The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, Year B

“How do we stay rooted in God?”

In this era of being digitally connected and socially distant we are bombarded by people who want to influence our decisions. There are actually people now called influencers who make a living on social media trying to influence what to buy, wear, what to listen to and even where to travel. In the midst of all these influencers it can be hard to sort out who we are and what we want. 

And this can seem like something that is a modern phenomenon or even one that we can avoid if we just avoid social media, but I think we all encounter people who want to influence our lives or decisions. People who want something from us, people who try to bring us down, or even well intentioned people who protect us. With all these competing voices, it can be so hard to figure out what we are meant to do in life, in the moment, or even just this summer. 

Jesus was no stranger to people with strong opinions who wanted to influence him. He was surrounded by people who wanted healing, people who wanted to end him, and people who wanted to restrain him. 

Mark chapter 3 begins with Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on the sabbath in a synagogue. It was considered unlawful to work on the sabbath so the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders, began to talk about how they could remove Jesus, end Jesus. Kill him and his teachings.

The people who watched Jesus heal a man’s withered hand, however, were amazed and inspired to follow Jesus. They told all their friends and family what had happened and soon Jesus had crowds and crowds of sick people around him. He healed so many people that Mark tells us that crowds of people with diseases “pressed in” on Jesus so much that Jesus had to withdraw to a boat to have enough space to stand and speak to the crowd.

We hear in our reading this morning that Jesus is surrounded by so many people that he and his disciples could not even eat. 

People flocked to him wherever he went. They followed his every move. It seemed like everyone was talking about him. People came from all over hoping that they could get close enough to him to be healed. 

But as his notoriety grew, so did the opposition. The more popular Jesus became the more his opponents worked to bring him down. They started to spread rumors that he had gone out of his mind and they even make the ridiculous claim in our reading this morning that he was casting out demons by the authority of the demon ruler.

Jesus’ family heard about people who wanted to end Jesus, so like any good family they were concerned for his well being and went to restrain him. The greek word here for restrain, krateó has the sense here to get possession of, to take, or seize. Jesus’ family wanted to reign him in, stop him from doing what he was doing. In many ways they were like the Pharisees. His family did not want to kill him, but they wanted to take him away from his work. Both his family and the Pharisees wanted to stop him from fulfilling his purpose.

So you might think Jesus should just listen to all the sick people and keep healing, but we know of course that Jesus was not on the earth merely to heal a few thousand people. Jesus was on the earth to transform our sorrow into dancing, our sin into righteous, our death into life. Jesus was on earth not simply to change a few lives, but rather to change the world fundamentally and radically.

So as Jesus went about his work on earth, he was surrounded by people who could have prevented him from fulfilling God’s purpose in his life: his opponents who wanted to end him, his family who wanted to protect him, and even his followers who were pressing in on him for more and more healing.

When we are bombarded by strong opinions like this that try to tear us down, restrain us, or even get something from us it can be hard to sort out which way to go. 

But in fact Jesus is very clear in his words today. In his response to the ludicrous claim made by his opponents that Jesus is casting out demons by the authority of Satan, Jesus clarifies that in fact Satan could not cast out Satan. If Satan tried to cast out Satan, his authority and power would crumble. So Jesus says famously, “if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

At one point or another we all have people who want something from us, people who tear us down, and people who try to reign us in. So who do we listen to? How do we know what to do or where to go?

Jesus says that we will not stand if we are divided within ourselves. If we try to listen to all the opinions or appease this one and that one, we will crumble.  So Jesus implores us, do not let yourself get divided. Just listen to God, the one and only source.

At the end of the passage we read today in Mark, Jesus is informed that his family members are looking for him and Jesus does not dismiss or negate his family members here, he just reminds us of our priorities. He says that his brother and his mother are the people who follow the will of God. In other words, I am not going to be restrained by my family, my opponents will not end my message by killing me, and my beloved followers in need of physical healing here and now will not distract me from saving all of humanity and healing generations. I will not be moved because I get my direction from God, who creates us and gives us purpose.

So if you are bombarded by influencers on social media or in your family or your work or neighborhood and you cannot sort out which way to turn, turn to God, listen to God and you will always know the way forward. 

“Thank you Pastor. Now I have it all sorted. I will just go send a text message to God and ask him for his opinion and he will just shoot me a quick text with what I need to do next and then I’ll just go with that.”

Part of why sorting out all the opinions in our head is tricky is because we don’t have such a clear line to God all the time and sometimes our sister’s opinion might align with God’s call on our lives, so it’s not even as simple as do not listen to anybody else, they are all wrong, just pray.

So how do we hear God’s voice in our lives amidst all the other voices?

The key is building a relationship with God. 

The more you know God’s word in scripture, the more you engage in prayer and meditation listening to God, the more you look for God moments in your life, the more you worship God, the more you will know when God is speaking through someone else or speaking directly to your heart. The more you build a relationship with God, the better you will become at discerning God’s voice in your life and this will center you, it will ground you especially when life pushes you from eager supporters to jealous enemies to overprotected loved ones. 

There is so much in life that will try to throw us off balance, divide us internally. Jesus warns us today, do not become divided, you will crumble under the weight of trying to please everyone. The only way to remain standing is to firmly root ourselves in God – the one who will always give us our purpose, our reason for living.

So in the week ahead notice who might be trying to influence your decisions. Do you have eager supporters who might be distracting you from your greater purpose? Do you have people trying to bring you down or people who want to hold you back? 

Notice how much attention you are giving to these influences. In the moment we can brush off harsh comments, but in our quiet time we can give all these voices more attention than they deserve.

And as you notice who is influencing you and how much you pay attention to those voices, center yourself on God. Pull out your Bible, your bible app. Listen to a Christian podcast, sermon, or music. Pray. Meditate. Ask God, help me follow your will. 

Because the more you do this, you will always have God to bring you back to center.

When you are rooted in God, whenever you feel divided, you will always remain standing.