I went back to my final paper of seminary to write this sermon. I went back to the paper because I wrote 40 pages about how God relates to humanity and how Christ mediates the Divine-human relationships as well as gives testament to how to relate to ourselves and one another. Almost 5 years later, some of my theories have evolved, but much of my theology remains rooted in Christ Jesus as the facilitator of relationships. In all my experiences in relationships and all that I read over 4 years of seminary and since, I became what is defined as a relational theologian. For those of you who have heard me preach regularly, it probably doesn’t surprise you that my understanding of who Jesus is and what He does is rooted in relationships with one another.
This short Scripture read this morning is Jesus’ final word on human relationships. In these words, Jesus is once again saying that He has established a new human family. Our family lines will no longer be drawn by the blood that courses through our veins. Our true family is established through baptism as we are claimed by the One who died and rose. Our new family has one Heavenly Father and many brothers and sisters. We’re united with people who are unlike us, who may not be people we would choose to be friends with, who may annoy us, but we are united as one family in faith.
The Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, contain the universal truths about relationship for living in relationship with a community and with God. Both Testaments are about a community trying to understand its narrative in the context of people claimed by God. Most of the narratives of the Hebrew Scriptures are about the nation of Israel and the people of God trying to live in covenant. The stories about individuals are the stories of God establishing a covenant through those individuals for the sake of a nation. From the beginning, the Bible acknowledges that we experience God as a community.
From the very beginning, we are told that we were created to be in relationship with one another and God. In the creation story in Genesis, God said it is not good for us to be alone and so created a partner. Made of one flesh, we have the ability to share in the joy and pain, sorrow and rejoicing with each other. There is a fundamental human need for relationship that God created within us. Even in the garden of Eden, we see that relationships are not so easy, with God or with one another. God has been trying to restore our relationship with Him and our relationships with one another since our creation.
I recently talked about sin, its effect on us as individuals, its effect on our relationships, and how it is always a sin against God as we deny the due respect of another of God’s children. I think the most prevalent human sin in our time is individualism. Individualism denies ourselves the gratification of living in community, mistrusts God’s ability to work through others, and ignores our responsibility to our community as servants. On the cross, Jesus reminds His followers and His mother that they can continue their lives and ministries as a new kind of family and make sense of what has happened as a community. They can grieve not as individuals, but as a family.
Upon the cross, Jesus hangs as evidence of the power sin has over the world. Sin had so degraded the world that God’s own Son was put to death. Jesus had created a rag-tag group of followers who had now dispersed in their confusion about the events of the last day. Sin had so pervaded the world that it was now threatening what Jesus had started. But, the Disciples finally come together after the resurrection to make sense of what has happened. They realize that Christ was willing to put aside His Divine power to submit to the humiliation of crucifixion. They realize that Christ was willing to use His power to save others, but never Himself.
Not just the cross, but the whole experience of Jesus Christ, His birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension liberates humans from the sin that divides relationships and gives us the opportunity for the relatedness of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, one God. Redemption was done once for all, but it is also still being worked out in community. God showed us that the cycle of sin and brokenness, the power of the grave was defeated in Jesus’ resurrection. God could have reconciled our relationship with Him in any manner. However, “Jesus’ death…demonstrate[d] God’s love through self-giving so that humans would be inspired to greater acts of love and … charity.”
That’s what Christ’s ministry was all about, charity. He gave of His power to heal. He gave of His wisdom to teach. He gave of His life as an example of self-giving, saving others over saving ourselves. Charity is easy to practice with our DNA family, but isn’t always easy to practice with our church family or our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
I’m sure at times, like I do, you have experienced both communion and sin in our relationships with our church family. Jesus endured all that He did so that we wouldn’t have to experience sin, only communion. Jesus’ final words about human relationships were, “Woman, here is your son,” and “Here is your mother.” Life in Christ is about creating family with people who share our faith. It may be that we have nothing in common but Christ; however, Christ is enough to have in common to build a family.
On a day like today, when we will celebrate Andi and Lawson, a couple establishing a covenant with God to create a family, we experience communion as a church family. We will celebrate with the couple, because we are their friends and family. Most importantly, we celebrate with them because they are taking a step in faith, an act of our faith, to make a marriage vow with one another to honor their love which is a gift from God. We are their witnesses, because we are their faith family.
Throughout the Gospel of John, we see evidence that Jesus is creating a new human family founded in His relationships with the Father. First, I’d like us to look at how Jesus relates to His DNA family. Jesus gets annoyed with His mother at the wedding in Cana when she asks Him to concern Himself with the shortage of wine. He don’t hear of His mother again until she is at the foot of the cross. I’m not sure what to say about Jesus’ brothers according to the Gospel of John. The Scriptures say that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe Him, but we have to carefully consider who His brothers were. Some Christians believe Mary remained a virgin even after Jesus was born, so any reference to brothers in the Scriptures would be to step-brothers that Joseph may have brought into the marriage. Or, the Disciples more broadly defined brothers in relation to Jesus. Either way, Jesus didn’t have much to do with His family during His ministry.
So, if Jesus didn’t have much to do with His DNA family, who did He count family? Probably the family He most admired was Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This is the one family given some attention in the Gospels. I would say this family was the family Jesus most identified with. None of them were part of the 12 Disciples, but they, like the Disciples were His family. Jesus exposed Himself as the Messiah when He raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had been causing a scene and raising questions, up to that point, but the raising of Lazarus was the final nail in His cross; it was the event that sealed for the Pharisees that Jesus must die.
Jesus was willing to expose Himself for His family. That’s the kind of love Jesus came to reveal to the world. God was willing to descend from His throne to become one of us. Then, He was willing to give up His life to reveal God’s love for the world. God, through Jesus Christ, showed us how much He was willing to give of Himself to overcome the power of sin and maintain a relationship with us.
We may come to church as a family, with our spouse and kids. We may come alone. We may have raised kids in the church. We may not have been raised in the church. Our DNA family may not be here this morning, but our church family is here every Sunday. Our DNA family may have taught us the truths of the faith, but our church family ensures we know it is a faith lived out in community where we have lots of moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas and brothers and sisters in communion with one Father.