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We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

“Who Are My Mother, My Sisters and Brothers?”

Mark 3: 20-35

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC on Sunday, June 10, 2012

Often, we place too much impor­tance upon inheritance through family, O God.  We diminish the value of the most essential aspect of our identity—our identity as your children.  May we join Jesus in declaring that whoever does your will is our brother, our sister and our mother.” Amen.

 Early last week, it was reported that pealing church bells, the crack of ceremonial rifle fire and the thunderous din of iconic Royal Air Force fighters could not drown out Britain's deafening cheers as throngs of well-wishers marked the final day of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.  The four days of unparalleled pomp and pageantry made it clear the country's affections for the monarchy remain far from depleted.

It was said that many Britons embraced the jubilee spirit — a tribute to a monarch whose popularity cuts across all ages, social classes and political affiliations.  In a jubilee gift from Britain's politicians, for instance, lawmakers from the three main parties have backed a motion calling for the Clock Tower housing Big Ben — the beloved London bell that chimes the quarter hour — to be renamed in the queen's honour: the Elizabeth Tower.

But not everyone in Britain was celebrating. The anti-monarchist group Republic made a riverbank protest as the flotilla went by on Sunday, followed by a pub night where royal refuseniks drowned their sorrows. With pictures of the monarch splashed across newspaper front pages, the left-leaning Guardian provided a button on its website that removed all jubilee stories.

Well, obviously, during her six-decade-long reign, the Queen could not make everyone happy.  According to today’s passage from Mark, this is the case for Jesus.  During his miraculous healing and teaching ministry, he cannot make everyone happy.  Even worse, his own family members are not happy, not to mention all the political and religious authorities in Jerusalem.

Today’s reading in Mark comes from early in Jesus’ ministry. After his baptism and a period in the wilderness, he gathers 12 disciples and begins a fast-paced program of preach­ing, healing, exorcism of demons, and pronouncements of God’s coming reign; his popu­larity among the people increases greatly. He now returns home followed by huge crowds. The religious leaders are upset at his popularity and power. They say that Jesus’ power comes from Satan rather than from God. His family, too, are concerned about reports they have heard, thinking that he must have gone mad. Jesus is sur­rounded by nay-sayers.

In the middle of this story there is an intense, complex and very heated debate about the “unforgivable sin” of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—i.e. calling a blessing a curse, calling the work of the Holy Spirit demonic, etc. Although the church has generally been wisely cautious about defining what are and are not to be interpreted as the works and deeds of the Holy Spirit, there have always been individuals who too quickly and arrogantly accuse others of being agents of the Devil. In this passage we see Jesus becoming the object of this kind of criticism and misunderstanding. It forces him to openly declare the most important source of his own personal identity and his relationship with others—i.e. God alone. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother” is a devastating statement about where Jesus’ primary allegiance lies.  Indeed, he offers a new definition of family.

The issue is not opposition to authorities in Jerusalem but the danger of attachments to family, village and traditional ties.  We already know that Jesus’ first disciples left family and occupation in order to follow him (1:16-20).

Mark often has Jesus move from a public scene with opponents and crowds to an inside scene with his disciples and other followers.  In verse 31, his mother and brothers must call to Jesus from outside.  This indicates that his family are not among his disciples.  Another narrative has already suggested that Jesus has moved away from his natural family by referring to Peter’s house in Capernaum as home after preaching in surrounding regions (2:1). 

When he is told today, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you, ” Jesus replies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sit around him, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!35  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

What Jesus is trying to say is that a family relationship cannot be set above doing the will of God. Here, Jesus defines family in terms of discipleship, “those who do the will of God” (v. 35).  As adult converts in a traditional society, most of Mark’s audience had probably experienced such a crisis in their own families.

Living in a society in which we enjoy religious freedom, I doubt if anyone of us here have to experience such a crisis in our families when we come to church every Sunday.  However, it might be true that some of us have never enjoyed great support from our families since we became a Christian.  One of my dear colleagues told me that his wife fiercely objected to his decision to go to theological school to become a minister when he was well established in a firm in Toronto as a Chartered Accountant.  He has four children and six grandchildren but, to his great  disappointment, none of these go to church. 

When we came to Canada, my wife, Young Cho, persuaded me to go to Emmanuel College to pursue ordination instead of going back to law school.  However, my mother in Korea still says that she is not happy with my being a minister, because I am no longer a lawyer.  My two sisters, who are fundamental Christians, were okay with my ordination, until they came to know that the United Church of Canada supported same-sex marriages.  My three brothers, who have no affiliation with any religion whatsoever, have never talked about what I am doing in Canada.

While I was studying at Emmanuel, my wife, Young Cho, suffered major brain damage as a result of a tragic car accident.  I felt I had lost everything in life.  She was the only family support I had while seeking ordination.  Studying theology in my second language was very challenging.  There seemed to be no point in trying to complete the M.Div. programme in a foreign land.  At the very moment of giving up, I found myself surrounded by so many caring people, friends at my home church, Trinity St. Paul’s United and classmates and teachers at Emmanuel College.  Their countless phone calls, cards, and visits were overwhelmingly encouraging.  Their outpouring support kept me going at school.

One day last year, someone told me that she could not imagine how I had been able to manage my life with so much workload as an interim minister.  In fact, I had not had a week off until summer of last year.  Strangely enough, I had never felt tired or drained since I came here.  I wondered too what had kept me going.  I told her that it was possible probably because I did not have many family responsibilities.  Well, later, I found the answer: I always felt energized whenever I came to work.  After a two-month summer break last year, I was badly itching to get back to work, the source of my energy for life.

I have found a family, a new family, God’s family here at Glen Rhodes.  Whenever I go downstairs, for example, I find a large family of God working together.  Everyone is downstairs for one reason – to serve others in following God’s will.  Often the people are so busy that I am afraid to interrupt them even to say hi. Many mothers are at work in the kitchen, serving breakfast.  Many sisters and brothers are working in the hamper room, at the vegetable table and at the registration desk.  One of my favourite brothers is Raymond who is working tirelessly, putting up the tables, mopping the floor and removing garbage bags.  He does not say much, but sometimes shares with me what happened in the past week, particularly about his favourite sport, bowling.  Sometimes he likes to tap me on the back or on the head as a way of greeting.  Where can I find such a big, caring and closely knit family of God?  Where can I find such support and care outside this family?

Today, we are called both individually and as a community to claim our membership as part of God’s family in the same way that Jesus did. Our relationship with God is more important than either family blood-ties or institutional loyalty.  We are called to claim our rightful part in God’s family beyond our natural families.  So let us join Jesus in saying, ““Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother,” today and in the days ahead.  Amen.

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