July 21, 2019
Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 10:38-42
The author of the book of Hebrews gives us so many wonderful images of who Jesus is. Last week, Jesus was described as more than one of God’s Prophets, and even higher than the angels. He speaks God’s message to us, so we get to hear what God is saying in words and actions that make sense to us.
As I read through today’s portion of Hebrews, I was struck by the idea of being Jesus’ sisters and brothers. We often call ourselves brothers and sisters of Jesus, but it is usually more a matter of us claiming him. Instead, we should spend some time remembering that the claim of being sisters and brothers to Jesus comes first from him. Jesus claims us first!
It makes me think of choosing sides in school sports. I was always one of the last ones chosen. But with Jesus, I don’t have to wait to be chosen as part of his team, because I am already part of his family. Jesus has already chosen me to be his sister.
First, let me share some musings. What, we might wonder, does Jesus know about sisters and brothers? The Bible and tradition show us that Jesus had siblings, brothers and possibly sisters. James and Jude are known to be his brothers, and after the resurrection, they were leaders in the newly emerging church. So, he has direct experience of having brothers.
There are some stories of Jesus’ childhood, but they are just stories, written hundreds of years after his death. We have only one story about Jesus at age 12, talking in the temple with the priests and rabbis. Apparently, he did not think about telling his parents where he was, because they had to go looking for him. Or maybe he told a brother, but the brother forgot to tell Mom and Dad.
While we have no other stories of Jesus’ childhood, we can imagine what it was like. Jesus knows the joy and frustration of living with people his own age. He knows what it means to compete for Mom and Dad’s attention. He knows how scary it can be when someone you love is sick enough to die. He knows what it means when a sibling falls in love – the teasing, and the admiration, and the changes that will occur in the family.
Jesus also has friends other than the disciples who travel with him. When he is in Bethany, he stays with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, two sisters and a brother who make up a household. He hears Martha and Mary compete. Why can’t Mary help with supper so they can both sit at his feet, instead of one of them missing out?!
Their brother Lazarus is apparently a dear friend, whom Jesus allows to die, so he can prove death is not the last word for us. Jesus weeps his grief at the loss he and the sisters experience. He also prays his trust in God and shouts his joy at Lazarus’ revival. By the way, it is my belief that Lazarus is the “beloved disciple” in John’s Gospel.
So, Jesus knows what it means to be a brother, to have sisters and brothers. Just for fun, imagine for a moment that you grew up with Jesus. Think about your family when you were about 10 years old. If Jesus is your brother, is he older or younger? What is your relationship with him? Is he a pest, or are you the pest? Does he teach you math, or baseball? Do you teach him to sew on a button or cook chicken? Does he tease you when you fall off your bike? Does he hug you when your dog dies?
If you can’t imagine Jesus as your brother in childhood, it may be easier to imagine him as your brother in adulthood. What is our relationship like? Are you close? Do you live in the same town, or across the country or across an ocean? Do you agree on most things, or do you argue a lot?
If Jesus is truly our brother, we want to spend a lot of time with him. He is not just a regular family member, he is indeed special. And he is not just my brother, or your brother, he is everyone’s brother. He claims you and me as brother and sister, and he claims everyone else as sisters and brothers, too.
Since we are all family, siblings with one another, our relationships in and outside the church will resemble those of families around the world. We will agree on some things, we will disagree on some things, and still, our relationships will be based on love. Love for each other, love of Jesus, love from Jesus.
If your biological sister is hungry, you want to feed her. If your biological brother loses his job, you want to help him find another job. If your sister is being abused, you want to help her out of the abusive relationship. If your brother is addicted, you want to help him recover. If your sisters or brothers are veterans, you want to help them adjust to life at home after the horrors they have seen, and recover from the injuries they have experienced.
Just so, the Outreach Committee in every congregation on the planet, I think, collects items to give to their sisters and brothers in need in the community. I spoke with D last week about Outreach at St Matthew’s. While there are a few members who deliver what is collected, she needs to know who else is interested in this ministry. Right now, D confesses she feels like she is alone, the only one on the committee. Outreach is every Christian’s responsibility, and we are called to be passionate about caring for Jesus’ brothers and sisters.
To raise awareness, I have asked that a basket of some of our ingathered items be presented during the offering. This is to remind us that what we give to the homeless, the hungry, the veterans, and the abused in Ocala is first a gift to God.
When we give to God, we are invited to give from the top, the first fruits, a percentage of what we receive from God. When we give gifts to our family, we do not give as little as we can; we give as much as we can afford, and sometimes more. Let’s think about giving to our sisters and brothers in Ocala the same way. How generous can you be when it comes to helping our needy family members?
I admit I haven’t paid attention to our collection baskets, so I don’t know how full they usually get. Do the baskets overflow on the third Sunday? … Do some of you write checks to help the committee purchase what is needed?
There are only two or three proven methods for growing a congregation. The first is word of mouth invitation: you inviting people you know to join you in doing the wonderful things that happen at St Matthew’s. … Next on the list is outreach, thinking more about those who are not yet here than you think about those who are already here. That means having an outward focus instead of an inward focus as a whole congregation. … The third is to get the people who are here and any new people who come involved in some sort of ministry, so they can feel they belong. Guess what?! They all involve outreach in one way or another.
Are we at St Matthew’s doing as much as we can for Jesus’ sisters and brothers in the neighborhood? Do they know we care about them? How do they know? What else could we be doing? These are the questions that should drive the Outreach Committee to be a thriving ministry. D would love to do more. I hope you will connect with her this week, to let her know how you can be involved in outreach with her.
Now, I ask you to look around the congregation. See one another as your sisters and brothers, even if you barely know them. Now, remember these same people are Jesus’ sisters and brothers, whom he loves.
Further, I invite you, when you go out into the community, to the grocery store, to the mall, to the movies, to the ball field, see the people around you as Jesus’ brothers and sisters. When you watch the news, I invite you to see the announcers, the comics, and the people they talk about as all Jesus’ sisters and brothers, and therefore also your own sisters and brothers.
I even invite you to see the fans of the opposing team as your brothers and sisters!
Love them all, because Jesus loves them as much as he loves you. Amen