10th June 2024

Who is my family?

9th June 2024

Who is my family?

A sermon by Ross Meikle.

May I speak in the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel reading reminded me of a question that I was asked a lot in my earliest weeks. A natural question for people to ask, but a question that has a secret question hidden underneath it.

The question?

“And what about your family?”

Naively and honestly I replied, “Oh, Mum and Dad live in Skipton, and I have a brother who lives with his girlfriend in Leeds.”

They are my family, and that was what was obvious for me to respond. But I realised after a few weeks that what I was *really* being asked was “And are you married?” and “Do you have children?”

The answers are no.

Perhaps if I’d been braver or more aware of today’s Gospel, I might have precociously responded: “Well, my family are whoever does the will of God!”

Questions about family are deceptively painful. I advise you, friends, to use them with care and caution.

As a single person, I ask of myself: “am I enough as I am?”

As a gay man, I ask of myself: “am I approved of?”

And I have been in enough conversations where I have seen people desperately avoid talking about their private family situation because of the stigma of social shame of being, say, divorced, childless, or trapped in an abusive family situation.

That’s perhaps why I find Jesus’ response in today’s Gospel so powerful and liberating for me.

It subverts notions of ‘family expectations’ and transcends the definition to something more beautiful.

Who is my family?

Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, mother.

Today’s is a shocking Gospel. And Mark intends it to be.

Jesus has been preaching some shocking ideas, especially around the sanctity of the Sabbath. Last week we heard of how Jesus healed on the Sabbath and his disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath. This breaks Torah – Hebrew Law – one of the Ten Commandments.

Furthermore, in cultural memory, would have been the massacre of the Hasidim – a community who refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath and thus were slaughtered.

(and at a time in the world where there are wars in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and conversations about National Service, D-Day memorials… there are serious ethical conversations and reflections to have about what our relationship to religious ethics and laws are…)

Jesus is shocking and subverting the status quo by suggesting that a surface level reading of Scripture is not as simple as assumed.

So: Jesus’ family are brought in to seize him and silence him. They think that Jesus has gone mad.

And Jesus continues to shock when he publicly disowns his mother.

We know this doesn’t last – that Mary is there at the foot of the Cross – but this is the first time we’re introduced to Mary in Mark’s Gospel. And she is disowned and unnamed. It is shocking!

And it seems to undermine another of the Ten Commandments: honour your mother and father.

But also: it perfectly puts into practice what he has just been teaching on division.

The crowd make a distinction between Jesus’ blood relatives outside, and everyone else.

And Jesus refuses that division.

He rejects his blood family, and widens the definition to include anyone who does the will of God.

We may find ourselves thinking “Blood is thicker than water” – but this is a reversal of the original proverb – a reversal that can keep us in toxic and abusive families and situations.

Because the true proverb before its scandalous abbreviation is: The blood of the Covenant is stronger than the water of the womb.”

It points us away from literal tribalism and the pressure to conform to what our family expects of us… and points us towards the promise of love revealed to us in Christ and re-revealed in the Eucharist.

And in that promise, the holy community of Christ who know God’s grace (the forgiveness of sins) and who seek to live life according to the love we have experienced and are taught by Jesus.

Of course, the Church is divided by and within denominations through doctrinal disagreements and discriminating differences.

But ‘twas ever thus, and we are in the midst of a whole new reformation and era change in both the world and the church.

But through all our change and divisions, there is the constancy and the completeness of God in Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And that’s where our next big shocking moment: sitting at the heart of the Gospel, Jesus introduces us to the horror of an Unforgiveable Sin. Something that apparently goes against the goodness of God who in the Psalms has put out sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

The sin?

Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.

I have found it a scary verse. It makes me wonder if I have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. Am I doomed for all time? What does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit?

Well, first off: do not be afraid.

Secondly, I think the answer is found in the same place we keep falling back to in this sermon: the commandments of the Torah.

Namely this one, known as the Greatest of the Commandments: ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’ – from Deuteronomy 6 and quoted in Matthew’s Gospel.

It’s a commandment that recognises thankfulness, humility, and joy for God who creates us, who redeems us, and who sustains us. God’s Holy Spirit – also translatable in both Hebrew and Green as God’s Holy Breath – is active in each. The breath of God hovers over the waters of creation, gives life and sustains Adam and every human. The breath of God which carries us like the wind into liberated lives.

It’s a commandment we fail at constantly – just as we fail to love our neighbour as ourselves.

But that failure alone cannot be blasphemy.

It is the very grace of God that forgives our failures to achieve such perfect love.

It is the journey of faith that acknowledges the ups and downs of faith and doubt.

But to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to actively reject the invitation of God’s grace that it offers.

If God’s grace is a check, we can go all our life not accepting it – perhaps only cashing it in on our death bed. But it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to rip up that check and reject the grace offered freely.

If God’s Holy Spirit is a dove, we can choose to ignore the bird or occasionally scare it away… but it is a blasphemy to shoot that bird down and kill it dead.

And to do that, my friends, requires one so wicked that they would use the holy breath that created them to cut themselves off irreparably from God who breathed that breath. To take the free will gift of God to take away your own free will. To make real that paradox of which Jesus speaks: to take the authority of the Holy Spirit and cast out Holy Spirit. So if a person is divided against themself… they cannot stand.

Side note: some have taken this and used it to condemn those who end their own life. But that is to focus on someone’s mental health rather than their spiritual health.

Disconnect from the Holy Spirit leaves people lacking in fruits of the Spirit: driven by jealousy, anger, envy, hatefulness. Not one who knows the depths of mental despair and chemical imbalances.

But we are those who seek the will of God and seek to grow the fruits of the Spirit of God: love, joy, peace, kindness, and all the rest.

So, you ask me about my family…

Who are my family?

Who is my mother?

Who are my brothers?

And looking around at those sitting around him, he said:

“Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”