Sunday, June 10, 2012

Part Of The Family!

Thanks to the Rev. Delmer L. Chilton for his insight, as well as the story about the funeral of Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria. 

1 Samuel 8:4-11:15
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only — you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture — “I believed, and so I spoke” — we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Mark 3:20-35
... and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

This is the Word of the Lord.

I imagine it was just another day at the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth, James busy planing a board, Mary in the corner sewing, when the door burst open. Jude came stomping in, and sputtered, “You would not believe what he’s done now!”

James sighed and put down his plane. Mary laid aside her sewing, concern in her eyes. No one had to ask who Jude was talking about. It was Jesus. It was always Jesus. Mary’s firstborn, James and Jude’s older brother (well, half-brother, if the story they’d heard growing up was true), he’d been a carpenter for most of his life, until the day when he handed his tools to James and walked out. Just like that, up and left.

There were stories about a baptism and a long stint out in the wilderness alone, and word came that Jesus had become a rabbi and had gathered a band of disciples. That was all well and good, I suppose, that kind of thing was accepted in polite society.

Soon enough, though, things began to get odd. Someone came through town saying that Jesus had been in Capernaum and had cast a demon from a man right there in the middle of the synagogue, why he’d been going around healing people and casting out demons ever since, and my how the crowds loved him, goodness the man can’t even eat in peace anymore, isn’t that something?

Now, of course they had nothing against healings, but James and Jude had reason to be worried about the family name. In our modern culture, we don’t really have the same sense of the importance of one’s lineage and family honor to the first-century Jewish people. Back then, whose child you were and your lineage was not just important, it was everything. Jesus wasn’t just a former carpenter turned rabbi. He was Jesus, son of Joseph, of the house and lineage of King David, a descendant of Abraham. To the first-century Judean, without a family name, without an ancestry, you were less than nobody. Further, Jesus’ words and actions reflected not simply on himself, but brought either honor or shame to this proud family name.

But what Jude said now was the final straw! “He healed a man on the Sabbath, right in the middle of the synagogue! And, he’s been arguing with the Scribes and the Pharisees, making fools of them!”

James stared at Jude, gape-mouthed, and said, “The boy done gone and lost his mind.”

You see, it was bad enough that Jesus would flout the Law like that. No, healing on the Sabbath wasn’t specifically prohibited in Scripture, but you certainly could do no work whatsoever on that one day a week! There had, over the years, been much discussion and debate amongst the scribes and the scholars about what the definition of “work” was. If you couldn’t do something, you see, knowing exactly what that thing looked like meant you knew exactly what not to do.

So there were rules about how far you could walk, how much you could carry, and so on. The rule that applied to Jesus’ healing in the synagogue stated that you could act to save a life, but you could do nothing beyond that to improve their condition or quality of life.

So of course James and Jude were scandalized. But what really worried them, and brought Mary to her feet, was the idea of Jesus openly disputing the teachers of the Law, making fools of very powerful and influential men in public! This was downright suicidal! The scribes and Pharisees were already saying that Jesus was an agent of Satan, doing his miracles through the power of the devil, how much longer before they actively sought to kill him, and to destroy their family?

There was only one thing to do: go and get Jesus and bring him back home, tied up and kicking and screaming if necessary. And I mean that literally, by the way. Where Mark writes, “…they went out to restrain him,” it’s the same Greek word for when the authorities come to arrest Jesus in the Garden. It can mean “seize,” “grab,” or “arrest.” “Thanks but no thanks” was not an option.

But as they neared the house where Jesus and his disciples were, the crowd was so thick that James and Jude feared that their mother would be crushed. So Jude pushed his way into the crowd and out of sight. James and Mary waited for him to return with Jesus so they could take him home for a stern talking-to and some much needed rest. Put the carpenter’s tools back in his hands, set him to work in a nice, quiet corner of the workshop, and he’d be just fine…

And I’m going to leave James and Mary standing there, waiting for Jude to come back, because we’ve read the account, we know what happens… Jesus looks around that circle, at the misfits and ne’er-do-wells, the fishermen and tax collectors, the former prostitutes and healed lepers and the people who once entertained demons, and he chose them over his own flesh and blood.

Or did he?

It’s perhaps too easy to see this passage as Jesus rejecting his biological mother and his half-brothers in favor of his disciples and friends.

But while there’s a certain element of rejection there, we have to balance it with the greater message of the Gospels. Jesus was, after all, supremely concerned for the welfare of his mother as he hung dying on the cross. And though this is a question that cannot be answered, I have to wonder – if this had been a rejection of his family, would James have overcome the anger at this rejection? Would he have had any likelihood of becoming one of the leaders of the early church?

I want to suggest to you that what Jesus was rejecting was the message that he had to respect the status quo, draw inside the lines, respect authority, even if it meant ignoring his mission and calling to do the will of his Father.

And rather than disowning his family, Jesus, in that one statement, redefined the term “family” forever.

We humans have a lot of relationships, and we are known by a lot of roles and titles within those relationships: Mother, father, brother, sister, granddad, grandma, cousin, aunt, uncle, friend, student, graduate, doctor, musician… and there are situations where these roles change. Moms and dads become grandparents. Students become graduates. People come into our life and sometimes leave our life.

But there is one overarching relationship that will not change, a relationship that supersedes and defines all other relationships: whoever we are in this life, highborn or low, woman or man, black or white, American or European or Middle Eastern, king or pauper, through the water of baptism we are first and foremost sinners saved by grace, the beloved children of the most high God, and the adopted brothers and sisters of the One who is our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

For more than 600 years the Hapsburgs ruled much of Europe. When, in 1916, Emperor Franz-Josef I of Austria died, a procession of dignitaries and elegantly dressed royal mourners escorted the coffin in a torch-lit procession as it made its way down winding narrow stairs into the catacombs beneath the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna.

At the bottom of the stairs were great iron doors leading to the Hapsburg family crypt, and behind those doors stood the Cardinal-Archbishop of Vienna.

The Commanding officer of the procession rapped on the door and cried out. “Open!” and the Archbishop replied, just as loudly, “Who goes there?”

The Commander took a deep breath and said, “We bear the remains of his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty, Franz-Josef I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Defender of the Faith, Prince of Bohemia-Moravia, Grand-Duke of Lombardy . . . .” And so it went, through the entire list of his 37 titles.

Finally, a pause, and the Cardinal responded, “We know him not! Who goes there?”

The officer spoke again, using the informal title this time: “We bear the remains of Emperor Franz-Josef I of the Hapsburg line.”

Again, the Cardinal responded, “We know him not! Who goes there?”

This time the officer replied, “We bear the body of Franz-Josef, our brother, a sinner like all of us.” And at that, the doors at last swung open and Franz-Josef was welcomed home.

Whoever else we may be, whatever other relationships we may have, there is one title and one relationship that can never be taken away from us; we are always children of God, born out of the waters of baptism and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.

That means that wherever we go on earth, whatever we do, and by whichever name or title or reputation we are known, we are always welcome and at home in the family and kingdom of God.

And for that we say, thanks be to God!

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous, John. Just fabulous. I needed this this AM. Thank you.