This song was made popular by a group called the Youngbloods in the late 1960’s and has been a popular folkrock song since. The message it gave in the 60’s is still valid today, perhaps even more so than it was when it was released. It is a song that for me calls people to love their neighbors, now, before it is too late. It is a song that pits love and fear against each other. Perhaps it is fear that prevents us from loving some people. Perhaps we have reputations to protect and we fear that loving some people may jeopardize that reputation. Perhaps we fear we may become like those we don’t love. Perhaps some people have hurt us in the past, and although we may have forgiven them, perhaps we haven’t completely forgiven them and we still hold onto a little of that hurt, and we fear we will open ourselves to getting hurt again.
These can all be valid fears, and can all prevent us from truly loving our neighbors, and sometimes, perhaps even people closer to us, co-workers, friends, and even family members.
In our Gospel reading we read a little about family. I think it would benefit us to hear the beginning of the story we read today.
“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles,* to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve:* Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Then he went home;”
Today’s reading picked up when Jesus was home. The crowd had followed him, so many that Jesus and the disciples could not eat their meal. The crowd was saying Jesus had lost his mind, that he was the leader of the demons. His family came outside to restrain him. And Jesus responded to them ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.
We live in a world full of divisions. We tend to divide ourselves by creating labels that identify people with one group or another. We often divide ourselves according to our professions. We divide ourselves according our race. We divide ourselves according to our nationality. We divide ourselves according to our political party or our political viewpoint. We divide ourselves according to our religions, and we divide ourselves within our religions by our denominations, and we even divide our denominations into smaller denominations. And even within congregations, we divide ourselves. Even within families, we find divisions.
Jesus said a house divided against itself cannot stand. How can a family divided against itself stand? How can a congregation divided against itself stand? How can a denomination divided against itself stand? How can a faith tradition, such as Christianity, divided against itself stand? How can a nation divided against itself stand? And how can a world divided against itself stand?
Yet, we as a society, continue to label, continue to divide, continue to build barriers to keep the “other” separate from ourselves. People tend to want to be among their own kind, among people who look, act, think, and believe as they do. But I am not sure this is God’s will.
God created an incredibly diverse world. God created all kinds of people, all different shapes, and colors, and from different cultures, and God put us all on earth to live together. But, from the very beginning, from the very first family, people have not been able to live together in peace. Even Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel, could not live together in peace.
I firmly believe that all people are God’s children, and are therefore not just our neighbors, but are our brothers and sisters. Sometimes our family consists of people other than our biological family.
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters* are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
I don’t think Jesus was saying our biological families are not important. I believe Jesus was reminding us that sometimes the people who love us, who care for us, teach us things that are not God’s will, not out of being evil, but just the opposite, because they have been taught by previous generations what was right and they want the best for us. But sometimes what they want for us is not what God wants for us.
An example of this may be someone who grew up in the Deep South during the 1950’s and 60’s. They were part of the generation that wrestled with the civil rights movement. Many resisted that movement because they had been taught that white supremacy and racism were the way to find and maintain life. This is what those who loved and cared for them had been taught and they were passing it on out of love. But as we all know, racism is not God’s will.
Whoever does the will of God is Jesus’ brother or sister. This does not necessarily mean his biological family did not do the will of God, but expands his family to all that do the will of God.
Let us pray:
Lord God of all nations,
you have revealed your will to all people
and promised us your saving help.
May we hear and do what you command,
that the darkness may be overcome
by the power of your light,
that hatred may be overcome
by the power of your love,
that we can love our neighbors,
by the power of your Holy Spirit,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, now and forever more.
As we gather together to celebrate Holy Communion this morning, let us remember we are part of Jesus’ family, we are his sister or brother, and although we are a small group gathering in this congregation, we will be joined by all other Christians who are celebrating Communion throughout the world.
C'mon people now,
Smile on your brother and sister
Ev'rybody get together
Try and love one another right now.
This is the will of God, that we love one another as Jesus has loved us.
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