Making Family of Us All
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Mark 3:20-35
“What is family?”
That’s the question Jesus is posing to the world in this passage. It was a question so puzzling that his mother and brother thought he had lost his sanity. It was a question so fundamentally threatening that the authorities were looking for any excuse to take him away and lock him up.
But let’s back up. Today’s gospel brings us straight into the middle of the action without a lot of context. So let me catch you up. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus has been healing willy-nilly. He healed people wherever he went, he healed people on the Sabbath, he healed people no matter who they were, no matter what their affliction.
And after all that healing, and just before the verses we heard today, he appoints for himself a new kind of family: the twelve disciples. A random group of people that included a couple fishermen, a tax collector, and even a revolutionary. Besides John and James, who were brothers, there was nothing holding this group together except their commitment to Jesus.
Jesus was bringing to the surface all of the assumptions on which society operated: who is in, who is out, and all the norms and structures built around who is in and who is out.
And the people in charge did not like it.
This isn’t anything new. You all know that. History is filled with people in power fighting to maintain the status quo of who is in and who is out. The expansion of our country was justified by proclaiming the indigenous people here were out, and white European settlers were in. Quite literally. Our country’s economy was first powered by enslaving people from Africa and their descendents who were clearly out. Then a Civil War was fought about whether those enslaved people could be in—or at least not so brutally out.
In the early 20th century, the battle was whether women would be in or out when it came to voting.
In the decade after I’d come out as queer, the battle was at the ballot box over marriage equality—over whether my love would be in or out.
Now legislators all over the country are fighting to keep our trans siblings out—of bathrooms, healthcare, high school sports.
I could list dozens if not hundreds of ways that just our country has been doing what the authorities in Jesus’ time were doing—and of course it happens all over the world. The United States does not have a monopoly on exclusion and oppression.
So now we come to Jesus’ question: What is family?
Blood is thicker than water, we say.
Family ties. Family values.
Family is the group of people who are supposed to have our backs forever. And that’s a good thing—if it’s also sometimes not true. For some people, the family tie that binds is a tie of safety, joy, unconditional love and support. For others, though, that tie represents the painful lack of those things—the ways family isn’t always family. And of course there’s a huge spectrum running between the closest, healthiest families and the most difficult, most harmful ones.
But there’s always an implication when we hear the word family. A family is an implicit in-group. That’s what it’s supposed to be. In fact, the word family derives from the Latin word “famulus,” which actually means servant. It took a few twists and turns to get to the meaning we have today, but I like thinking about a family as a group of people committed to serving one another.
After all, Jesus said in Matthew, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” It’s how he lived and modeled love.
And then, today in Mark, we hear:
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.”
It might sound to some ears like he’s diminishing the meaning of family, but he’s actually taking the kinship and love and service that family implies and expanding it from a small group of people related by blood to the whole crowd before him. “Here are my mother and my brothers!” he says.
Everything Jesus did served to bring everyone into his family. His healing, his miracles of abundance, his bringing together all sorts of different people, and even his death. His whole ministry was to bring everyone into the in-group.
That was his ministry, and now—as people who follow Jesus—that’s our ministry.
Last week, I had the great joy of visiting our dear Ann Muir this week with our Senior Warden, Deborah Dobrenen. We sat in her room in Oregon City and talked, and then we took communion together.
I think one of the hardest parts of the church closing during the pandemic was not being able to take communion. Because when we take the bread and the wine, it is our visceral reminder that we are part of Jesus’ in-group, that through Christ we are all made family.
Instead, we were isolated for a long time. We were keeping each other safe, but it was hard. I don’t think we still know just how hard it was. I think the ramifications of this time of quarantine, of not seeing each other, not touching each other will unfold in the months to come.
It was already unfolding when we visited Ann. She moved to Oregon City during the pandemic, and now she can’t be with us on Sundays. When I saw her, I felt joy, and I also felt the new distance between us.
But we brought her bread and wine that God blessed through this gathering here last Sunday. We brought her the reminder that she is part of this family at St. Luke’s, which is part of an endless family in Christ.
So today, when we come to the communion rail, let’s remember. Let’s remember that our family is huge and expansive, that we are loved by and belong to each other through Christ, that there is nothing that can keep us apart.