The text of today’s sermon is taken from Mark 3:20-35.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I remember it like it was yesterday – and a cooler did it for me! But then little things, like a cooler, can trigger powerful memories and stir up old emotions – and whenever I see an old-fashioned ice chest of sorts, that’s exactly what happens to me. For you see, every summer, before heading to the shore, my dad and I would go to the local ice house to get a block of ice to put in the cooler. The block would be chopped into a size that would fit into the chest that went with us to Old Saybrook or Clinton beach. These were special days spent as a family, frolicking in the ocean, which were often paired with special evenings sitting in the stands at the Waterford race track, watching the stock cars compete. And now, every time I prepare my cooler for use, the memories of these simpler times and the happiness experienced on these trips come back to me and help me remember the joy of being part of a family.
All of us have powerful memories and marvelous stories we can tell about our families. It may be a smell or a place or something as simple as a cooler that help us to remember. Some of these stories are about happy times we have shared. Some of them are about the pain, which we have borne together. Some are stories passed down through the generations, stories which give us some idea of who we are and where we have been. Our common memories and our common ties, our common dreams and goals bind us together as family even more tightly than our accents and facial features, skin color, body types and inherited traits.
As a family, we have a history, a history that we share with our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, mother, father and grandparents. Some of our history is being created as we live with each other, day by day. Some of our history is cemented in the past, in a time before we were born. And some of our family history will come from events and people in future generations. In a family, each person is important and unique, each person has something special to add, and each person is bound to the other by a commonality that transcends the ages – as events and people form a saga, a collective family history which is far greater than any one of us.
Of course, that is not to say that all families are identical – not all families are Ozzie-and-Harriet types. There are plenty of families which are torn apart by death, abuse or neglect. There are plenty of families in which pain, sorrow, anger and disappointment swallow up the memories of happy times spent together. Yet, for better or for worse, our family is God’s gift to us.
In Jewish life and society, family was not limited to a small band of people with tight genetic bonds. In Jewish life and society, family lineage provided identity to the people of God. Ancestry marked those who were part of the covenant community and those who stood outside God’s promise. Being able to trace the family back to Abraham was a must to be part of God’s chosen people and an inheritor of the promise. So, family was crucial, not only for upbringing, but also for bearing the sign of God’s grace. This means that for the Jewish people, it was important that Jesus came from a family that was rich in Jewish lineage – and his family tree not only tied him to King David, one of the most famous and beloved people in Jewish history, but through David, his ancestry went back through Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, the great patriarchs, and even to Adam and Eve. This family tree gave Jesus credentials in the Jewish community. He stood as part of the family, part of the collective history of these people, part of the promise and covenant of God. He was one of them and yet, he was not. As one of them, he could take the family sins with him to the cross and grave. As one of them, he could die for them. And as the Son of God, he could fulfill God’s promise and change the family history, providing a gateway to eternal life.
Now, it’s a lot for one person to have such a profound impact on collective history of one family. And yet family, to Jesus, was much broader than a lineage and a biological connection. To Jesus, the natural family, the family into which he was born, was not as important as the family to which he belonged through his relationship with God. For whom did Jesus say was his brothers and sisters and mother? All people, all people who did and continue to do the will of God.
Biological relationships are not relevant to the new community established by the Kingdom of God. Direct ancestry to Abraham and Sarah isn’t important. What matters is faith. For it is faith, not birth, that determines God’s family and those who benefit from Jesus’ fulfillment of the promise. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the same spirit that possessed Jesus, which creates this family and binds it together. In spite of different accents and facial features, skin color, body types and inherited traits, God makes us one as God chooses.
Jesus used his mother and brothers as an example of this concept of family. When his mother and brothers came and asked for him, Jesus didn’t run out to greet them – for the people closest to Jesus were not those who came because they were concerned for his well-being. The people closest to him were those who came to learn from him the will of God. So his mother and brothers remained on the outside, while the crowd which gathered around him was on the inside.
Jesus rejected the exclusive family claim of those related to him by blood and broadened his family to include all those who proclaim God as Father. Kinship is determined by our relationship to God, not by blood lines – as Jesus proclaims, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Our new family is one in which our true parent is God. The barriers of race, nationality, age and ideology are erased as Christ binds us into one family and gives us a common history and dream, a common goal and inheritance, and a basket-full of happy memories centered on the table and font, in music and fellowship, in work and play.
This new family takes priority over our biological family. As members of Christ’s family, we can no longer accept the natural limitations imposed on us by a traditional understanding. We are a new creation in Christ and for better or for worse, we will always be brothers and sisters of one another. So we might as well get along with each other. We might as well look for the good in each other and enjoy family time. We might as well learn to forgive as we have been forgiven – to love as we have been loved – to serve as we have been served. We might as well look past our differences and see the face of Christ in each other – for Jesus has proclaimed us family – and so we will be forever, through the best and worst of what is to come.
Brothers and sisters, may we rejoice in the good times and support each other through the bad, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.