Harrowing Of Hell
June 9, 2024

When Jesus Calls You Family

Kelli Martin, Lay Preacher

To watch the sermon click here.

My sister Kimmi is 5 years younger than I am. I had to watch her a lot when we were growing up. One time, when she was 6, maybe 7 years old, something our parents did or said or wouldn’t let her do made Kimmi really, really mad. Mad enough to want to run away. She told us she was going to do just that. She said that she didn’t want to be a part of our family anymore, that she wanted to be a part of another family, and so she was going to run away to April’s house down the block. So she packed a suitcase and walked out the front door. My parents and I were upstairs, leaning out of bedroom windows, watching this little girl, run away from home. We thought it was funny. And we expected her to turn around any second.

Kimmi kept moving. My parents and I came downstairs to the front porch so we could see her better, and so she could see us when she turned around to come home. She kept on walking. We chuckled a bit, though not as much as we just had been. Kimmi passed April’s house, and crossed the street to the next block. I remember Kimmi was still carrying her suitcase, it was probably bumping up against her little legs and it had to have been heavy, because we lived on a long tree-lined block and she’d been walking for a while. But she did not put that suitcase down. That’s how determined she was. Kimmi walked farther and farther from us and our house. My parents and I had stopped laughing. My mother turned to me and said: “Go see about your sister.” And I did.

I bet a lot of us worshiping in this church and online have had similar family experiences. When you “go see about your family,” it’s not always literal. It’s to go check on them, yes, but it’s because you’re concerned about them. You want to see what’s troubling them, to figure out what’s going on with them. You want to see if they’re okay. That’s what family does. You go see about one another.

In today’s story, Jesus’ family goes to see about him.

But before they do that, today’s story paints a dynamic time in Jesus’ public ministry. He’s been healing and teaching and preaching and casting out demons. Crowds and crowds of people follow him. Some of the religious authority and temple establishment are agitated and threatened by Jesus. They think his parables were cryptic, that his teachings were controversial. They think Jesus has snapped, and is out of his mind. His family hears these rumors and gets worried. Even if they didn’t fully understand his divinity, they did understand enough to try to take Jesus away from this chaos. Not because they too think he’s out of his mind but because they care about him. So, they go see about him. Because that’s what family does.

And Jesus is all about family.

In today’s story and the section before it, Jesus moves us along his family lineage, from his past family to his present family to his future family: first, he talks about his past family ancestor King David who also broke temple and Sabbath rules like Jesus did, so that all people, not only a select group, could get spiritual nourishment; then, we move to Jesus’s immediate present family with Jesus’s mother and his siblings…and ultimately, to his new future family.

What I want us to focus on first is Jesus’s present family ~ Jesus is inside with a crowd of people, while his mother and sisters and brothers are outside. Jesus knows they’re there. The crowd has told him so. Jesus looks at the crowd sitting around him, taking stock of them. Jesus’ gaze moves into a declaration. He says: “’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.’”

It is wondrous what Jesus is doing here. He is expanding “family”! He is inviting us to redefine family and he is creating a new one – one based not on blood or borders or name, but on doing God’s will. This new family is defined by God at the center. When Jesus moves us to this new family, he stretches long-held rules and structures until they snap.

But Jesus hasn’t snapped. The only thing that has snapped is the definition of family. He cracks open the most foundational social organization and human institution and gives it new life. He creates a new family right in front of us.

He has done this before.

We first saw Jesus expand family, he was 12 years old, it was during Passover, and his parents couldn’t find him for three days. Turns out he was in the temple – he called it his Father’s house. He was surprised his parents didn’t know where he walked off to.

Can we try to just picture it – it’s almost a mirror image:

Jesus in the temple, a boy on the cusp on manhood, surrounded by teachers, they’re all learning and studying about the ways and work of God, and Jesus is a brilliant student and teacher even at 13…much like he is in today’s story, as an adult, surrounded by people listening to Jesus teach about living the life God intends for them to live. In both spaces, Jesus creates a new family.

And another time – Jesus expanded family when he chose his disciples, one by one, and told them to follow him. He walks off with each of them, gathering them over time, and empowering them to do God’s work with him. This is Jesus’s found family.

Third, Jesus expanded family in the most magnificent of creation stories…When up on the cross, he gives his mother and the Disciple Who Loves Him to one another. He makes them a family, urging them to take care of each other, to tend to one another. It was a union that is thought to symbolize the unity of Jews and Gentiles.

It is momentous that Jesus does all of this family-making! Because he’s moving family from a sociological structure into a spiritual one.

Now, I want to be clear that Jesus is not denying the family who raised him. I don’t think he’s asking us to do that either. God was intentional about the family each of us was born into and the family that raised each of us. We know our relationships with our families of origin and of upbringing can be beautiful, and they can be fraught. Even with that, what Jesus is doing here is calling us to envision family the way he did. To not limit our notion of family to tribe or blood or borders or even living in the same household. Because those can cause division. Jesus is calling us to consider family in a new way: that people who are in pursuit of living their lives the way God calls them to are your siblings too.

We see this play out in the church, where family is all around us. We call priests “mother” and “father.” We sometimes sign our emails “Your brother, your sister, your sibling in Christ.” And we definitely see that play out here at Epiphany, where we check in on one another when we are sick or are going through loss or haven’t seen one another in a while. We are the new family Jesus created. What defines this new family is our harnessing our love for Jesus and his teachings so that we can practice living out our love for God in community with one another.

And our family matters don’t stop there. Jesus’s love doesn’t stop within this block on 38th Ave in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, nor on Epiphany’s YouTube channel.

I’d like to think that “Go see about your family” has transformed to “Go see about the world.” We can take our cue from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

After that great battle when Aslan had been resurrected and the Witch was dead, Lucy saw that her brother Edmund was wounded. He was bleeding. When Lucy put the medicine in his mouth, she lingered over him, to see if the medicine was making Edmund better. But Aslan said to her, “There are other people wounded.”

I think what he was doing with that is telling her, Yes I know he’s your brother. You’ve seen to him and you’ve tended to him. There’s more work of God and work of love to do. You’ve done your part with him, now go do your part with your siblings in Christ outside these walls. Go see about other people. There are more people who need you. Care for them as kin. What if we loved strangers, our friends, our colleagues in the way we love our family, with deep wellsprings of emotion, even for the ones you disagree with. You may realize your capacity to care is greater than you think. That is what being a Christian family and living the Christian life is. Jesus snaps old boundaries in which people love only their own. This is another way to think beyond ourselves – this is God’s intention for us. If something is unforgivable, it’s standing in the way of that.

This sermon is coming to the end of the block. Jesus is always shaking things up. Like Kimmi did. Back then, I ran, not walked, to catch up with Kimmi and we walked home. The irony of my sister Kimmi saying that she wanted a new family is not lost on me. The beauty of it is this: Jesus’ new family is unfinished — as it should be. Because God is always expanding God’s family, with a love that is unstoppable. It is the neverending love of God that knows no boundaries, no matter how divided or united the world is, no matter what block you’re on. Jesus calls you family. He urges us to move our hearts toward as much love as it can stand…and that’s the love that God’s family does.