Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Securing the Baby...




ON THE Third Sunday after Pentecost, we study text found early in the Gospel According to Saint Mark. The writing has been wondrously woven together from materials gathered by our author. We read…

And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.”
 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-elzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”
 And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.
 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.
 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”, for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
 And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”    (Mark 3:20-35)

Get Messy Yet…?
For the writer of this text, some thirty years had passed since our Lord suffered crucifixion and death upon a cross and was resurrected. The year was approximately 65A.D. The infant church was becoming more stressed. Isolation from the parent synagogues in the city and suburban area found Christians to be orphaned in worship and greatly persecuted in the kosher marketplaces. Worse yet, Jesus had not yet returned. In that 6th decade of the first century, the Church found itself suddenly under great persecution and apostolic leadership was fading.
 Consider this! We find that Saint Paul was likely beheaded from the apostolic scene in 60AD. After Roman governance was weakened slightly in Jerusalem after Porcius Festus died, and before his successor Lucius Albinus took office… the religious and political powers of the Temple plotted more fervently against Christians so that James the Just was killed in 62A.D. James, who was likely the brother or cousin of Jesus himself, had been the beloved head of the Jerusalem church leadership.
 As well, if our sources are accurate, James, the son of Alpheaus was also martyred by 62A.D. in Egypt. Finally, Peter was crucified in Rome by 64A.D. The loss of this last person may have been spiritually considered as very close to Christians there, having preached in the city that seems to have spawned the Markan gospel.
 The burden upon Christians then meeting in house churches grew. If we accept the historical dating pinned together here, the elders of the church were fast fading into history. The church of Mark gathered together by the Spirit, therefore, began to write down the good news of our Lord Jesus. In short, a brief witness the events, miracles, and paths of our Lord were carefully constructed and written. The gospel tradition as a writing thus emerged.


 By the power of the Holy Spirit, the gospel story was then told from many gathered sources. Some of these had been given to the community orally by the disciples themselves as they visited. Other sources were possibly retrieved from Saint Paul’s letters. Subsequently we find that our lesson today has accounts woven skillfully together, with one scene wrapped-tightly around the other. Both accounts witness to us of great threat to the early church, and the call of scripture to faithfulness in discipleship.
 We need to bring into view that amid this era, tensions were building for Christians in Jerusalem. James had been killed. In 66A.D. war broke out between rebellious factions in Israel and the rule of Rome. In retaliation, the Romans desecrated the Temple and forbid any Jewish worship there. Leaders, mostly the Pharisees as teachers of the Law, were therefore driven from the temple of Jerusalem to the coastal city of Jamnia. As time rolled on, this period of war effectively ended after several years, with the fall of the fortress at Masada in 70A.D. During the latter 60s, however, it had become a common defense for the Jews to point out known Christians as trouble making scapegoats.
 Thus we easily see that tensions between various Jewish factions of Zealots, Sicarii and some late Messianic claimers were used to attempt sterilization of social diapers within the messy pot of boiling germination. As factional wars broke out, the Jews were looked at suspiciously by the Romans, whether they were in Jerusalem, Galilee, Alexandria, Antioch, Asia Minor or Rome. It was within this social unrest, that the church of Mark was compelled by the Spirit to write.



 We read early in the Gospel According to Mark that Jesus’ family had been concerned over his pell-mell ministry alongside his disciples. Jesus seemed to be kicking the cradle blankets away and was moving too far from his family’s swaddling clothes. His mother… and his brothers whose relational identity is still challenged even today… rushed forward to gather him up. Whether they feared that some hurtful demonic possession (mental illness or frothy mania) would harm Jesus, or his behavior might reflect on them and their family business, we cannot know. It is here, however, where we see the wondrous undergarment of Mark’s editorial skills come to the fore.
 We find in Mark that readers are suddenly placed amid what was spoken of by the temple authorities. Let the reader of our dialog here note that the charge being claimed by his opponents was likely echoed in the Alexandrian synagogues some three decades later.
 We seem that the authorities touted that Jesus was demon-possessed! The dialog of our Lord shed the accusations aside for his own immediate time, and thus addressed the same challenges in the later decades. However, these rumors persisted then and his words preserved here are salve even for our own day.
 His illustrative statement about the “strong man”, as representing Satan, for example… tells each of us in our own time… that the evil one must be bound before we can “plunder” his house and free his captives. Additionally we find that the power to do this great task is given to the Church only by the Holy Spirit. In this, the ability may be used by any believer who would change the diapers on an infant church because it doesn’t pass the orthodox smell test.
 Take note the progression of the text here! What is it that stinks? Any who deny our Lord’s influential wrapping for his Church… snugly sheltered through the power of the Holy Spirit... will gather for themselves rank eternal separation from God.


Tough Cradle Love…
Consequently, the message of this gospel reaches those in the Church today who need affirmation. We can see now why blessed Mark returned to that earlier text to complete the first scene. As our Lord's family in their concern approached Jesus’ lodging, he voiced what many see today as a rather callous position. He ignored their call to return to the security of family nurture and business. Instead, our Lord stated that any who did the will of his heavenly Father, was and yet still is… his family! This must have been a soothing message given out in the late '60s to Mark's spiritually screaming church! The good news said the yet living Lord was still with them.
As a child I remember that during a diaper change my newborn sister would look at me in protest as she was strapped to the changing table. She would scream and then hold her breath for a prolonged time. If left to her own, I feared that she would do so until she expired. However, my mom was prepared, When the screaming episode and subsequent breath-holding took place, she would wait for just a second or two. Then she grabbed a water-filled sprinkler bottle and squirted cold water onto her infant daughter’s face. The cold shock broke the tantrum. This, I believe... is exactly what was being done for the church in this text.



 In summation, we have that the early church was severely threatened, finding itself very naked and exposed to surrounding hostilities. Consequently guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church was reminded here that they are the “baptized” …the “sprinkled” of God. What’s more, they were reminded that baptism had made them family. Even as the witness of Mark’s gospel progressed through future chapters, the church learned of the often infantile, resistant denseness of our Lord’s apostles. All Christians can identify!
 You see, both they... and we also… are brought to realize grace poured out, The loving hands of the Father hold each of us securely. Through the powdery dusts of time, we shall not roll harmfully from the changing table and perish. Eternal life is given to us through the Son. That promise shall never change.
 Like our Lord resting in the cradle in Bethlehem, by Mark we are assured that we remain securely wrapped by the Holy Spirit even though steeples fall. This is the message of blessed Mark. This is the outlook we need to take with us as we learn to walk steadily into what has become a perilous and hostile world. We are the baptized. We are secure as children of the Most High God.

Please be invited to peruse a recent video... "Christian Strike Force?"

May the Holy Spirit Guide You!




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