The most recent passage our study group has discussed is found in Mark 3. For the purposes of this essay, I want to focus on Jesus’ use of a “parable,” i.e., a metaphor, and the response to Jesus by his family and by the religious authorities. In his explanation of his mission, Jesus says that “no one can break into a strong man’s house and make off with his goods unless he has first tied up the strong man” and only then “can he ransack the house” (Mark 3.27). Jesus is at this point elaborating on his response to the scribes or “doctors of the law” who have accused him of “driving out devils by (the power of) the prince of devils” (2.22). Jesus’ reply is that Satan has no interest in defeating Satan, but that only a force utterly different than Satan (“the Accuser”) would do this. Jesus identifies himself—and his followers— as the power (“regime”) bent on defeating Satan.
This is a wild way to identify people like you and me: thieves! Jesus calls us to join him in the ministry of theft and destruction. What should we steal? What should we destroy? I am thinking of institutions, traditions, and practices built on, promoting, and producing: alienation, greed, inequality, injustice, violence, and more. Our political system, our economic system, and in many ways, our religious systems need to be stolen away, “ransacked,” defeated.
As Jesus confronts and challenges the religious authorities and the settled and sacred institutions of his day, both the religious authorities and his own family worry about what he is doing (and how it will affect them). His family says Jesus is “out of his mind” (2.21) and the authorities say that he is “possessed by Beelzebul” (2.22). To his family he is demented and to the scribes he is demonic. (“Beelzebul,” by the way, was an obscure name probably derived from a Hebrew idiom meaning “Lord of the dwelling” (or “house”) with reference either to the air, or to the possessed, in whom he, the demonic, dwells.). The religious authorities accuse Jesus of being driven by the Accuser. But Jesus turns the tables on them. It is they who are aligned against God’s purposes. They are captive to the way things are. They resist criticism and change. They brutally suppress efforts at humanization. Jesus tells them he will bind the homeowner and release the captives. His is a rescue mission.
For their part, his family tries to “seize” Jesus. This is a kind of family intervention. He was courting danger and disaster, and they must have wanted to protect him, and themselves, at least their reputations. Jesus has scandalized them. Kinship was the axis of the social world in antiquity. Mark’s Jesus attacks this institution too. Notice that Mark does not offer genealogies as do Matthew and Luke. He is not interested in Jesus’ family line or ancestory.com. In Jesus’ culture and society, one’s identity was all about family connections and to be severed from family was social suicide. Jesus’ challenge to the traditional family and the “family values” of his time is revolutionary and shocking. It should motivate us to ask what about our family traditions and values might incur the same judgment.
Jesus’ challenge to the traditional authority structures, the religious, social, and political orders of the day has by Mark 4, cut quite deeply. He has repudiated the “old fabric” and the “old wine” to make way for a new regime, a new reign, a new order. The fundamental unit of resocialization into the new society, new politics, new order, will be the new family, the community of disciples and discipleship.
Thanks for reading,
We have the privilege of acknowledging and celebrating an important milestone in American history—Juneteenth. This day, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States. At Riverfront Family Church, we embrace the significance of Juneteenth, recognizing it as an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the African American experience and promote unity within our community.
On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and declared the end of slavery, over two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth holds immense historical and cultural importance, symbolizing freedom from bondage and serving as a reminder of the journey towards equality and justice for all Americans.
At Riverfront Family Church, we believe in fostering an inclusive and diverse environment that celebrates the richness of our collective heritage. Embracing Juneteenth allows us to engage in meaningful conversations that deepen our empathy and understanding. By learning about the African American experience and its lasting impact, we can cultivate unity within our congregation and community.
To support your exploration of Juneteenth and facilitate insightful discussions, we recommend the following resources:
1. Reading Materials:
"The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" by Isabel Wilkerson
"Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America" by Ibram X. Kendi
"Juneteenth: A Novel" by Ralph Ellison
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead
2. Videos and Documentaries:
"13th" (Netflix documentary) directed by Ava DuVernay
"The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross" (PBS series) presented by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
"I Am Not Your Negro" (documentary) directed by Raoul Peck
3. Websites and Articles:
National Museum of African American History & Culture: Juneteenth Resource Guide (https://nmaahc.si.edu/juneteenth)
4. If you're interested in participating in Juneteenth events or celebrations in or near Hartford, Connecticut, we encourage you to consider the following local happenings:
Juneteenth Jubilee at The Amistad Center for Art & Culture
Juneteenth Celebration at Mortensen Riverfront Plaza
Juneteenth Heritage Festival at Bushnell Park
Juneteenth presents an opportunity for Riverfront Family Church to come together, honor our shared history, and work towards a future of unity, understanding, and equal opportunities for all. Let us embrace this occasion by engaging in conversations, reflecting on our past, and actively fostering an environment of respect within our church and wider community.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or additional resources related to Juneteenth that you'd like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments. Together, let's celebrate Juneteenth with reverence, gratitude, and a commitment to building a better tomorrow.
At Riverfront Family Church, we believe in the transformative power of the gospel and the inherent worth and equality of all individuals. Recent events have brought to light the decision by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to expel Saddleback Church due to their stance on the ordination of women. As an American Baptist Church, we stand in solidarity with Saddleback Church and want to address this issue with love, grace, and a commitment to biblical principles.
We fully embrace inclusion and egalitarianism, affirming the gifts and leadership capacity of all people, regardless of their gender or gender identity. We believe that God calls and equips individuals based on their faith, character, and the Holy Spirit's leading, rather than their gender. This conviction is rooted in our understanding of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus.
The decision by the SBC to expel churches like Saddleback Church for their belief in the ordination of women is both unjust and unbiblical. We affirm the biblical basis for equality, which is exemplified throughout Scripture. In Galatians 3:28, the apostle Paul states, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This verse emphasizes the elimination of social distinctions and highlights the unity we share in Christ.
In many ways, Saddleback Church and Rick Warren (who is now retired from the church) are far more conservative theologically than I am or we are at RFC. I fundamentally disagree with their position on LGBTQ+ issues, for example. But I have also learned a tremendous amount from Pastor Rick, Saddkeback, several conferences, books, and teachings that they have provided. I deeply respecy Pastor Rick, even as I disagree with him. Both things are possible.
The SBC's decision to exclude churches for holding differing beliefs goes against the principles of Baptist heritage. The Baptist tradition has long valued the autonomy and diversity of individual churches, allowing for a range of theological perspectives and interpretations. We believe that true unity does not necessitate conformity, but rather a shared commitment to Christ and a respect for one another's convictions.
We want to reaffirm our full commitment to egalitarianism, not just as a practical matter, but as a biblical principle. We celebrate and empower the gifts and callings of both men and women, allowing them to serve and lead in all areas of church ministry. We believe that by embracing egalitarianism, we reflect the heart of God and more fully embody the body of Christ.
As we navigate these complex issues, let us remember the importance of love and respect. We encourage open dialogue, understanding, and a willingness to engage with one another in a spirit of humility and grace. Our commitment to inclusivity and equality is rooted in the love of Christ, and we invite all individuals to join us on this journey of faith.
At Riverfront Family Church, we stand firmly in our conviction to embrace inclusion and full egalitarianism. We believe that every person, regardless of their gender or gender identity, has been gifted by God and is called to contribute to the kingdom of God. We recognize the recent decision by the Southern Baptist Convention as contrary to the biblical principles of equality and Baptist heritage. Let us continue to embody the love of Christ and champion the value and worth of all individuals in our pursuit of a more just and inclusive Church.