When I was nine years old I went through a strange phase. Every night I would come to the dinner table with something special on my head. For several nights I wore a tall white chef’s hat. For almost a week I wore a large bath towel draped over my head, hanging long and heavy down my back. I had always wished for long hair so this was my pretend hair and I loved sweeping that towel over my shoulder, just like Cher did on TV.
Many years later my mom asked me if I remembered that time. She told me that she had been pretty concerned about my sanity and seriously considered taking me to a doctor to see if I was all right. I had no idea that she thought I was crazy. My poor mom!
She would have understood Mary in today’s gospel. Jesus hadn’t been the easiest kid to raise either. We only know of one incident in Jesus’ youth: when he was twelve years old, there was that exasperating experience in Jerusalem: everyone was terrified, thinking he had gotten lost in that big city. Joseph and Mary finally find him in the Temple hanging out with the rabbis and he sasses his parents with this question: “Why were you worried? Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house? How did that make Joseph feel?!
Finally he is old enough to go out on his own. He has been trained as a carpenter, he was a brilliant scholar of the Torah. Does he go and get a good job as a rabbi, settle down and marry a nice girl? That probably would have made his mother happy. Oh no. He seeks out his wild cousin John who is attracting large crowds down by the river where he wears animal skins and eats locusts and honey. John is thrilled to see Jesus and baptizes him into his fringe movement.
His family watches Jesus making a big splash, attracting a whole lot of attention. He drives out demons from poor haunted souls, he cures many people and even though he begs everyone to keep it secret, his popularity grows rapidly. When he cures a paralyzed man by forgiving his sins, he is accused of blasphemy by some local scribes. Where does he think he gets the authority to forgive sins? Now he really throws caution to the wind: he begins eating with sinners and tax collectors, he doesn’t fast when he should, he picks corn on the holy day, the Sabbath and then, the last straw: he cures a man, in the temple, ON THE SABBATH! He has gone too far; broken too many rules! This is just too much for the Pharisees who decide they must destroy him.
His family is well aware of all of the fuss he is causing and they are right to be afraid for his safety. The craziness around him is so great he cannot even eat. This would be the last straw for any good Jewish mama. Mary shows up and tries to take charge. She pleads with her boy to back off a bit, to understand that he seems crazy to others.
Jesus ignores her and takes issue with his attackers. They are saying that he is inhabited by Beelzebul (which translates literally as “Lord of the Flies”, or Satan). Their logic makes no sense. He is casting out demons with a demon. ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?‘, Jesus asks. Jesus explains that his power comes from the Holy Spirit, from God above. When his accusers say his power comes from Satan they are blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Jesus accuses them of an unforgivable sin because they have called the Holy Spirit Satan. I’m sure this went over well with his attackers!
Meanwhile, his family grows more anxious. They wait outside and beg for him to come out, come home, eat. When the crowd says, ‘your family is outside asking for you,’ Jesus shoos them away. “What family? What mother and brothers?” He looks at those who sit around him and declares: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God are my brother and sister and mother.”
Well. This is not a sermon for mother’s day! Jesus has been pushing the boundaries of family. He encourages his disciples to leave their families, their jobs, their lives to follow him. Remember when he tells a follower not to bother burying his father: ‘let the dead bury the dead.’? He is literally redefining family here. He is no longer bound by ties of birth and blood; he is bound by love of God. Nothing, nothing else matters.
I like this Jesus. He is like a bull in a china shop - bashing about doing the work of God and challenging the rules of his culture. He is living on the edges of society, perhaps because that is where he finds God. He is showing us an uncommon way to pursue God, stretching and reaching beyond the norm, beyond the comfortable.
This Jesus I am describing is not a peaceful, long haired guy holding a baby lamb. This is the guy who slams over the money changer’s tables in the temple. Jesus didn’t come to sweetly whisper that we are just fine the way we are. This is the complex, three dimensional man who comes to change the way we do things. He comes to wake us up!
We are a true ‘church family’ here at St. Marks. I think our lesson today tells us to remember that maybe our ‘family’ mustn’t be small and close and comfortable. The family of Jesus is broad and open and inclusive of the outsider.
How are we doing with that here at St. Marks? Do we do church in a way that feels easy and comfortable to a newcomer? We need to look hard at how we do everything and see what changes we can make to open ourselves to outsiders.
Here is a joke: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to actually change the bulb, and nine to say how much they liked the old one.
It is hard to change. We are full of history and tradition and we are comfortable with our church. But, this Jesus we love charges us to open up, challenge the habits of our comfy church. We are joined today by Janet Campbell. She is an expert on liturgy and is going to help us look at how we do things. What can we do to make our church more accessible, more open and welcoming to outsiders? Now there is a question that Jesus would like. Let us be fearless in our willingness to try everything we can to act a little crazy like Jesus. Let’s see what we can do to make St. Marks the most welcoming church around!