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Sermon - 3 Pentecost

In the Name...


A little boy opened the big family Bible with fascination.  As he turned the old pages something fell out and he picked it up.  It was a leaf that had been pressed in between the pages many years before. "Mommy, look what I found," the boy called out, "It’s Adam's underwear!" Sometimes, the Scriptures appointed for our consideration on Sundays can seem to be random selections rather like roulette-spinning the Bible and seeing what falls out.  But in fact, they have been carefully chosen to illustrate certain themes and this morning is no exception.


Our Old Testament reading was part of the story of Adam and Eve - the serpent in the garden and the apple.  Very well known.  In the Gospel, we had a much less well known scene where Jesus was under pressure to abandon his ministry.  And, in both cases, the common element is family.  And the theme, the warning, is that misguided love for family can lead one into sin.


Now, that's a strange sort of thing to be saying in church, because, if anything, Christians are supposed to be extremely pro-family.  Can you love your family too much?  And yet, the old adage holds true that one can have too much of a good thing - even love.


When God created Adam he told him not to eat from a couple of trees in the Garden.  When Eve comes along, Adam tells her what not to eat.  Then, Satan approaches Eve and creates doubts.  It's really quite a long conversation they have.  And, eventually, Eve eats.  So far nothing new.  But it's the next part that's significant.  It says that Eve then gave the fruit to Adam and he ate.  Just like that.  There's no argument, no discussion, no warning from Adam.  Have you ever wondered about that?  The speed, the lack of commentary.  It's a very important detail.


Adam eats because he loves Eve.  I'll say that again.  Adam eats because he loves Eve and he's afraid of losing her.  He knows what God has said, but he also knows how lonely he was without her and he fears an eternity of loneliness if God destroys her in anger.  And so, instead of trusting in God's love and forgiveness he commits the Original Sin and lets his love and fear cloud his judgment, and don't we know people who are in that situation every day?


When I lived in D.C. there was a senior FBI agent named Robert Hanssen who was convicted of selling secrets to the Soviets.  It turned out his wife knew what he was doing and hated what he was doing, but she didn’t turn him in because of the pressure he put on her. 


In the Gospel, we see the Pharisees trying to put this same sort of pressure on Jesus.  Jesus was becoming a spectacle, an embarrassment.  Every time they tried to argue him down, he turned the argument around.  They accused him of heinous crimes - even being possessed- but that only made them look more foolish.  Every attempt to discredit him failed.  But maybe his family could be used to shut him up.  So, they sent for his relatives.


And it says they even sent for his mother, Mary.  Now, imagine the pressure brought to bear on her by, not only community leaders but her own family, for the Gospels tell us not all of them believed in him.  This is the woman who had said "Yes" to the angel of the Lord; who had carried in her heart for thirty years the prophecies of Simeon and Anna; who had found her son debating in the Temple at the age of 12.  She knew better, but she was forced to be there.


And the Pharisees were sure they'd won.  Surely, Jesus would have to abandon his disturbing teachings in obedience to the 5th Commandment. 


But Jesus knew all too well that, in obedience to that same commandment, he had to be about his Father's business and so he retorted.  "Who are my mother and my brothers?"  And in saying this, he wasn't just saying it for himself.  These are words each of us needs to say when confronted by the same temptation.


I was reading a biography of the 18th C Quaker abolitionist John Woolman and was struck by an observation he made talking to Quaker slave-owners.  He said that some agreed with him that slavery was wrong, but they couldn’t give it up because it provided their families, which they loved, with income and inheritance.  So, Woolman noted that a warped love of family was perpetuating a massive societal injustice.


If we are going to call God, "Our Father", then sometimes that means we have to re-evaluate our priorities.  Are we putting someone ahead of God?  Are we compromising our mission and ministry to please someone or out of fear of losing their goodwill?


Peer pressure.  It’s never worse than when it is in the family.  It takes a lot of strength to stand up to that.  It takes a confidence about the future, a reliance on God, and a lack of fear in what may or may not happen if we refuse to give in. 


So, as St. Paul says, do not lose heart.  In standing with Christ there may be a “slight momentary affliction”, as he puts it, but ahead of us is an eternal glory beyond all measure based upon the loving relationship which is most important, with God as our Father and Jesus as our brother, and with each other as members of the Body of Christ.  A house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.


In the Name...

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