October 2, 2018
Our New Testament readings today certainly can draw our minds to families. In Hebrews, the author wrote about God and angels and Jesus. But as the reading concludes, we heard Judy read, “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” We are sanctified; we are siblings of Jesus.
In Mark, I read about marriage; husbands and wives intended to become one flesh; spouses. And then, “People were bringing little children to (Jesus) in order that he might touch them.” Siblings, Spouses and Children . But as we look at the readings, these family groups are never really discussed as any kind of unit. Each one picked out to make a particular point. And so for today's three point sermon, we will look at how each of these family parts speak to us in our relationships in God.
Rachael Keefe wrote, “Jesus is not ashamed to call us siblings. Though I am grateful beyond what words can express, I sometimes find this hard to believe. Hebrews tells us that we are sanctified by the same God and claimed as siblings by Jesus. Human behavior, including my own, often makes me wonder how Jesus can possibly claim us all as siblings.”
Siblings of Jesus! That is a high honor. And a high calling. Are you living like a sister of Jesus? Like his brother? I'm afraid many people would have a hard time seeing the family resemblance in us. Many of you got to meet most of my sisters last weekend at David and Katie's baby shower. There are some family traits that show through. We like to laugh, we can get a little loud, we are all a bit sarcastic. What family traits should we be showing through our lives as brothers and sisters of Jesus? I don't think we'd have a hard time making a list. Here's some traits off the top of my head; compassion, love, charity, forgiveness, grace. We could keep going, but the point is is that none of us displays these traits all that consistently. But you know what? Jesus still accepts us as his brothers and sisters. Because while our actions are important, they aren't what make us a family. I am related to my brothers and sisters by blood. We are all related to each other by the blood of Christ; siblings.
Spouses is next on my list. The Pharisees are testing Jesus again. We need a little context here. Jesus is teaching in a society that placed very little value in women. They had few rights. Men had all the rights, even in divorce. The Pharisees are asking about the commandment found in Deuteronomy 24:1, “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.” That is the divorce law they were questioning. There was no debate about a man's right to divorce his wife, but what were the minimum requirements to write her a certificate of divorce? Not, “what has God intended for us in marriage?” But, “what can we get by with?”
Jesus saw things so much differently. For one, he assumes the right of the wife to divorce her husband! Unheard of. But Jesus is interested, not in the rules of divorce, but in what is at the heart of divorce. And at its heart, divorce is not in God's perfect will. “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
But we all know; marriage can be hard. Men and women are different, and we think and act differently. An example of how different we can be is in this couple's record of the same evening in their individual diaries. Here is the wife's version of their evening:
“I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so thought he was upset that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it. Conversation wasn't flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet where we could talk. He agreed, but he didn't say much.
I asked him what was wrong; he said, “Nothing...” I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn't upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it. On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly and kept driving. I can't explain his behavior. I don't know why he didn't say “I love you, too.”
When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly, and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and absent. Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. But I still felt he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else. I cried. I don't know what to do. I'm almost sure his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.”
That was the wife's account of the evening. Here's what appeared in her husband's diary, “I can't believe I missed a stupid two foot putt!”
Marriage is hard work. It comes with many blessings but often the hardness of our human hearts get in the way of the blessings and a marriage dies. But sometimes we grow together through the years. Katherine Grieb wrote for Christian Century about our growth in marriage, “the continuing softening of our hearts towards one another over time is one of God's greatest gifts. No wonder the early church fathers and mothers taught that marriage, like monasticism, is a training ground for the reign of God.” Perhaps marriage is made to make us holy rather than merely happy.
She goes on in her statement, and brings us to the third point of the sermon, “Perhaps that is why this passage is paired with the story about Jesus welcoming and blessing the little children over the objection of the disciples. The reign of God is open to those who receive it the way a little child receives it—as sheer gift to those with no power, no rights, no demands, no status and no sense of their own achievement.” She hits the nail on the head here. God's gift of salvation, God's Kingdom, God's reign; call it what you will, God's gift for us is sheer grace. We have no power on our own to earn it. We have no inherent right to expect God to save us. We can't demand it, we can't achieve it on our own. Gift. Grace. Mercy. Mystery. Words that can help us make some sense of what God in Christ has done for us.
In our Tuesday morning bible study, we are looking at Ephesians. We have covered the first two chapters. But Paul calls this plan of God to make us a family a mystery. We don't fully understand the how or the why. But we see glimpses of the mystery from the beginning. In the garden, man was alone, was lonely. We were not created to be alone. God ordained marriage. Children followed, children learned to live with their siblings. Relationships grew out of necessity. But all relationships grow from how God's own self demonstrated relationship; Father, Son and Holy Spirit living in perfect love and fellowship.
The Old Testament gave hints of the mystery of different tribes, different races, different nations becoming one in Christ. Psalm 22:27 says, “The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to him. All the families of the nations will bow down before him.” Not just God's chosen people, the Jews, but all the nations of the world! All are included in the mystery revealed in Jesus Christ. And that mystery is that we are co-heirs with Jesus; brothers and sisters. And this “church” is to be lived out in fellowship; lived out as a family related by the blood of Christ. No longer a mystery, but the very thing we proclaim when we share the Lord's supper.
Today is world communion Sunday, a day when we are to recognize the fellow-ship we share in the family of God. In her news article this week, SanDawna wrote, “The 21st Century Church emphasizes not the things that distinguish denominations but the foundation that brings us together. Christian unity does not mean sameness. Unity does not mean uniformity. As denominations, we stand in our own beliefs which may be displayed in different worship styles, governance, and even political views. However, we share One Bread and One Cup, Jesus Christ.” That is what we celebrate today with our brothers and sister throughout the world; the presence of Jesus in our midst. We talked about divisions in the church in class on Tuesday; the idea that we would do better as a church universal if we focused on what we have in common rather than those things that divide us.
There are no perfect families; we all have our issues. There are no perfect churches. But when we gather at the table of the Lord, when we give thanks for God's saving love, when we offer our very selves at the altar, we are perfect-- in God's eyes. Not because of what we have done or because of who we are; but because of whose we are. We are children of God by the saving grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.
May we be mindful of the great unity we have in Jesus. Unity with God, Father, Son and Spirit but also unity with the person sitting beside you, behind you, around you. We are one in Christ, one family of faith. As we share the elements this morning, give thanks that God has joined us together into this wonderful bond of family and fellowship. And with Jesus, may our prayer be, may our expectation be, “what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Amen.
Hymn: Children of the Heavenly Father 41 HLC