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Response to Resurrection: Spend Time with the Family

May 19, 2019 Sermon
Response to Resurrection:
Spend Time with the Family

First Scripture Reading:  Romans 1:1-7

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Second Scripture Reading: Romans 1:8-17

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9 For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10 asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15 —hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Message – “Response to Resurrection: Spend Time with the Family”

Have you ever lived far away from family?

When I was a child, I would never have thought to ask this question.  I just ASSUMED everybody lived far away from family. You see, both my parents were born in Michigan, raised in Michigan, and had most of their extended families in Michigan.  But when I was 2 or 3 years old, my parents moved our immediate family to Texas.

I was raised in Texas with a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, and a dog all nearby but with EVERY other relative, every other family member living 1,000 miles away…and to a little kid, 1,000 miles might as well be the other side of the world.  Eventually, my maternal grandmother moved to Texas, but, still, so much of my family lived so far away.

And I LOVED my extended family.  I wanted to see more of them. Whenever we visited the extended family in Michigan, there was a great big party called a “family reunion” in which everyone got together.  I saw so many cousins and aunts and uncles. We played games and ate great food. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered that every day in Michigan wasn’t like that.  As a kid, I just thought the whole extended family got together all the time like that…and I wanted to be a part of it.

And now – actually for most of the past 20 years since I entered seminary – I’ve lived far away from either my parents or Susan’s parents or both sets of parents.  And I wish I could get together with them more than I do. But they’re so far away.

Have you ever lived far away from family?  If so, I imagine you know the pain of being away, the longing to be closer.

That’s the longing the Apostle Paul felt when he wrote to the church in Rome when he wrote, “I am longing to see you…”

Except:

  • Paul wasn’t biologically related to any of the people in the church of Rome, so how could Paul consider them family?
  • In fact, Paul had never even MET the people of the church in Rome to whom he was writing, so, how could Paul consider them family?
  • Not only were the people of the church of Rome not biologically related to Paul in what we think of as the familial sense, but the people of the church in Rome to whom Paul was writing were predominantly, maybe exclusively, Gentiles…meaning they weren’t even REMOTE relatives of Paul from say, 5 or 10 generations prior.  They weren’t remotely related at all. They weren’t even descended from peoples who got along with Paul’s ancestral people. So, again, how could Paul consider them family?

How is it that Paul could call those people “brothers and sisters” and write of a longing to see them equivalent to the modern longing to see close family members we haven’t seen in a while?

I’ll get to the answer in a little while, but, first, let’s catch up on where we are in our sermon series for the season of Eastertide.  Today is the 5th Sunday of the season of Eastertide, the 5th Sunday of this season during which we joyously proclaim, “Christ is Risen!” And during this celebratory season in 2019, we’re looking at each of the scriptures given by the makers of the Narrative Lectionary with a specific filter, the filter of what we can learn from the scriptures about how we should respond to resurrection.

We’ve learned a great many life-changing lessons so far:

  • We’ve learned that we should respond with fear and great joy, fear in the sense that we should respect God’s awesome power of bringing life from death and great joy in the sense that, well, God gave this gift of resurrection for us…and that’s AWESOME!
  • We’ve learned that we should respond to resurrection by telling someone about it.  That’s one of Jesus’ very FEW commands, and it’s NOT optional.
  • We’ve learned that we should respond to resurrection by getting ready to change…because NEW life means just that, “NEW”, and new requires change.
  • And we’ve learned that, after resurrection happened, God distributed so many of the amazing powers present  Jesus among all of us, Jesus’ followers…and we’re supposed to DO something with those powers; we’re supposed to allow God to work miracles through us.

And today, we receive a new lesson from a new book.  We’re not in the gospel of Matthew anymore, and we’re not in the gospel writer Luke’s story of the early church responding to resurrection that is the book of Acts.  We’re in a new book called Romans.

  • It’s a book – actually a letter – written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Rome approximately 25 years after resurrection.
  • It’s a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church Paul didn’t start, a church Paul had never visited.  
  • It’s a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church that had recently and for some extended period of time – maybe five years – been almost completely absent any Jewish Christians because the Roman emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome.  
  • It’s a letter written by the Apostle Paul to a church that had just recently begun to receive Jewish Christians back into the congregation because the Emperor Claudius died and Nero, his successor, decided to allow Jews back into Rome.
  • It’s a letter written by the Apostle Paul seemingly to heal discord between the Gentile Christians and returning Jewish Christians, and so it is a letter in which family features prominently.  Even though Paul never employs the phrase “family of faith”, he weaves throughout the letter the theme that all people who have faith in Jesus are part of one big family of faith, a family of the people of God, a family that God began through Abraham and the Israelites and that God now continues through all Christians, to whom Paul refers in these verses as “all God’s beloved”.

Which brings me back to my question from a while ago:  How is it that Paul could call those people “brothers and sisters” and write of a longing to see them equivalent to the modern longing to see close family members we haven’t seen in a while?

Based on what I’ve said already, and based on what you know of Jesus, surely you already know the answer.  The gospel writer Matthew reminds us:

47 Someone told [Jesus], “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Matthew 12:47-50)

We KNOW from scripture that Jesus changed the definition of family.  And Paul knew that Jesus had changed the definition of family. Paul spent the whole of chapter 4 of this letter to the Roman church explaining that he understood this, explaining to all the Christians in Rome that they are part of the SAME family; they are all, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians alike, descendants of Abraham.  They are, all of them, every bit as much Paul’s extended family as people who shared Paul’s ancestral biology were part of Paul’s family.  And, post-resurrection, in RESPONSE to resurrection, the Christians in Rome are MORE a part of Paul’s family than Paul’s biological relatives who had not chosen to become part of the family of God through faith in Jesus.

THAT is one of Paul’s primary messages in this letter.  THAT is how Paul can long to visit the people of the church of Rome like they are family members from whom Paul has been separated from for far too long.

And, my friends, this message from Paul, this RE-definition of family, it’s the starting point for today’s preaching:  we are supposed to respond to resurrection by spending time with the family…no, not THAT family, not your biological family, not the people you spend time with at family reunions, but with this NEW post-resurrection family that comprises all people who have faith in Jesus.  And there are some serious implications for all of us, implications rooted in this letter written by Paul to the church in Rome.

Implication Number 1:  Get excited about spending time with the family of God.  If you’ve ever had that longing I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon, the longing to be with family, THAT kind of longing is what you should feel when you are apart from your church family, your faith family.  When you haven’t seen your sisters and brothers in Christ for a week or even a day, you should experience a longing to see them again. You should get and be EXCITED, energized, enthusiastic about seeing them again. And folks, this is important, and it’s easy to do.  It’s all about ATTITUDE. If you approach this family of faith, these people, as more than just worthy of your time but as people who you WANT to see, LONG to see, you will find yourself spending more time together on Sunday mornings, even more time during the week.  That, by the way, is one of the ways we’ll know if we’re viewing each other as family; we will start spending more time together…and we’ll be EXCITED about it.

Which brings me to what I’ll call Implication Number 1A:  Prioritize your family of faith every bit as much as you prioritize your biological family. (Actually, I imagine Paul would tell you to prioritize your family of faith even MORE than your biological family, but, you know, baby steps.)   Did you notice that Paul prioritized his faith family? He had been making PLANS to visit them. Since he couldn’t just hop on a plane and since practicing his faith got him in trouble with the law, Paul hadn’t visited this particular part of his family yet, but he prioritized them nonetheless.  Could you imagine what this congregation would feel like if we prioritized our church family as much or more as our biological family? Can you imagine if someone asked you to go do something fun, and you responded with something like, “Sorry, but I want to spend time with my church family today”?  Can you imagine on a birthday or holiday if your biological family members asked you to do something with them and you responded that you were going to be with your faith family and your bio family is welcome to come along, but you’re choosing THIS family first? I know you can imagine it…because it’s the way things used to be, even at FCCGJ, but somewhere along the way our priorities shifted and moved away from biblical priorities, God’s priorities…it’s time to shift back.

Implication Number 2:  The family is BIGGER than just who’s in this room, this congregation.  Paul called the people of the church in Rome a part of his family, and he had never met them.  My friends, your universal Church family is HUGE. It includes the people in our Region of the CC(DOC), spread out over 311,000 square miles.  It includes all the people in our denomination across the nation and world. Actually, it includes every follower of Jesus, regardless of denomination.  The Presbyterians and Methodists and Baptists here in town and across the world: part of the family. Even the Evangelicals and Pentecostals; they are all part of the family.  Every…follower…of..Jesus. The family includes people you may not like and people with whom you may not agree (which shouldn’t be so surprising…when it comes to family.) But when we start to GET that we’re all part of one big family of faith, one big family of God, we’ll start treating each other with more respect, even trying, as Paul did, to learn from people who are different from us.  We’ll start acting like family, and that will CHANGE the perception of all the non-Christians out there. They ALREADY see us as one family, even if we don’t, which is why our in-fighting comes off as so off-putting to them.

Implications Number 3 and 4 (I’ll group these together):  You have something to share with the family…and something to receive from the family.  I love these implications. Did you notice what Paul had to say about other members of the family? He was a debtor to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.  In other words, Paul RECEIVED something, learned something, from his family members, even those he probably didn’t think could give or teach him much of anything. I think this is why Paul changed what he was writing in verse 11.  He started to write that he had something to offer them, but he changed his language to state that he and his audience could be mutually beneficial to each other. That’s what we do with family, right? We’re more open to listening to what they have to say.  We tolerate their peculiarities and eccentricities in ways we would not with anyone else. When we start approaching our faith family the same way, we might just learn and receive something WONDERFUL!

But just as important as receiving something FROM the family is that you have something to offer to it.  Y’all, out there in the world, there are people who want to put you down, people who want to succeed by telling you they’re awesome and you’re something much less than awesome.  And some of you might even start thinking that as a result of your age or declining physical or mental abilities or by something else that YOU don’t have anything to offer.  Well, a big, huge part of what Paul communicated when he had something to learn from barbarians is that THEY – even people he called barbarians – had something of worth, something of value, to offer the family. That’s ALSO the way families are, isn’t it?  They encourage the weakest members and give them a safe space to be themselves and get stronger in their sense of worth. It’s time we start remembering that this church family is a safe family, a group of people around whom we can practice and learn to be the best person we can be.  It’s time for us to start reminding each other that we EACH have something of value to offer. YOU have something of value to offer. God made you. This is a safe place in which to nurture the person God made you to be.

Implication Number 5: Pray for the family.  Paul said to the church in Rome, a group of people he had never met: “I remember you always in my prayers.”  We should do the same…remember each other in our prayers…not just occasionally but ALWAYS, not just the people in the room but EVERY member of the family of God, even those we have never met.  In response to our prayers, God will work amazing miracles for the family of faith. In response to our prayers, God will open us to be more active in our efforts to connect with the family. Who knows, in response to our prayers, God may send you to Rome, or El Salvador, or Idaho, or Puerto Rico, or…somewhere…to make ever more connections within the family of faith.

My friends, we are part of a family, a new kind of family, a family forged out of resurrection…of miracle, and so a better kind of family than any other kind, a family steeped in new life.  It is way past time we started acting and living more like the family we are…that we may become the family God desires we become.

Amen.