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SERMON
12 Pentecost - Proper 15
August 19, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
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Ah, today’s lessons! How beautiful! How wonderful! How inspiring! How exciting to preach
on!  Not!

These three lessons are as difficult as any I can think of to preach about – and especially,
of course, the one that is supposed to set the theme: the Gospel. But what a Gospel! And
how hard to hear!

One of the near-constant refrains we hear, these days, is the little, two-word phrase:
family values!

It’s a phrase that’s been used as a tool – a weapon, perhaps – to elect political
candidates who had little to offer except the phrase, and to defeat many who had every
thing to offer but couldn’t quite manage to define everything they stood for in just those
terms!

It’s a phrase that was originated by members of the religious far-right that has come to
stand – amongst those who are their devotees – come to stand for all that is right, all that
is pure, all that is holy – and all that represents the American Way, as defined by that
same religious right!

But then we come up against Jesus! (And I suspect, by the way, that he probably couldn’t
be elected dogcatcher in todays political environment.)

But, you know, Jesus is SUCH a problem – always was, always has been.

He never did or said quite what the people in power, the movers and the shakers, would
have him say – or even what his followers wish he’d said.

Like in today’s Gospel:
“Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for
henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against
three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against
daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and
daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Whoa! What happened to family values? What happened to CHRISTIAN family values!

Well, our problem is, we like to take a word, or a phrase, an event or a scene, and think
we’ve captured the whole of what – or who – we’re looking at.

But we can’t do that with Jesus. Jesus is too complex, too full, too real! Like any person
who ever walked the earth!

We can’t capture what Jesus said, or what Jesus taught, or what Jesus thought or
believed in one phrase, one short saying, or one event, any more than we could catch
your beliefs in a word!

So what did he have to say or do concerning “family”?

Well, Matthew in his 19th Chapter, to the people gathered to here him, asking what they
needed to do in order to receive eternal life, he said, said among other things, “honor
your father and your mother.”

In the 2nd Chapter of John, at a wedding feast, when the party was running short of wine,
his mother asked him to do something about it, and – after reacting to her rather testily,
and making it clear to her that he was not ready to do such things – he went ahead and
not only helped anyway, but changed a HUGE amount of water into more wine than they
could possibly use. (John 2: 1-11)

And as he hung on the cross, dieing, one of the last things he did was to turn his mother
– standing below him, watching his agony – over to one of his most beloved disciples to
care for her as a son would care for his mother. (John, 19:26)

All pretty straightforward and all admirable.

Yet when he was just a boy and had disappeared from the caravan that had begun the
return trip after visiting Jerusalem, and his parents had traveled back and found him
teaching his elders in the Temple, he asked, “Why were you searching for me? Did you
not know I must be in my Father’s house?” – a rejection of the parental role in a society
where total obedience to, and honor of, one’s male parent, one’s “father,” was an
absolute requirement!   (John 2:49)

And later, during his ministry, when his family had begun to fear he had lost his mind and
came looking for him to take him home with them, asked “‘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 my Father are my mother and sister and brother.”

And, of course, here,  in these bitter words about families being at odds with one
another, and in Matthew, where, having repeated much that he has said here, goes on to
say, “Whoever loves father or mother, …son or daughter more than me is not worthy of
me!” (Mtt 10: 34ff)

He said, and he did, and he meant all of these things, to be sure. So what gives? What
DID Jesus think and teach about family – his and others’?

This is one of those places where we need to be able to distinguish between word and
action, rhetoric and reality, and even temporal and eternal.

Jesus loved his family. Of this we can be sure. There is little said in the Gospels about
what could be called Jesus’ personal life, but what little is said tells us that he cared
deeply for them and they for him.

Indeed, they apparently did have some problems with him – whether because they
thought he was “flipping out,” into some kind of wild and crazy charismatic type of
preaching mission, or believed, perhaps, that he needed to go much farther in
challenging the authority of Rome and leading a rebellion – whether religious or political
or both, we can never know. But we can know what he said to them and what he did with
them.

And we can know that, in the end, it was his family that came around: that it was Mary, with
the other women, and not the disciples (save “the disciple whom Jesus loved”) who
stood at the foot of the cross as he died.

And we also know that, whatever his family thought about him and his ministry, whatever
they may have sought to do about him, his family came quickly to be important and
prominent in the early life of the Church – with his brother, James, leading the early
Church in Jerusalem and becoming, in effect its first bishop!

But we also know that he never let what they thought of him interfere with his life and his
mission! Whatever they thought of him, however crazy or wrong-minded they considered
him, and however much he loved them – he couldn’t allow them to interfere, couldn’t
allow them to stop him. He had a mission, and as much as he might love his family and
care for them, he couldn’t let them interfere! He had his Father’s business to tend to!

Actually, Jesus wasn’t all that different from us! (Or perhaps I should say, we aren’t all
that different from him.)

As I’ve said so many, many times – and will say, again and again and again – God our
Father creates us to be our own, unique person. Born into a world in which the nurture of
parents and family are so important to our growth and development, and to our becoming
who we are called to become, ultimately every human being reaches that point where he
must separate himself from the parent or family he loves; must free herself from the
expectations and the demands even of those whom she will always feel gratitude and
whom she will always hold dear.

No less than Jesus, we are called to become our own person rather than someone else’s
idea of who we ought to be, however well-meaning and loving he or she or they might be.

Our Gospel this morning seems to be a hard lesson – hard words, hard demands. And
indeed they are!

But in the end, they simply describe the reality Jesus knew: that there would come a time
when the meaning of his message would, indeed, split families, set parent against child
and brother against brother; that there are, in fact, higher callings than that to parental
and family love and respect; that sometimes, to be true to one’s self – and to be true to
God’s call – one has to accept their ostracism, and possibly even walk away!

I’ve been there. When we told my family of our plans to go to seminary and for me to be
ordained, my father’s only response was, “That’s not a bad racket;” and my brother, whom
I grew up idolizing, turned his back on all that I was doing and the person I was becoming.
Though my father didn’t take long to come around, the breech between my brother and
me has never been closed. So I can honestly say I have experienced, at least in a mild
way, the division brought to my family by the call of Christ.

But that’s really only a part of what Jesus meant by these hard words, because on
another, simpler yet more universal level, they’re really only about us, about life, about
the world we live in. A world where children rebel, where families divide, naturally and
even necessarily! A world where, sooner or later, every one of us must make the
decision Jesus first made when he was 12 years old: the decision to be about not only his
Father’s business but his own – the business of growing up to be his own person and
God’s own person; the decision to walk away from all that would hold him down, hold him
back, keep him from growing into the person he was called to be. He, and all of God’s
children must inevitably come to the point of accepting and embracing the business of
growing into that unique and wonderful person God calls each of us to be – a child of
God, made in His image, and living the truly unique life God has called us to live.  In the
end, it’s the most important lesson we ever need to learn.

In Jesus Christ’s Name.  Amen.