Sermon Text: John 19:26-27
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The following is my original manuscript.
Our senior pastor, Dr. Don Martin, has two college-aged boys. One of his sons had spring break last week asked him if he wanted to take a few days off work, and go fishing with him in Florida during spring break. I assume that Don’s son could have gone to Panama City Beach with his buddies—or wherever else the college kids go these days. I assume he could have been off chasing girls somewhere. Instead, he asked his old man to go fishing with him. And Don is telling us about this in staff meeting, and he’s beaming with pride and love and joy. His son asked him to go fishing with him! So naturally Don is boring us with pictures and videos of the two of them fishing at Lake Seminole in Florida.
But I don’t blame Don for being so proud and so happy about this! What a relief! See, here is the reward for all that hard work. All the time and tears and money and energy invested in a child’s life, and here’s some evidence that it worked! But let’s face it: parenting can also be, at times, the most frustrating and thankless job we can ever have. Can I get an Amen? You kids are tough! We parents can’t imagine going into it how difficult you kids are going to be—which is a good thing because if weren’t so dumb and naive going into it, we would use birth control all the time! Fortunately, God doesn’t let us know all that in advance! I’m kidding, of course…
Now… We’re not going to let parents off the hook. As all children know, having parents isn’t always easy, either. Can I get an Amen? If you are a child 18 or under, can you raise your hand? I want to say a word just to you. And if you are parents of these children, just talk amongst yourselves. The dirty little secret about your parents is that they really don’t know what they’re doing most of the time. I mean, not for sure. If you’re a teenager, you’ve probably figured this out already. They don’t know for sure whether or not they’re doing it right.
I was in the delivery room for the birth of two of my three children. That other child is a long story I don’t have time to get into right now. You can ask Lisa. She’ll be happy to tell you! Point is, on two occasions I had the great privilege of witnessing the miracle of childbirth. And you know what I learned and re-learned both times about the miracle of childbirth? It’s really gross! At least at first. You kids enter into the world, and when you first come out you don’t even look like a human baby! It’s like your mom gave birth to some kind of slimy alien baby. Both times I saw my children born, I looked at the OB/GYN with alarm, as if to say, “What is that? Something has gone horribly wrong!” But then they clean you up, they swaddle you in blankets, and they put the little cap on you, and you are the cutest little things ever!
My point is that I was there when the children came out and came into the world, and I can say with certainty that they did not come into the world with an instruction manual. I’m sure I would have noticed it if it dropped on the floor or something! I’m sure the doctor would have pulled it out if it were in there! But I did not see it. As a result, we parents don’t always or often know for sure what we’re doing—and you kids are very complicated—so if you are a child, please, please, please be patient with your parents! Because here’s something else that you need to know: No one loves you more. We are insanely in love with you, even when we fail to show it. The truth is, we would jump in front of a fast-moving train if it meant saving your life. We would jump in front of a bullet to save you. We would sacrifice anything and be glad to do it, if it meant that you would be O.K. So please cut us some slack. We are usually doing the best we can under difficult circumstances.
Much like Jesus’ parents! As good as they undoubtedly were as parents, the Bible is refreshingly honest about their failures. When he was a 12-year-old boy, Jesus and his family went to Jerusalem for Passover, and his parents lost him. And when they found the boy in the Temple, talking theology with the religious teachers, his parents scolded him. And Jesus said, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house.”1
It was hard being Jesus’ parents!
Years later, after Joseph died and Jesus moved away, word came to Mary and the folks back home in Nazareth that Jesus was doing and saying some strange things—maybe he was out of his mind. Now when Mary hears this, we want her to remember Christmas—remember the angels’ annunciation, remember Joseph’s dreams, remember the shepherds, remember the words of Anna and Simeon in the temple—we want her to remember these things and say, “This is his mission. This is what he was sent to do. It may seem crazy, but it’s all a part of God’s plan for the redemption of the world.” Her son is a big boy, and we want her to trust that Jesus knows what he’s doing. But that’s not what she does. Christmas was a long time ago. And, like the rest of us disciples, she still doesn’t get what Jesus is all about. So Mary and the family go to Capernaum to try to bring Jesus home where he belongs—where he can’t get into any more trouble; where he can’t embarrass the family anymore.
Someone said to Jesus, who was in a house teaching, “Hey, your mother and your brothers are outside are looking for you.” And Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And he looked at the disciples gathered round him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my mother and sister and brother.”2
I know that every so often, at least every election cycle, we hear some Christian leaders and some Christian politicians publicly complain about the breakdown of the family, and our country’s seeming loss of “family values.” I’m sympathetic with their concerns. But according to the gospels, Jesus himself was not, in any conventional way, a paragon of “family values.” He calls James and John to leave their father’s fishing business, leave their parents and family, and do something crazy like fish for people—and they leave the family fishing business, and they leave their father in the lurch because following Jesus is more important than even your family. At another place, a disciple says that he wants to follow Jesus, but he needs to go home and bury his father first. Jesus is unmoved: “Come follow me,” he says, “and let the dead bury the dead.”3
In another place Jesus says—and he’s exaggerating to make a point—“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”4
The dirty little secret is that Jesus can be downright dangerous to families—which is important for us to realize on this special day called Confirmation Sunday. In our traditional services, we are confirming or baptizing many, many children who have spent the past several months learning a lot about what it means to follow Jesus. In a little while, we are confirming two of our young people in here. This is a beautiful and important event in the lives of children and their families. These children are saying publicly, “I’m going to follow Jesus, and be a faithful disciple for the rest of my life.” So parents, look out… Because following Jesus is potentially dangerous and upsetting and disruptive, and you may not know what you’re getting into.
I’m not speaking about anyone in here, and I’m not speaking of anyone in particular, but let’s face it: Confirmation is also a time when those parents who are lightly churched, who are only nominally Christian, who mostly give lip service to the Christian faith, bring their kids to church—perhaps for the first time—because they believe that it’s their duty as good parents. They believe that confirmation will instill the right kinds of values into their children. They believe that now, having done their duty, having taken their pictures, having had the grandparents over for lunch, now their lives can return to business as usual—the kids can return to mending their father’s fishing nets, or go back to the family carpentry shop, or leave the Temple behind and return with their family to Nazareth. Whatever else they do, they can start taking Sundays off again. After all, religion is all well and good up to a point, but you don’t want to take it too far. If that’s the case, I pray that these young people will take it too far—that life for these children will no no longer be business as usual. I pray that these young people would do what Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas said, and live their lives in way that makes no sense if the God of Christianity isn’t true.
William Willimon, a United Methodist bishop in Alabama, was chaplain to students at Duke University for 20 years. He said that during that time he had 10 or 12 angry calls from anxious parents who were upset about the children that they sent off to Duke. He writes, “Never did [these parents] say, ‘Help! I sent my child to the university and he got addicted to alcohol,’ or ‘Help! I sent my child to college and she became sexually promiscuous.’ No, the calls I got were, ‘Help! I sent my child to Duke and she became a religious fanatic.’ Religious fanatic defined as, ‘she’s going on a two-year mission to Haiti with the Catholics.’”5
Parents of young people, look out! Because for the first 12 or 13 years of your child’s life, you could claim that child as all your own. But not anymore! Something has changed. Through baptism and confirmation your child is officially becoming a part of a new and much larger family—God’s family, Jesus’ family. That’s exactly what Jesus is creating here at the foot of the cross, between his mother and his beloved disciple: He’s creating a new family—“Woman, behold your son… Son, behold your mother.” As John writes way back in Chapter 1 of his gospel: “But to all who received [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”6
To the young people who are being confirmed, and to the rest of us who have already united with the Body of Christ through faith and baptism, I say, “Behold your brother and sister.” I want you to stand up and turn to the people sitting behind you and beside you and say, “Hello, brother,” or “Hello, sister. I’m glad to be a part of your family.”
If you think your natural family—your family of origin—is difficult, just wait until you get involved with this family of Jesus Christ called the church! Talk about fussing and fighting and not getting along!
Once when I was a teenager, I was going through a rough patch with my family. Being a teenager is tough and you’re trying to make your way in the world and find yourself and be your own person, and as with Jesus, sometimes parents don’t understand you. So I remember after a bad, ugly, loud fight with my parents and my sisters, my mom tried to comfort me later by telling me, “You know, no matter what, you’ll always have your family. They’ll always love you.”
Well, in the moment, that was no comfort at all! I don’t think I want to have this family! If this is what love feels like, I can do without it! But Mom was right: No matter what, through thick and thin, my family—even though they are, like all of us, sinful human beings—never disowned me, never un-adopted me, never gave up on me—and I even took my 80-year-old mom to lunch just last week.
Baptism and confirmation mean that you are in God’s family now. This means, among many other things, that God loves you as his beloved child. This means God has chosen you—as a parent chooses to adopt a child. This means that God our Father is never going to disown you, un-adopt you, or give up on you. Never. That’s a rock-solid certainty you can count on. But being a part of this new family brings new responsibilities, new demands. Are you up to the challenge?
I said earlier that as imperfect and sinful and mistake-prone as we parents are, we would sacrifice our lives for the sake of our kids. Guess what? God would, too. In fact, God the Son, Jesus Christ, did exactly that—on the cross. Do you know whom he did it for? You. Do you know why he did it? Out of love. Do you know what it means? I guess it means that God loves you the way a parent loves a child—but even more so, because God loves us perfectly.
So… Welcome to the family.
1. See Luke 2:41-51.
2. See Mark 3:20b-35
3. Matthew 8:21-22
4. Luke 14:26
5. William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006), 30.
6. John 1:12-13