Sunday, May 5th, 2024

The Family of God

Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia. Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord, send forth your Word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name. Amen. Maybe you have siblings? Maybe you’ve got a few kids of your own. Or maybe not. Maybe you’re an only child who has only one child of your own, or maybe none at all. But regardless of whether or not you’ve lived it first hand or just seen it in others, everyone has, at some level, experienced one of life’s universal truths. No one fights like siblings. No one gets under your skin like your siblings. They know which buttons to push. They know your secrets and they’ve seen you at your worst. My sisters and I used to fight like cats and dogs. Sometimes it was because I was being the annoying younger brother. And sometimes, I might say, most of the time I was being unfairly persecuted. But I’ll also never forget how they drove in from various states to be there when I was on homecoming court my senior year. Oh, they all made it a priority to be at my spring musical my senior year. How they all made it a priority to be in Chicago for Becky’s Bachelorette party and to stay through our wedding. I see it in my own kids too. I see how they bicker, how they get on each other’s nerves. And occasionally it even comes across as on purpose. But I also see how they support each other. And see how they love each other. I see how much it means to each one of them to have their sisters in their audience for dance performances. I see how they joke with each other. Ultimately, I see how they trust each other. That relationship between siblings is a complicated one. It’s beautiful. And it’s frustrating. And according to God’s design, it lasts the test of time. And although the relationship dynamics will change over the years, few things are sadder than to hear that siblings have fallen so far apart that they’ve lost track of each other entirely. That they just don’t talk anymore. Our epistle this morning. Our epistle reading this morning is about siblings, sort of. About the relationship between brothers and sisters. Might not be obvious at first glance, but listen to it again. John says “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” You see, here John references the gift of faith. Those who have faith have it not because of their own reason or strength. But because they have been born of God. The same language that John records Jesus using in his conversation with Nicodemus. The gift of faith comes to those who have been born of water and the spirit, born from above. The point is simple. My faith is not my own accomplishment. And so, I don’t get to brag about it. I didn’t do anything to earn it. It’s a gift given through the proclamation of God’s word. The gift of the Spirit, the gift of new life and our Savior, the gift of being born into and adopted into the family of God. John says if anyone believes that Jesus is the Christ, well, you can be certain that that person has been born of God. But notice what he says next. “…everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” Actually, John is a little bit more poetic than our English translations tend to give him credit for. What he actually says is everyone who loves the one who gives birth loves whoever has been born from him. You see, John won’t let us forget that our faith is a gift. We cannot, by our own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ our Lord, or come to him, but the Father has given us new birth through the proclamation of His word. And anyone who has been given that birth, who recognizes that birth for the gift that it is, not only loves the one who gave birth, but also loves all the others who have also been born from him. It’s talking about our brothers and sisters in Christ. Everyone who loves the Father, loves the siblings, loves their brothers and sisters in Christ. You see, on some level, it’s part of what keeps the sibling bond strong. Mutual love for the same parents. Part of what inspired me to be nice to my sisters when I was young. I didn’t want to disappoint my mom and dad, and I knew that mom and dad loved my sisters too. That dynamic carries forward into adult life, and it’s what John puts before us this morning. Anyone who loves the one who gave birth, loves also all the others who have been born from him. See, that’s one of the great gifts about family. We don’t get to choose it for ourselves. We can choose our friends. We have a little bit of say over our coworkers. But no one asked us what kind of siblings we wanted. No one asked us what personality we wanted our own kids to have. No one asked you what kind of parents you wanted before you were born. And yet we love our kids and our siblings and our parents with a deeper love, a different love than we have for mere coworkers. It’s just something different about family. And even if your family situation is difficult, even if your parents were abusive or neglectful, even if you and your siblings are estranged, or if your own kids are estranged, my guess is that you grieved the loss of those relationships more than any coworker who ever transferred or switched jobs. John’s message to us today draws on this reality. The people in this room with you right now, are not your coworkers for Christ, they’re your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the family of God. We have the same Father. And John says if we love our Father, so also, we love everyone else who’s been born from him. John’s argument is pretty straightforward. To believe is to be born of God. To be born of God is to love. To love is to love God to whom you owe your existence, and to the love of the one to whom you owe your existence is to love all the others to also owe their existence to Him. And to love in this way is to be the family of God. That’s what we are. We are a family that transcends political differences. For the family of God includes Democrats and Republicans and even libertarians, independents, communists, all manner of human politics. We’re a family that transcends social class. The family of God includes rich and poor, millionaires and billionaires and people on food stamps and welfare, everyone in between. We’re a family that transcends racial and ethnic differences. I mean, on the one hand, we’re all descendants of Adam and Eve, all descendants of Noah, all one bloodline on earth. But it’s not Adam’s blood that unites us as the family of God. It’s the blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. We are all partakers of the one body, all baptized into the same name, all born of the one Father. And everyone who loves the one who gives birth, loves all others who have been born from him. We don’t need to be naive. Like our earthly siblings, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ can be complicated. We do have to navigate political and economic differences. How many times have families fought over who voted for whom or who isn’t paying their fair share of the vacation rental? So, it is with the family of God. Challenges will, of course, present themselves. But thankfully, John gives us guidance there too. In verse two he says, “By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.” But here again, something gets lost in translation. It’s not so much a problem of getting the Greek into English, it’s actually a problem of getting the Hebrew into the Greek. The Greek word translated obey and the phrase obey His commandments is literally the word poieó, which means to make something, to do something. The same root as our English word for poetry. So to poieó,  God’s commandments can mean to obey them, but it’s got nuance to it. The idea of producing something is involved. But it’s the word for commandments itself that holds the key. The Greek word there is entolé, and it is the Greek word for command. But it’s also one of the Greek words that was used to try to translate the Hebrew word Torah. That Hebrew word Torah shows up in our English Old Testaments as the word law. But it’s more than just law as the law and gospel sense. It has to do with all of God’s instruction. All of God’s teaching. God’s Torah is all of his revelation to his people. And so, when the Psalmist says blessed is the one who meditates on the Torah of the Lord, he’s not saying blessed is the one who meditates on the 10 commandments. He’s saying blessed is the one who meditates on all the word of the Lord, including the stories of deliverance, including the promise of salvation. And so, when we keep that in mind, it seems like what John’s saying here isn’t so much we know we love our brothers and sisters in Christ when we love God and obey His commandments. It might be better translated as something like, we know we love our brothers and sisters in Christ when we love God so that his instruction produces fruit in our lives. This is what it means to love God, John says, that we embrace his instruction, because his instruction is not burdensome. That’s what Jesus says. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, my burden is light.” His burden is like it’s not really a burden at all. His message of love for you, his death for you, the of your forgiveness of your sins, the new life that is yours through the gift of baptism, the promise of the Spirit strengthen you to guide you through life’s ups and downs. And it’s also the promise that you’re never alone. Because you are surrounded by the other sheep of our Lord’s flock, led and fed and protected by the Good Shepherd. You are surrounded by the other branches who have also been grafted into the true vine. You are a member of the body of Christ, with your own contribution to bring to the work of that body, but also surrounded by different people with their own contributions to bring. The body with its many members, but Jesus as the head. It’s his body. It’s his church, and all who are part of it, are part of it only because of the gracious work of the Father. None of us is here by right. None of us climbed our own way out of the pit of sin and death. None of us cracked the secret code that earned us entrance into the shepherd’s flock. None of us has earned the right to look down on anyone else. That’s what John’s saying. When we remember this, it produces, it poieós fruit in our lives. For everyone who believes that Jesus is the Savior, does so only because he or she has been born from God. And everyone who has been born from God loves everyone else who’s been born from God, despite their differences. Maybe even because of them. Because that’s what it means to be in the family of God. To love God and to embrace his instruction. The truth of the law, the comfort of the gospel. That’s what unites us as God’s family. And it’s not a burden, because everyone who’s been born of God, who loves in this way, John says we have overcome the world. For you have faith. You see with the eyes of faith. You see your brothers and sisters in Christ as a blessing. As a gift. They are people who share your story. They live the same struggles you do against sin and temptation. They kneel with you to receive the gift of forgiveness in this place. And then you all leave this place. We all leave this place, to live each week in faith toward God and in fervent love towards one another. Yes, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. And it’s true, no one gets under your skin quite let yourself quite like your siblings do. But at its best, that bond of family love lasts a lifetime. May such love, be among us here, and unite us as the family of God in this place. In Jesus’ name. Amen.