SUNDAY SERMON: A divided house cannot stand

By Rev. Stephen Baldwin 

OT: Genesis 3.8-15

NT: Mark 3.20-35

Appalachians know more about family than most.  Our houses are filled with weavings bearing sayings like, “Home is where the heart is.”  Our closets are filled with hats from the company picnic and shirts from family reunions. Our mantles are filled with pictures of grandparents who made us and grandchildren who’ve made it elsewhere.  Nothing inhabits our hearts as deeply as the place we call home and the people we call family.  We know that nothing causes as much joy and pain as those we love dearly.     

The poet Robert Frost once said home is the place where they have to take you in.  Something like that is happening in Mark 3.  

The crowds, of their own accord or at the urging of religious leaders—it’s hard to say—think Jesus might be losing his mind.  They crowd around him so tightly that his family fears for his safety.  It wasn’t the first time he’d been in trouble, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.  But it may be the most personal.  

The story tells us that Jesus’ mother, brothers, and sisters rush out to surround him.  Conspicuously absent is Jesus’ father, Joseph, who is never mentioned and therefore assumed dead.  That leaves Jesus as the man of the house, only he’s not ever home much…always out healing the kid down the street and feeding the elderly in the next town down.  I can only imagine how happy his family was to see his coming home…until they heard the crowds.  So they rush out to encircle their chosen one and protect him from those who mean him harm.  

But like a big brother on the playground, he’s not one to be bullied, especially in front of his family.  When the religious leaders say he plays for the wrong team, spiritually speaking, he scoffs at their suggestion that he is as demonic as the spirits he casts out of the sick and lame.  “If I were the devil, why would I cast myself out?  Everyone knows a house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Keep in mind that he says this as his family surrounds him in total devotion, guarding his life with their own.  They are a house united.  

Then, as he’s apt to do, Jesus takes it to another level.  He accuses his accusers of blasphemy, which is the ancient equivalent of treason.  Once you’re branded Benedict Arnold, the label sticks.  The story doesn’t tell us how the religious leaders or the crowds respond, but it couldn’t have been pretty.  If they gossiped about his mental state before, they surely screamed about it now.  

Jesus’ family suddenly appears again, no doubt still trying to protect him.  The crowd tells him, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside calling for you!”  

He says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  You might think that’s an awful thing to say, to your family nonetheless.  We sometimes can be harshest to those with whom we are the closest.  

But I don’t think that’s what is happening here.  When he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he accomplishes two things.   He protects his own family members, refusing to identify them as his family and thereby subject them to harm by the crowd.  But he also does something else, something remarkable.  He welcomes that same crowd into his family.   

His family does not end where his bloodline does.  His family includes those to his left, those to his right, those breathing down his neck, and those on his back.  Who are my mother and my brothers?  We’re all God’s family.  

Who is to your right…and your left…and breathing down your neck…and on your back?  Who is your mother?  Who are your brothers?  We’re all God’s family.  

An Indian priest tells this story:  A man traversed land and sea to check out for himself the Lord’s extraordinary fame. “What miracles has your Lord worked?” he asked a disciple. 

“Well, there are miracles and miracles. In your land it is regarded as a miracle if God does someone’s will. In our country it is regarded as a miracle if someone does the will of God.”

That speaks to the difficulty in getting people to do the right thing.  Think about when you were a child.  You may have known not to pick on your brothers and sisters, but you probably did anyway, right?  Unless your dad caught you in the act and made it clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that you would not do that again.   

We treat each other like family because God says so.  Jesus showed us what that looked like in real life. And his words echo unto this day: “If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand.” 

He does not mince words. He does not qualify his statement. It’s plain as day. A house divided cannot stand. And he said those words as his house united around him in protection. He said those words as he opened his family to his enemies. 

Nothing runs as deep in our veins as family. God’s call is to treat everyone as though they are our mother and our brother and our family. For we are all God’s children. Amen. 


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