May 14, 2017

 

Mathew 12:46-50

 

I spent most of the past week at Lake Tahoe. I was there for a conference on innovative ideas for worship. It was an inspirational week of which you will hear, or experience, more later. For now I want to note not the conference but the lake itself. For the last time I was at Lake Tahoe was nearly 30 years ago. The whole Bryant clan was there. The highlight of the week was going parasailing over the lake with my mother. So as I sat all week looking out at that lake in the background, listening to our presenter, I kept hearing the giggles of my mother floating above me under that parasail, free as a bird. Though it has been nearly 19 years since I have heard her voice, there at the lake, it was but yesterday. I want to invite you this morning to the lakeside, not of Tahoe, but of Galilee and to hear the voice not of my mother, though a bit of hers may come through, but of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

 

There are times when Jesus says some pretty hard things in the gospels, times when you want to say, “Wait a second, time-out, hold it right there. What did you say? Can you expound a little on that please? I am not sure I understood it, or what I understood I don’t like, so say a little more please, Jesus, maybe it will get better.” Times when you would love to hear what happened after all the crowds have gone home and it is just Jesus and his closest friends or perhaps, Jesus and his mother.

 

So picture yourself as a fly on a Galilean wall a long time ago. The hour is late, most in this fishing village have long gone to bed, for the morning comes early and the greatest work must be done before the day becomes too hot. But in one house a lamp burns as a mother waits anxiously for the last guest to leave so that she might have a word alone with her grown son.

 

Jesus? Mary calls from the back of the house.

 

Yes Mother, the tired son responds.

 

May I have a word with you? It is a rhetorical question, really, the kind mothers ask with that urgent tone of voice that says, “I mean now.”

 

Yes Mother, I am coming. The son smiled at his mother as he entered her room and sat respectfully at her feet. His olive skin was darker than her own. “He spends to much time in the open sun,” she thought to herself but said nothing. There were much weightier items on her mind tonight.

 

Jesus, I am very concerned about you.

 

Mother, Jesus began but his mother quickly cut him off.

 

No, let me finish. You know I have always believed in you, but you are beginning to frighten me Jesus. You speak with more authority than the prophets, even more than your great ancestor David. The authorities are starting to notice. Did you see those three men here from Jerusalem today? I did not like the looks on their faces, and you, my son, did little to appease them. “Can Satan cast out Satan?” Where do you come up with such things?

 

It was effective, wasn’t it? respond Jesus with a sly smile.

 

Well, you certainly shut them up. Mary did not return the smile, but there was an undeniable twinkle in her eye. But I think they are up to no good, Jesus, and they certainly did not come all this way to hear how clever you are. Do you know what these men can do to you?

 

I know, Mother, and I know you are worried about me, but I wish you would worry less. I’ll be fine. Temple authorities don’t scare me. God is with me, Mother, trust me.

 

I trust you with my life, Jesus, but I am not so sure I trust you with yours. The twinkle was gone now, replaced by a uncertain sadness. Sensing this, the son reached out to take his mother’s hand.

 

Mother, have you ever felt something growing inside of you that when the time came for it to come out, there was nothing you could do to stop it?

 

This brought a slow smile to the woman’s face. Well, there was you, for starters. Then your brother James and your sister Ruth, next …

 

That’s right Mother, it’s like that. It is like having a baby. The time has come for this baby to be born and there is nothing I can do to stop it, it just comes out of me!

 

Mary scoffed. You would teach me about childbirth?! Men! Too much wine and a little gas and they think they know what only a woman can know.

 

Taking both her hands now, Jesus spoke more urgently. No mother, listen to me. There is something inside of me, deep within me, that has to come out. It is no more me than the sun and the moon but it is there, in me. And it pushes and pushes until I can hold it no longer.

 

You, Jesus, miracle son of mine, are having a baby? This is one miracle I don’t want to miss!

 

That’s right, I am. It is the reign of God, Mother, and it is coming now. I can feel it here, deep inside, turning and kicking, straining to get out. And it is just not inside of me, either, I see it everywhere I go, in the faces of the poor and on the hills of Judea. I hear it in the laughter of children and feel it in the wind in the trees. I taste it in the bread and wine at the evening meal. It is everywhere and in everything, it is all around us but I can’t get people to see it. They come to see me and the miracles I perform but I want them to see God and the miracle that is all around us.

 

Is that why you say some of those things you say, to (Mary searches for the words) to shock people so they will open their eyes to see what you see?

 

Yes, yes, that’s it! It is like we are living in a dream, or a nightmare, and something or someone has to wake us up to see what really matters in this world.

 

But Jesus, to tell one of your own followers, “let the dead bury the dead”? How could you say that? You were there for the burial of your own father. Do you think we should have just left him out on the street for the dogs and buzzards? The respect we show for the dead is what makes us human. You ask the unthinkable.

 

Yes, it is unthinkable. That is the point. We live our lives day in and day out and never give thought to the possibility that the realm of God is right here in our midst. So to make people confront that possibility, I challenge them to think the unthinkable, to imagine how the priorities in their lives would change with God at the reign.

 

You didn’t mean we should really leave the dead unburied?

 

Physically, no, of course not, at least not entirely. There are times that I wonder, however, why we put so much energy and effort into caring for the dead when we have yet to care for many of the living. The rich build elaborate tombs where a body sleeps for eternity while the poor have no place to lay their head. Spiritually, however, I see many people who need to let go of their dead loved ones, or sometimes, their dead enemies.

 

Visibly intrigued, Mary presses further. Then when you said “Call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father–the one in heaven,” you were not really serious.

 

To the contrary, I was very serious. You mean, did I want people to take me literally?

 

Well, both, I guess. Our entire society is built around the patriarchs, from Abraham on down to the father of every household. You really shook up a number of people with that one.

 

And is that a bad thing?

 

When I lost Joseph I did not know how I, or how we, would survive. And it has been tough, but God has been good to us. I have discovered that there are many things I can do that I never would have tried while Joseph was around. As much as I miss him, I confess I am enjoying some new freedom, at least as much as I can get by my male relatives.

 

You see, mother, in the realm of God every person is answerable directly to God and still accountable to the rest of the community. It is not the title, “father”, that I object to, but the way many fathers act as if they were God and accountable to no one.   If I shook some people up, then maybe my message is getting through. Fathers need to learn their role is not to rule their families, it is to serve them.

 

I think I am beginning to see, Jesus. Help me to understand, then, what you meant when you said “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters cannot be my disciple.” I know you don’t hate me, do you?

 

Oh mother, I could never hate you. Do you remember what you told me when I was young and sometimes a little boastful?

 

Like the time we left you in the temple and when we finally found you a couple of days later you told us you were teaching scripture to the priests?

 

As a matter of fact, I was, but the point is, you said, “I have told you a million times not to exaggerate!”

 

Well, I surely thought it a million times!

 

I am sure you did, but you exaggerated to give emphasis to your point.

 

But Jesus, isn’t hating your parents and siblings exaggerating too much?

 

It’s thinking the unthinkable, Mother. From our childhood we are taught diligently to honor our mothers and fathers. As faithful Jews we can no more hate our parents than we can eat pork. But if someone wants to follow me, if they want to live as a citizen in this realm of God , they have to reorient their values.

 

Looking down, Mary, the mother of Jesus, quietly asked, Does that mean that I am no longer your mother and your siblings no longer your brothers and sisters?

 

Oh mother, is that what this is all about? I have hurt you today, haven’t I?

 

What did you expect Jesus, in front of all those people, to brush us off like that? I am not a sermon illustration which you can throw casually into the wind. I am your mother, Jesus, the one who brought you into this world, who nursed you, kissed your hurts, sang you to sleep, sewed your clothes and prepared your meals. Tears began to roll down the aging cheeks of the wounded mother. Yes, it hurt. I felt shamed and embarrassed. People have been saying things about you Jesus, things I do not understand. I just wanted to talk with you, to try to understand all of this. And I am scared, Jesus. I am afraid that I am going to lose you like I lost Joseph.

 

Jesus started to reach up to dry the tears of his mother and then stopped. There are some things a son should not do lest he take the dignity away from the elder. Instead, teardrops fell upon the back of his hands, still holding his mothers’ in her lap. He said a quiet prayer before speaking again. Mother, please hear me. The people who come to me are scared, too. They are scared because their world is falling apart, they are sick or hungry or poor or alone. They are losing land to the encroachment of Greek civilization. They are losing freedom to Roman rule. And they are losing faith in their Jewish leaders. They are desperate for a Messiah to save them. And they come to me. I want them to know that God has not deserted them. I want them to discover that they are part of the community of God that can overcome all else in this world. I want them to feel that they are a valued part of the family of God because they are, and so are you. When I look into their frightened, hungry, desperate eyes, my heart breaks for them. I know that if I can reach them, if they will heed my words and follow God’s calling, they will discover God’s realm in their midst as I have. They have been given to me by God to care for, they are my family. Wherever they are gathered, I will be there, too. So yes, I have invited them in, into my family and our family, the family I have known since a child, the family you raised me in, the family of God. I am and always will be your son, but I am more than that now. God has laid this thing on me, has consumed me, and I must go my own way, God’s way. I must leave you, Mother. Can you forgive me?

 

Mary said nothing, but reached up and wrapped her arms around the neck of her son. Embracing, her tears mixed now with his own. Silently the son kissed his mother on each cheek, then turned to leave.

 

Jesus?

Yes Mother?  

I love you.

And I you.

 

And as she watched him go into the dark, quiet night for the last time, words from long ago came back to her, “and a sword will pierce your own soul.” At last now, she understood the old prophet, and in that, Mary took the one comfort she could find. In the love for her son, Mary felt God’s aching love for the world.

 

 

Dan Bryant

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Eugene, Oregon