“Closer-Than-Kin Friends”: Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

“Closer-Than-Kin Friends”:  Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

Jun 10, 2018

Passage:Mark 3:20-35

Preacher: The Rev. Dede Schuler Ballou

Series: Pentecost

Category: Love, Faithfulness

Keywords: 12-step, faithfulness, healing, kinship


Jesus asks "who is my mother and who are my brothers and sisters?" Then he tells those around that everyone who does the will of God is his mother and his brother! What would it look like if we all were to be as Jesus asks us to be?


In the name of God, our Creator, His Son, our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer.  Amen.  +

 In the early 90’s, at a particularly difficult time in my life, I was first introduced to 12-step spirituality here at St. Andrew’s.  It was in a class called “Spiritual Awakenings”, which I had no idea referred to the 12th step of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was probably a good thing, because if I had known that, my own unfounded prejudices would have prevented me from even considering attending that class, much less opening my mind to what they had to offer.

 In that class, I heard people share in an authentically honest way I had never experienced before – openly sharing their struggles, their fears, their doubts, their failings, exposing intimate feelings that I was raised not to do, because it might make others feel uncomfortable.  But after a few classes, I didn’t feel uncomfortable.  I admired their courage, their honesty, and I wanted to learn more about how they became so faithful and open and honest with other seemingly unaffiliated strangers.

 One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, has written that he believes that the fellowships of 12-step groups is how the early Christian church operated – a seemingly diverse and unrelated group of rag-tag people with one thing in common, and how refreshing it would be if the church operated that way now.  In 12-step groups – the common bond is usually a particular addiction, and through the fellowship, members support each other in developing their spiritual lives to not only help themselves stop their addictive behavior to live a better life, but to always stand at the ready to help anyone who asks for help with their addiction.  In the early church, the common bond was a love of Jesus Christ, following his teachings to live a better life, and being ready to help anyone who wanted to join them on their journey following the teachings of Christ.  The early church had no hierarchy like we know church to be today, many of the members of the church were “outsiders” in their communities for challenging established norms, yet they all shared what they had with each other so that everyone had enough to survive and supported each other as close as family to meet the challenges of living a Christian life in a world that rejected them.  And 12-step groups operate much the same way with no established leadership, but being guided by what they call a “Higher Power” to make decisions for the common welfare of the group, to be self-supporting as an organization, and becoming as close as family to meet the challenges in a world that often rejects people with addictions because they belong outside because they are less-than because of their addiction.

 Several years later, I met a man who was very active in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, and because of what I had learned about 12-step spirituality, I was drawn to him because of his deep faith in God’s loving guidance, and his devotion to helping the variety of misfitsin his path who struggled with their addictions.  That man, David, later became my husband.  When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, I got to experience first-hand the fellowship of this “family” in action.   They took him to his treatments, they mowed our lawn when he couldn’t, they brought us meals, groups of men would “bring an AA meeting to him” at our home when he was too sick to go….. they did much more for us than our own blood families did.  That’s when I really came to learn what a friend of mine used to call “Closer-Than-Kin friends.”

 In the gospel from Mark today, Jesus finds himself surrounded by people longing to hear his teaching, and to be healed from whatever their affliction may be.  Jesus’ mother and brothers are outside the place where he is, and they send word that they want to speak with him.  Jesus seems to respond rather harshly, “Who are my mother and brothers?”, and looking at those who sat around him, he said “Here are my mother and brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  Jesus is clearly stating that the people surrounding him are his “Closer-Than-Kin friends.”  And isn’t it interesting the juxtaposition of his blood family being “outside”, while this other family is “inside”?  Insiders and outsiders are now defined, not by blood, but by commitment to doing God’s will, which brings even more tension challenging the ideas of who is “in” and who is “out” in God’s Kingdom versus in the World.

 I was once again reminded of the family bonds formed in a 12-step fellowship just yesterday.  A somewhat quirky woman with many years of sobriety, had over the last few months begun showing signs of mental distress – acting very paranoid of even her close friends,loss of memory, not bathing or presenting herself in public as she normally did with her perfect makeup and hair,talking in ways that didn’t make sense.  A group of women in her recovery group became very concerned about herearly yesterday afternoon and began asking her questions trying to find out what was different about her.  She had not been drinking, but it became clear her prescribed medications were working against her and could be the cause of such drastic change.While this quirky woman has blood family in town, and even in her own household, her Closer-Than-Kin friends knew all too well she was not herself and could possibly be a danger to herself.Three ladies who all had plans yesterday to tend to themselves or their own families, dropped everything, cancelled their plans, and began making calls for this woman, seeking answers for the cause of her alarming behavior, and requesting help from a variety of healthcare providers, ultimately landing in the emergency room.  Never leaving her side, at 9:00 last night, while the ladies didn’t get any definitive answers for their friend’s condition, they did get a game plan for next steps, and made plans for how each of them would go with her to doctors’ appointments and make sure she got the help she needed.  They returned her to her home, making sure she was safe, leaving their phone numbers by her bed in case she needed them during the night, and reassuring her that they would walk along side her in her search for answers and treatment if necessary. 

 I realize that this kind of story isn’t limited to just the fellowship of a 12-step group.  I have witnessed many similar stories in the life of the church family at St. Andrew’s.  And I believe all these stories are evidence of God’s redemptive love that flows through us to our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers – our Closer-Than-Kin friends. 

 I was saddened by the news of two public figures taking their own lives this week and am reminded that we all have a responsibility as followers of Christ to look after one another, listen and truly hear one another for indications that our extended family in this world are suffering and need our help and love.  It can literally be the difference between life or death.

 No one, including, or maybe especially, Jesus Christ ever said that this life of following Him would be easy or without difficulty.  However, following the example of those faithful Christians of the early church, we know without a doubt that even the smallest amount of faith can produce wondrous results as we seek to live in the Kingdom of God, today and always, with our blood families and our Closer-Than-Kin friends.  Amen