Into our violent and racially-charged country comes words from Paul in 1 Thessalonians today. In many ways family is redefined. We hear about Paul and Timothy suffering persecutions, and about how the Christians in Thessaloniki have remembered them in their distress. The mystical bond that they share does more than encourage hope, but transforms their entire relationship to brothers and sisters in Christ. They are no longer merely friends, but family.
Do you recall Eric Garner’s death – the “I Can’t Breathe” at the chokeholding hands of a NYC police officer? Or the shooting of Michael Brown a couple years ago? More recently the young man at OSU with the butcher knife, shot dead by police. Many of these incidents involve justice, which also calls us to a renewed sense of compassion, listening, understanding, and frankly understanding the dynamics of mental illness better. I am thankful for Ted Streuli who lifted up these issues last night at Kirknight, challenging us to a new awareness of mental illness/brain disease.
Things change when we regard one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and get to know peoples’ struggles, not just dismiss each other as “thugs” or “villains” or “crazies”. This is what Paul is addressing. He reminds us to not just encourage hope, but view our relationships as fundamentally changed.
How does the world become a different place when we view each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of the color of their skin?!? Everything!
Then in Luke we encounter one of the most radical statements from Jesus to our contemporary ears. You will never hear this preached in “traditional conservative” churches, for it flies in the face of the very heart of their argument of “family values.” Here we hear Jesus holding up singleness as the new standard, and ranking marriage as something inferior and “of this age.”
“Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.’” Why doesn’t our culture talk more about this aspect of Scripture? Because it flies in the face of their lifestyle. Many want to encounter the Bible only as so long as it comports with their already held values. They use it to justify their values, rather than let Jesus challenge us, liberal and conservative alike, with his words. This kind of cherry-picking of Scripture is dangerous and unorthodox.
God calls us to look at the entirety of Scripture, and discover what the Bible principally teaches and how that impacts our lives. I read much about covenant and love, and I wonder why that gets lost among the cherry-pickers of Scripture. What I see here in our Gospel reading is not a throwing out of marriage as much as a lifting up of the new relationships we have in Christ, as we all become brothers and sisters in the faith.
In many ways, Jesus redefine family values here. At the heart of this is a separation from his own Jewish values, which believe that in procreation is blessing. Jesus is saying no, that procreation is no longer necessary for those who inherit eternal life in the age to come. This is a radical departure from the thoughts of his time.
Instead Jesus invests himself in the same kind of brotherhood and sisterhood that Paul and Timothy speak of in 1 Thessalonians. We seem to be in a new world, where relationships of those around us trump the future, potential relationships of generations to come. We are being encouraged to value togetherness in the here and now.
This, too, is a prominent theme of Advent. As we look to a better world, we huddle in togetherness to wait for its coming. We plan for the future, but in radically different ways. We look for the harmony of the coming age, while we also help to increase harmonies in the present age.
It is mystical and unbridled. It is strange and hopeful. It is new life, but in a very different way. May these challenging and unsettling words of Scripture rest in your soul and challenge us all, as we face God’s new future for us.