“In the Will”
“Jesus Said What?”- Week 3
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
January 26, 2020
The India group will be gone for 21 days. The last time Phil or I were gone for 21 days straight was 7 years ago when I was in Malawi, Africa. When I returned home I learned that Phil had kept a sort of diary on his Facebook page cataloguing each day. It read like pages from the Donner party journals—you know the group who tried to make it to the west coast but got caught in the Rocky Mountains and eventually ate one another.
Entries went something like this: “Sun was shining today but provisions are running low. The children speak of hunger. Morale dipping.” At the end of each post he would put a label on the day. It was either a Win, a Loss, or a Push—a capital W, an L or a P marked the day. A win and a loss are probably clear to you but here is what a push looked like: “Alena knocked her head today (loss); seems to have retained consciousness (win). Dinner was mac and cheese eaten out of the pot standing around the counter (loss). Both were bathed and put to bed (win). All in all, a Push.”
Win, Loss, Push; so the entries went, day after day. As we begin another 21 days in our household I’ve been thinking about those categories. W, L, P; and it occurs to me that life can sometimes string together a lot of Ls in a row. If we were to look back over the year 2019 or even just this past month since 2020 began, some of us might see a lot of capital Ls in a row, very few Ps and not a W in sight.
When we come to this passage halfway through the gospel of Matthew, we could immediately read it as Jesus dismissing his family, even dishonoring them. To be sure, Jesus shows he has a complicated relationship with family. Remember when he was 12 and got lost from his family in Jerusalem? They search for him out of their minds for 3 full days and when they find him he says, “Oh, I’m sorry. Didn’t you know I’d be in my father’s house?”
Or when he called a man to be a disciple in Luke 9 and the man said, “Let me just bury my dad and then I will follow you anywhere” and Jesus rebuked him for that saying, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Or how about when he offered the promise and/ or threat that he came to bring a sword that would divide families? Yes, Jesus does have a complicated relationship with family but I don’t think that is the main point of what is happening here. I think Jesus is showing us what he does when the capital Ls begin to pile up.
And they are piling up for him. They have been lined up day after day: loss, loss, loss. We read in one chapter before this that even his cousin John the Baptist has started to doubt whether or not Jesus is really who he says he is. Johns sends some of his own disciples to ask Jesus, “Should we stick around with you or should we find somebody else?” Loss. Just after that we see Jesus surrounded by crowds of people. They are certainly intrigued by his teaching but none of them wants to actually repent and follow him. Loss.
And right before our verses for today, the religious authorities have accused Jesus of being a tool of Satan himself and, for the first time, actively begin to plan on how they will kill him. Definitely a Loss. Finally, his family arrives but they stay outside. Matthew doesn’t say it but Mark does in his recounting. His family is embarrassed of him and angry and they want him to stop all this and come home with them. Loss. Day after day: L, L, L, L.
We can forget that Jesus knew hard times long before he hung on the cross. He famously recites Psalm 22 on the cross, which I read part of to you this morning but it is not just in that moment of his life that the words fit. “I am scorned by others, and despised by the people” the song goes. “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads.” That sounds a lot like what he’s been facing for the last 2 chapters of Matthew. Jesus faced a lot of Ls.
As his losses increase, he shows us he faces them. We often talk about the cross-shaped relationships we have: horizontal with one another and vertical with God. By creating a new family from his followers, he tells us that when the horizontal isn’t working, go vertical. All his life, I’m sure people loved to remind him that he was Mary’s boy, perhaps she too called him that. But, as important as that designation is for him, the name that matters most is not that he is Mary’s boy but that he is the beloved son in whom God is well pleased. When life is not going well, what matters most is not his background but his baptism.
That is true for him. And it is true for you. You may be your mother’s child but, even more than that, you are a baptized. You may be the one who has loved and lost but, even more than that, you are baptized. You may be the one who has made an utter mess of things but, more than that, you are baptized. Our horizontal matters—our family and our background and our relationships—of course they do. But the vertical matters more, especially when we face a lot of Ls.
By what he does, by creating from nothing a whole new family, it means when we go vertical—when our identity in God matters more than our other labels—a whole new horizontal opens up as a result. Jesus makes us siblings with folks we never guessed we’d ever have in our lives. We are brothers and sisters to each other. Even more wild, we are siblings with Jesus. You are Jesus’ brother. You are Jesus’ sister. You are his family. You are in the will.
If your family is like every family that has ever lived, you have certainly heard a phrase such as: “As long as you’re a part of this family you will—clean your room, get an education, cut your hair—whatever it is, that was the expectation of being a part of your family. So what is the expectation of our new family into which Jesus brings us? In this case, the bar seems to be pretty easy to get over.
Jesus calls the crowd his family and they don’t seem to have done much to warrant it. But they had done two things: they listened to Jesus, earnestly listened to him. And, they listened to him together. They listened and they were community together. That’s it. In doing that, they were doing the will of God. My guess is that if you are sitting here this morning then you, also, have sat and listened to the words of Jesus and you have done so in community. At least a time or two, you have done just what they were doing! Simply by being here and opening your heart again to his teaching, you are doing God’s will for your life, God’s will for his family.
As we close, I want you to look back at how Jesus blesses the group. Our translation reads that he “pointed” to them. That doesn’t sound like much. But Jesus only does that action—the action our version describes as “pointing” at them—he only does it three times in Matthew’s gospel and it is not pointing; it is touching and reaching and blessing. The first time he does it is in Matthew 8 when he touches and heals the leper. The second time he does it is in chapter 14 when he snatches Peter from drowning on the water in the storm. And the third time he does it is here when he looks out over the group and creates a family out of them.
When the capital Ls start to pile up in your life, I want you to think about Jesus reaching out his hand to you. I can’t say which blessing you will need most in that moment but Jesus offers them all—a healing touch when you have not received enough love, a saving grasp when we are afraid and surrounded by chaos, a welcome guiding into the family that matters more than any background or past.
With the blessing in his hand he offers them all. “Look,” he says as he stretches his hand toward you, “here is my sister. Look, here is my brother. Look, here is my mother.”
Even with L after L after L, that’s a win. Amen.