Pastor Michael Frye:
We are all familiar with the story that unfolds in our first lesson today.
Adam and Eve had tasted the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and they heard the sound of God walking in the garden.
Realizing what they had done, they hid among the trees.
Their Lord God called out to them: “Where are you?”
And Adam replied: “I heard the sound of you walking in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
God responded, “Who told you that you were naked?
“Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
Adam was quick to respond:
“The woman whom you gave to me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
Then God said to Eve:
“What is this that you have done?”
“The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
Hence, the blame game began, and it has been going on ever since.
Dr. Eugene Brice tells a story about a minister who returned as the guest preacher for the homecoming of a church he had once served as pastor.
Bill, who had been the president of the Council and a strong leader in the church, was also returning for the homecoming celebration.
The pastor said to Bill:
“You used to be in this church every time the doors were opened.”
“Well, Pastor, a difference of opinion arose in the church.
“Some of us couldn’t accept the final decision and we established a church of our own.”
“Oh, is that where you worship now?” the pastor asked.
“Well, no,” answered Bill, “we found there, too, the people were not faithfu,; so a small group of us began meeting in a rented hall at night.”
“Has that proven to be satisfactory?” asked the pastor.
“No, I can’t say that it has.
“Satan was active even in that fellowship, so my wife and I withdrew and began to worship on Sunday at home by ourselves.”
“I see,” the pastor replied.
“So I guess the two of you have finally found inner peace?”
“No, I’m afraid we haven’t.
“Even my wife began to develop ideas I was not comfortable with, so now she worships in the northeast corner of the living room, and I worship in the southwest corner.”
“And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
Those words of Jesus were spoken in our gospel lesson today, and they certainly ring true in the story about Bill.
Let’s take a closer look at the context of Jesus’ words in this gospel passage.
After Jesus went about the countryside preaching and healing, crowds of people started following him everywhere he went so that he couldn’t even sit down and have a meal with his disciples and other followers.
Jesus’ mother, sisters and brothers, went to the house to restrain him because people were telling them that Jesus was out of his mind.
The scribes also had come from Jerusalem claiming that he was casting out demons and healing as an agent of Satan.
So, you have this paradox of Jesus’ own family and religious leaders standing on the outside criticizing him; on the other hand, you have these star-struck disciples and people whom Jesus had healed and salvaged from the streets on the inside – quite the opposite picture from what one might expect.
Jesus was undaunted.
He replied to the scribes:
“How can Satan cast our Satan?”
Jesus added that neither kingdoms nor households can stand while divided against themselves.
He went on to say that while sinners can be forgiven for the sins and blasphemies, those who refuse to acknowledge that these things can be accomplished through the Holy Spirit are guilty of an eternal sin (for they denied God’s compassionate and forgiving heart and accused the Son of God as having an unclean spirit).
Religious leaders, such as those who were outside the house that day, could have misinterpreted God’s power as that coming from Satan, and they became unwitting instruments of Satan’s power.
Even in today’s world, well-intentioned people can bring hurt to themselves, to others, and to God through the use of misdirected power, such as: the power of racism that tells them to believe that one group of people is inferior to another; or the power of patriarchy which tells them that men have the right to dominate women; or the power of materialism that teaches that wealth and greed are a necessity of having a good life.
These, and other attitudes which encourage the abuse of our neighbors in the name of religion are destructive and demonic in the eyes of God.
Jesus also had to confront his own family, who thought they were acting in Jesus’ best interest, but who were standing in the way of his ministry to those who were vulnerable victims of society’s misplaced piety and self-righteousness.
When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers and sisters were outside asking for him, Jesus replied:
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
He looked around the room saying:
“Here are my mother and my brothers!
“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus was not denying his family with these words; he was not disrespecting them.
He was redefining “family”:
Whoever does the will of God is family; whoever is for us and not against us is family; whoever prays with faith is family; whoever has been lost and seeks the comfort of God’s church is family.
Jim Manley wrote a hymn entitled, “You are a Part of the Family”.
The chorus is:
Come in, come in and sit down, you are a part of the family.
We are lost and we are found, and we are a part of the family.
It is so crucial for churches today to seek to live out the form of discipleship that Christ bids us to follow:
To weep with those who weep, to rejoice with those who rejoice, to experience the pains of human suffering and seek ways to alleviate it, to give up self-absorption in favor of selfless love and devotion to those serving people whom Christ calls sisters and brothers.
Christ’s love is stronger than prejudice or ridicule or hatred, or self-righteous judgement.
In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu: “Goodness is stronger than hate.”
Divided communities desperately need to find the deeper source of wholeness through Jesus’ work of healing.
As a church family we can help to make that happen in our own community.
The positive message in Jesus’ words today is that we must keep ourselves alert to the way God is working in the world (not necessarily the way we think God should be working).
Alan Carr writes:
“The earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus was surrounded by constant controversy.
“Nearly everyone he met misunderstood him and what he came into this world to do.
“Nearly everyone was guilty of misrepresenting his words and his works.
“The things he said in love were used to attack him in hate!”
Although those who sought to discredit Jesus were religious people, they didn’t expect Jesus to act the way he was acting; they missed God’s presence in their midst, even calling it evil (because they were defining God’s actions in human terms, not in divine terms).
What is just and fair for God may not be what we are expecting to hear.
Pastor David Rogne says:
“It is a law of life that we hear what we have trained ourselves to hear.
“We have to train ourselves to listen for the voice of God in places where we haven’t expected to hear it.
“We hear that voice only by attentive listening – by asking ourselves whether there is a valid message in those things which may tend to make us uncomfortable.”
Only then will we know what is true and right in God’s eyes in order for God’s will for his kingdom to be fulfilled.
Jesus proved over and over again through his actions and words that a house which is well-built through faith, love, and understanding can withstand the stresses and strains that might otherwise pull it apart.
Let us, therefore, affirm the good that we find in one another, so that our own hearts become generous and accepting of our neighbors, just as God, through Christ, is generous and accepting of us.
Let us pray:
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, but always to your glory and the welfare of your people, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.