Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.
We are now in those weeks of the Church’s calendar called “the season of Pentecost”. I prefer the name “Trinity season” and I’ll tell you why in a minute. Brace yourself. This season is long and it will not fly by. At least it does not for me. For the next twenty-six weeks when we come to church we will see lots of green on the altar and in the vestments. We will walk our way through the Scriptures, predominantly the Gospel according to Saint Mark. We will hear some parables and read about some of Jesus’ healing miracles.
There is a logic and purpose to reading through Saint Mark’s Gospel and some accompanying Epistles and Old Testament passages. By the time we worship together through the summer and fall, right up to the end of November, we should know and believe what it’s like to live with the Holy Spirit that came down on us at Pentecost. The rationale is our spiritual growth. We are to spend this season learning, praying, receiving God’s grace through his word to become holy. Sanctification is the big word for it. It’s more than living with the Holy Ghost that came down on the Church at Pentecost. It’s living in and with God the Holy Trinity, because the Holy Ghost has incorporated us into the life of the Trinity. That’s why Trinity season, and not Pentecost season, is a better description of the season. We are to grow in holiness and green is the sign for growth, so here we go.
I say all this so that you have a good picture of what your church is supposed to be about between now and the season of Advent. It’s why we’re hearing the Bible read in a particular order. We are to learn and grow into the people God wants us to be now that he has been born to us, lived with us, suffered and died for us, rose again from the dead, sent us his Holy Ghost, and is now back at the right hand of his Father waiting for us and continually shedding his grace on us by the Holy Ghost until we get there. Praise him for all this and as we hear the readings of the Bible, when we come to Church over the next twenty-six weeks, think about what we’re to learn and to what we are to conform our hearts and souls in this season with the Holy Trinity.
So what are we supposed to learn today? The power of Christ’s love over division strikes me as I’ve read these lessons from Genesis, Second Corinthians and Saint Mark’s Gospel. It is good for us to learn about Satan and how he works. When we know something about the enemy, we can be prepared to deal with him. We can discern when he is acting on us. We can know where to go to get the grace of God to overcome him. God wants us united. The Devil wants us divided. The good news is that Christ’s power of love overcomes any division caused by sin. Let’s look at what we learn and believe from the Scriptures.
In the midst of battling even original sin there is a quiet confidence and consolation that we find with God. Notice in the Garden of Eden after the serpent had beguiled Eve, who in turn tempted Adam, God comes looking for them; almost as if he’s longing and concerned for them. “…But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” It makes your heart go out to God. He wants man and woman to be with him because they’re lost. He desires them to be with him. They cannot be with him in the perfect fellowship they had with him because sin has separated Adam and Eve from him. But notice that God still desires them to be with him. “Where are you?” He still wants them. So even with the existence of the powerful division of original sin, God tries to find them. He still tries to find us even when we have turned away from him time and time again.
It’s God’s loving providence over all things that’s operative here. This kind of love is illustrated in some way, I think, in how the Church operates with her sinners. Christians are given the opportunity to repent and be brought back into the communion of the Church when they sin. It’s why we have the sacrament of confession, or the General Confession in the liturgy, or that Saint Paul writes to Saint James, “Go and confess your sins one to another”, or that we continually pray in the ‘Our Father’, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. God the Father Almighty is over all things and even oversees the battle of sin and redemption.
The plea for union with God, the drive for unity in Christ, Christ’s proclamation that he loves his followers, all come through in the Gospel. The teaching that unity is the will of God, and not estrangement, is even used by Jesus in his confrontation with the Jerusalem scribes. They have collapsed into name calling and character assassination to crush the growing influence of Jesus’ ministry. They declare, “he is possessed by Be-elzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” It’s easy for Jesus to refute their charge because he points out that Satan would not try to drive out demons that are doing his work. Why would he be divided against himself? “And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.”
All through the lessons we heard today there are many opposing divisions: God separated from Adam and Eve; life in this world and life in Heaven; those things that are seen and those that are unseen; Christ as opposed to sin and Satan; forgiveness and the unforgivable sin. The good news is that the love of Christ, given to us by God, heals and helps us overcome all these divisions. Saint Paul, writing to the Corinthians describes how this love of Christ can help get us through the divisions of this world: …Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. Again, God’s loving providence has the oversight of all that can hurt and divide us, and has sent his son to give us the loving grace we need in time of hurt and division caused by sin.
This love is powerful and more powerful than anything sin and Satan have to offer. Jesus uses his familial bond to his mother Mary and his brothers to illustrate how strong and broad this love is. We know the strong love that a mother has for her son, and that sons have for their mothers. The need for the kingdom, and the unity that exists in God’s kingdom, are like the need a son has for his mother and his friends. That need is filled by Jesus Christ and entering his kingdom. When the crowd sitting around him said, your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you, the crowd thought that surely Jesus would leave immediately and go to be with his mother and brothers. His response is to reveal that the crowd around him are his mother and brothers because whoever does the will of God (are his) brothers, and sister, and mother. This is not a snub of Mary, his mother, and his close friends the disciples. Jesus is using the close bond between him and his mother, as an example, to show how much one needs to love in order to do God’s will and be part of his kingdom.
With this kind of love we can heal many divisions that exist between us and God and between us and those around us. This is all summarized and offered to God in prayer by one of the petitions in our marriage service: Grant that the bonds of our common humanity, by which all your children are united one to another, and the living to the dead, may be so transformed by your grace, that your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven; where, O Father, with your Son and Holy Spirit, you live and reign in perfect unity, now and for ever. Amen.