Sermon: Family and Followers

Orthodox icon depiction of Jesus and his brother James

June 6, 2021

1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15
Mark 3:20-35

by Eric Anderson

When the eggs have hatched and the chicks have learned to fly, most ‘akepa spend a few months in flocks together through the summer and early fall. ‘Akepa, ‘alawi, and even a few ‘amakihi forage together, watch the fledglings together, and enjoy the days together. It’s a social time in the ohi’a forest.

Except for one determined ‘akepa. I don’t know where he got this notion, but he did: the notion that other birds weren’t as good as the ‘akepa, and being with them made the ‘akepa worth less, too. He was quite a talker, and he persuaded some of the other ‘akepa that they should form their own flock, without any of those ‘alawi or ‘amakihi around.

Off they went. “We are the ‘akepa Aces flock!” said the chief ‘akepa. “We are the best!”

The other birds, if they noticed, didn’t really pay attention. They formed their flocks just fine and enjoyed the summer. The ‘akepa Aces flock did OK, if not brilliantly. The truth is that there weren’t that many of them. They had more trouble finding good feeding spots before other flocks arrived. There weren’t as many to watch out and prevent the young ones from getting into trouble. And they were much more vulnerable to the cruising i’o overhead.

Nevertheless, they tried it again the next summer. There weren’t as many birds this time. Some had died – some had died the previous year because of the safety problems. Others had decided that while ‘akepa might be Aces, having the occasional ‘alawi or ‘amakihi around made for a safer environment. But others heard “We are the ‘akepa Aces flock! We are the best!” and flocked to the call.

It wasn’t a good summer. I’o attacks drove them away from good feeding areas and cost them some promising young fledglings, some lost and some driven away to other flocks. They were frequently hungry and often scared. A few maintained that call, “We are the ‘akepa Aces flock! We are the best!” but others were coming to recognize that “the best” wasn’t giving them the best life.

Unfortunately, this is a story without an ending. Is there still an ‘akepa Aces flock in the ohi’a forest? I would guess there is: a flock dedicated to the belief that they are better, that they must keep separate, and unable to see the benefits of uniting with others. There are also flocks – and they are bigger and more successful – which bring together birds of different shapes and colors, and they sing out loud and strong, making the mountains ring.

David Lose asks at, “Why is Jesus getting so much flack? I mean, we’re into just the third chapter in Mark and already he’s got the crowds wondering about him, his family afraid for him (and maybe of him!), and the religious leaders against him. And all he’s done so far is announce the coming kingdom of God, call some disciples, cast out a demon or two, and heal a bunch of sick people.”

Well, true. Those activities, however, had generated a lot of attention. Crowds had begun to turn up. Jesus’ message about the emerging reign of God had reached Jerusalem and prompted enough interest to form a delegation of experts. They’d made the uncomfortable journey to Galilee where they promptly engaged in spiritual conspiracy theory. “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons,” they solemnly declared.

In the meantime, Jesus’ family was worried about him. “People were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind,’” and so they came to “restrain” him, to take care of him, to get him out of the spotlight and out of potential trouble, trouble represented by this group of officials from Jerusalem.

Families still behave like this. When I was first ordained, I was called to serve two small churches in neighboring towns. Sharing a pastor was common for small congregations in Maine. The towns themselves were small, with no more than eight thousand people combined. My grandmother, my father’s mother, was very concerned. She didn’t think that small town ministry was a healthy thing for her grandson.

She would know. She’d spent her life in a small town in the hills of western Massachusetts, a town whose population exceeded a thousand people for the first time while I was in high school and it’s only 1260 now. She’d been a teacher in that town, beginning her career in what was literally a one room schoolhouse, and there were so few teachers in town that my father and my aunts all had their teacher supervising their homework at some point in their schooling – a mixed blessing, to be sure. Gram knew that everybody knows everything about everybody in a small town and in a small church. She knew that the resources were limited. She thought her grandson was, well, a little bit crazy to go and do that.

Just like Jesus’ mother, brothers, and sisters.

Jesus reacted rather bluntly, didn’t he? He called the scribes unforgivable after saying that pretty much anything is forgivable… except what they just did. As Suzanne Guthrie writes at, “The Sin Against the Holy Spirit is rejecting the good in whatever form it comes. And that form might be change, which can be a challenge since it is natural to resist change. The Sin Against The Holy Spirit is denying reality, rejecting the effort to try to understand the dynamic of loving God and neighbor, the refusal to repent, rejecting the choice to respond.”

Hearing about his family calling for him, Jesus spoke pretty harshly about them. First, he identifies the crowd as his mother, brothers, and sisters, in the hearing of his mother, brothers, and sisters. Ouch. As many including Janet Hunt at have pointed out, Jesus expanded the idea of family here, stretching it beyond biology to become doing God’s will.

As Sharron R. Blezard writes, “And what is God’s will you might ask? Jesus put it simply: To love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and being, and your neighbor as yourself. We need to rethink our stances on preventing divorced persons from being welcome at Christ’s table, from welcoming the immigrant and stranger, and from our sins of systemic racism and rejection of our LGBTQ+ siblings. We need to do better so that all may come to know the love, mercy, and grace of the Christ who is at work restoring the goodness in all creation.”

Family, Jesus asserted, is more than birth or adoption. It is more than clan or tribe. It is more than nation or race. It is more, even, than species. Family is doing the will of God: loving God, loving neighbor, emulating the God whose fundamental characteristics are justice, mercy, and steadfast love.

June is Pride month for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning people: pride rather than the shame thrown at them, pride rather than the violence inflicted upon them. Today is the 77th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, that great and terrible step toward the liberation of Europe from the Nazis – and the end of the Holocaust that claimed the lives of six million Jews. While the Holocaust is no more, anti-Semitism is alive and well in the world and in the United States. In a study last fall prepared by the American Jewish Committee, “More than one in three American Jews (37%) say they have been the victims of antisemitism over the past five years.” Jews also perceive antisemitic activity as rising.

Asian Americans continue to be vulnerable to bigotry, bias, and the legacy of systematized American anti-Asian racism. Racist assaults on Asian Americans rose sharply in the last year. Lest we congratulate ourselves too quickly here in Hawai’i, a candidate for Police Commission on O’ahu withdrew from consideration this past week after testifying that he’d never seen any racial discrimination in Hawai’i. As City Councilwoman Esther Kiaaina told Civil Beat, “We clearly have racial discrimination going on here in Hawaii. Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately represented both in our prison population as well as our homeless population. We as policymakers have the job to ensure that we can address those societal challenges.”

So do we as Christians.

I confess that there are ways to read the Bible that don’t just wink at but encourage separation, discrimination, sexism, heterosexism, antisemitism, even racism. I believe that each and every one of these readings has to be held up to Jesus’ assertion that God’s will is love and peace and compassion, and when these things are held to that standard, they are revealed as the evils that they are.

It’s something that Jesus’ family also came to recognize, by the way. In the days after his resurrection, Jesus’ mother was notably present among the growing church. In the years following as the church formed, Jesus’ brother James was a leading apostle.

Jesus’ family became followers.

Let us be followers, too.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Pastor Eric may just be back from vacation, but that doesn’t mean he is any more likely to stick firmly to the prepared text than he was before.

The image is an Orthodox icon depicting Jesus and his brother, James. Image courtesy Nepoznati Ikonopisac –, CC0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on June 6, 2021

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