My Story

Sermon:  My Story

Date: 7th June 2015

Preacher: Mrs Roslyn White

Church Calendar Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost 2015

Lectionary Reading:   Mark 3:20-35

Thank you Susanne for the invitation to share a little of my story, in the context of today’s gospel reading.

Thank you for trusting me to say something helpful and encouraging.

Just as Jesus challenges the idea of what makes up a family, no doubt we have all found ourselves drawn into a discussion or two about what constitutes a family.

No longer is it just mum and dad and children. It can now be two mums or two dads with children. It can be grandparents and grandchildren. It can be a single parent with children. It can include step or foster or adoptive  parents and children, surrogate mothers, sperm and egg donor parents. I have even read of the Facebook family.

In this passage Jesus is redefining family from that of a biological nature to one that encompasses a spiritual group of those whose true desire it is to do the will of God.

In typical fashion Mark gives us a sandwich of teaching with something that seems quite different being popped into the middle.

Those difficult notions of demons, Satan, bindings, plunder, unforgivable sin and blasphemy. Those scary images that threw me into a state of fear when I considered them as a young person.

They still have weighty concern.

But to back up a little to get this story into context, Mark has earlier in the chapter told us of Jesus looking the Pharisees straight in the face and deliberately healing the man with the withered hand, on the Sabbath and INSIDE the temple.   Trouble ahead.

Those who had been healed and those who desired to be healed by hearing his words or by touching Jesus, flocked after him. So too, the curious, intrigued to hear exorcised spirits acknowledging and praising Jesus, mesmerised by the disabled, now freed to full function of mind and body.

The religious law keepers with their righteous outrage, and threatened by his power, were set to capture him and to destroy him. They followed along too as sinister company in the clamouring crowd.

People, we read, came from great distances. From N S E W. Crowds of them.

Jesus and his followers were being mobbed.

And it says, fearing being crushed he got into a boat, and set out from shore to set boundaries between himself and the people.

He chose a safe place from which to teach.

Then, somehow, he escapes up a mountain, calls his 12 disciples and renames his inner cabinet.

He comes down again to the place called “home” where today’s reading starts and where he is called “out of his mind” or crazy by his biological family.

He had been serving others to the point of self-neglect, of failing even to eat.

His family had come to rescue him. He had gone too far.

Has anyone ever called you crazy? Crazy because you believe in God and go to church, because you spend a lot of your time serving God and God’s people?

Have you been considered crazy:

  • for agreeing to organise the church fair or manage the fundraising,
  • for fighting with foam, filling and fabric to make pew cushions for our comfort,
  • for delivering donated food to the city every second week,
  • for making over one thousand dollars’ worth of marmalade,
  • for catering for yet another event,
  • for making and donating a patchwork quilt for raffle,
  • for preparing and hosting church dinners for eight when you’d rather be the guest,
  • for going on Parish council,
  • for giving up an evening a week and an hour’s sleep-in to serve in the choir?

Do you know that two of our choir families travel some considerable distance to be a part of our choir?  One from the Dandenongs, one from the Yarra Valley. Are they ”out of their mind”, or responding to a joyful desire God has placed in their hearts for the sake of the bigger spiritual family.

It can be costly and difficult to heed God’s invitation to grow at the risk of being misunderstood.

So how does my own family story relate to this text, of Jesus being called crazy by his natural family, and how he reflects on what it means to be members of God’s family?

I was born into a family where my parents were members of a fundamentalist and exclusive sect.

When I broke free, which was not until in my 30’s, I was called “the black sheep” by my mother. An outsider.

God, in his wisdom has led me gently to where I am now.

I remember the first time I entered a church, other than to attend a wedding.

You see, in the sect, we met for fellowship in homes three times a week. The ministry was and still is itinerant – mostly no minister attended the regular meetings.

We had no symbols. No church building.

There was no scholarship, no clergy training, no pastoral care, no children’s ministry, no collection, no interest in matters of social justice.

The only version of the Bible permitted was the KJV.

Prayer was and is still framed in “thee’s and thou’s”.

We believed we were the remnant survivors of the early church.

Salvation was by membership of the group which was, other than by regular attendance and participation, evidenced for women by their demure dress, long hair and lack of jewellery, Both genders were expected to refrain from entertainment, dancing, and definitely no sex outside marriage!

Even today my sister has no radio nor TV in her home.

When I first found my way into a mainline church it was to a Church of Christ where ministers do not even wear a clerical collar, let alone robes.

I remember initially being confronted by church-attending women wearing ear-rings and trousers.

I had to be gently led.  I would not have coped with St Paul’s.

When I find myself adding embroidery and gold thread to a liturgical stole or altar fall, I must say I am somewhat bemused.

I was terrified of doing the wrong thing, as doing the “right” thing was the sect’s way in the world, rather than any concept of forgiveness. So these verses about the unforgivable sin would fill me with fear, to say nothing about sorcerers and Beelzebul.

The teachers of the law also called Jesus crazy, possessed, in collaboration with Satan, impure, corrupt.

To this, Jesus responds with a rhetorical dilemma: ”How can Satan cast out Satan?”  This ends with Jesus’ charge against his accusers that, by denying the power of God at work in him, they are sinning against the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had been previously accused of blasphemy and would be again but here points out that by attributing the liberating and healing activity of Jesus to the world of Satan, the scribes are committing the ultimate insult to God.

This notion of blasphemy and unforgivable sin has been discussed for as many years as there has been scriptural scholarship.

Contemporary Catholic doctrine follows the tradition of Augustine in describing it as the deliberate refusal to accept God’s mercy by repenting.

Do you sometimes wonder if the same is happening today when we witness yet another outspoken atheist denying the existence and power and grace of God?

I do find myself praying for them that the gentle inner witness of God’s Spirit, would break down their intellectual arrogance.

When Jesus is told that his mother and brothers outside wish to see him, and presumably cannot get to him because of the crowd, (in verse 35) he says ”whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother”.

Those of us who feel secure with clear instructions and guidelines, as I did in the black and white world of the sect, may wish that Jesus would have made more clear what it means “to do the will of God”.

Perhaps this is where Paul’s injunction to the church at Philippi is applicable to us.

Phil 2.12 Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

In other words, be constantly discerning the will of God for oneself.

And this discernment is what each one of us is seeking as we consider God’s desire for this part of his universal family here at St Paul’s.

An important way in which we can do that is by how we worship together with our time, talents and treasures.

Next Sunday is Gift Day.  The details are all in the pew sheet so I shall not repeat them, other than to ask you to prayerfully discern what you can give to God’s work.

As I said earlier, in my first 30 years I had no need to give. The sect had no property to maintain, no clergy paid regular stipends, no social justice awareness, no programmes at all. In fact the knowledge that the false churches of the world asked for money was evidence of their being well off beam.

So I had a steep learning to reach the understanding that giving is an act of love and of worship, and that a reasonable gift is a tenth of one’s income, or more if you’re comfortably off or have accumulated wealth.

I doubt that parting with one’s money is an easy thing. By nature we are self-centred rather than other-centred.  But the essence of Christ’s teaching is to love God, and to love  one’s neighbour as one’s self.  This is where we need to show that God has transformed us.

I had a conversation with Robin and Liz Reid, whose garden across Church Street we enjoyed at each of the last two church fairs.  This was when we created the garden of crepe myrtles beside the hall aided by their generosity.  I thanked them, and Robin commented with a smile that “the joy is in the giving”.

Let this be our story too, as members of God’s family together here in Canterbury.