Here are my mother and my brothers: A Homily for Proper 5B, 2021Sermons


June 6, 2021

What an exciting day it is at Grace. After almost exactly fifteen months of live-streamed or recorded worship, some of us are back in person. Others are still joining us online—and as I’ve said before, I assume that we will continue to offer some form of online worship for the foreseeable future. Some of us aren’t able to join us in person; others will choose to join us from home or while traveling because of convenience. It’s a new adventure for us all and we will have to do the hard work of thinking how to incorporate everyone into our congregation. 

What an exciting day, too, for Brandon and Kate. They’ve been waiting almost six months to have their daughter Mia baptized. We originally planned for a private baptism in November, but as COVID cases spiked we decided to delay it until a time when we could all feel more comfortable with it. This way, members of their family can be present

It’s lovely that we have a baptism today, on our first Sunday back for in-person worship. Not only does it bear witness to the newness of life in these difficult times, it is also a reminder to us of what we are about as God’s people, bringing into the body of Christ new members, witnessing to God’s love, and proclaiming our faith in the risen Christ. Our baptismal liturgy includes in it an opportunity for us to renew our own baptismal vows, to commit ourselves to each other as members of Christ’s body, and to renew our promises to grow more deeply as followers of Jesus.

There’s a creative tension at the heart of our understanding of baptism, especially infant baptism. On the one hand, it is a profoundly, intimately family celebration and event, linking families across generations with beloved and familiar traditions. That understanding was especially prominent in earlier generations when most baptisms were private. In the Episcopal Church, they were often conducted with only the immediate family and the priest present, often after Sunday services had taken place.

On the other hand, baptism is the full initiation of individuals into the body of Christ. It is a rite that brings us into fellowship and relationship with Jesus Christ and other members of Christ’s body. That aspect of it is emphasized when we all promise to help the one being baptized grow in the Christian faith. That’s why we now conduct baptisms usually at the principal Sunday service of Holy Eucharist, although we do make provisions as needed and to accommodate individual circumstances.

We see something of that same tension in today’s gospel reading. This is the first time we’re reading from the Gospel of Mark since Easter and after all those weeks in John’s gospel, we jump back into Mark’s very different story with a jolt that may wake us up.

We’re back fairly early in the gospel—chapter 3 to be precise. In the preceding chapters, Jesus has been on a preaching tour through the towns of Galilee, beginning with Capernaum. He has healed many people of their illnesses, cast out evil spirits, and called several of his disciples. His fame has spread far and wide and the crowds are becoming impressive. He has also aroused conflict around his interpretation of the law.

We see the effects of his healing ministry and the conflict he has already elicited here in this story. It’s an enigmatic story, full of drama, and leaving us with many questions as we listen to it. But I want to focus on the internal drama—or perhaps better put, the internal conflict between Jesus and his family members. A bit of that drama is downplayed in our reading because we pick up the story in verse 20. It’s not really clear to us that Jesus has come home, literally, to his house. That’s where the crowd presses in, so urgently that they are not able to eat. But, and this is important for what comes next, he and the disciples are not in the house, because his family comes out and wants to restrain him. They fear he has gone mad. To top it off, the religious experts have come down from Jerusalem to assert that he is not a messenger from God, but a servant of Satan.

That all this takes place around the house is significant. We have already seen that the private home is a place of refuge. Jesus went to his disciple Peter’s house after his initial public preaching and healing in the synagogue in Capernaum. But there too, he was beset by the crowds who wanted him to heal the sick. Later on in the gospel, we will see Jesus gathered with his disciples, but also with tax collectors and sinners, in people’s homes sharing table fellowship. Here, the house is a refuge, but it is occupied by family members who question his sanity.

Coming back to the end of the reading, Jesus is in the house, and his family members are outside. Being made aware of their presence outside, Jesus asks:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

We have been outside of this place these many months, clamoring to enter, wanting to return. For many of us, to be back inside this sacred building is a coming home. It is a sanctuary from the troubles and dangers of the world, a place where we connect with our deepest selves, with God, and with our fellow Christians. Yet many of us are still standing outside—for whatever reasons reluctant to return to services because of anxiety, vaccination status, or medical conditions that limit our freedom.

Others stand outside because of their alienation from God, because of the pain they have suffered at the hands of the Church, because they are not sure they are welcome here. Some may not feel welcome because they are different from us, racially or ethnically, socioeconomically, because of their sexuality or gender. 

Even as Jesus embraces the household, the home, as a place of refuge, for himself and his followers, at the same time, he reinvents or reimagines the nature of the community that occupies the house. No longer is it a fellowship united by ties of blood; anyone “who does the will of my father” is a part of this new community, new family brought together by shared commitment to Jesus.

 In fact, it may be misleading even to call what is being brought together by Jesus a “family.” Especially in our culture where the notion of “family” is contested and full of symbolic meaning, weaponized for political purposes and cultural warfare, when we call the church a “family” we risk setting up the same sort of barriers between “inside” and “outside” that are created by the walls of a church, or a house. When one’s experience of family is full of trauma, scars, and abuse, to be called into a new family of the faithful may be a barrier to hard to cross.

Still, we are a new community, created by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are a new community that welcomes into its midst through baptism and confession of faith anyone who comes to us. We are a new community that is meant to model what it means to follow Jesus in the world. We are a community called by Christ, calling others to Christ. 

As we reaffirm our baptismal vows today, as we bring into this fellowship a new member, as we gather, for the first time in many months in this place, face to face, and as we after a long fast, once again taste and see that the Lord is good, share in the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, may the bonds that unite us together be strengthened, that we may go from this place, to love and serve the Lord.

Here are my mother and my brothers: A Homily for Proper 5B, 2021Sermons

Preaching Grace on the Square

Here are my mother and my brothers: A Homily for Proper 5B, 2021Sermons

Are we as crazy as Jesus? A Sermon for Proper 5 Year B, 2018

I was walking around the square a few days ago, on my daily round that ends up at a food cart, when I passed the Solidarity Singers. It was a nice day and they had gathered as they have almost every day since 2011, to sing their songs of protest against the policies of Governor Walker and the republican led state legislature. As is typical on days like this one, tourists, business people and state workers were out as well, and their were large groups of school children gathered at the Capitol or at the top of State St, enjoying field trips in the last days of school before summer break. As I passed the singers, I thought to myself, what do all these people think of this little group of singers? I know what I was thinking, “They’re crazy! How can they keep it up for all these years?”

A couple of weeks ago, I was here at Grace to welcome and host participants in the Poor People’s Campaign Wisconsin. They’ve been gathering at Grace each week since May before rallying at the State Capitol, some of them risking arrest by performing acts of civil disobedience. This group is part of a nationwide movement led by the Rev. William Barber, drawing on a movement MLK jr began in the last year of his life. In this political and cultural climate, with little chance of effecting policy changes, this movement seems futile, unlikely to change the opinions of policy makers who seem to be focused on finding new ways to punish poor people, people of color, and other marginalized people. They’re crazy, what’s the point? I was tempted to think.

Then, I thought about us, about this congregation. Here we are on a beautiful Sunday morning, when there are so many other things we might doing—watching the triathlon, eating brunch with friends, reading the Sunday NY Times. Those of us who attend church are in the minority, increasingly so. We’re out of step with culture, with the zeitgeist. So why do we still do it? Are we crazy?

Well, hold that thought. I’ll get back to that later in the sermon, and if all goes well, at our congregational conversation at coffee hour, we’ll have a chance to talk about that question.

But first, let’s take a look at this gospel story, or stories, in which Jesus is called crazy, or out of his mind.

Let’s back up a bit, because this is really the first time I am talking about the gospel of Mark since Palm Sunday and Easter. It’s important to remember that Mark was very likely the first of the gospels to be written. It’s the shortest and in many ways, it’s the most puzzling. The portrait of Jesus that emerges from Mark’s gospel is quite unlike that of the Gospel of John, for example, but this portrait is even strikingly different from Matthew and Luke, who were written a decade or two after Mark, and probably used Mark as a source for their own work.

The Gospel of Mark is written with an extreme sense of urgency. One of the words that appears most often is the word “immediately.” The urgency is eschatological. Jesus preaches the nearness, the arrival of the reign or kingdom of God, and by that very preaching the forces, cosmic and human that are opposed to the coming of God’s reign, take action to silence him. So, here, we are very early in the gospel. Jesus has just called his first disciples. After his baptism, and the arrest of John the Baptizer, Jesus himself begins public ministry of preaching, healing, and casting out demons. In last week’s gospel reading, from a bit earlier in chapter 2, we see the Pharisees criticizing Jesus, and then beginning to conspire with the Herodians, a group they would have generally opposed, to take Jesus down.

In today’s story, we see more conflict, more opposition. I want to draw your attention to the importance of location and family here. First off, our reading picks up in the middle of a sentence that begins “Then he (Jesus) went home;” literally, into his house; where the crowds gather and press in so much that he and his disciples aren’t able to eat. Then, his family shows up and the text probably should read here: “they (his family) were saying “he has gone out of his mind” literally, “he has stood outside”—we might say he is really out of it. Note the importance here, of who is inside and who is outside.

As if to emphasize the importance of the imagery of house here, in the next little episode, Jesus tells a story about how a house divided against itself cannot stand. And then, the story ends with Jesus’ family outside, calling to him, asking Jesus to come out. Here, Jesus underscores the point—it’s not those people, standing outside, claiming he is crazy, or outside of himself, who are his family, but rather, it is those people gathered around him, listening to him, whoever does the will of God, who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

The response of Jesus’ family is only one part of the opposition Jesus faces here. The scribes, the consummate religious insiders, the pundits, if you will, the gatekeepers, the monitors of acceptable teaching, are on his case as well, charging him with satanic influence, even satanic powers. Such language can be off-putting to those of us with modern sensibilities but it’s important for us to be able to name evil, to recognize its power, and to confess all the ways that we are in bondage to it. In our day, such clarity is a moral necessity, key to our being faithful Christians.

Who is inside, who is outside? Who belongs, who doesn’t? Who is family? These are questions we should be asking of ourselves, our community, our nation. When families are being torn apart, people marginalized and attacked for the color of their skin, their national origin, their sexual orientation, it is incumbent on us to ask these questions.

As a congregation seeking to be faithful to the call of Jesus Christ, seeking to share the good news of the love of Jesus Christ in our neighborhood and the world, these questions should be at the center of our reflection. Are we among those seated around Jesus, listening to his words, seeking to do the will of God? Are we so on fire for Jesus Christ, so ready to take risks, experiment, name and combat the evils that beset us, so committed, that others looking at us claim we’re crazy, or demon-possessed? Or are we those people looking in from the outside, offended by the risky, risk-taking behavior of the true followers of Jesus, rejecting them, worried about our status or popularity, or standing in the community?

We are having conversations about risk-taking, experimenting, developing new programs or ministries that will reach out and connect with our neighbors. We are blessed with so many good things here at Grace, stable finances, a beautiful building in the best location in the city, amazing people with incredible gifts, skills, and commitment. May we have the courage and creativity to imagine new possibilities for ourselves, our congregation, our city.

In a season when Christianity is on the decline in our culture, when our nation is so deeply divided and for so many of us going in a dangerous direction, Jesus calls us to follow him into that uncertain future, to recognize and name the evil that opposes him, to embrace all those of whatever nationality, or color, or sexual orientation, who would join us, as we build a community of inclusion, welcome, committed to do God’s will.




Give us a King! A Sermon for Proper 5, Year B, 2015


As we enter the long season after Pentecost, our scripture readings shift gears. After spending the season of Easter, and in fact the last several Sundays of Lent as well, in the gospel of John, we are back to the gospel of Mark which we will focus on for the rest of the liturgical year, except for a brief foray during August back to John. The lectionary gives us alternatives for the Hebrew Bible reading. One is a series of readings that were selected because they relate in some way to the gospel reading. The other choice, the one we’ll be following this summer, is a semi-continuous reading. This year, in the second year of the lectionary cycle, this track of readings focuses on stories from the period of the monarchy. Continue reading