Proper 5 Year B: Who is my mother, brother, sister?--The New House Jesus is Building
A Sermon Preached at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark
1 Samuel 8: 4-11, 16-20; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3: 20
The Reverend Tyler B. Doherty, Priest-in-Charge
One of the things that happens when we hear the word Satan, is that a part of brain turns off and we unconsciously dismiss the entire scripture story as hopelessly outdated, or a slave to so-called primitive thinking. We brace ourselves for fire and brimstone salted with a little Dante. Visions of a little man with a pencil-thin van dyke, horns, pointy tail and pitch fork dance in our heads. Or we hear Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” character from Saturday Night Live whose response to nearly every question was the predictably slapstick, “I don’t know… could it be… Satan?” So Satan is either irrelevant, the stuff of caricature, or the butt of a joke.
But the character of Satan plays an essential role in the gospels—not as a little horned devil in a red jumpsuit, but as the embodiment of two fundamental aspects of how human beings have survived on the planet—through accusation and casting out. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Easy. It happens all the time. That’s how human culture operates. We accuse, we cast out, and secure a temporary peace on the backs of innocent victims. Satan is the accuser and casting out is what he knows best.
In our parable from Mark, Jesus is not talking about some imaginary little being who runs around wreaking havoc with an oversized salad fork. Rather, Jesus is showing us the violent, scapegoating way in which human beings have always sought peace, and offers us another way to be. In the place of accusation, division, and casting out Jesus enacts a new way of being in the world, a new kind of community.
Jesus wants us to see, and more importantly to be, a different kind of house. The old house that is built on casting out, division, and accusation cannot stand. It inevitably brings destruction upon itself because it depends on expelling someone and being over-against someone. Jesus is proclaiming a new kind of house, the Kingdom of God, which is built not on the old game of casting out, but of letting everyone in—“Let the little children comes to me; do not stop them,” Jesus will tell the disciples a little later when they try to shoo away those without power, privilege, or standing from coming into contact with the healing presence of Jesus.
This new house is built on the stone that the builders have refused. Jesus allows himself to be accused, cast out, executed at the hands of the authorities, in order to reveal the bankruptcy of that whole process and to establish a new house on the foundation of forgiveness, inclusiveness, and love. Ironically enough, it is the scribes who are in the thrall of the Satanic mechanism of accusing and casting out when they label Jesus as “out of his mind” and possessed of Beelzebul. They think they are doing God’s work by accusing an evil one and working to cast out and kill Jesus, but it is revealed that that process of accusing and casting out itself is Satan. Satan is a habitually “human-all-too-human” way of ordering our community rather than an actual entity.
So the new house that Jesus builds with his life is a house with a whole new set of ground rules. It’s a house where everyone, everywhere is welcome without exception. It’s a house where there are no insiders and outsiders, clean and unclean, those on top and those on the bottom. It’s a house where instead of pulling rank and clamoring for status, serving each other in love is the order of the day. It’s a house where our notion of family—of whom we call mother, brother, or sister—is greatly expanded beyond heritage and bloodline to include the whole human family, and all of creation itself.
We get a little glimpse into what this new house with Jesus as its foundation looks like in the second part of our gospel where the crowd let’s Jesus know that his mother, brother, and sister have arrived for their scheduled three o’clock appointment. There’s an access issue at stake here. Who gets to see Jesus? Who gets to touch Jesus? Who gets to eat with Jesus? The answer, of course, is that everyone is given free access to Jesus, and through Jesus in the Holy Spirit to God the Father. Jesus isn’t saying that he won’t see his mother, brothers, and sisters, but that family bloodlines aren’t the determining factor who gets into the house that Jesus is building. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Many of you are familiar with the Canticle of the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi. It’s a beautiful song that expresses what the house that Jesus is building looks like. Francis hymns to Brother Sun and Sister Moon, to Brother Wind and Sister Water, to Brother Fire and Sister and Sister Earth—all of creation is praised as an interconnected and interdependent web of familial relationships. Who are my mother, and sister, and brother? Francis answers by refusing to simply apply these terms to human subjects. He explodes and expands our idea of family to include all of creation. As Denise Levertov writes in her Francis-inspired poem “Brother Ivy” about the ivy growing between road and sidewalk
I am not its steward.
If we are siblings, and I
my brother’s keeper therefore,
the relation is reciprocal. The ivy
meets its obligation by pure
That’s the kind of house Jesus is building in and through us—a house where we are siblings with all of creation, where people are not reduced to the status of objects for traffic or trade, and where creation is not treated as a something to exploit and profit from. Levertov even challenges hierarchical notion of human beings as stewards of creation. The relation is reciprocal with brother ivy. Slowly the radical nature of Jesus’ vision of family comes into focus. It’s a family where everyone is a brother and sister—quarks, Quentins, quinces, and quails. It’s a family without margins, a house without walls, one that’s expanding at 68 kilometers per second per megaparsec and it’s the Church job to keep up, to keep opening, to keep welcoming, to keep receiving.
Today, our confirmands are making a mature, public reaffirmation of their Christian faith and renewing their baptismal promises. In a way, the promises they make as part of the baptismal covenant are all about the new kind of house Jesus is building in and through the gathered people of God. The words of the Baptismal Covenant are like the pillars of the household of God.
There’s the pillar that continues the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and of regular daily prayer. There’s the pillar that turns away from self-centeredness towards serving the other in love. There’s the pillar where we acknowledge that we are going to miss the mark and fall down daily, but that God is with us each step of the way to pull us back up and to guide us once again in learning to walk the path of love. There’s the pillar where we learn to see people not according to their bank account, schooling, gender, sexual orientation, or the color of their skin, but for the image of God in them, too seek and serve Christ in all persons. There’s the pillar where we see Satan the Accuser has fallen like lightning and true justice and peace founded on respecting the dignity of every human being flourishes. This is house Jesus is building. The house where casting out has been cast out and we are reminded of our high calling to be places of welcome for all whom we encounter—that in our interactions with others the other might glimpse something of goodness, love, and mercy of God working in us.
My prayer for us this week is that we sit with Jesus’ question—“Who are my mother and my brothers?” without trying to answer it too quickly. My prayer us is that we let that question call us into question, wake us up, raise our gaze, and widen our vision. My prayer is that the boundless and boundaryless inclusiveness of the household of God might show us where we have contracted into narrowness and fear and renew in us our commitment, always with God’s help, to keep opening the eye of love, and walking after the one we call Lord.