Principle Lessons: Genesis 3:8-15 and Mark 3:20-35
“WHERE ARE YOU?”
Perhaps it’s a familiar scene: worshippers gathering on the steps of the church or parish hall, going in and out of coffee hour, as children make the most of busy parents and a sunny morning. We would scamper through the churchyard and the playground with squeals delight as we organized a game of hide and seek. Someone volunteered to be the seeker while the rest of us would scatter and search out the perfect hiding place. The seeker begins counting, “Twenty… nineteen…eighteen…” One kid would crouch behind the bushes while another rain under the stairs. “Thirteen…twelve…eleven…,” the seeker continued. Time is running out, and the good hiding places have been taken! This always happened to me as I quickly cucked behind the trash bins, knocking them over and giving myself away! “Three…two…one…Ready or not, here I come!” The seeker gleefully ran right to my hiding spot! And, then she went on looking for the others, looking behind bushes, up in trees, and even behind the priest, all the while calling out, “Where are you?”
The optional Old Testament lesson for today is taken from the third chapter of Genesis. You probably know the narrative. The scene unfolds with the backdrop of Eden, the familiar scene of the garden into which the man and the woman have been placed. The serpent (who, by the way, is never actually identified as Satan in scripture) has tricked the man and woman into eating the forbidden fruit. As the narrative picks up today, the man and the woman are engaged in a high-stakes hide and seek game of their own. They hunker down in the garden like children attempting to hide, but God seeks after them. “Where are you?,” God calls out, aware that something of the original plan has gone wrong. At once, the question assumes that the man and the woman are not where they should be!
“Where are you?” is the first question that God asks in the scriptures, and as is the case with every good story, it is asked not just of the characters on the page and in the scene, but of every single one of us.
“WHO ARE MY MOTHER AND MY BROTHERS?”
“Where are you?,” I think, is a question with the same force and intent as the question that Jeus asks in the gospel narrative from this morning: “Who are my mothers and my brothers?”
After a time of teaching, healing, and dispossessing, Jesus has returned home – to a familiar place, to his family, to the place where he was raised and people knew him. A large crowd came together – perhaps out of curiosity, maybe to be healed themselves. Some, though, began to talk about him: “He’s gone out of his mind!” “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” It seems that people feared what they did not understand, and Jesus’ own family tried to restrain him. Jesus would not be restrained! He was sent by God to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, a message of repentance and good news. That wasn’t the role assigned or expected of him by the people with whom he grew up; but, God was doing a new thing in Jesus.
Indeed, God was doing a new thing by expanding an understanding of what it meant to be bound in relationship to God and to one another. When Jesus declared, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” Jesus was challenging the culture around him. Closeness to God was no longer simply about being born into a covenant or belonging to the chosen people. It’s no longer just about the family or the clan or the nation; instead, Jesus extends the family to anyone who does the will of God. In so doing, Jesus broadened the margins, and challenged those who took their relationship with God for granted.
Jesus challenges us today to look beyond our borders and our walls, to see beyond any of the myriad self-imposed lines that we draw: religion, denomination, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and economic status – even the line of faith. God invites us to expand our family today in ways that are just as shocking as it was to Mark’s first-century audience.
In the other optional lesson from the Old Testament, the author describes in first Samuel how the people desired an earthly king to rule them. The very request was a rebellion against God, so Samuel was in an awkward and difficult position. The Israelites want to be “like other nations.” They wanted to be normal and to have what the other nations had, essentially measuring their value by the earthly standards of empire, power, and wealth. They lost focus, forgetting that their value came from the Creator God. How often do we get caught up in the same? We forget that we have value and (equally important) others have value because of the benevolence of the Creator God. God created us and we are good just the way God created us. We have value because of this, and because God loves us beyond measure.
DOING THE WILL OF GOD
This brings us back again to the question, “Who are my mothers and my brothers?” (3:33)
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.’ (3:34-35)
Doing the will of God is, perhaps, easier said than done. It reminds me of the little parable told by Anthony de Mello,
A man traversed land and sea to check out for himself the Master’s extraordinary fame. “What miracles has your Master worked?” he asked a disciple.
“Well, there are miracles and miracles. In your land it is regarded as a miracle if God does someone’s will. In our country it is regarded as a miracle if someone does the will of God.”
But what does it mean to do the will of God? The Markan Jesus does not indicate what in the concrete constitutes doing the will of God. Indeed, despite its importance here in this saying, the concept of “God’s will” does not appear with any frequency in Mark’s gospel. However, in one crucial place Mark offers a key to what doing the will of God involves and why it makes a person into a mother, brother, and sister to Jesus. At Gethsemane (see 14:32-42), immediately prior to those events where the divisions that Jesus causes will come to head in his final rejection by his own people and his abandonment by the disciples, Jesus prays,
Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I will, but what you will.’ (14:36)
Jesus here fulfills the conditions for disciples stated earlier in the gospel. The disciple is one who does God’s will believing that God will bring about the good (see Mark 11:23-24) and make known the kingdom of God (see Mark 10:15). In other words, Jesus does God’s will by loving his disciples to the end, and not abandoning his mission even in the face of death.
Even as Jesus demonstrated by that impassioned prayer, it is often difficult to continue on the path of God’s will. We are constantly being pulled in different directions, tempted to offer our allegiance to the unholy and unrighteous. Each day we are challenged to our allegiance to the kingdom of God: a pull towards seeking security in possessions, the glorification of empire and nation, an urge to self-protection at the expense of others, and fear of losing of power and influence, among others. And these challenges manifest in “-isms” and phobias that distract and lead us away from doing the divine will – from loving God and neighbor completely and fully: materialism, consumerism, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia, to name a few. There is a growing trend to create divisions between “us” and “them,” turning away from the inclusive love of Jesus towards an exclusive, hypocritical legalism. We are tempted to pursue that which does not bring life, peace, justice, and equality.
So we must be careful not to fall for the temptations of power, wealth, and lust that were a constant temptation to Israel and have always tempted humanity. For those who would name themselves Christian – that is, followers of Jesus the Christ – the challenge is to shift the allegiance away from the kingdoms and ideologies of this world unto the kingdom of God. We are invited to hold on to our hope in Christ – for justice, peace, and life – remaining strong against the repercussions that will come, staying faithful and refusing those “values” that don’t produce and demonstrate love. After all, to quote the Most Rev’d. Michael Curry, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
And here’s the good news: As more and more of us shift more and more of our allegiance to the kingdom of God, others will see us and hear us and know us. Moreover, as more and more people shift their allegiance to the kingdom of God the reality of justice, peace, and love will spread. This is already happening, even in small ways, at work with us, in us, and through us. This gives me hope in the promise of a God’’s kingdom, already present but not yet fully realized.
Our God, no matter where we wander or try and hide, relentlessly pursues us, calling out after us, “Where are you?” and inviting us back to Godself. So, to borrow the blessing from St. Clare,
“Live without fear: your Creator has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Go in peace to follow the good road, and may God’s blessing be with you always.”