This sermon was preached 11-17-2013. The text was Luke 21:5-19.
Let’s talk about family. Like them or not, we’ve all got family! We hear about family a lot; that we are members of God’s family, that God gives us our family to love, that family behaves in certain ways. At its best, these are the people who love and support one another. Family is there with a warm smile and a mug of tea after a rough day.
Only, it isn’t always like that. Real families are not like the caricatures the media give. There are ups and downs, and frequent surprises.
One Easter, when J.W. and I were dating in college, we went to spend the weekend at his parents’ house. It was going to be a relaxing few days filled with egg dyeing and chocolate bunnies. On Saturday evening we sat down for dinner, some delicious tacos. As we were finishing up our meal, my father-in-law pulled a Bible off the shelf, sitting down with it open on the table. He’s a pastor, so it wasn’t out of the blue.
What happened next was, however, as J.W.’s parents began to express their concern about me as a woman going to seminary and becoming a pastor. Voices rose and tempers flared as the discussion became an argument. Finally, J.W. threatened to leave if his parents wouldn’t respect our differences. I stared down at the table in front of me, wishing I could turn invisible. The topic was dropped, but the tension held all weekend.
In that single interaction, betrayal was experienced. I was hurt by behavior that didn’t fit my expectations of family hospitality. I was challenged by theology that asks me to betray my calling in order to fit conventions. I suspect that J.W.’s parents felt a sense of betrayal at our refusal to conform our beliefs to theirs. Perhaps they experienced betrayal when J.W. sided with me against them. No one was left unaffected.
I tell this story not to inspire your pity or compassion or indignation, but because I suspect that all of us have stories like that one. The details are different, of course, but the themes of hurt, of conflict, and of brokenness run deep. It seems that if anything is true about family, it is that, intentionally or not, the people we love have the power to hurt us more deeply than anyone else.
So when Jesus says, “You will be betrayed by parents, by brothers and sisters, by relatives and friends,” we are tempted to roll our eyes. Yes, Jesus, I’ve noticed family brokenness, thank you for the reminder.
I have noticed the lingering ache of betrayal. I have noticed the strife that comes with damaged relationships. And I have noticed that being a Christian doesn’t save me from this pain.
In fact, I would even go so far as to say that there is nothing that saves us from that pain. You will be betrayed by parents, by brothers and sisters, by children, by spouses, by friends. You will betray parents, sisters and brothers, children, spouses, friends. You know Jesus’ words are true because you have lived them.
These are not Jesus’ last words, however. “Not a hair of your head will perish,” he says. In a few short weeks, this man will be nailed to a cross and die, rising again three days later, but still he speaks these words of comfort to people, who, like us, know what it is to be betrayed. Not a hair of your head will perish.
Think for a moment: how well would you need to know someone in order to promise that not a hair on their head would perish? You would have to spend hours combing through their hair, and continue to monitor them day in and day out to ensure that no strand was forgotten. I know myself pretty well, but I have no idea how many hairs there are on my head, how many I lose when I brush it, how many are damaged by this cold, dry time of year.
Yet Jesus’ words suggest that he knows me well enough to keep track of the very hairs on my head.
How much more, then, does he know you well enough to perceive the human brokenness you experience in your families? Are your pain, your experiences of betrayal, your own relational shortcomings hidden from God?
No. Jesus Christ enters in to your brokenness, promising to be with you, to know you so deeply that, like the hairs on your heads, your pain is known to him. Jesus knows you well enough to feel all your deepest hurt.
Why? Because he loves you. God loves you enough to learn your pain, to take it to the cross, and let it die there. And God loves you enough to give you a new family relationship, to be the divine Parent who will never betray you.
Not a hair on your head will perish. Thanks be to God. Amen.