Sermon June 9  Mark 3:13ff  Going Rogue                  Rev. Betsy Hogan

I’m sure that you’ve heard the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Well, I discovered this week that it also takes a village to find the original source of that proverb. Or at least a source that seems more specific and less derivative than just saying it’s “African.”

To be fair, I suppose, cultural historians and anthropologists HAVE identified echos of it in traditional proverbs of a great swathe of central and eastern African countries, from Sudan south to Zambia, and east through Kenya and Tanzania – so it certainly does have a kind of pan-African heart running through it –

But the best contender for the original source seems to be a proverb of the Igbo of Nigeria in West Africa – Oran a azu nwa. Which literally means “it takes a community to raise a child.”

And so it does. When that community’s small enough, the protection and care and guidance and support can and do often happen directly, which some of us here might have experienced in our lives…

But even in cities, even in great vast metropolises, we still reflect – when we’re at our best – that same conviction. It takes a village to raise a child. It’s why we invest public money in Halifax Rec programs. It’s why we do stints as Brownie leaders and soccer coaches, and clap heartily for kids we don’t know at school concerts. It’s why everyone’s taxes pay for public schools and public libraries – because it takes a village to raise a child.

And we recognize that responsibility. We recognize that it’s shared, we recognize that it’s real, quite beyond any actual ties of kinship… and we might even recognize that sometimes it’s not just supportive, and it’s not just helping, but it’s actually crucial.

The village can be crucial to a child’s well-being. It can be crucial to a child’s flourishing. Sometimes it can be crucial to a child’s life.

And that can just as surely be true once that child has grown up.

This is a really tough passage, this passage from Mark’s gospel that Jane read for us just now. It’s one of those passages, and fortunately there aren’t too many, but it’s one of those passages where we get to the end of it – and it just feels somehow not great.

Like Jesus somehow hasn’t quite been Jesussy enough. And it’s a bit uncomfortable. His mother and brothers and sisters have arrived at the door where he’s staying with the disciples, and they’re asking to see him. They’re really just concerned about him. Because people are saying he’s gone out of his mind. There’s clearly been a dramatic change, his family don’t know what he’s suddenly getting up to, people are saying he’s gone out of his mind -- so his mother, his brothers, his sisters, they’re just worried.

And of course they are. I mean, it’s all well and good to say “surely his mother knew he was Jesus” – but she’s still his mother, and meanwhile his cousin John the Baptist’s out roaming around in the wilderness wearing animal skins and eating locusts and wild honey – so of course she’s going to be worried about him.

It’s really not that surprising and yet Jesus… when he hears she’s at the door asking for him, honestly? He’s kind of dismissive. Even a bit contemptuous.

It’s like, “My mother, my brothers, my sisters? I don’t know what you’re on about but these folks HERE are my mother and my brothers and my sisters. Those who do the will of God are my mother and my brothers and my sisters.” 

And we get the sentiment. We understand the point. But still – it’s not exactly kind. Was he really that sarcastic? It’s just somehow not the Jesus we’d hope for.

Now it’s true, we don’t actually know what happened next. The story we get just stops there, with him still sitting in the house with his disciples, and his mother and brothers and sisters all still outside.

So there’s no indication that they’ve in fact heard what he’s said, how dismissive he’s sounded. And it’s entirely possible, and I would say highly probable, that once he finished delivering his last line there to the disciples, he actually hopped right up and went outside to reassure his family -- and maybe he even invited them to come inside and join him.

Because we know that his mother and at least his brother James were part of that earliest community of disciples who surrounded him, right until the time of his death. So they obviously remained close. And this was very much NOT a matter of Jesus permanently turning his back on his family.

But if things happened that way, with Jesus being as kind and reassuring and respectful of his family’s concerns as we might hope Jesus would be -- why didn’t Mark include that in his story? Why leave us at the point where it sounds like Jesus is pretty much cutting them off?

The thing is, I don’t think it would have occurred to Mark that we’d hear this as Jesus maybe pretty much cutting them off. I don’t think Mark could have any concept of even the notion of pretty much cutting them off – which in our culture in the past decade or so seems to have made a HUGE leap in psychotherapy from being recommended in situations of serious abuse… to being recommended, as far as I can tell, with quite astonishing regularity. 

Which Mark, in that first century culture where the permanence of kinship bonds simply wouldn’t have been questioned, I think he’d find our current trend frankly stunning. So it wouldn’t have occurred to him that that’s where our minds might go in this passage. At this time when he’s writing, choosing or deciding to go no-contact with your family – that’s not even a thing.

But something else IS a thing, at the time that Mark is writing. 

Because Mark’s gospel gets put together and finally written down roughly 25 or 30 years after the resurrection. It’s by far the earliest of the four gospels, and it shapes itself into the gospel we have now over those first few decades of the earliest Christian communities.

When what’s happening for at least some and actually quite a lot of those earliest Christian followers of the Way of Jesus, is that their families are rejecting THEM.

Casting them out of the family circle permanently. Disowning them, disavowing them, cutting off those kinship ties, those kinship bonds, permanently. 

In some cases in those fraught times for the earliest church, it almost certainly happened pretty much in self-defense. A Christian in the family could put the whole family in danger from Roman authorities – and that vulnerability was real. It may not seem to us admirable that a family would cut someone off just to protect everyone ELSE in the family, but the vulnerability was real. Sometimes we do what we’ve got to do, and we don’t really know, looking from the outside, what that’s like.

So some of the earliest Christians, they got cast out of their families because of safety issues. But others? They got cast out of their families and rejected and cut off… just for not toe-ing the family line. 

Just for believing different, for being different. For apparently “defying” their families’ values and rules and expectations and authority by listening to their own hearts and listening to their own spirits… and following Jesus’ Way instead.

They just got cut off and cast out. Suddenly bereft of kinship ties in a culture wholly and completely grounded in kinship ties. And whether that was a matter of the safety of the rest of the family or it was a matter of “no child of mine” and out you go – it was terrible. And it was real.

And that’s the context in which Mark shares this story in his gospel. It’s the context in which whatever Jesus does afterward, going out and reassuring his mum and probably inviting them all in so they can see that he’s perfectly fine – none of that actually matters. All of it’s actually very much not the point.

Because the point really IS that there can be different kinship ties. That there isn’t only one kind of family, based either on blood relationship or all growing up in the same house.

There can be different kinship ties. Bonds that are real kinship bonds, just as strong and just as permanent, that aren’t just the family we land in.

They’re the family we build. They’re the family we choose. They’re the family where we fit, just as we are. 

What’s crucially important to Mark in this story, what’s crucially important to JESUS in this story, it isn’t reassuring his family that all’s well. We might wish he’d been a little less dismissive and a little more Jesussy in his demeanour in this particular situation, but that’s really not his priority here.

His priority is reassuring his followers. Mark’s priority is reassuring those who’ll come a little later, those earliest Christians – that they’re NOT bereft of kinship ties. That their shared faith makes them a built family, a chosen family, but a real family. Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my brother and my sister.

There are a lot of reasons why it takes a village to raise a child. But what we’re reminded of in this passage is just how much we all need villages. To be for us the built families, the chosen families, where our whole self or even just part of it, fits right in. Bonded tight and held as we are. 

Be for one another that village, Jesus might have said. Amen.