Thursday, June 11, 2015

Who is my Mother? .... Personal Demons .... Who told you that?

There is a lot going on in this Gospel reading from Mark.  We have a crowd of people. Jesus and his disciples are there. The scribes who oppose Jesus are there throwing out words like Beelzebul, Satan, and demons.  There are parables which are usually fun, but it seems a little less so today. 

We also find the words blaspheme, forgiveness, eternal sin, and the will of God.

Jesus’ family even make an appearance which brings in the concept of what does family really mean when you are living your life in Jesus Christ?

There’s lots of stuff… I have a friend back in Oklahoma who is a preacher in a very different Christian denomination than the Episcopal Church. I’m sure he is having a lot of fun today with all the Satan stuff and eternal sin.  He is a good friend, a good man, and I love him; but he can sure preach a heck of a sermon using fear.  It works for him, but it’s not my theology, nor is it my perception and understanding of God working in my life.

Today we get to hear about the only time Jesus’ mother makes an appearance in the Gospel of Mark.  Later in the Gospel, when Jesus returns to his hometown and preaches there, the townsfolk won’t listen to him because he is the carpenter, son of Mary.  She is not actually there, but it is an important passage because without these townspeople in the Gospel of Mark, we would never even know her name… It is the only time it is used in this Gospel. Now, when Jesus is crucified there are a couple of Mary’s present, but in the Gospel of Mark none of them are identified as Jesus’ mother.

I find this fascinating and this is why it is important to let each Gospel stand on its own.  Each of them has a story to tell, different stories with different perceptions of God working in people’s lives, all of which hold within its pages the living Word and Divine truth.

In the verses just prior to today’s text, Jesus had been preaching and healing.  The number of those who are being drawn to him was getting so large that Jesus knew he needed help.  He and his disciples got into a boat and departed.

When they arrived at their destination, Jesus knew the crowd was following them and only getting larger; so he took his disciples up a mountain and he appointed twelve of them to be Apostles in order for them to be sent out to proclaim the message and to have authority to cast out demons.

After this, Jesus went home and we pick up the text in today’s reading.

No one could heal in God’s name, or so they thought.  Because of this, the only way they could conceive of Jesus being able to heal would be if he was possessed by a demon, or even more so that he was Beelzebul, the prince of the demons and he was casting out demons in the name of Satan.  This was disturbing to Jesus’ family, because to be seen as having a demon meant you were insane.  Jesus was being perceived as having lost his mind.

What I find fascinating in this story is how Jesus’ family reacts to this news.  You have to remember that within this society, if someone was unclean you distanced yourself from them.  And even more so if you were family.  Families disowned the unclean to save their own honor as to not make the whole family unclean, which would lead to them all being outcast.

Jesus’ family went to get him.  Of course they would; they knew who Jesus really was….right?  On the contrary, there is nothing in this Gospel that indicates they knew anything.  There is no birth story in Mark.  There are no angels that come down telling Mary or Joseph about a miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit.  At this point in the Gospel of Mark, all we really know is that Jesus heard a voice from heaven when he was baptized, he spent some alone time in the desert, and after John the Baptist was arrested he started a ministry of preaching and healing.  At this point we don’t even know Jesus has a background in carpentry.

In Matthew and Luke, Mary is a strong courageous young woman who listens to God and obeys God and becomes the epitome of love and faithfulness, but in the Gospel of Mark, this same love and faithfulness to the Divine comes differently.  Here, Mary becomes Blessed because she risks it all; she’s willing to risk everything that creates security in her life.  In the Gospel of Mark, Mary becomes the Blessed Mother of Jesus because she goes out in a very public way to bring her insane, unclean son, back home. She was willing to sacrifice herself for the love of her child.

And I believe it was because of the love of his mother that Jesus publically denies his mother and his family, to protect them from those in power.  This was also a holy moment where Jesus redefines family and begins opening the world’s eyes to what it means to be one of God’s children, and sets our minds on a lifelong quest of seeking and living into the will of God.

Most of you know my story of when at the age of sixteen I was deemed an outcast of the church by my priest because of teenage pregnancy, followed by my teenage marriage, which ended in my teenage divorce.  The powers that be pulled from me my ability to be a part of the church, a part of the Body of Christ, a part of God’s family.  This pregnancy sent my mother on a roller coaster ride that led me to begin thinking that I was an outcast in my own household too.

My Mom’s reactions, and even more so my perceptions of those actions, led me to feel as if I was guilty of such a sin against my family that I was going to be eternally separated from her.

This was not to be the case, though I know that through my misguided understanding and fear, I was only minutes from making my false belief a permanent reality.  I was about to walk away for good and become another teenage statistic.

But God has a way of getting through to us if we are open to it.  I know I have preached about this before, and though I don’t really like using the same stories more than once, I have to tell you again because of the importance of the outcome of repentance and reconciliation.

There we were, face to face, anger raging from both of us and I yelled at my mother, “You don’t love me anymore!”

And in that moment God’s unconditional love for me and for my mother changed everything.  She said to me, “Who told you that?  Who told you that I don’t love you anymore?”  She said, “You are my son and I will always love you no matter what!”

There it was…Grace.

And in that instant, as I wrestled with the Holy Spirit and as I breathed that breath upon me, I ran into the kitchen, grabbed a sharpie and a sticky note and I wrote, “Mom will love me no matter what!”

You see, I needed something tangible, something sacramental.  I needed an outward and visible sign of that never ending, love you no matter what, relationship.

I walked back into where she was and I said, “Sign it!” and she did... as did I.

Just as Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” my Mom asked me the same.  I turned over the sticky note and sealed the deal with my signature and the words, “I will love Mom no matter what!”

Out of all the things going on in today’s Gospel, what my spirit connects with the most is how Mary’s blessedness does not come from being an obedient young girl.  She becomes the Blessed Mary through her vulnerability and the courage it took to publically risk it all for the love of her child; a child that at the time, she thought was unbalanced, unstable, and out of his mind.

It is through this mother’s love that opens our hearts and our minds that each of us unconditionally belongs in the household of God.  It is through this love that shows us what it takes to respond through Grace and follow Jesus.  And it is this same love and vulnerability that gives each of us the courage to stumble into the vast mystery of the will of God.

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