Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“THICKER THAN BLOOD”
Easter 5 B
April 29, 2018
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
The family is the single most important influence on the lives of children. We love our families. We would die for our families. If your family was threatened or your children were in danger, you might kill to protect them. There appears to be no limit to our love for our families, even if it means sacrificing ourselves for them.
Why? Because there is nothing THICKER THAN BLOOD. Our family, our “blood,” is the source of our name, our values, and our identity. Our family is where we go when we have absolutely nowhere else to go. Our family takes us in when everyone else has rejected us.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that churches in 21st century America want to be known as “family friendly.” Churches have “family night suppers,” build “family life centers” and have a Director of Children and Family Ministry, as we do here in this congregation. The reason many people give for joining a church is to support their family.
However, it has not always been this way in the history of the Christian Church. We forget that over the centuries the church has always had a deeply ambiguous opinion of the family.
Roman society criticized the early Christians for dividing and destroying families. Think for a moment when Jesus called the Sons of Zebedee to be his disciples. When Jesus called, they simply walked away from their family fishing business and left their father standing there with the fishing nets. The story does not tell us what their father thought about his two sons leaving the family business and tagging along after this wandering rabbi named Jesus. Family ties were unimportant in comparison to following Jesus. Jesus must have broken the hearts of many a first century family.
In a letter written to a Roman government official in the 3rd century, a parent complains that his son, who had received the best education, gone to all the right schools, and was headed for a good job as a lawyer, had gotten involved with a weird religious sect. He griped that the members of this sect controlled his son’s every move, told him whom to date and had taken all of his money. The parent pleads with the government official to do something about this weird religious group. After all, nothing is THICKER THAN BLOOD and certainly not in comparison to the claims of some religious group. The parent was not complaining about some spooky religious commune or radical religious fundamentalists but . . . the Christians!
It reminds me of that time when some people came to Jesus and said, “Your mother and brothers are outside asking for you.” Jesus responded, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He explained that his family was that new gathering of people called disciples.
Jesus’ words shock us in an age when the family is sacred and nothing is more important than the ties of blood.
Into this kind of world today’s First Reading speaks a surprising and powerful message. It speaks of the breaking down of barriers, the elimination of boundaries and the opening of doors to a relationship that is even more important than family.
Philip, a disciple, is sleeping. He suddenly wakens to find an angel standing before him. “Get up!” says the angel, “and go out into the middle of the desert.” Philip does as he is told. He goes out into the desert where he meets a man.
Or is it a man? He is a eunuch, a surgically altered male who is no longer able to have children, a servant in the court of the queen of the Ethiopians. The Ethiopians with their black skin living in the distant land of Africa symbolized strange and exotic people from the very edges of the known world. He was the ultimate outsider.
The eunuch returning from a visit to the temple in Jerusalem is reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He has come to a very strange passage. It says, “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, like a sheep before its shearers is dumb. He did not open his mouth. Justice was denied him. He has been cut off from the land of the living.”
The eunuch asks Phillip. “Who is that?” Is the prophet talking about himself or somebody else? The eunuch is curious because this person sounds a whole lot like him.
The scriptures say clearly in Deuteronomy 21, “The eunuch shall not have a place in the congregation of the family of God.” There shall be no place in God’s family for a eunuch. Why? Because God was so pro-family! This eunuch will never have a family. That would be forever impossible for this sexless man. Throughout the scriptures, children are praised as a sign of God’s favor. Failing to have a family was a curse. He could never enter the temple and praise God like those who have been blessed with the gift of family.
Here is a man with whom all of us who have ever felt excluded can identify. Have you ever found yourself on the outside looking in, excluded because you feel guilty, unworthy or unfit because you have royally messed up your life? Have you ever found yourself on the outside looking in because the burdens of some personal or family tragedy made your grief just too great to bear or your anger so hot that you didn’t want to be in God’s house anyway? Have you ever found yourself on the outside looking in, cut off, excluded, alone, because you felt like a eunuch . . . unable to fit in with the rest of the family? Have you ever found yourself on the outside looking in because you were convinced that even God wanted nothing to do with you?
If so, then this story is for you. Here there is hope!
“Who is this to whom the Prophet is referring?” the eunuch asks Philip. “Why, that was Jesus of Nazareth,” says Philip. Jesus too was one who was cut off, excluded and alone. He had no family, no children and died on the cross utterly bereft of family. Jesus suffered a fate like that of the eunuch . . . and everyone else in this world who has found himself on the outside looking in.
In a world where blood runs thick, where bloodline means everything, where family is sacred, Jesus dies as an outcast, an outsider, a eunuch without family, utterly cut off even from God.
But what did God do? God raised him from the dead! This man who was declared by God himself to be outside the family of God, . . . was raised from the dead. God announced to the world, “That’s my boy . . . and so are all you other outsiders . . . and eunuchs of the world. You are mine! You belong!”
Ironically, Jesus becomes the center of the largest family in the world, the church, the place where outcasts, orphans, people without family, people with the wrong bloodlines and wrong social credentials, people who are sinners, outside the boundaries of respectability and looking in, are welcomed with open arms. Here at last is a place where there is something THICKER THAN BLOOD!
A miracle happens. The barriers between these two men had been enormous: a white man and a black man, a Jew and an Ethiopian, one in the family and one outside the family. They should have been impenetrable. Yet, Philip does the unthinkable. Philip baptizes the eunuch and breaks the barriers.
Here at last . . . in the desert. . . is something THICKER THAN BLOOD: WATER! The water of Holy Baptism, the water of God’s love, the fresh flowing water of Jesus’ resurrection, flows miraculously in the desert and breaks down the barriers that had separated the eunuchs of this world not only from God’s family, but from God himself. In this new post-Easter world, there is a new kind of family: the church. In this family the WATER of Holy Baptism is THICKER THAN BLOOD. It connects its recipients to the glorious fate of the worst eunuch of all, Jesus Christ.
The violence in places like Charlottesville, Berkeley and streets of almost every large city in America in the last year has revealed the deep wounds and divisions of our society. The divisions of race and class, religion and politics, citizen and immigrant, red state/blue state, etc. expose a nation that is so splintered and tribal that we wonder if our social fabric is torn beyond repair. Blood, skin color, social attitudes, political philosophies and economic status have become so divisive that the legendary melting pot of America has turned into a poisonous stew.
However, through this boiling cauldron of suspicions and animosity flows the water of Baptism and the healing power of God’s mercy. Even as Christians, we may be bitterly divided and argue until the cows come home about how to heal this country. Then we all get on our knees and cry, “Lord have mercy” and receive the body and blood of our Lord. Today we rejoice with four young people who have undergone special instruction concerning Holy Communion. Three of them will be receiving communion for the first time. They will join all of us begging for the mercy of God. Last week we gathered around the font with Fletcher Therrien and rejoiced as God delivered him from these damnable divisions in Jesus Christ.
Two weeks ago many of you celebrated that good news by gathering around the font to affirm your Baptism. You rejoiced that God has welcomed you into God’s family in the waters of Baptism. There at the font God declared that this water is THICKER THAN BLOOD. It matters more than all the stuff of this world that divides us and puts us at each other’s throats. In the waters of Baptism, God said YES to us. Whenever we remember our baptism, whether it be at the quarterly Affirmation of Baptism or when we confirm five youth next Sunday or when we confess our sins and receive forgiveness at the beginning of every Sunday worship service, we say . . . . YES to God’s YES.
Then, as Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, we are branches connected to the vine. We abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us. We bear fruit. We signal to the rest of the world that in Christ we are connected. In him there is a life that unites us in spite of our divisions.
The church grows not by gathering people around the usual social and cultural labels that dominate our society and divide us from one another. We are not a club. We are not united by liberal/conservative, male/female, rich/poor, married/single, white/black or any other labels by which the world defines us. Here the waters of baptism wash away those labels. Here, gathered by Christ, we are in a new and more enduring family, the Christian Church, the Body of Christ, where Christ’s love is always THICKER THAN BLOOD!