Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

Tending the New Creation:  Expanding Kin

Rev. Kathy Donley



Scripture Lesson:  Mark 3:20-35


Jim and I are going back to the Wild Goose Festival in July.  We have been there 3 times over the past 6 years.  Wild Goose is four days where people of all ages from all over the country and also from other countries gather for music, justice, spirituality and art.  It is primarily a Christian event, but people of other faiths are welcome.  The first year we went, at the opening event, we met a guy I’ll call Mike.  Mike is my age. He was at the Goose alone.  I seem to remember that he was kind of a scout, checking out whether the Goose was appropriate for a youth group trip in the future.   I suspect another reason was that he was at a turning point in his own life, looking for some new understandings that his more traditional church was not providing.   

Mike and I became Facebook friends. So I know that in the last year or two he joined a church that better matched his emerging theology.  I also know that that he is still friends with many people whose theological worldview does not match his.  And to Mike’s credit, the conversations on his page remain courteous and respectful, even when differing opinions are expressed quite strongly.

This week, he posted a picture of the sign outside his church which says, “Please don’t use scripture to justify policies that harm families.” 

“Please don’t misuse holy scripture.”  “Please don’t quote scripture out of context to suit your own purposes.”  That’s pretty close to the commandment about not taking the name of God in vain, something most Christians agree with.  Or so I thought.  On Mike’s page, this post generated at least 60 responses.  We all know how foolish it is to read the comments, but, of course, I did.  I will spare you the most outrageous ones, but I do want to share two things that Mike said. 

One of Mike’s friends said that he was going to do something he rarely did and criticize a church.  He described this sign as  Leftist liberal pervert propaganda”.  In response, Mike said, “It saddens me when you're willing to criticize a Christian church for standing in solidarity with the stranger and the orphan and yet you rarely [have cause to] do it. Clearly that signals that the church is not living up to its mission. The earliest Christians were routinely harassed by the state for proclaiming that Jesus was "Lord" as an affront to Caesar's lordship in the Roman empire. In the intervening years we have lost our way often to the point of being complicit in state sponsored evils.” 

The conversation eventually got to the reason for laws and borders and the notion of keeping the country safe.  Another friend asked whether Mike locks his doors at night and if he trusts God for his safety.  I just loved Mike’s response.  He said, “I don’t trust God for my safety.  The call to take up one’s cross is diametrically opposed to any concept of ‘trusting God for one’s safety.’”

This offer a great contemporary counterpoint to our reading from Mark’s gospel.  Mark was written to early Christians, living in the Roman empire.  They were routinely criticized and punished for carrying out their gospel mission.  They followed the crucified one and they knew that was a dangerous path.

In the early days of his ministry, Jesus’ pattern is to go out into the world to teach and heal and then to come back to a home in Capernaum to rest and recover, to go out and stir things up with civil disobedience like healing on the Sabbath, and then to retreat indoors for sanctuary.  But this time, the crowds have invaded.  There is no room even to sit down and eat. 

Word has gone out about him and one of the things they’re saying is that he is out of his mind.  That word reaches his family and they come to stage an intervention.   They are probably concerned for his well-being.  It is crazy to purposely provoke the authorities and they know nothing good can come of it for Jesus.  But there is more to this than we readily understand.

In that time, the extended family meant everything.  Your family provided your status in the community and your economic, religious, educational and social networks.  If you lost your family connection, you lost all that as well as your connection to the land. 

Family connection worked for and against you.  Honor to your family was your honor; shame on one member of your family was your shame.  “Scandal or suspicion could endanger the family’s place in the community, the marriageability of sons and daughters, even the economic viability of an extended family group.”[1]

When Jesus’ mother and siblings show up, they are probably concerned for him, but equally concerned for themselves.  He is jeopardizing their reputation and that can have real consequences.  The crowd inside is so dense that Jesus’ biological family cannot get to him, so they send a message that they are outside waiting for him.  And his response is harsh.  First, he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  which might make some think that he really has lost it. He doesn’t even know his own family any more.  

But then he looks around the room and answers his own question – the people around him are his family.  Those who do the will of God are his mother and brothers and sisters.  “From a Mediterranean cultural point of view, this is one of the most radical things in the gospel.” [2]

Jesus is creating a new community, an alternative to biological family.  Jesus is doing what his disciples have already done.  Remember James and John dropping their fishing nets to follow him?  They left the family business, abandoned those responsibilities, in order to follow Jesus around Galilee.  In this new community unity and interdependence does not come from your bloodline, but is based on doing the will of God.   When he was asked to sum up the will of God, Jesus once said that it meant loving God with heart, soul and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself.

Dorotheus of Gaza was a Christian monk in the 6th century. He used the image of a wheel to explain Jesus’ words of loving God and neighbor.  He said, “Imagine that the world is a circle, that God is the center, and that the radii are the different ways human beings live.”  We might picture this like a wagon wheel with spokes going out from the center where God is. 

Dorotheus said, “When those who wish to come closer to God walk towards the center of the circle, they come closer to one another at the same time as to God. The closer they come to God, the closer they come to one another. And the closer they come to one another, the closer they come to God.” [3]

There was a reporter on the streets of Sarajevo, covering the war there many years ago.  A little girl walking right in front of him was severely wounded by sniper fire.  Before the reporter could react, a man had scooped up the little girl and was pleading with him to drive them to the hospital. ‘You have a car,’ the man begged. ‘Please won’t you take us to the hospital?’ What could the reporter do? He loaded them into the back seat of his care and began to drive.

After a minute or two, the man said urgently, ‘Please hurry; she is still alive!’ The reporter drove on. A few minutes later, the man in the back seat said, ‘Hurry please, my little girl is still breathing!’ The reporter sped on. Again, in the man urged him on, ‘Hurry, please, my little girl is still warm.’ Soon, they pulled up to the hospital, but alas, the girl was pronounced dead.

The man and the reporter went into the restroom together to wash the child’s blood from their hands. ‘Now comes the hardest part,’ said the man. ‘What is that?’ asked the reporter. ‘Now I have to go and find that little girl’s father and tell him she is gone.’

“The reporter was stunned. ‘But I thought you were the father! I thought she was your child!’”

“‘Aren’t they all our children?’ the man replied.” [4]

Children in harm’s way – in Aleppo or Honduras or Puerto Rico, in Flint, Michigan or McAllen, Texas – aren’t they all our children?  Aren’t they all God’s children?

Most of us will do anything and everything for a family member, but we might object to the same expectations laid on us by a stranger.  Jesus turns that around.  He demonstrates that his highest allegiance is to God’s claim on his life.  That claim supersedes the bonds of family.

Jesus created that community where the circle kept pulling into the center and people drew closer to God and closer to each other.  By the time Mark’s gospel was written, many people thought that anyone who identified as a Christian was out of his/her mind and many Christians had been abandoned by their biological families.   It was the community of Jesus that became a surrogate family.  It was that network bonded together over the radical call to discipleship that transcended the normal categories of class, race, gender, education, wealth and power.

And belonging to that alternate community had the same benefits and liabilities as belonging to a biological family.  It was your network for love and care and economic support.  But any scandal or shame attached to it also attached to you.  The reputation of other Christians affected your reputation. 

That is still somewhat true in our culture, isn’t it?  Christians in the news, for good or bad, reflect on all of us.  When one person with a public following misuses scripture, outsiders might think we all believe that.  When some Christians defend a practice that seems completely contrary to the gospel, the rest of us might be lumped in with them.  But it is true in the other direction as well. When Christians stand up to say that love of the other transcends our national identity, that caring for immigrant neighbors is doing the will of God and is more important than belonging to the “family of American citizens”, some might think that we are the ones who are out of minds, that we are against law and order, and other Christians might have to answer for our actions.  This is the hard work of following Jesus in community.  It requires us to discern carefully who are our mother and sisters and brothers in Christ.  Who is doing the will of God?  How will we support each other as we move together toward God at the center?

Wild Goose is one of those alternative communities, forming for people who want to do the will of God more deeply, with heart and mind and strength.  It offers support for those long to pursue radical discipleship and have not found that support in other places.  And so I particularly appreciate that it was a friend from that community whose words inspired and challenged me this week.

Remember that he said, “It saddens me when you're willing to criticize a Christian church for standing in solidarity with the stranger and the orphan and yet you rarely [have cause to] do it. Clearly that signals that the church is not living up to its mission.”

And “I don’t trust God for my safety.  The call to take up one’s cross is diametrically opposed to any concept of ‘trusting God for one’s safety.’”

Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  May we have the courage and faith to take up our cross and follow him. 

[1] Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), p. 402.

[2] Malina and Rohrbaugh, p. 159.

[3] https://www.taize.fr/en_article5234.html

[4] Story told by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource, Vol. 29, No. 1, January, February, March 2001, © 2000 by Logos Productions, Inc., p. 18.