Families are easily one of the greatest blessings about human life and simultaneously one of the greatest sources of grief and pain. Those of you who have heard my own story know that I am estranged from my birth family. Human sins like homophobia have wreaked havoc and driven a wedge between myself and the people I “ought” to have the closest ties to. And I know from conversations with many of you in moments of crisis, that alongside the hopeful joy which you experience with your loved ones, many of you also carry deep wounds inflicted by family.

Whether by blood or marriage or adoption, we find ourselves bound to these people we did not choose. Yet at the same time we are also divided from them. They dash our hopes or betray our trust. We let them down or try to control them. And we all pass around blame like a hot potato. And each of these wounds—whether it’s small like a paper cut or feels as deep as a botched amputation—each of these wounds divides our house—our family—against itself. 

Each family is broken in its own unique way—sometimes obvious, sometimes not. But none of our families are unique in being broken. Whatever the immediate causes may be, the divisions that riddle each of our families are symptomatic of the deeper division that plagues the whole human family. Alienation from ourselves and from one another is a tragically universal part of our human condition. It’s endemic to       the “outer nature” or “earthly dwelling” that Paul seems to constantly be wrestling with. 

And this has been the case since way back at the beginning in the garden of Eden, when the author of Genesis tells us about how Adam turns on Eve when confronted by God, throwing her under the bus for a sin they both shared, and Eve in turns passes off the blame to the serpent who prompted them to do their own will. The human family—the “house” of Adam and Eve—is already divided against itself just 3 chapters into the story of the Bible. Enticed by Satan to think only of themselves, the first human family rises up against itself, sowing seeds of division and alienation which make them unable to stand in the presence of God—hiding in the bushes—and which set a precedent for their descendents for generations to come.

Mark’s Gospel suggests that even Jesus’ family was not entirely immune to this spirit of division that has hounded humanity since the Garden of Eden. Our Gospel reading today opens with Jesus’ relatives on their way to restrain him, convinced that he is out of his mind. They’re treating the incarnate Son of God like that crazy cousin at family Christmas! You know: the one that people either completely avoid or half-seriously consider committing to an asylum. A teeming crowd around him sees something special about Jesus, even if they don’t grasp the full picture yet. But his own relatives—his own family—are acting against him.

 Mark doesn’t give us a ton of insight into what precisely is motivating Jesus’ relatives in their attempt to restrain Jesus. But the very fact that they are trying to intervene against him makes this a case that demonstrates the extent to which the human family is divided against itself. These are people who have in all likelihood spent countless hours talking and eating and laughing face-to-face with God incarnate. And now they’re hearing about and seeing him perform tremendous acts of power that reveal God’s victory over evil. People are being healed, fed, and set free.

 If anyone should be supporting Jesus in this mission, recognizing who he is, it ought to be his relatives—his family—his kin. But even they are alienated from their own flesh and blood. Even they put their own concerns ahead of what’s good and right and go, “Oh man, we gotta put a stop to this.” Even they are swayed by the spirit of division that touches each of our families in some unique way—that poisons the relationship between parent and child—that drives siblings and spouses and cousins apart. If even Jesus’ family is divided like this, then it sure looks like Satan the strongman, who sowed those seeds of alienation and division back in the Garden, has succeeded at turning humanity into a house so divided against itself that it cannot stand.

 But even as Jesus exposes the predicament of a house that’s divided against itself and the inability of such a divided house as the human family to stand on its own, Jesus does something new. Jesus creates a new kind of family. “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 This is not the kind of family we’re used to thinking about. It’s not a family bound by genealogy, or even by the bonds of human affection that bind “chosen families” together. This is a family bound together by doing God’s will—by thinking and doing those things that are right and good and holy. The family that Jesus creates and draws together is inspired and guided, not by Satan’s spirit of division that drives us apart like ships in a storm, but by God’s Holy Spirit that stirs up and renews us blowing through our lives like a cool evening breeze. This new kind of family is the family we join when we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and answer his call to be his disciples and do God’s will in the world.

 The families of our birth don’t cease to matter. They do matter. When we join this new human family that Jesus forms and reveals to us today, those relationships do not end. That’s not the takeaway from Jesus’ pronouncement about who his brothers and sisters and mothers are. But we do learn that the family of our birth is not the only, or even the ultimate, family that grounds us as we live in the world and take up God’s mission. Our salvation and healing will not ultimately come from the family of our birth.

 It is this family of our new birth that heals the divisions of the human family which have plagued us since Eden. As members of this new kind of family we are filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit to take up our cross and follow Jesus. God inspires and guides so that we can do those things that are right—so that rather than hiding naked and afraid, this new family is able to stand in God’s presence—to stand as God’s presence—a sign and instrument of unity in the world. It’s in this new kind of family—the family of our fellow disciples—that the wounds and alienation which divide our earthly families and weigh us down will finally start to be healed and transformed into a beautiful weight of glory promised by God.

 This promise of healing in the family of disciples doesn’t fix all the problems of alienation and division right away. We still groan in a house—a human family—that’s deeply divided. Our families continue to disappoint and wound us. And we may not see some of those divisions healed in this lifetime. I may not be reconciled with my family on this side of the grave. And the families of your birth may well remain marked by division and alienation for the rest of your time on this earthly pilgrimage. But the promise of a heavenly dwelling—of a house and a family not divided against itself—still remains. And even as our hearts ache over divisions we see in the families of our birth, we can also participate in the family of our new birth.

 I want you to take a moment and look around you. Look at the people gathered here.

 This is also your family. This is the family of the Body of Christ—the Church—a bunch of broken people from broken families, who have nevertheless been gathered by Jesus to live life together in his resurrection and to learn what it means to do only God’s will. This is your family, if you will have them—if you will join them in seeking to do God’s will—if you will take up your cross and follow Jesus with them and pray together like we did at the beginning of the service: “O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”