“The True Kindred of Jesus” by Rev. Jason Ferguson

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35 NRSV)

In this passage Jesus’ biological family is turned away for his spiritual one because he is fulfilling his mission. While in our own context it might seem odd to shun our relatives, Jesus shows us his priorities. I think Mary as his mother by this point is accustomed to this advanced son of hers. She knew from the moment Gabriel let her know she was to be the servant of the Lord that things would be different as Jesus’ mother. Her response is awe-inspiring. Things were indeed different-at his birth shepherds sent by the heavenly host stopped by and Mary kept these things and treasured them in her heart. A little over a month later when they go to the temple for the right of purity and make declaration of the first born, they meet the stunning prophecies of Anna and Simeon. At the age of twelve he blows off returning home with his family after a religious pilgrimage and stays in the temple not only listening but speaking and teaching beyond his years. I suspect it was hard for Mary to some degree to put her agenda and vision of what motherhood would be like aside. We read in the aforementioned passage of Jesus’ laser focused enthusiasm on doing the Kingdom of God’s Work.
Of course, Jesus’ teaching God’s way as a humble peasant was not applaud by the organized religion of the day. They believed “true religion” was what they had been doing. Christ dared to show the religious establishment (hey, that’s us today) it was much more than human made rules wrapped in a smattering of religiosity. I wonder as pastors and laity, do we do this today? Are we so caught up in what we have been doing for so long? Are we truly open to God revealing and teaching us something new?

We read in the gospels Jesus was constantly in prayer with God the Father. We see Jesus’ actions were God directed through prayer and the Holy Spirit’s leading. (How are we doing in this regard in our own lives? Are we too busy doing churchy things? Are we making time for prayer, scripture, quiet time, meditation and other spiritual disciplines?) For me in my own experience spiritual disciplines like these are key to my being humble and vulnerable enough to unflinchingly follow God’s guidance. Without them I am more prone to follow my ego and not the Holy Spirit.

Until the very end of his earthly life, his family of origin was important to him. Yet, he was not overly distracted by them in following God’s will. Let’s be honest, sisters and brothers, it is a challenge at times to be good sons and daughters, wives and husbands, sisters and brothers, partners and friends and to serve the Kingdom of God on earth to the best of our abilities. Responsibilities abound with the Call of Christ, and to those we have committed ourselves to here on earth. My prayer for each of you in this Lent/Easter season is that God will give you what you need to embody the love and guidance of the Holy Spirit as you serve your family, God, and the Church. But I wonder if we do better to think of it as just serving “our whole family.” For all of the above are the family God has blessed you with and they shouldn’t be in competition with one another. If you start to feel this tug-o-war between responsibilities, I encourage you to pray for a miracle, not turning water into wine to help you relax with a bit of the grape, but to pray for a change in perspective. “Lord I am asking for the miracle of a change in my perspective right now. One that is led by Your Holy Spirit, not one led by my fear, worry, anxiety, anger and my ego, but agape love. I agree with Mary Anne Williamson in her book A Return to Love, “there are two forces that guide our thoughts-our egos which are selfish, and love. Love is the only thing that is eternal.” Everything else is just dust in the wind.

While Jesus was being crucified there was a smattering of family and friends at the foot of the cross. Among them were his mom Mary and John the apostle.

John like Mary knew of Jesus’ focus. We know John was one of the first called to follow Jesus. They were Zebedee’s sons, but did you know early church tradition states Zebedee’s wife Salome is the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary? This makes John the cousin of Jesus. John was very involved in Jesus’ focus on Kingdom work. He was present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, he witnessed the transfiguration, he saw the agony of Jesus prayer in Gethsemane more closely than the others, he was sent with Peter to make Passover preparations, and he sat next to Jesus at the Last Supper.

 A few weeks back I asked my wife Amy this question, “With a month until we celebrate Easter what do you think is important for folks to hear as we move toward to the crucifixion and Easter on the liturgical calendar?” She answered, “The work had to go on despite Jesus knowing his days are numbered.” I thought WOW! She is absolutely right. Despite his knowing death was getting a step closer to him each day the work had to continue. Look at it how unselfish and resolutely He keeps teaching the disciples, modeling holiness, and preaching to the crowds. As we read through the gospel of Mark, I see Jesus perfectly whole, complete, lacking nothing in his determination to heal the sick, forgive sins, drive out demons, and embody the manifestation of God. So, what was he doing with less than a month before he was going to be killed for being what he was born to be?
I suspect if I had a month to live, I would be spending my time selfishly. I fear I would not be following Jesus model, but spending time with my wife, her family, my biological family, friends and taking dream vacations. Our earlier passage from Mark tells us Jesus’ family are those who follow God. But would I/we be working nonstop around the clock to clean up the unrighteousness in the universal church? Would we be embodying Godliness on a level people would want to put their faith in us and follow us? We would have to tell them in plain speech, “No it is not me, it is the Jesus within me, it is the light of God shining through me you seek and need to follow today, tomorrow, and long after my mortal body is food for worms.”
If I had been in Jesus’ shoes, I fear I would be thinking, what can I do to honor God and not die as a result of it. I truly hope not, but I wonder would you or would I be straddling the fence trying to have it both ways? Would I be seeking middle ground that doesn’t compromise Jesus call on my life and allows me to grow old with my wife, that didn’t upset the religious elite, or would I preach loud and proud until the end?
How would I respond if I received a terminal disease diagnosis? Would I be overwhelmed with fear, obsessed with a cure or treatment? Would I be trying to squeeze in my dream trips? I suspect I would be making sure my last will and testament was in order? Would I be making sure Amy has power of attorney? Would I be making sure all my life insurance is paid up and that I won’t be leaving any debt?
All noble things, according to the world, but you know what those all have in common? I am the focus. It is about me and my family, not about using my gifts to welcome others into the Kingdom of God. They do not include working to make sure the sick receives all the healing at their disposal, not making sure the hungry have bread, not working to teach we are our brothers and sister keepers. In today’s world, it is hard to remember at times our life is not our own, the time we have doesn’t belong to us, neither does the money, our businesses or our talent it was just loaned to us on our birthdays, and we turn them all back in like a library book on their due date, we all have a due date.
Did you notice Jesus doesn’t even bring up his last will and testament until he is on the cross?
He shows us exactly what family and the church is about. This is what the family of God looks like and why the church is so important. We need to be present for one another in love in situations as joyous as the manger in Bethlehem and as gut-wrenching as the crucifixion. In this season of Covid and incivility we need Christ and His Church more than ever. We are not called to just talk a good game on Sundays, but to act with our hands, feet, mind, and heart. In the ongoing struggle to save the world from itself, time is always of the essence, but I ask you Christians (DOC) what is the essence of your time? How do you spend it? Are you watching 20 hours of Netflix a week like I have done way too many weeks of my life? I don’t think this is going to help us bury the hatchet of discord and division in the world today. How do we bring the world together in the name of one another in unity, justice, and peace? We need to focus on bringing the world together in love, respect, Christ, the golden rule and the resurrection. The Earth our planet is dying, and civility has a stage fourth malignant tumor eating away at its survival. Just as we need an environmental plan to save the planet, we need to be showing and telling the world how “love rescued me.” (U2’s Love Rescued Me). We need to be praying for guidance on how and where to do it, but don’t pray so long you’re stalling.
Pray God will let people see the Jesus in you and ask about it. Ministry may look different than you think it will? Are you willing to entertain the idea it may look different than you think? God is the same forever but is always showing up in new ways. No one expected a carpenter turned vagabond preacher to die for our sins and be resurrected, no one expected the first people to see the resurrected Jesus to be, first of all, a woman, second of all, a woman who was slut shamed by a group of men Jesus set straight. So why should we believe we know what God’s next move is, when we’ve rarely been right before. Jesus is full of surprises and we need to leave room for the Divine Mystery of God to operate… Just maybe if we listen God will surprise us in affirming our old ways and showing us new ways to be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. Happy Easter. Did you ever think about the fact Jesus did something new and performed a miracle on the cross he turned a cousin in to a son and gave a mother whose son was about to die a new one. With God Anything is Possible.
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