Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Families make us smile. A woman awoke excitedly on her birthday and announced enthusiastically to her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for my birthday! What do you think it means?” With certainty in his voice, the man said “You’ll know tonight.” That evening the man came home with a small package and handed it to his wife. With anxious anticipation, the woman quickly opened the package to find a book entitled, “The Meaning of Dreams.”
Families are a gift. A well-known couple in the community had an outstandingly happy and successful marriage. One day the husband was asked by a business acquaintance to what he attributed this remarkable success. “It’s simple,” he said. “Division of labor. My wife makes all the small, routine decisions. She decides what house we buy, where we go on vacation, whether the kids go to private schools, if I should change my job, and so on.” Huh, “And you?” asked the business acquaintance. The man replied, “I make the big, fundamental decisions. I decide if the United States should declare war on China, if Congress should appropriate money for a manned expedition to Mars, and so on.”
Yes, families bring joy, laughter and wonder to our lives. They have the potential to lift us to overwhelming heights. With a smile, a gentle word or a loving embrace, they can offer support and comfort in the face of a troubled world.
But the family is more than a set of pleasant human relationships. In scripture, we are taught that the family is a foundational bedrock. The Bible begins in the book of Genesis, not with the talk of nations and tribes, but with families. Certainly, there are other great metaphors to describe the relationship between God and creation, such as king and subjects, and master and servant, but scripture always returns to families. Indeed, most of the time we’re referred to as God’s children. We are created as sons and daughters who bring God great joy as well as great frustration. And so, we are reminded that coming to God and to God’s Kingdom is really like…going home to family.
In St. Mark’s Gospel, however, Jesus seems to be frustrated with his family- and they are worried about him. His mother and brothers have heard that Jesus is drawing crowds and so they go to restrain him—because people are talking. Apparently, even Jesus has experience with conflicted families. And it is not just his mother and brothers who are concerned. The religious leaders are disturbed as well. He isn’t following the orderly family ways. He has been opening his house and family to outsiders. They are convinced he is possessed by an unclean spirit.
Interestingly, Jesus never dismisses scripture’s foundational bedrock of the family, but instead he challenges his listeners including his own mother and brothers to consider the breadth of their understanding of God’s family and the work of the coming kingdom. And that is how you and I are brought into this story.
On Pentecost, God established the church for spreading the kingdom to the ends of the earth, but surprisingly, God left the most important work of faith to be accomplished through the human family. In this morning’s gospel, Jesus teaches us how important the family is to God’s work, and how important you and I are to the coming kingdom. But this work is not to be taken lightly. Instead, Jesus challenges us to consider carefully how we act and suggests three ways you should look at yourself and your family, and the world as well. See the fragility, listen for the wonder, and act with honest loyalty.
Let us begin, by looking at our families. For those who enjoy the gift of a healthy family, congratulations. Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike, while unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” Truthfully, most of our families are unique. We are bit like comedian Victor Borge described. “I wish to thank my parents for making it all possible and I wish to thank my children for making it all necessary.” Mind you, struggles, disagreements and occasional tiffs are not a signs of hostility. These are signs of vitality. There is a natural give and take which allows family members to share openly their thoughts and feelings. A family that is a little too perfect or a little too controlled may be fighting a quiet but hostile inner war. A healthy family offers gracious gestures of encouragement and forgiveness daily. And yet for those who have felt betrayed, for those who have been emotionally hurt by someone they love, these gentle acts of mercy may be unspeakable. As God’s redeemed sons and daughters, you and I know the Lord’s command to love one another, but we may not know how to love, forgive and to lead faithful lives as members of the family of God.
It is helpful to see the fragility of those who look to you as their brother or sister. That means to look at others from beyond their role as mother, father, brother, sister, companion or spouse, and to see that person as an individual, a person with unique joys, pains, fears and sorrows and to know that they too can be crushed. In the musical Man of La Mancha, the character Sancho reminds his master Don Quixote of the fragile nature of humanity. “Whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s gonna be bad for the pitcher.” My friends, who are those who look upon you as their spiritual brother and sister? As their family, do not judge them too harshly, but see their fragility. Learn to be sensitive to the physical, emotional and spiritual struggles that impact their lives. I have known very few truly wicked men and women- surprisingly, even in the church. The majority are simply struggling men and women who are trying to make the best of what they can based on what they know.
Second, listen for the human wonder in the families you meet. More often than not we only see the qualities and traits that we admire and would cultivate in ourselves. Or perhaps, less charitably, we only see their faults. We forget Jesus’ own words, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?” We need to listen to God’s wonder in other people’s lives.
Nearly 40 years ago, CBS television broadcast the popular series, “All in the Family.” At the heart of the New York, lower middle-class home was the hard working, blue-collar employee Archie Bunker. No doubt, many of you remember the familiar characters of Archie and Edith Bunker. Each week, the series raised our petty, simplistic, chauvinistic, and racist notions before us in phrases later known as “bunkerisms.” It was difficult to find a wonderful treasure behind his coarse, belligerent and often offensive exterior. But one episode which beautifully characterized that possibility was the baptism of Archie’s only grandson Joseph Michael Sevik. He visited his local church to get the pastor to “take care of Joey.” But when the pastor refused, Archie crept into the sanctuary to take care of the baptism himself. He apologized to God that he hadn’t been there more often. He reintroduced himself, and promised that he would give his jacket to the poor when he was finished. But in the moment he stood beside the baptismal font and tenderly dabbled water on his grandson’s head, it was not difficult to see and hear the wonderful treasure that God had placed in him. He then turned to God and whispered an aside, “I hope this sticks, because I know there’s going to be some people mad as hell when I get home.” For each one of us, we must struggle to discover that wonderful treasure in our brother and sisters. But more importantly, Jesus reminds us that those look upon you as their spiritual brother and sister, should see and hear a wonderful treasure in you as well.
Finally, as God’s foundational bedrock in the world, we are called to treat our families with honest loyalty and to allow them to grow as God intended. In St. Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ mother and brothers have apparently not yet become members of Jesus’ merry band of disciples. They have followed Jesus as family in a literal sense. They have cared for him, and prayed for him at a distance. But they have not yet learned to follow him in that most important sense- as disciples. Frankly, there is a whole generation today who would prefer to keep Jesus as a personal family member and not as a Lord and Master. Like Jesus’ own mother and brothers at the beginning of St. Mark’s gospel, they are not ready for him to change their lives- and more importantly, to help him change others. Of course, we shouldn’t be too hard on his mother and brothers. They were after all the first to experience a Messiah of the world in their own family.
I am reminded of the father had won a toy at a raffle. He called his five kids together to ask which one should have the present. “Who is the most obedient?” he asked. The children all stared back at him in silence. Then he asked, “Who never talks back to mother?” Again the kids appeared to be mystified by the question. Then he asked, “Who does everything she says?” With that question, the kids were finally able to come to a conclusion. The five small voices answered in unison, “Okay, dad, you get the toy.”
God has given the family a mighty task. After all, if God could entrust his own only begotten Son to the care of the family, he certainly must believe there is a role for you and me. But my friends, God’s family is not to be defined by blood and heredity. Nor is it defined by offspring and generations. Jesus himself redefines his family in a new way and says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Now, you may be wondering. So why is the role of doing of God’s will so important in the life of the family? Simply, said it is through you and your actions that your family grows to know God. It is in the family that they learn to trust whether God will care for them when they are fragile and broken. It is in the family that they learn to see and hear whether God’s treasure is real. It is in the family that they learn to experience honest loyalty encouraging them to be what God intended them to be.
My friends, God has entrusted human families to do this great work. Families are the foundational bedrock through which God establishes his kingdom in this world. So ask yourself, “Does your family see you doing the will of God?” Coming to God and to his kingdom, you see, is really like…going home to family. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.