Sermon for 6th June 2021 – from Karen White

Mark 3:20-35

I wonder how many times you have heard the phrase “You must be out of your mind, you must be mad, that’s madness, it’s insane, that can’t be right – don’t be daft!”

On Friday evening I caught the tail end of a programme with Bear Grylls and Nicola Adams (the boxer) crawling along on their bellies across a ravine on a tightrope with just one leg hooked around it. For what purpose? It was insane, particularly when Bear Grylls went across with no safety rope! Yes, even to me, who has climbed and abseiled down great heights, zip wired across forests and jumped feet first from 100ft up into the space below with just a safety rope, that would have been a step too far!

I often think the same when people just love the thrill of fairground rides.
To me, its madness to be turned upside up in mid-air and experience your stomach churn, and I’m sure I’m not alone. But people just love the adrenaline rush and being scared out of their wits! But it’s not for me – You can see I’m not a lover of fairground rides!

Then there’s those things people say to you and you think they are mad, that can’t possibly be true. When someone first mentioned to me about being ordained, that was my reaction. That’s madness, don’t be stupid, I’m not meant for that!! Sometimes it’s not possible to believe that anything extra-ordinary can or does happen, and I needed a whole lot of convincing.

Then there are predictions people make about the future, or prophetic messages given and we just don’t believe that’s even possible, that it’s just mad. Those people must be out of their minds. But cast your mind back to 18 months ago when just a few cases of Covid had been detected worldwide and we were warned this could turn into a pandemic. How many of us scoffed at the idea? How many of us thought “It’s just a type of flu like any other and it will go away.”

I’m pretty sure if someone had told us the world would be at a standstill, we would be confined to our homes for long periods of time, people would be scrambling for toilet rolls, hand sanitiser and face masks, church buildings would be shut and you’d return several months later to sit socially distanced wearing face masks to protect others, none of us would have believed it. We’d have said: “Don’t be daft, you must be out of your mind!” Yet, here we are today having been in exactly that situation.

There are many situations when we might ask if someone has gone out of their mind, and today’s passage from Mark also asks this question. But it’s a shock to hear it being asked of Jesus. In verse 21 we read “even his own family were alarmed to hear people saying that he was insane and came to rescue him, they also thought he was out of his mind.”

And what surprises me is that this reaction comes from those who He had grown up with – His own earthly family. Mary, His mother, knew from the virgin birth that He was the Son of God and so shouldn’t have been surprised or perplexed by the words He spoke or the things He did. She knew His mission on earth should come first so it amazes me that this was the family’s reaction, particularly as they had probably travelled about 20 miles on foot to get there. But you have to understand a mother’s love. A loving mother will do anything to protect her children. Your life is invested in them, and although Mary knew Jesus as her earthly son would be taken from her, it would be a mother’s instinct to prevent anyone from doing Him harm. After all, He was to be the Saviour of the world, she had to protect and save Him – not even she knew His predicted end.

So, here we have Jesus teaching and healing and casting out demons, obviously with such power and like nothing anyone had ever experienced, that they thought He was demon-possessed. The teachers of the law accuse Him of siding with Satan, in spite of His good works. They cannot tell the difference between God’s work and Satan’s and think He is crazy.

There are also other examples in the Bible and throughout history of people being referred to as mad in witnessing to Christ and His resurrection.

In Acts 23 when Paul appeared before the governor Festus and spoke about Jesus’ resurrection, Festus called him mad. He says: “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane!” Today I think the equivalent saying would be – “you’ve been reading too many novels and listening to fake stories from too many people, get real!”

Martin Luther was also called a fool and demon-possessed by those who opposed him and his message.  And many people might call you crazy too. I think today it’s a good reminder to us that when we follow Jesus some people are also going to think we are crazy. As with Jesus, it may be members of your own family. That’s when we need to remember which side we have chosen, we have chosen to follow Christ no matter what happens. There are so many times in life when we have to choose sides and some of us find it difficult. But you can’t choose to be on the fence with Christ. You can’t say I’ll follow Him and believe in Him today but not tomorrow; I believe He did this but not that; I believe in Jesus but not the Holy Spirit. You have to choose to be either with Him or against Him.

The Pharisees were obviously against Him. They accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebub (another word for Satan) and accuse Him of driving out demons in Satan’s power, rather than God’s power – the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus responds with a parable, saying: How can Satan drive out Satan, for he would be fighting against himself?

In verse 27 He says: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” The strong man stands for Satan. Make no mistake about it, he is a strong, powerful being who will get in where he can, upset life’s rhythm, make you believe anything or anyone is more important than Christ Himself and hurt you unless you have Christ on your side.

Jesus could not be robbing Satan’s house by casting out demons unless He had overcome, overpowered and tied up Satan first. In other words, Jesus is stronger than Satan, He has God’s power which is above and greater than all things. But the Pharisees have made light of this power, they don’t recognise the power of the Holy Spirit. Just like the disciples at Pentecost who are later accused of being drunk and possessed when the Holy Spirit comes upon them, so this is a similar reaction.

And to say anyone who the Holy Spirit rests upon is possessed by evil spirits is a sin, a sin which Jesus says cannot be forgiven. Why? Because they have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. They haven’t believed in God’s power; they have lost the ability to recognise good against evil and so do not recognise sin. If they believe they have no sin then they cannot be forgiven, thus comes complete separation from God – the greatest poverty there is.

It seems at first that Jesus rejects His relationship with his own mother and brothers when He asks: “Who are my mother and brothers?” But in fact, He speaks of everyone who follows Him, who does His will, as His relatives. When we came to Christ we became part of His family – as John 1:12 reminds us: To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” Christ in this passage is not disrespecting his own family but He is saying that there is a family bond among Christians that is even stronger than physical ties. Those who do God’s will are Jesus’ true family, and this spiritual family was even more important than His physical family.

When Jesus says, looking at the disciples and those around Him,
“Behold, my mother and my brothers” He offers a redefinition of family, and in the process gives a great definition of the church.  He portrays a vision of the family of God.  Jesus acknowledges that discipleship may cost our old, natural family ties.  But if we do the will of God, we will discover ourselves as members of the new family of God. He is telling us that as much as He loves His family, His mission must come first. In the same way, we are to love our families, and we are to honour our parents, but God comes first. Our earthly families are temporary and only have to do with this life.
But when you come to Christ, you enter a spiritual family that is forever.

Jesus’ statement moves the value of human relationships beyond the physical to the spiritual.  I believe he is saying that as important as physical relationships are, they are not as important as spiritual relationships. This is what we must nurture in the Church, for we speak so much about looking after the poor, feeding the poor, being with the poor and marginalised, but surely there is no greater poverty than being separated from the knowledge and love of God, of being in a spiritual relationship with God – that’s who the true poor are, those who choose human relationships and personal ambition above belief in, and worship of, God.

You see, there is a choice. Jesus’ family stood outside calling Him away from His mission, and Jesus had to choose sides. He chose God’s side, and stayed true to His mission, and that’s the side He expects us too to take – it is difficult to think about what might have happened if He had put His own family of Mary and His brothers above the will of God first.

So where do you stand with God today? Do you put your family first, or Him?

I pray that you choose God’s side and embrace fully being a part of His family. And when people tell you “You’ve gone mad!” because you profess your beliefs, because you have rejected human relationships in favour of Him, smile and be proud. Be proud to be drunk in the Spirit.

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