“The Family of Christ” A sermon by The Rev’d Wendy Morecroft

The Third Sunday after Pentecost,

Sunday 10 June 2018 based on Mark 3:20-35


One of my favourite things to show visitors to our Cathedral is the Eleousa icon. It hangs above the votive candle holder at the entrance to our Lady Chapel. It is also known as the “Virgin’s Loving Kindness”.

I was first introduced to icons in 2007 when Andrew and I visited the very mountainous anthill-like Eastern Orthodox monasteries of Meteora in central Greece. I subsequently bought a really helpful little book by Rowan Williams titled “Ponder These Things: Praying with icons of the Virgin”.

Rowan Williams helped me to recognize the invitation to prayer that our icon offers us. Mary holds her baby in one hand and presents him to us with her other hand. Her sad, knowing eyes invite us into their relationship and on a “pilgrimage” with the “strangeness of her son”. Jesus focuses all his loving attention on his mother. Adding another layer to the layers of meaning in this icon, some Russian versions have the text from Song of Songs 2:6 “his left hand is under my chin and with his right hand he embraces me.”

On the understanding that if we want to know what God is like, look at Jesus, Rowan explains:

“This is an image not simply of the Virgin’s ‘Loving Kindness’ but of the love of God in search of us, as unselfconscious and undignified as the clinging child, as undignified as the father in the story of the Prodigal Son running down the road to greet his lost child, an image of the immense freedom of divine love, the freedom to be defenseless and without anxiety.”

But from this beautiful image of familial love, how do we get to the point in today’s Gospel Mark 3:21 where Jesus’ family come to restrain him because people are saying he has a demon?

Let’s backtrack to last Sunday morning when we heard from Mark chapter 2 (verses 23-3.6) that Jesus was upsetting the authorities by healing on the Sabbath and the Herodians subsequently set out to destroy him. Then at Evensong the narrative continued and Jesus was being mobbed others who were seeking healing. Then he called the twelve apostles and went home.

Just when everything seems to be going well, Jesus has what we might call “a really, really bad day at the office”.

In today’s Gospel, such a large crowd went to his house that “he didn’t even have time to eat”. Things must have seemed particularly bad when, as it says in verses 21&22 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.”

Can you imagine how horrified Mary might have been that her son had upset the religious leaders of the day?

Then at the end of today’s Gospel reading, we find Jesus’ mother and brothers on the outside of a gathering, asking after him. His disciples are on the inside and Jesus gives an intriguing reply. He says in verses 33-35: ‘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.’

We can safely ascertain that at this point in time, his family are not his disciples. How do we read this story? Do we read it as Jesus rejecting his family? Or do we read it as an embrace of those who do the will of God?  Do we hear Jesus say to each of us, that we are his mother, his brother or his sister because we do the will of God?

This story fascinates me. We may often say to people who are suffering that God knows their suffering. God also suffers and there is no suffering that God and Jesus have not endured for our sake by the virtue of the cross.

Have we ever stopped to consider that Jesus’ own family thought he was mad? With all our various problems within our own families, have we ever really appreciated that Jesus knows that pain? Do we really cast those cares on him when we pray?

No doubt Jesus forgave his family. After all, he prayed to the Father, in Luke 23:24 as he hung on the cross, that even those who were crucifying him be forgiven “for they know not what they are doing.” On the other hand, as we read at Evensong on Wednesday night, in Mark 6:4 Jesus acknowledges the problem that ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’

This is a good reminder for those of us who have family members and close friends who think WE are mad for believing in Jesus.

Its also an opportunity to reflect on our various family difficulties and disputes. Whilst occurrences of domestic violence must be dealt with according to the laws of our land, we can pray for peace and harmony in all our interactions. We can pray for the right words to say, or the right thing to do, in order that God’s kingdom may come in our homes. Our Lord’s Prayer is perfect for this purpose.

The Good News is that, as those who endeavor to do the will of God, we are members of Jesus’ family and I think that’s pretty cool. The will of God is encompassed in the two great commandments:

Love of God and love of neighbor

And that means forgiving one another.

As we will shortly say in the passing of the peace “We are the body of Christ, His Spirit is with us, Peace be with you, And also with You.”

It’s a good time to make a beeline for anyone you need to forgive.

The passing of the peace is the time that we acknowledge our kinship, we acknowledge the Holy Spirit working amongst us and within us. We reflect on what it means to be truly at peace with one another and to be at peace within. It is shalom – that amazing Hebrew word that means so much more than simply “peace”.

It will be St Barnabas Day tomorrow but at St Barnabas College we celebrated his feast day over a week ago. The words of the Collect really struck me:

Help us by the example of your apostle Barnabas,

A good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,

To be generous in our judgements

And unselfish in our service;

Those words “to be generous in our judgements and unselfish in our service” really tugged at me. What a great reminder of how to be as Christ to one another.

As those who do the will of God, may we remember that we are members of the same family.

May we remember that we are each loved by God as depicted in the Eleousa icon.

In the words of the Gospel hymn that Dean Frank chose for today, may we say to each other: “Brother, sister, let me serve you. Let me be as Christ to you.” Amen.