Drawn Near to God's Will - Sermon for June 6, 2021 (Second Sunday After Pentecost)
Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 8:4–20 & 11:14–15 | Psalm 138 | 2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1 | Mark 3:20–35
[Jesus said] “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35
Are we truly seeking to do the will of God?
Of course, we all want to answer ‘yes’. Especially here in Church. Of course we are! Why else would we gather here week after week… Sunday after Sunday?
I’m not asking this question because I doubt anyone’s sincerity, or their faith, or their commitment to living God’s way in the world. I’m asking this question because I believe God’s word is asking us all this question. Through the Scriptures today, especially the reading from Mark’s Gospel, I believe our Lord is calling us to re-examine our daily responses to Jesus, as the One through whom God’s will is truly made known. But rather than putting us down, I believe we are being invited to draw nearer, to grow even more connected to God’s will at work in the world.
In the third chapter of the Gospel of Mark, which we heard read this morning, we’re told of three different groups of people, each with their own response to Jesus. As we look a bit closer at this part of the Gospel story, we too are drawn into the action. How would we respond if we were there? How do these groups mirror what’s going on inside our hearts?
The first group we’ll look at is the one that’s most hostile to Jesus and what He was up to: the Scribes. Who were the Scribes? One scholar describes them a lot like modern-day pastors… like me… “teachers of the people.” Peter Tan-Gatue says that “Mark’s Gospel presents the scribes as teachers of the people who have religious authority, especially over matters of law interpretation, observance and purity.” They were those who had studied the Holy Scriptures, and so claimed to understand the will of the Living God… at least enough to help God’s people to live faithfully: to help them be true to the covenant, and be guided by God’s wisdom.
And in their response to Jesus, Mark tells us that the Scribes from Jerusalem claim that He’s in league with demonic forces… with the Adversary, the Satan… and that the healing miracles, and exorcisms that Jesus was doing was evidence, not that God was with Him, but of some dark-hearted deception.
We too can go down this route when we outright reject what Christ has called us to… when we place our own judgments about what’s right and what’s wrong above His word. We too can trust more in our own understanding about the will of the Living God, and condemn Christ’s teachings and actions as out of sync with the highest good. Maybe we wouldn’t say this out loud… but actions speak louder than words. Are there ways we are rejecting the way of Jesus by how we live each day? By choosing to ignore or contradict His clear commands?
The second group from our Gospel reading today is one that’s much closer to Jesus, and yet they too have a hard time with what He’s up to: this group is His family. Specifically, Mark tells us “his mother and his brothers” (Mark 3:31) had come to “restrain him” (Mark 3:21). To seize, contain… to hold him back. Why? Because they thought He was mad. The things He was doing and saying were so unusual, so unexpected, they thought He had lost His mind, and so they came to reign Him in.
In many traditional cultures a family’s honour was extremely important, and any behaviour that threatened a family’s good name would have been a major concern. It seems likely that Mary and her other children were getting worried that Jesus was shaming them… publicly putting their place in the wider community at risk. And so, though they surely cared about Him, they also wanted to control Him, to keep Him from running amok, and ruining their reputations too.
Is this ever a temptation we face? Do we ever try to tame Jesus? To keep Him contained, worried about what others might think about us? Are we ashamed to be associated with Him? Does that fear drive us to restrain His influence on how we live in the world?
This one can be really hard for us these days, even in the Church. Our current culture doesn’t hold a high view of publicly practicing our faith… after years of being told religion is only a private matter. But the way Jesus lived out the will of God, and the way He calls us to live means letting God’s kingdom shape every aspect, every corner of our lives… living each day, at work, at home, at school, with friends, with strangers, as agents of peace, integrity, generosity, forgiveness, and self-giving love. This way of life stands out in our world… which often makes us uncomfortable. Maybe we want to take Christ seriously… we want to follow His beautiful way… but it all seems so strange, so crazy, we’re not sure it’s possible. Are there ways we’re acting like His mother and brothers, trying to keep Him in check?
Finally, there’s the third group: the crowd drawing near to Him. Those who had felt His healing touch, those who had tasted the freedom He gives, those who had heard His words, experienced His welcoming love, and felt their hearts coming alive with hope. This group didn’t have all the answers, they were just drawing closer to Him. Wanting more of what He had to offer… seeking to share in what He was up to. This crowd was a new community finding their way to God’s Kingdom… finding their way to God’s King… and in finding Him, they found themselves drawn into God's family.
“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.’” (Mark :34-35). In that crowd was found the beginning of the Christian Church, the community of ordinary people drawn to Christ in faith.
What binds the Church together, including our Parish here in Gondola Point, is not our religious practices, or our family ties, or friendships… as beautiful, and life-giving, and blessed as they may be. What unites us together as God’s family is our devotion to doing God’s will: drawing near in faith to Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord of all; learning from Him what it means to truly live God’s way in the world; and through His Spirit at work in us, putting God’s will into practice.
Like the crowd in Mark Chapter 3, none of us have it all figured out. We’re all on our way to a more complete commitment to Jesus our Lord. We will all find ourselves struggling at times to keep from rejecting His will for us, wanting to go our own way, instead of trusting Him to lead us. We’ll all find ourselves tempted to hide from the strangeness of His Kingdom, even if that strangeness is exactly what our world desperately needs. But even so, Christ calls us all to draw closer to Him. To share in the life of His Church, the place where we learn to live His way together. To let the truth that Jesus is Lord of all, and our Lord too, take hold of and transform our lives, so we can live God’s way in the world. Mark’s Gospel wants us to draw near to Christ, to choose to place our trust in Him, and through Him to seek, and find, and do the will of the Living God.
I’ll end now with a well known quote from the author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis, from his little book entitled Mere Christianity:
“You must make your choice. Either this man [Jesus] was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” Amen.
 Peter Tan-Gatue, “Scribe,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2002), p. 50-51.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School