June 10, 2018

Don’t Bind The Holy Spirit – June 10, 2018

Passage: Mark 3:20-35

Bible Text: Mark 3:20-35 | Preacher: The Rev. Dr. James R. Wheeler

There are three very different groups identified in today’s Gospel passage from Mark. First there were the crowds. The crowds were hungry for Jesus’ ministry. There were the sick in need of healing, people who were possessed of unclean spirits who needed evil driven out of them, sinners in need of forgiveness, lepers who needed to be cleansed, tax collectors, prostitutes and other unacceptable people in society who wanted to be restored to wholeness, and lots of people eager for Jesus’ teaching. There were also his chosen followers, the disciples. The crowds followed him from place to place. There were often so many of them that Jesus had to get in a boat in order to separate himself enough from the crowd that he could speak to them. Mark tells us that there were so many people in that crowd vying for Jesus’ attention that sometimes he and his disciples couldn’t even eat.

The next group was Jesus’ family, his biological mother and brothers. They had gathered because they were worried about Jesus. They felt they needed to intervene and take him out of this madhouse of healing and ministry. It was clearly overwhelming and they feared for Jesus’ welfare.

Finally, there were the religious establishment who had come down from Jerusalem, because they heard of Jesus’ amazing ministry and growing popularity. They disapproved. They were jealous of Jesus’ popularity and suspicious of his work. He’s crazy, they said. “He’s only able to cast out demons because he is in league with them himself!”

Mark encapsulates Jesus’ ministry in this passage, showing him in a house ministering to the crowds gathered around him. Presumably there were so many people in the house that neither his own family members or the religious establishment from Jerusalem could get inside. Outside the house both Jesus’ own family and the religious establishment accuse Jesus of being crazy.

Jesus responded by telling two related parables. The religious establishment has accused him of casting out Satan by being in league with Satan. Jesus told them that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. If Jesus cast out Satan by Satan, then Satan’s rule was done for. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?! He went on to say that no one can plunder a strong man without first tying up the strong man. Then his house can be plundered. Jesus’ power to cast out demons, he implied, was because he had power over Satan.

When Jesus’ family tried to intervene, Jesus spoke to the crowd sitting all around him and asked: “Who are my mother and my brothers? Looking at the needy crowd, Jesus says, “here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark gives us a picture of Jesus’ ministry with the needy crowds desperate for his words and healing and power, sandwiched in-between on the one hand, Jesus’ own immediate family and on the other hand the religious establishment of the day, who were both critical of him. I would suggest that today we have an inverse picture of Jesus’ ministry. The religious establishment – that’s us, who claim to be Jesus’ family, his Body, the Church – are in the house of God and we have the Jesus market as it were cornered for ourselves. The crowds are still out there, in the world, in our neighborhoods, all around us in this city, at work, at school and in social media. The crowds are as needy as ever: for healing, for direction, for cleansing, for forgiveness, for justice, for the power of evil to be confronted and driven out, for words of wisdom and for the transforming power of love. But instead of being gathered around Jesus hungry for his words and power and the good news of God’s Kingdom, the crowds are insulated from hearing and hungering for the good news because Jesus’ own followers block the message. The houses we worship in today are no longer porous and open to the hungers and needs of the world. Somehow the living connection that allowed Jesus to touch the people of his day is not getting through these thick stone walls.

Instead of calling Jesus crazy, the craziness of his message is domesticated by his Church. Instead of proclaiming the upside down message of the Kingdom of God: where giving is more important than getting, where service of others is the true currency of greatness, where love breaks through the power of death, where all people are welcomed as God’s beloved children, where forgiveness triumphs over judgement, where it is in dying to self and greed and control that we are born to true and eternal life (instead of proclaiming that upside down message of the Kingdom of God), we are all too often co-opted by the values of the world as it is.

Instead of Jesus binding Satan we are in danger of having bound the Holy Spirit of God. We deny the power of God. We don’t trust God’s wild, creative and unimaginable power. We domesticate God’s Spirit prescribing where and when God’s Spirit channels into our life in prescribed rites and music and established sacraments. We have not fed the fire of the Holy Spirit of God that is within us. We have not nurtured our own hunger to grow in Christ, to deepen our relationship with the living God, to study and learn God’s Word. We have not grown in service to others. We are all too often observers rather than participants in God’s mission. There are so many ways we bind the power of the Holy Spirit to move with freedom and power and urgency in our midst, in our lives, and through us to a hungry world. Could that be the sin against the Holy Spirit?

When we compare the picture of Jesus’ ministry with where we are as a Church today it should be clear that something is seriously out of whack. No one is calling us crazy or out of our minds because we preach such a radical message or contradict the powers of this world. No one is calling us crazy because we connect so deeply with the poor and dispossessed. No one is calling us crazy because we believe so strongly in a message of radical love and welcome. No one is intervening because we spend so much time of our time and energy in ministering to others. People are not beating down our doors to get to Jesus. No one is accusing us of beating down Satan by the power of Satan. What’s wrong? How can we as the Church connect with the hungers and needs of the world? I wish it were clear. I wish there were easy answers and a clear way forward. So many of us are struggling to find that way.

The good news in the Gospel lesson is when Jesus turns to the crowds and says, “here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” When we recognize ourselves as part of that diverse crowd of rif raf and sinners and people in desperate need for the power and the healing and the cleansing and the new birth Jesus has to offer. When we recognize ourselves as part of that great diversity of humanity that Jesus welcomes as his intimate, beloved family. When we see ourselves not as religious establishment, not as privileged members of Jesus’ biological family, but rather as undeserving outsiders that Jesus has welcomed in. When our own lives are turned around by grace. When the power of the Holy Spirit of the living God is released among us. When others start to criticize us as crazy, then maybe this house will begin to resemble that house in Mark where the supposed insiders accused Jesus of being out of his mind and where Jesus welcomed the crowd as his own family. 

There are three groups in Mark’s short encapsulation of Jesus’ ministry in today’s Gospel. Maybe the power of the good news that seems to be missing can be unlocked in this house if we identify not with the religious establishment, but with the crowds. Maybe then we’ll hunger anew for the Spirit’s power. Maybe then we’ll invite others into the crowded house where God’s love is shared.

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