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Undivided

Mark 3: 20-35

20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— 30for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

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

Every weekday morning I take my dogs to a local cemetery so they can run off leash.

There is a paved loop that I walk while listening to a podcast of a book.

Meanwhile, the dogs run and sniff to their hearts’ contents.

Interestingly, each dog has a routine of her own.

Roxy follows a particular path, to such an extent that you can see it in the grass, and Lucy just runs around through he headstones.

It is usually a lovely beginning to the day.

It is our routine.

It is comfortable.

But then … something changes.

Someone decides to walk their dog at the same time.

Roxy and Lucy have to go on their leashes.

I can’t concentrate on my podcast or book.

The lovely mood is now broken.

It is a little thing, but the three of us are irritated and the day gets off to a bad start.

Grrrrrrrr…

Here is a more universal example.

Have you ever been driving someplace very familiar and when you arrive, have no real memory of actually driving there?

Your whole being knows how to get where you are going.

No thought required.

That is routine, too.

It is comfortable.

Then one day you find out there is road construction.

A “Road Closed” sign appears with a “Detour” sign under it.

How do you feel about that?

Not only is your day ruined, but maybe the next several months, until the construction is complete.

You have to learn a different route and change the time of departure.

Grrrrrrrr…

Routine can be nice.

Even productive.

We can spend our time thinking of something else while on auto pilot.

Maybe a project at work.

Maybe our plans for the weekend.

Maybe our shopping list.

In his book, “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg talks about routine.

“Routine basically gives us the mental freedom to think about what’s actually important. That way we don’t have to think about all the mundane aspects of life. … Getting to relegate all those things to sort of an automatic thought process, we gain all the mental bandwidth we need to do the really important things in life. … Almost every single species that has survived has the ability to take routines and make them automatic. That way you have cognitive power to invent spears and fire and video games.”

The comfort and productivity of routine.

A break in the routine requires focus.

No more multi-tasking.

Those are little things, though.

So how do you feel when really big things in your life get changed?

You get a new boss and she announces, “We are going to do things differently now!”

How do we react to that?

Not particularly well, it seems.

We typically respond by saying, or thinking, “What was wrong with the old way?”

According to a 2014 article in Psychology Today, we generally resist.

Our routine is gone.

We are uncomfortable.

Many folks just flee.

Which is interesting because somewhere around 500 BCE a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus said this (or something like it):

‘The only thing that remains the same in the universe is that everything changes.’

And generally we all know that to be true, right?

We trot this idiom out to comfort those (usually ourselves) who don’t much like it when things change.

But I have to tell you, most folks don’t find those words all that comforting.

So what does this have to do with our scripture reading?

Let’s put the text in some context.

Judaism in Jesus time was very structured.

It was focused on the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Temple was managed by the High Priests and the Sanhedrin, all basically political appointees.

Their staff of subordinates were the Scribes who were students of the Torah.

The major religious function of all these folks was the maintenance of Jewish purity by the sacrificial system at the Temple.

Dr. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina is an expert on ancient Judaism and he describes the role of the Temple managers this way:

In Judaism, sin was not only a moral question; it also concerned the practice of ritual and notions of the sacred and profane, purity and impurity–distinctions that are often lost to the modern consciousness. In ancient Israel a whole system of sacrifices had arisen to atone for sin, that is, to set sinful humankind right with the one, holy God.

Think about that.

That’s a lot of power – political and religious.

You want to be in good with God?

Do what they tell you.

Follow the rules.

This had been the way of things for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.

Since the time of Moses!

Routine.

Comfortable.

Then along comes Jesus.

He has been baptized and begins to preach.

He calls his disciples.

He casts out demons and heals the sick.

He eats with impure and challenges the Torah law.

Jesus’ message?

“Now is the time. Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives and trust this good news!” (Common English Bible)

Things are about to change!

Jesus is a whirlwind of change blowing through Judah, on his way to Jerusalem.

Jesus is leading a religious revolution!

He has developed quite a following and is well known to the Temple authorities.

And the crowd that has been following them is overwhelming and demanding.

These were people formerly not welcome in God’s Kingdom as defined by the Temple authorities.

An interesting tidbit about this text.

It starts in the middle of a sentence.

What is happening here is that Jesus has finished his work for the day and has gone to the place he is staying for dinner and some rest.

That does not happen.

Jesus and his disciples don’t even have time to eat.

He has no time to rest.

And there is opposition to his ministry.

His family is worried about him.

And they wonder …

Has he lost his mind?

He is challenging the Temple authorities!

He is going to work himself to death!

Nothing good can come of this.

“We need to get him out of there!”

Then the Scribes now show up and start to undermine Jesus’ message.

“All these things this Jesus is doing are from the devil!”

“Jesus is doing all these things because he is evil!”

Resisting change indeed!

What Jesus is doing is crazy.

What Jesus is doing is evil.

When Jesus responds, he is not gentle.

First he points out to the Scribes that if he is evil, then evil is destroying evil and so evil will fail.

That is a good thing, right?

If he is not evil, they God is defeating evil, and that is good, too, right?

In either case, God wins.

It’s all good!

But the Scribes are saying that the things Jesus is doing are evil!

The things God is doing are evil.

This is different from the way they have done things.

Jesus says to ascribe evil to God is unforgivable.

Ouch!

Jesus is not particularly gentle with his mother, brothers and sisters either.

Jesus redefines his family as those who do God’s will.

Anyone, including his mother, brothers and sisters, who tries to stop him is not part of his family.

Wow.

And Jesus is saying these things to those who are not malicious or evil, themselves.

Jesus’ family is not evil.

They love him and want to protect him.

They just liked it better when he was in the carpenter’s shop.

The Scribes are not evil.

They love their religion and wat to protect it.

They just like their Temple and Torah.

And so it should not be a surprise that there is resistance.

Fervent and whole hearted resistance.

Yet despite this resistance, we ultimately see God’s will worked out – at the cross.

When everything really changed for good.

That is the message of this story.

That is why Mark included it.

Jesus came to change things.

People did not like it.

But he did.

So change can be good then.

But we all have had experiences where something was changed and it was not good.

Then how do we decide if a change in things will be good?

Pretty simple really.

We include God in the deliberations.

That is what we do here at JMPC.

Every meeting begins with a prayer.

We pray for discernment and wisdom from God to help make decisions.

Then we close in prayer to ask God’s blessing on what we decided to do.

We try to understand where God might be leading us and try and decide what is the best way to follow.

Are we always right?

No.

But that does not stop us from praying and asking God to show us the way to follow God’s call to us, even if it is a whirlwind of change.

So what are we at JMPC looking at now?

First, Session is making plans – long term plans.

What do we want JMPC to look like in 2023?

What will our building look like?

What will our vision be?

What will our mission look like?

What will our ministries look like?

Where will God be leading us and how will we be following?

Some call this a long range plan.

Maybe a capital campaign.

Ultimately, the congregation must be involved.

Everyone.

So that when we bring it all to fruition, we will be undivided.

Now there are some things that are a bit more immediate.

The Outreach Pillar, with the leadership of Pastor Matt, will be developing a mission plan for the future.

How will we spend our time and talents outside this church?

If you want to be a part of that discussion, talk to Matt.

Our Spiritual Development Pillar is looking at two issues.

The first is our Christian Education.

How can we improve the way we teach our children and adults about Jesus and our faith.

The second is the way we worship.

Worship is one of the things we do very well here at JMPC, but that does not mean we cannot improve it.

How can we present the Gospel in a way that is more engaging and culturally accessible.

If you want to be involved in either of these, give me a call.

The Resource Pillar is looking into making the property more environmentally friendly and efficient, potentially through the use of solar power.

We are also discussing the planting of apple trees and the building of an outdoor worship and gathering facility.

How can we use our 11 acres for something beneficial to someone other than the folks who mow it every week?

This is all pretty exciting, but to some here, it might sound like a tumultuous time of change that makes one cringe.

Yet, we, your pastors and Session, believe we are called to this.

We must move forward in our mission and ministry.

We must seek God’s call and follow.

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate in the planning and implementation of what we decide to do.

You might be receiving a survey or two over the summer.

Please respond!

We need your thoughts.

Let us know what you think God is doing here and how you think God is calling us to do it.

And where you fit in.

Jesus started a revolution that is still going on!

What part will we play?




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