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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

We Are Family

The Rev. Sara Warfield

Scripture: Mark 3:20-35

Unfortunately, we did not get a recording of this sermon, but the text is below!

In this gospel, we find ourselves at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but he’s already causing a stir. He’s been healing the sick and casting out demons, and word has spread. He’s only just named his 12 disciples, and people are already coming from near and far to see what this guy is all about.

Meanwhile, the scribes were getting suspicious. They were the people who knew the Law, indeed the people who wrote it down. We take it for granted now, but the ability to write in that time was powerful. Not many knew how, but those that did had the power to make permanent on scrolls their interpretation of the Law and how they thought the Law should be used.

Think about those people today who carry a Bible around with them ready to point at a given scripture to justify whatever agendas they had.

But Jesus wasn’t pushing an agenda. He was simply going around and, like we heard last week, restoring a withered hand, and then in the next verses healing diseases and bringing peace to those whose souls were wracked with chaos and despair.

The scribes had the power of the written Law, but Jesus, who was trained in the Law and loved the Law, took it a step further: he put the essence of the Law into action by healing and restoring those who were suffering.

The scribes, along with the Pharisees, get a lot of flack in our gospels, and rightfully so. But do you know who’s just as worried about Jesus’ actions in today’s pericope? Well, it says, “When Jesus’ family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”

Jesus’ family seems to be embarrassed by him. We need to reign him in, they say, because people are talking. He’s not acting “normal.” If he keeps acting this way, what will people think of us?

Lately, I’ve been a little obsessed with the 14th century German mystic and scholar Meister Eckhart. I’ve been reading his Talks of Instruction every morning before my meditation time. His teachings are almost Zen, though still thoroughly Christian. I read this the other day: “One should be, as our Lord said, ‘like people always on the watch, expecting their Lord.’ Expectant people are watchful, always looking for the God they expect, always ready to find God in whatever comes along; however strange it may be, they always think God might be in it.”

However strange it may be, they always think God might be in it. Jesus’ family was not looking expectantly for God when they heard about his sensational ministry. In fact, they were basically saying, “stop acting like a weirdo, you’re making us look bad!” I do believe, though, that concern for Jesus was their intention. Because there is safety in not being strange, safety in acting “normal,” safety in not sticking out from the crowd.

I think that’s usually at the heart of parents’ concerns when their child goes to school all gothed out in black: black clothes, black fingernails, black lipstick, dyed black hair. Or when their teenage daughter cuts off all her hair and starts wrapping her breasts so her chest is flatter and asks to be called Chris instead of Christina. Or when their son is on the front line of protests every night.

Just act normal so you’ll be safe! they’re thinking.

But the thing is, Jesus’ ministry wasn’t a ministry of staying safe, staying comfortable, not sticking out. If it was, imagine all the people then and throughout the centuries who wouldn’t have been healed, who wouldn’t have found hope in their despair.

Jesus’ ministry was about healing and restoring people to the fullness of who they are. He never purposely put himself in harm’s way, but he refused to sacrifice his values, he refused to suppress the fullness of who he was, for the sake of safety, for the sake of comfort, his or others’.

Those kids I mentioned before are doing the same thing. They’re learning about the fullness of who they are and what they believe, and they’re willing to stick out, to be strange, to risk ridicule and sometimes even harm to do so. Their exploration might shift and evolve, but the process is one of growing into the fullness of how God created them.

It makes me wonder if our original sin is expecting people to be the same as we are, making up a “norm” and then persecuting anyone who falls outside that imaginary norm. It’s what happened to Jesus.

I came out in 1999 when I was in college. I went to school in Connecticut, a pretty progressive place, but even there I was careful about where I would hold my girlfriend’s hand in public. Once on campus, someone threw a half eaten apple at us from a dorm window. Another time, during New Haven Pride, I was walking down the street with a group of pretty conspicuously gay friends, and a truck drove by and sprayed us with paintballs. It was all a little unsettling, but I know it could have been a lot worse.

Matthew Shepard, the man who in 1998 was beaten for being gay, tied to a fence on a cold, snowy night, and left there to die, was from my hometown. He was two years older than me and went to the rival high school across town.

In that time, it was common for the LGBTQ+ community to refer to one another as family. So if someone said, “oh yeah, my cousin is family,” they didn’t mean literally, they meant, “oh yeah, they’re gay, too.” If I saw a person on the street with, uh, particular features, I’d nudge my girlfriend and say, “there’s some family.” Admittedly, it was mostly based in stereotypes, and a lot of those stereotypes have faded since.

A lot has changed in those 25 years, but the one thing I miss is referring to complete strangers as family. Now that I’m thinking about it, it was a way of identifying people who lived in the same precarious state. We never knew how close to danger we were, but we knew it was always around somewhere. Identifying fellow queer folks as family was a way of saying, I see you bravely expressing the fullness of God in you, and I’ve got your back if anything happens.

It reminds me of something we heard today:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus said. 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.”

Jesus isn’t diminishing what family means but lifting all who do the will of God to the level of family.

It takes me back to that Meister Eckhart quote: “Expectant people are watchful, always looking for the God they expect, always ready to find God in whatever comes along; however strange it may be, they always think God might be in it.”

Maybe that’s what family means: looking for God in whoever comes along, however strange they may be. And we’re all strange somehow to someone.

Maybe Jesus is inviting us all to adopt that long-lost habit of the queer community and broadening it, nodding at anyone who seems strange to us, who sticks out from the “norm,” and saying, “there’s some family.”


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