Being whole in body and spirit
2nd After Trinity Mark 3: 20-35
Today’s Gospel reading is difficult to unravel; first of all we have serpents, demons, and devils and you would think most of these have been dispatched to the area of science fiction along with vampires and hobgoblins but the question is ‘do they still exist today?’ Jesus certainly believed in evil and the devil; not of course a red creature with horns and a forked tail but in a force for evil and destruction.
If we believe in goodness, honesty, beauty and truth we have to believe in the opposite as well. We certainly have examples of evil spirits in abundance, both in history and all around us today with terrible acts of violence and hatred on a daily occurrence.
On a much smaller, but still important scale - what gets into us when we bite someone’s head off or when we cut someone down to size with a few ill-chosen words of sarcasm that we usually live to regret – but for that moment in time we can’t seem to stop ourselves behaving badly.
What gets into people when they sneak onto pornographic websites, where they find themselves torn between guilt and fascination and once hooked become an addict.
Sometimes it feels like something other than us is writing the script. Sometimes our best intentions are side tracked and there is a voice whispering in the ear putting us down, telling us ‘we can’t’ when ‘we can’ and ‘do’ when we know we ‘shouldn’t’.
On a spiritual level it is much more subtle. It is like a snake biting the heel of the human race, spreading the slow poison of doubt in the holiness, wisdom and grace of God. That nagging voice spreading the lie that we matter little to God and therefore we can do what we like. There are hints of this in our Genesis reading this morning. Of course we know that is just an ancient story. It is picture language explaining good and evil, but here is the crunch. We have the choice – we can decide to go with the temptations, the bad stuff or we can make a stand and fight back. If we are going to resist all these temptations we have to declare a spiritual war. As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.
‘Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.’ There has always been good and evil which stems from humankind wanting to go their own way and ignore God. It causes division and inner conflict and is a reality of today’s world and our lives. Jesus talked about being divided. A marriage divided is a divorce. A nation divided results in vitriolic politics and in the extreme, civil war. An economy divided brings poverty and injustice. A community divided breeds prejudice and violence. Faith divided is sin.
We all know what it is like to live divided lives. You know those times when your outsides and your insides don’t match up? That’s what it means to be a house divided. You’re one person at work another at home. You act one way with certain people and a different way with other people. Life gets divided into bits and pieces. There is the work life, the family life, the prayer life, the personal life, the social life. Pretty soon we’re left with our lives like the pieces in a jig-saw puzzle.
It seems that we are forever trying to put the pieces of our lives back together, to get ourselves sorted out or is that just me?
That is why the crowd has gathered around Jesus. That’s why the religious authorities the scribes and the Pharisees were turning over his every word, accusing Jesus of being in league with Satan and on the edge of the crowd, was Jesus’ family and they sent someone in to call him. ‘Your mother and brothers are asking for you’. Remember that even Jesus’ own family thought he had gone mad. His mother and brothers saw the physical strain upon him and thought he had lost it. At least they cared enough to seek to take Jesus home.
You can imagine the scene. His mother Mary, or perhaps one of His brothers, tells someone at the back of the crowd to pass the word to Jesus that they are there to see him and that they want Him to stop teaching and go with them. In that society nothing was as important as one’s family If Jesus’ family needed Him, the crowd fully expected Jesus to stop teaching them and go to His relatives.
Jesus response, as we would expect is different. Instead of stopping what He was doing and going to His mother and brothers, Jesus simply said, “Who are my mother and my brothers? The crowd must have been shocked. His mother must have been devastated. His brothers probably got angry they had traveled all the way from Nazareth to see Him.
This is a tense moment and his reaction to His family seems cold on the surface. But His response to them was designed to teach some very important truths.
Spiritual business takes priority over earthly business –Jesus’ family had their attention focused on earthly concerns but Jesus had His attention focused on carrying out the Father’s will. We know the end of the story. Jesus did not go with his family, he risked his own safety and security for us and we have been called to share in this risky adventure. Most of us are not too keen on the idea of risky adventures which is why the Church settles into its set services and conventions. The words and the patterns are fixed so that no one is disturbed, as we don’t like change. We get fixed and comfortable until Jesus calls, just like he did in the reading last week when he called the man with the withered hand to 'Come forward.' The Church and those of us who are Christian are not meant to be hidden or passengers but to 'Come forward' for Jesus. He said to the man 'stretch out your hand', and he is saying the same thing to us today, both as a church and as individuals, even if you feel your talent has withered. Attempt the impossible for God, trusting in his power. Take risks for God and let him work through you.
The call of Jesus to the man with the withered hand is a call to the Church and to us – maybe it is time to throw caution to the wind and let him work through us. Come forward ... stretch out, let go, and let God. Let him put all the bits and pieces of our life together into the beautiful jigsaw picture it is meant to be and lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil, for yours is the kingdom the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.