... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Day of Pentecost 2 Year B, Message June 10th, 2012

Inside-out and Topsy-Turvy

Text: Mark 3:20-35

One thing about humanity that has always been consistent is that we dislike and whenever possible resist change. After all consistency and regimen allow us to know and function in a dependable manner. Can you imagine the chaos which would ensue if one day green lights at an intersection meant go and the next day meant stop? What if, as one person suggested a couple of years ago, we had decided to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by switching the side of the road we drive on? What if we woke up one morning to find out that our Mom or Dad had been swapped for someone else? Oh! That’s already happened on some reality TV show – Swapping Moms – or something like that! The result of course would be chaos. Yet change is not always bad: change is often the very thing we most need to awaken us to other possibilities, other realities and other truths. In fact it is often the only means to growth discovery and advancement.

Three of the readings for today are about change – about turning things inside-out upside-down and topsy-turvy. And not all of these changes are for the better as the reading from 1 Samuel would indicate. The people tired of a theocracy and desiring to be like other nations long for a king sworn to rule protect and guide them. Their wish is granted but as we all know Saul did not exactly provide what the people longed for.

Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians deals with the inside out of human perceptions concerning death and the hereafter. True reality is not governed by what humanity perceives. Appearances can be deceiving and God often calls us to task by various means to change.

Such an awakening is described in detail in Mark’s gospel account of Jesus’ confrontation with his family and the Jewish religious leaders. Having started his public ministry by many healings and casting out demons, Jesus is reported by Mark to go up a mountain to choose the twelve apostles; and having done so returns home to dine. The crowds however, knowing his mighty deeds of healing flock to the house.

With the scene set, Mark introduces the contrasts which will result in the topsy-turvy changes Jesus is to issue forth. First of all Jesus’ family, hearing of the miraculous deeds are probably incredulous and unbelieving – Jesus their brother, their cousin, their kin, must be mad to think this way. Now is the time for an intervention – to stop his behaviour, to maintain the family’s honour or to prevent what they see as chaos. Second, we have the religious leaders also coming down from Jerusalem with intentions of arresting and halting this fomenter of religious change.

Using these two forces of status quo family and religious tradition, Mark shows his audience how God in Jesus turns appearances upside down and inside out. By means of two parables – a house divided and the robbing of a strong man’s house, Jesus stops the religious leaders in their tracks. If their claims that he (Jesus) is mad and acting on behalf of Satan, why would he be healing and casting out demons – known agents of Satan! Likewise how could he cast out these demons – the safeguards of Satan’s house unless he himself had already taken care of Satan by tying him up?

Then to top it all off Jesus in turn accuses the leaders of blasphemy. He turns the tables and in so doing questions all that religious institutions have done to block the work of the Spirit. In their haste to set norms and standards, to bring in policies and doctrines, to lay down rules and regulations, they had placed God and God’s Holy Spirit in a box. As Jesus was to show time and time again, God is beyond human understanding. Humanity cannot put walls around God and expect God to do its bidding. In fact all humanity can do is to witness to God’s ability, accept it and work to what God’s call is to do.

And this brings us back to the first confrontation which was between Jesus and his family. Having come to rescue him, to take him away, Jesus turns the tables by asking, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Talk about chaos and turning things upside down and inside-out! The very foundation of human culture and society is now being put into question. From the very beginning the family unit has been the cornerstone of civilization. It has defined communities, nations and ethnicity. But here Jesus puts all this to the chopping block. Blood relations are now the strangers. In its place is a new family bound together by God’s purpose. Jesus is now proposing a different basis for solidarity – a basis wrought by one’s relationship to God; those who worship God with sincerity and those who do God’s work from this new family.

Jesus doesn’t denounce family or religious leaders across the board nor does he do so just to cause chaos. As Mark’s literary style points out it is done as an illustration of the power of Satan to bind us and to blind us to God’s presence and make us deaf to the voice of the Spirit. As many of us might recall Satan really means one who opposes the way of righteousness. When Jesus says to Peter, “Get thee behind me Satan” he is not calling Peter the Evil one but the opposer of what must be done to accomplish God’s will. Thus in this light Satan represents those forces opposed to God’s will and those forces which capture us and prevent us from hearing what God calls us to do. Family might indeed fall into this, so too might religious leaders and institutions. In fact anything or any person(s) might become the power which tells us to believe those things or perceived truths which are contrary to God’s design. The power of race tries to tell us one group is superior to another by virtue of skin colour; the power of patriarchy attempts to tell us mean are superior and ought to be the sole purveyors of this or that vocation; the power of commercialism and materialism seems to be succeeding in convincing us that monies and goods will give us abundant and good life.

Jesus states that all this is false. Our conventions and traditions while often making life manageable are false and can tend to ultimately harm and destroy. We are called to see things in a new light and with discerning eyes. And each generation is called to question what has gone before to see new ways new possibilities and new truths. Scripture is living text which guides us into these new discoveries. But can only be of value in the hands of the discerning. Part of that discerning is the new family of Church – not the institution but the whole body of Christian believers.

This body – this new family as Jesus defined it – is what we celebrate today especially as we welcome our newest member. In him we confirm the power of Jesus’ new family to be the discernment of God’s power over against the power of the Evil one and the power which eventually will destroy us if we submit to it. God calls us to examine ourselves our complacency and our allegiances. God also has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us so that all who listen might indeed be led in the right direction.

Throughout human history God has always turns things upside down inside out and topsy-turvy that we might be shaken from complacency and placidness to become doers of God’s will and witnesses to God’s works.