Sermon: Called For Family
Scripture: Matthew 12:46-50
Date: October 9, 2016
What is the church? As we continue our study, What In The World Are We Here For?, that’s the question we are going to be thinking about.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus called twelve men to follow Him. To be His disciples. It was, of course, not unusual for Rabbis to have students or disciples. But the difference was that it was the disciples who usually sought out the Rabbi, rather than the other way around. And there was no set number of disciples that a Rabbi would have. Some would have had fewer than 12, others would have had many more. But Jesus sought out His disciples and He was very intentional about calling just these unlikely 12.
Peter, James, John and Andrew whom He found on fishing boats. Phillip whose name means “lover of horses”. Bartholomew who is only mentioned when the rest of the Apostles are listed, but at no other time. Thomas, who came to be known as the doubter. Matthew a hated tax collector. Then there was James, who is sometimes confused with the James who is elsewhere identified as the brother of Jesus, but they are not the same person. Then there is the one that Matthew and Mark both identify as Thaddeus. In John and Luke he is called Jude or Lebbaeus. Then there was Simon the Zealot. And finally Judas Iscariot, the church treasurer, who betrayed Jesus. So
this was not a case of Jesus recruiting the best and the brightest to be His disciples. So why these, and why was the number 12 so important. Well, believe it or not, we can begin to find the answer to that question in this strange story. Matthew tells us that the crowds of people had gathered around Jesus, apparently in someone’s home, and He is teaching them as He often did. And someone comes and interrupts Him and says that His mother is outside and wanting to speak to Him. She was worried about Him. But Jesus’s response is shocking. He basically says “What do you mean my family is outside?” And then, indicating the 12 Disciples, He says: “These are my family because they don’t do the will of any earthly families, but do the will of our Heavenly Father.” Now I have found this to be a difficult story to understand because all of my life my earthly family has been so important to me. I have been blessed with great parents and two great brothers. A wonderful wife and in-laws. And an amazing daughter. And so when I read this story I always picture my own dear mother and think about how she would have felt if I treated her like this. And what Jesus says here seems to be so out of character. How does it fit with the commandment to honor your father and mother? And how does it fit with the rest of what we know about Jesus relationship with His earthly family because though Joseph seems to disappear from Jesus life when he was just a young man, we know that Jesus did have a very close relationship with His mother. In fact one of His last thoughts as He was dying on the cross was that He needed to provide for her care and so He asks John to take her in. And that moment on the cross is such a tender moment, seemingly so far removed from this story in which Jesus apparently denies she is His family. But you see I don’t think that Jesus’ statements here were a denial of His earthly family, as much as they were an expansion of His concept of the Godly family. Jesus believed in the earthly family, but not in place of His Godly family and by this point in His ministry, Jesus was focused on the Family of God.
In some respects this story mirrors a story when Jesus was 12 years old and Mary and Joseph had taken Him to Jerusalem and the Temple for the first time and Jesus, apparently realizes that His family is bigger than Mary and Joseph. And so when the pilgrims start the journey back to Nazareth, Jesus stays behind. And remember when they are a day away from Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph discover that Jesus is not with them and they rush back to Jerusalem, and they find Jesus in the Temple and they scold Him for worrying His family like that. And He responds by looking around the Temple and says, “it is here where I must be about my Families business – my heavenly family.”
“Jesus”, someone says, “your family is outside looking for you.” “What family is that? Here is where I must be about my Heavenly families business.” And that’s where the number 12 comes in. In the Bible, certain numbers are very important and they recur frequently in both the old and new testaments. The number 3 for instance. The Trinity. And the number 7 – the number of completion. Creation was completed in 7 days. And the number 6, which is the incomplete number and becomes the number of the Anti-Christ in Revelation. The mark of the beast. These numbers became kind of a short hand for spiritual truths in the minds of the people. Well, the number 12 was one of those. It became the number that represented the family of God, the community, the nation. Jacob (who was renamed Israel by God) had 12 sons. And they developed into the 12 tribes of Israel who occupied the promised land. 12 parts of the whole of the ancient Kingdom of Israel. 12 parts but essentially one family. And so when Jesus set about to restore God’s Kingdom on earth, He chose 12 who He would send into all the world to usher in the Kingdom.
So here’s the thing we need to see from this story. When Jesus called the 12 to be His disciples, He was calling them to more than just students – the traditional role of discipleship. He was calling them to be His family. And for the Jewish people, family was everything. It was the center of their hope, and blessing, and love. Without family you were an outcast. Lost. Untouchable. Condemned to a life of meaningless existence. And so for Jesus to come and say that everyone can be a part of His family, was hope for those who had no hope. The widows and the orphans and those who were all alone. It offered love for those who felt no love. Paul expressed this idea when He wrote to the church at Ephesus that God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. So those in the crowd that day, who understood the significance of the number 12 would not have been nearly as shocked by Jesus’s behavior and words here. Of course, this is about family. These men were more than students, they were brothers. And from this point on we see an ever increasing level of intimacy between them. Culminating with the betrayal in the garden. “Judas must you betray me with a kiss?” This is more than political betrayal – this is about family. And from the cross, John my brother, take care of our mother. And after the resurrection, on the shores of the Lake- Peter do you love me? Then love whom I have loved. Feed my sheep. When Jesus calls Disciples, It is all about family. We sometimes read this story and get hung up on Jesus denying His earthly family, but what it really is is Jesus embracing His Godly family. These 12 are my family, and you can be family also if you will follow me.
Two weeks ago we thought about Paul’s words to the Romans that all are “called according to God’s purpose for us.” Last week, John talked about one of the purposes for which we are called and that is to worship – to love God. Well here is the second purpose – we are called to be a part of God’s family. God created us to be His family. In essence to be loved by Him. Widow, orphan, King, pauper, rich man, beggar, Jew or Gentile – it makes no difference. Jesus called His 12 disciples from many different walks of life. We are all called to be family in the Kingdom of God. From the very beginning it has been God’s intention to adopt each one of us into His family. It is one of His purposes for us, even before we were born. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says that the reason that God created humanity in the first place is because He wanted a family. Look what the writer says God is the one who made all things, and all things are for His glory. He wanted to have many children share in His glory. What an awesome thought that is. And after creating the first man, the storyteller of Creation says God said, It is not good that man be alone on this earth, and so He created woman. And the earthly family came in to being. Man and woman, parents and children – earthly families but first everyone a part of God’s family. We are called, created, purposed to be a part of the family of God. We were created to be His children.
So, as we contemplate What On Earth Are We Here For? There are some things we need to know about this Family that we are all called to be a part of.
First, Jesus established His church to be the visible reflection for the family of God on earth. His call on our lives is a call to be His family. That’s what Jesus is talking about in this story. “My mother and brothers aren’t my Godly family. These twelve, indeed all who follow me, are my family.” When He shared with the Disciples the Lord’s Prayer, He described what the family ought to be and then He adds the qualifier that the Family should be on earth as it is in Heaven. That’s the church. In his first letter to his protege and proposed successor in the work of the church, Paul lays out his vision of what he believes that the church should look like. He talks about a hierarchy of elders and deacons who will do the work of the church. It is from the third chapter of 1 Timothy that the church takes its modern form. In United Methodist terms, that chapter is in essence the first Discipline of the church. I urge you to read through 1 Timothy 3 sometime this week. Paul concludes his letter to Timothy with these words I am writing this to you – so you will know how to live in the family. That family is the church of the Living God, the support and foundation of the truth. Now don’t miss this. Often times Paul uses church and family interchangeably. Two weeks ago we talked about his use of the word “calling” as it relates to the purpose God has for each of us. He told the Romans that we are “called” according to His purpose. And we said that what we translate into English as calling is rooted in the Greek word “kaleo”. Well, in the New Testament, the word that is used for church in the Greek is the word “ecclesia” which also has it’s roots in that word Kaleo. It is literally saying that the church is the “called” community of God. When Christ calls us to follow Him, to be His disciples, it is more than just a call to be a student. It is a call to be His family. To be a part of the “ecclesia” – the called community, family of God. It’s a call to be the church.
But there is more to it than that. We are also called to belong to God’s family. It is this sense of belonging that Paul is talking about when he says to the Ephesians You are no longer visitors or strangers. Now you are citizens together with God’s Holy people. You belong to God’s family. You see, our relationship with God has always been a covenant relationship. From the very moment of creation, God entered into a covenant relationship. God says to Adam, I will place you in perfection and in exchange you will have dominion over all things. I’ll give you all things as long as you are willing to care for them. But Adam chose to break the covenant and so was banished from paradise and so rather than have dominion over the land, he and his descendants essentially became a slave to it. And God began a long process of trying to restore His covenant. To Abraham He gave the covenant of the Land. If you will go Abraham, I will give you a land filled with milk and honey. To Moses, He gave the Ten Commandments which were the guidelines on how to live in Covenant with God and one another, but the people broke the covenant again. And then to Jeremiah he gave the renewed covenant when He said simply I will be your God and you will be my people. But the people continued in rebellion. And so finally God sent His Son, Jesus, to call all people back into covenant relationship with God, and on the Cross Jesus offered, in His own words at the last supper, the blood of the new covenant. But even then Judas chose to rebel and he left the Upper Room and set into motion the forces that led to Jesus’ death. You see, here’s the thing we need to understand about these “purposes to which we are called” and that is that God has never forced His purpose on any one of us. He calls us to “be” His family. He offers His covenant. But we must choose to belong, to be a part of the covenant people. His people. His family. Belonging is our part of the covenant. God’s purpose for us is to belong to His family. He calls everyone to “be” His family but few choose to belong. In some ways, this story from Matthew is more notable for those who weren’t there to be included in the family, then those who were. Those who were called to follow but chose not to. In scripture, we learn of the Rich Young Ruler who walked away sorrowful rather than choosing to follow, and Nicodemus who slipped back into the shadows rather than be born again, and the Scribes and Pharisees and priests. All of these chose not to belong. The sad reality is that there have always been many more who choose not to belong to the family of God. So much of what we do in the church is part of this process of belonging to God’s family. Certainly Baptism is all about family. It is an act of covenant. And when we join the church, it is an act of covenant. As our part of the covenant we agree to support the family with our prayers and our presence and our gifts and our service and our witness. But so many are content to “be” and never really make the choice to “belong”. All are called to be God’s family. Disciples are those who have chosen to belong. The writer of Hebrews, perhaps referring to this story from Matthew, says this about belonging: Jesus and the people He makes Holy all belong to the same family. This is why He isn’t ashamed to call them His brothers and sisters. Let me really step out on a limb this morning by saying this. We are all here this morning in response to His call to be a part of His family. Welcome. Welcome to the family. But being here isn’t enough. It’s those who come back and serve in God’s pantry, and Kid’s Cafe, and teach Sunday School, who serve and witness in some way, who are responding to His call to belong.
So what in this world are we here for? This difficult story from Matthew tells us that we are here to be God’s family, and to belong to God’s family, and then to become God’s family. We are called to become the family of God. It is the process of not only belonging to God within the family but we become God’s family when we belong to one another within the context of the Family of God. That’s when the family becomes a community of unconditional love and support and forgiveness and grace. We are called to become family to one another. Paul writes this to the Romans (read it with me). Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. We belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others. And to the Ephesians he says In Christ’s family we’re all connected to each other. We are called to become a part of God’s family, or His church. Think about it. Earthly families are in a constant state of becoming – as older generations pass from the earth and younger generations begin. And our identity also is a constant state of becoming. We begin in the family as infants and as we grow we are identified as sons and daughters and brother and sister. Then husband and wife and mother and father. And then we become grandparents and even great grandparents. From the moment we are born what we become is in large part tied to our place in the family. That is in essence what this story is saying about the family of God. God calls everyone to be family, but the decision to belong is ours to make. But that is only the beginning of this process of becoming a part of the family of God. Disciples are those who are called to be, belong and become the family of God. And that’s what this study is all about. Finding our place, understanding what part God wants each one of us to be in His family. Paul says to the Ephesians that some are called to become prophets, and teachers and evangelists, and pastors for the work of ministry and for the edifying of the church of Jesus Christ. We become the family when each one of us discovers our purpose and lives into it to build up the family of God. We came here to be a part of God’s family, but we should go from here ready to become God’s family on earth. Are you ready to become what God is calling you to be in the midst of His family? We started out asking what is the church but the question we close with today is who is the church? Is it you? Is it me? Because God is calling each one of us to be His family, to belong to His family, to become His family? Are you ready to take your place in the covenant? If so, you come this morning and tell me that you want to belong to the family of God.