Simple Lessons

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | June 6, 2021

Mark 3:20-35

The writer of Mark’s Gospel told the story of Jesus with a sense of urgency. Folks in that early Christian community believed the end of the world was close at hand. Jesus was supposed to come back at any moment. They had to get the word out. There was not a lot of room in the story for certain details –

Nothing about his birth;

No “Sermon on the Mount;”

Not much about his resurrection.

The idea was – “Jesus is coming soon – look busy!”

In Mark, Jesus is on the move from the beginning to the end. Things happen fast. Up to today’s reading in the story (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus has been baptized; he’s become so popular that he’s surrounded by crowds; people are breaking into places just to get close to him; the authorities are against him; and now his family is getting involved.

Today’s story is one that many preachers, me included, avoid because there are too many difficult plot lines. We tend to go for the easier themes of the other lectionary texts for the day. But there are actually some important lessons to consider. I’ve narrowed it down to four.

Lesson #1: You Can’t Fix People

Have you ever tried to fix someone? It’s hard to do.  

Has anyone ever tried to fix you? You don’t like it when that happens.

Word got back to the mother and brothers of Jesus that he was out of control. The religious folks said he must be demon possessed. That’s the only logical explanation. Going around like some religious fanatic, surrounded by misguided followers and crowds making a scene. He used to be a clever and intelligent young man; quiet and polite.

His mother and brothers would get a hold of him – the would seize him by force and they would take him back home and talk some sense into him.

Have you ever tried “talking some sense” into somebody? How did that turn out?

There have been times when people have tried to enlist me in their sense talking efforts. I being a minister can surely add some authority or gravitas to the task at hand. Surely, they will listen to me. It’s what I call an exercise in futility. What you gain from trying to fix people is only a stronger sense of its futility.

Oh sure, we can encourage someone to do the right thing. We can cajole, admonish and even rebuke. But if we think we are going to get someone to change into something more suitable to us, we are mistaken.

People can change, but you can’t change people. You can’t even fix the fixers.

That doesn’t mean that folks have a free pass to run amok. You don’t have to tolerate bad behavior and you can name it for what it is. You can figure out how to deal with people without expecting them to change. You draw your own boundaries.

Lesson #2: Team Spirit is a Good Thing

Another idea from this story has to do with relationships. When you’re in relationship with someone – be it a marriage, partnership, family, friendship or working relationship – any significant relationship – it’s important to be on the same team.

When people said that Jesus was demon possessed, he said, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” This is where that famous quote comes from: “A house divided cannot stand.”

If people are not on the same team – if they are not working together – if they are working against each other – whatever the relationship is, it will fail.

Relationships come and go for a variety of reasons. It’s painful when relationships end badly; when loyalty is compromised; when trust is broken; when we are left feeling the deep pain of betrayal.

At a church I once served, during a session meeting one of the elders observed that I had become much more guarded of late in my interactions with people. He knew that the church and I had been through some tough times, but wasn’t that now all water under the bridge? Couldn’t I just get over it and let it go? His concern was sincere, but I struggled to explain how I was feeling.

I remembered a story from my childhood, and I told it to session.

We would often visit with family friends who had a Cocker Spaniel dog. I had been told not to pet the dog because she was temperamental. She could get snappy. So, I never bothered the dog and she never bothered me and we got along just fine.

One day when we were visiting and getting ready to leave the little dog came over to me all friendly and wagging her tail and I thought, “Oh, she wants to be friends now,” and I reached down and patted her on the head.

The dog bit me.

It was a superficial wound, but there was blood and I had to get bandaged up before we got in the car. I wasn’t mad at the dog. The dog’s owner was mad at the dog and I felt bad for it when she smacked it. The dog was simply acting in character. Even though it appeared friendly and was wagging its tail, it still had a tendency to be nippy.

I got along fine with the dog after that; but I never made the mistake again of petting it. I said to the elder and folks on session, “This church is like that little Cocker Spaniel. We can get along just fine in whatever time I have remaining here, but I will never pet you again.”

Sometimes lessons are indeed learned. Successful relationships require being on the same team, which is the same thing as loyalty and trust.

Lesson #3: How to Avoid Committing the “Unforgivable Sin”

Jesus said if you “blaspheme” against the Holy Spirit you can never be forgiven. We’re always told that God can forgive any sin, but here is Jesus saying otherwise. Just what sort of terrible deed might this unforgiveable sin be?

Blasphemy means swearing against God, saying things about God that aren’t true or simply being profane. Does that mean when you get to the pearly gates St. Peter will say, “Um, sorry, but we can’t let you in. You may not remember it but there was that one time you hit your thumb with a hammer and said some bad words. Its blasphemy – no can do.”

Not likely. It has more to do with the idea that forgiveness is a two-way street. In order for God to forgive us, our hearts must be open to forgiveness. It means –

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Not some accidental mistake, but rather rejecting what God makes possible – for others and for ourselves. Refusing to participate in the life God gives – for us and others. Refusing forgiveness.

Lesson #4: We Belong to Jesus

As the story is told when his mother and brothers came to take him home, they stood outside the house where he was. They had to call to him because they couldn’t get through the crowd that surrounded him.

When he was told that they were looking for him, Jesus asked a rhetorical question. “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

He knew the literal answer to that question. But he gave the figurative answer by looking at the people around him and saying, “Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my brother and my sister.”

When my children were young and we would go somewhere I would sometimes remind them, “Now remember, I’m not with you; you’re with me.”

Being in relationship with Jesus is not a matter of birth; it is not a matter of power, privilege, status or wealth. It simply depends on what you do. Whoever does the will of God.

So really, anyone could be a close relative of Jesus –

Could be that woman down the street who helps her neighbors.

Could be that guy who is kind and considerate.

Could be that one who works for peace and justice.

Could be that homeless guy on the street who shares with a pal a half a sandwich fished out of the dumpster.

Could be the one who cares, the one who loves, and the one who forgives.

Could be you or me.

Could be anyone is the relative Jesus.

The crowd symbolizes that the people who belong to Jesus are one big inclusive community.

He didn’t say anything about it being based on the particulars of what you believe. It’s all based on what you do – The will of God. It’s not up to you or me to determine what the will of God is. Our challenge is to discover it. God knows and God will decide whether or not we get it right. But if we want to get it right, chances are if we start with forgiveness everything else will fall into place.

So, simple lessons for today –

You can’t fix people.

It’s good to be on the same team.

Practice forgiveness.

We belong to Jesus.  


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