MOTHERS, BROTHERS, FATHERS, SISTERS
June 10, 2012
The first scheduled event I have after my retirement will be my family reunion. That means all the brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, nieces, nephews, some of whom, like my sister Joy who is our host, are not related by either blood or marriage. That's the way it is with our family. We don't define family by bloodline, but by nearness and dearness. Jesus didn't define family in the traditional way either.
(Mar 3:20) “Then Jesus went home. Again such a large crowd gathered that Jesus and his disciples had no time to eat.” Some of the people around thought he had gone off the deep end, so thy called in his family to “get him under control.” Perhaps it was because some scribes had come from Jerusalem and accused Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul, the head demon. The scribes were kind of a hybrid between lawyers and teachers. Their primary task was the written word. These were the people who made copies of scriptures and kept the law libraries current. As caretakers of the law they had a place of prominence, since they were among the few who could read and interpret the Torah's meaning to the people.
Because they were leaders and defenders of the Jewish religious system, when they came all the way from Jerusalem and accused Jesus of “forcing out demons with the help of Beelzebul," they were serious charges made by serious people. When the Scribes spoke, people listened. Jesus defended himself with the argument that a divided house is doomed. “How can Beelzebul force himself out?” Jesus asks. (Mar 3:24) A nation whose people fight each other won't last very long. (Mar 3:25) And a family that fights won't last long either. (Mar 3:26) So if Satan fights against himself, that will be the end of him.”
When Jesus' mother and brothers arrived, they couldn't get into the house, so they sent a message asking to speak to him. (Mar 3:32) A crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they said to him, "Look, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, and they want you."
(Mar 3:33) Jesus answered, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?"
(Mar 3:34) He looked at the people sitting around him and said, "Look! Here are my mother and my brothers!” Several cults have used this verse to justify requiring new members to abandon their families and devote themselves entirely to the group. This is not what Jesus was saying, and certainly not what Jesus did. Just three weeks ago we read how, while hanging on the cross dying, Jesus placed his mother in the care of one of the disciples—that doesn't sound like abandonment to me! No, When he declared: (Mar 3:35) Whoever does what God wants is my brother, my sister, my mother." Jesus redefined and expanded the definition of family. For Jesus, his followers are one big family—a definition we too often forget.
In all my years as a pastor, the hardest thing I've had to deal with is not the tragic illnesses and death,s that are so much a part of life, but a divided church. Fay and I served one community where the school board decided that academics were more important than athletics. This led to the dismissal of a very popular superintendent, who was also a coach, and the hiring of a new superintendent who concentrated on improving the academic standards of the school system. The community was in an uproar! They had been producing championship sports teams for years, and now that dynasty was being demolished. Others in the community thought it was about time the school board got the mission of the schools straight. Our congregation included one of the new members of the school board, the sister of the dismissed Superintendent, the new Superintendent, several parents and grandparents of athletes, and two teachers. Like the community, the church was split—especially when the school board was faced with a recall. There were people in the pews who would not speak to each other, and a few who spoke out with anger and meanness. It was a hard time for that congregation and the community. A divided house cannot stand.
If you have been following politics at all these last two years, you know that both houses of congress are divided along party lines. The result is that good, bad, or indifferent, no bills are being passed, no nominations approved or rejected, no public business transacted—in short, the divided Senate and House are incapable of operating! A divided house cannot stand.
There is a big difference between disagreeing and division. The Republicans can, and should, disagree with the Democrats, and the Democrats can, and should disagree with the Republicans. But when either party refuses to listen or speak to the other—when a member's vote is decided not on the bill, but on which party presents it—that's division, and division helps no one and endangers us all. John Wesley was concerned about the rise of denominations in the church, he told of a dream he had. In the dream, he was ushered to the gates of Hell. There he asked, "Are there any Presbyterians here?" "Yes!", came the answer. Then he asked, "Are there any Baptists? Any Episcopalians? Any Methodists?" The answer was Yes! each time. Much distressed, Wesley was then ushered to the gates of Heaven. There he asked the same question, and the answer was No! "No?" To this, Wesley asked, "Who then is inside?" The answer came back, "There are only Christians here."
As I leave for retirement, and you prepare to receive a new pastor, you have two choices. You can divide into those who resist change and those who welcome it; or, you can come together to bid me farewell and then welcome your new pastor with open arms. Which way you choose will determine the life or death of Hope United Methodist Church. A house divided cannot stand, but a united house, a house built on the foundation of Christ, cannot and will not fall.