, are outside asking for you." And, how did he welcome his concerned family? He said this, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" To add insult to injury, he looked around at these people that he barely knew and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!" I can't even imagine what it would have been like to hear him say that. They had traveled all this way and they just wanted to protect him. He didn't even want to talk to them. They were from a community where blood-ties mattered... where your family was everything. If you left them, your were rejected everything that their society was based on. And, he was denying his blood in favor of strangers he barely knew. He finished with these words, "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." And, then he moved on to a new place and began to teach a new crowd along the sea. Some of his family may have followed him, but it's not clear. They are only explicitly mentioned one more time in the book of Mark. His mother may have witnessed his death and may have gone to tend to his body. But, it might not have been her. It could have been another woman named Mary. She may not have seen her son ever again. Who knows. Maybe one day she simply got a call from his friend saying, "You son has died. I just thought you should know."
I know that people complain that the current calls for expanded adoption rights for LGBT families and marriage equality are "re-defining" millennia old institutions. I hate to break it to them but Jesus redefined family long before Tasha and I did. He developed a system of relationship that relied not simply on what family you were born into, but on how you respond to the spirit moving in your life. Jesus teaches us that family is more than blood. Family is built through doing the will of God. Did you know that at this point in the Gospel of Mark, nearly all of the miracles that Jesus performed that demonstrate that he is one doing the will of God are healings. The first three chapters of Mark are full of sick people seeing his help and compassion. What that means for me is that I'm pretty sure the will of God looks a lot more like the neighbor who tends to his dying friend than it looks like the act of estrangement that led that young man to San Francisco in the first place. I'm pretty sure that young man's mom would agree. She finally learned how to build her family a little bigger through doing the will of God. I hope that we can, too.
Works that Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon
I wish that I could remember where I heard the first story I shared in this sermon. I heard it many years ago on a radio program or in an audio book. I've searched for it so that I could recognize the original author and the family. If you have heard this story and know to whom I should give credit, please email me so that I can properly cite this source.
James Boyce's Commentary on Mark 3:20-35- https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2468
Bonnie Bowman Thurston, Preaching Mark (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2002).
Dale B. Martin, Sex and The Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).
Karoline Lewis, "Family Matters," https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3639
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.