Year B; Proper 5; 6.10.2018
My mother’s second husband was a no-nonsense obstetrician-gynecologist. He was a Kansas German, through and through. He was matter-of-fact, rarely doubted himself and was not a pleaser. I say he was not a pleaser, because that contrasted with my family. We were brought up to please our elders and to care what people thought of us.
Mom married him late in life, both had been widowed. He had no children. His name was Dr. Hubert Floersch. But everyone called him “Hube.” My youngest sister called him “Gube,” and he seemed to be amused by that!
One year, I sent him a Happy Father’s Day card to which he replied, “What a strange thing to do.” Not a pleaser! One time when we all were together waiting to be seated at a restaurant, Hube very assertively asked to be seated immediately. Mom and the rest of us shrank back in embarrassment. Mom told him that she was uncomfortable that he had demanded to be seated before our turn. Hube responded by saying, “Why? They are no kin of mine.”
Just then, I knew that what BLOOD KIN thought of him mattered, but not what a stranger thought of him. “No kin of mine” meant that you could treat a stranger with less investment in the relationship. At that point in my early adulthood it was a liberating thought.
“No kin of mine” released me from the tyranny of “people pleaser,” and to this day my siblings and I tease each other by saying, “Don’t worry, they’re no kin of ours!”
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus was saying the same thing directly TO his “BLOOD KIN.” It’s one thing to joke around and say “you’re not my blood kin” to a stranger. But Jesus was saying it to his family. “…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?’” It feels no-nonsense and a bit hurtful to look at your mother, brothers and sisters and question their kinship with you. Jesus said, “MY blood kin are those who do the will of God…They are kin of mine.”
Jesus had been arguing with the religious officials, and it must have scared his family because they even thought he was out of his mind. Maybe his family had caught wind that the religious group were plotting to destroy him.
Maybe they thought he was being crazy and reckless and were urging him to “play it safe” with the officials. What we know is that early in this passage, his family emerges among the crowd and tried to physically restrain him saying, “He has gone out of his mind. Here, we’ll take him home and calm him down. He’s no good when he gets this way!”
His detractors took it further by calling him possessed by the devil. They accused him of having the spirit Beelzebub, and said he was demon-possessed. To which Jesus replied, “You guys don’t even make sense. If I’m possessed by Beelzebub, by Satan, how can I cast myself out?” “A house divided against itself will be destroyed.” He argued every point and won.
Again, his family called for him, and he used the occasion of their presence to teach an expanded that notion of “discipleship.” “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother. THEY are my kin.”
He had just called the twelve disciples to “follow him.” They would be his “brothers,” his kin. Not exactly the “cream of the crop.” A notorious, thieving tax-collector, failed fishermen, a zealot, a very young man, an ambitious, educated disciple who would keep the common purse and betray him later. Those in the crowds following him were poor, hungry, grieving, sick, blind and lame. Most of them were social outcasts. But by doing the will of God, all were kin to Jesus and to each other.
We are kin. We are kin to Jesus and to one another. Our heart’s desire to do God’s will most of the time, I think. Our baptism is the symbol by which we are made sisters and brothers in Christ. Baptism brings each of us “into the “household of God.” The vows we make point us to the kinship with have with one another. “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” This we do every time we gather to worship.
But our vows do not stop there. We make promises to God that expand to our neighbor, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” These promises make us “kin” to the neighbor whom we do not know.
One preacher I met last week at my preaching conference shared with us that after every baptism he says, “Baptism means that water is thicker than blood.”
And that makes a brother of the young Latino man I discovered one night on the roof over the rector’s office at Grace Church, Plainfield, New Jersey. Frank, our 86-year-old senior warden, a retired Exxon manager and a proud descendant of a Barbadian family, was closing up the church at about 9:30 at night after the Maundy Thursday service. The liturgy had included the washing of the feet and the Last Supper followed by reserving the Sacrament at the Altar of Repose which was decorated with flowers as “The Garden.” We had just concluded our silent meditation at that altar.
Walking down the hall by my office I noticed a piece of cardboard moving across my window. In my office I heard light footsteps overhead. Someone was up on the roof. It was a flat roof, so someone easily could hang out there. Frank heard the noise, too. We went up to the roof together after we called the Plainfield police. We were afraid and worried that it was dangerous to encounter a prowler without police backup.
We entered the roof and found food and food wrappers. We found the cardboard. But the person was gone. By that time, the police officer had joined us with his flashlight. We followed the metal fire escape stairs down to the dark memorial garden and started looking around in the bushes for the prowler.
Just then, the Plainfield cop, a Latino man stopped shone his light on the face of a very scared young man in the bushes. He was crouched down, and we saw immediately that his face was beaten very badly. He needed medical attention. He was on our roof trying to heal and not be noticed. He was very afraid.
The cop spoke Spanish to him and kindly said he would take him to the emergency room. That made him even more afraid because he was undocumented and feared deportation or worse, detention in the New Jersey facility that held people without representation for months, even years.
He was young. He was a stranger. He was afraid. He was badly injured and robbed of all the cash he had just earned from landscaping. He was alone in the garden. And he was kin. By the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, he was kin. Later, I realized that we had demonstrated Jesus’ servanthood by washing the feet of our sisters and brothers in the parish. We had shared in Jesus’ Last Supper. We had observed solemnly and some of us tearfully, the terror Jesus had in the garden while he prayed. He KNEW HE would be arrested.
The next day, we would return for Good Friday, observing Jesus’ death. We would sing solemn songs, hear the Passion of St. John and venerate the cross. Our Latino neighbor was injured, in the garden and terrified of being arrested. He was our neighbor. He is our kin.