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Times Without Number

Mark 3:20-35

The Rev. Jon Roberts

10 June


Grace Episcopal Church

Monroe, LA

20 And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-el′zebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house. 28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31 And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers[c] are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”


Jesus heals the epileptic boy, engraving by Otto Elliger, from a book by David Martin (1639-1721)

It is not once nor twice, but times without number, that the same ideas make their appearance in the world.[1]

How many times are we allowed to stumble before God says, “That’s it?”

Once upon a time, a couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Their domestic tranquility had long been the talk of the town. A local newspaper reporter was inquiring as to the secret of their long and happy marriage. “Well, it dates back to our honeymoon,” explained the man. “We visited the Grand Canyon and took a trip down the bottom of the canyon by pack mule. We hadn't gone too far when my wife's mule stumbled. My wife quietly said to the mule, "That's once." We proceeded a little farther when the mule stumbled again. One more my wife quietly said, "That's twice." “We hadn't gone a half mile when the mule stumbled a third time. My wife promptly removed a revolver from her pocket and shot the mule. I started to protest over her treatment of the animal when she looked at me and quietly said, "That's once."
Once upon a time, there was another couple who began their honeymoon, not in a canyon, but in a garden. Abundant life was to be celebrated, but they were warned not to eat the fruit of one tree. If they did, they would surely die. “That’s it,” God said. The story of Adam and Eve is an ancient one. We hear it once more from the Book of Genesis this morning. The fall happened, once, and since, not twice, but without number, as the same ideas have made appearances in the world. Our waywardness from God, are stumbling points leading us out of the honeymoon. When we no longer wait for the Lord, and listen to His word, our hope is lost. In the bible it says our soul is to wait for the Lord, “more than the watchmen waits for the morning.” [2]

When we strike against the Father’s will; when we grow impatient; we watch only for what we want and lose hope for what God wants. In the Roberts family growing up, my father enjoyed playing with me his version of baseball. It wasn’t like the kind where we went in the yard with a ball and glove. The kind he played was intended to get my attention. Sometimes, if I talked back, my father would say, “Strike One.” If I didn’t do my chores, he would say, “Strike Two.” Sometimes, if I took the Lord’s name in vain, “Strike three,” he would say. “You’re out”; “That’s it.” Sometimes I wouldn’t get dessert for the evening. Sometimes he added a few extra chores. If it was really bad, I received a capital punishment. When I look back on those years, I don’t protest on how he treated me as his son. I knew he had no enjoyment with such discipline. But there were times when I behaved badly, whereas he did not recognize me as his son.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus did not recognize people who were supposed to be close to him.[3] He was doing what he always did. He was in the heart of the people. He was enveloped by human needs, way beyond number. The people were demanding and Jesus had no time to eat. No time to socialize. No time to go to the club after Church to be with his family, so to speak. He was doing God’s work. His family began to bicker and say, “He’s out of his mind.” They gave him one chance after another to come home to them, but he did not. They felt he had left them; had alienated them. So, they used language that was passive, then aggressive. “That’s once. That’s twice. That’s three times. You’re out.” What type of family writes off its members like that?

Maybe you have said those words, “That’s it” after being fed up. “Who are my mother and my brothers,” Jesus asked. The second group of people, who turned against Jesus, were the leaders of the Church. They thought Jesus’ ways were not only foreign but dangerous to the people. They intended to ride him out of Jerusalem. They did, and discovered Jesus made and even greater impact outside of the holy city, times without number, upon the people who he healed and taught. The scribes, like Jesus family, lashed out at him. They intended to punish him, to discipline him; to bring him back into the fold; to bring him back into the mold; by saying Jesus was not only out of his mind, but that his mind was controlled by Satan. Ascribing the work of God to the work of the devil is blasphemy.

This is not forgivable. What they didn’t realize was this man was not a mule. He was the canyon. God swallowed up all of humanity, in the realization of Christ. Through His death and resurrection, he did that once and for all. God continues to reach out, and to bring us into Himself, more than once or twice. It’s without number, so that we would harken to His voice. The idea is to learn to be a watchman. Avoid at all costs, blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Never turn against a man or woman, certainly not a priest, if they say they are following God’s will. Watch out for the twists and turns on your path, and rely upon your faith in God.

Don’t do it once;
Don’t do it twice;
Do it times without number.

[1] Aristotle
[2] Ps 130:4-5
[3] Mark 3:20-35

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