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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 20 - Series B

Text: Jeremiah 11:18-20 & Mark 9:30-37

Title: “God’s Dysfunctional Family”

Date: Sunday, September 23, 2018

Pastor Steve Bocklage

When you hear the phrase, “dysfunctional family,” what pops into your mind? Is it Dr. Phil or a particular reality show? When you hear these words “dysfunctional family,” various ideas, emotions, and memories come to mind, don’t they? How many of you didn’t realize that your family was not as normal as you thought until you got married and introduced someone new to it? Sometimes it takes an outsider to ask simple questions like: “Why does your family do this?” or “Why does your family act like that?” The fact of the matter is not one of us grew up in a family that functioned perfectly. None of us live in families where everything is perfect.

        This morning I am going to take you on a journey. We are going to look at three different dysfunctional family relationships. My prayer for you is that you will grow in appreciation of how God takes you and me…sinners as we are…and through His grace, restores us and reconnects us to Himself and His family. No matter how God finds you or whatever family struggle you find yourself in…my prayer for you is that you will know you are a valued part of God’s family.
        The first dysfunctional relationship that we are going to look at comes to us in the Old Testament reading from the prophet Jeremiah. What is going on here is that God’s spokesman Jeremiah is depressed because he has just learned that a group of people want to kill him. Not just any group of people but these people are from Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth. Not only are the people from Jeremiah’s hometown plotting to kill him, listen to what God says in Jeremiah 12:6, “Your BROTHERS, your OWN FAMILY – even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you.” Jeremiah’s own flesh and blood…his own family…his own brothers have been calling for his death. I have had my share of disagreements and arguments with my brothers and sisters, but it never, ever ended up in a death wish.
        What a terrible situation for Jeremiah, who feels betrayed according to our sermon text. He feels like a gentle lamb…the family pet that played with the kids and slept in their rooms…who is suddenly being taken away to be butchered! (cf.  vv 18-19) But the worst thing of all is that Jeremiah is now in the unpopular position of having to call down judgment from God, not just on the people of his village, but also on his own family. How hard it must be to speak these words: “But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” (v 20) Jeremiah puts his defense into the hand of the LORD Almighty. The prophet has no personal hatred in his heart nor is he seeking personal revenge since he is meek, obedient, and ready to serve the LORD in all circumstances. This situation Jeremiah finds himself in is heartbreaking for him. Is it any wonder that he is sad and sorrowful?
        This leads us to understand something about the second dysfunctional relationship. In Jeremiah chapters 11 and 12, the prophet speaks openly and plainly about how he has been betrayed and how much it hurts him. But Jeremiah is not the only one who has suffered heartbreak on account of his family. Wrapped all around Jeremiah’s tears and grief is the sadness, pain, and grief of God, who has also been betrayed by the family He loves…betrayed by His own people…His own children. You can hear the hurt and betrayal in God’s words from Jeremiah 11:9-10: “Then the Lord said to me, “There is a conspiracy among the people of Judah and those who live in Jerusalem. They have returned to the sins of their forefathers, who have refused to listen to my words. They have followed after other gods to serve them.” It is not hard to see that God’s own people make up the dysfunctional part of God’s own family. What is hard to believe is that they would show such little gratitude to God…or run off and worship other gods…or be so brazen in rejecting the One who loves them so much.

But they do…and it breaks God’s heart, which leads us to the third dysfunctional family relationship that we find in our Gospel reading. This one is a little more personal. This one involves the disciples and it involves you and me. In Mark 9, we meet up with the Son of God taking His disciples away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds to spend some intentional and intense time teaching them about what was soon to happen. Jesus says to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mk 9:31) This is not an easy thing for the disciples to hear. In fact, St. Mark makes it clear that, “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” (Mk 9:32)
        Now, don’t blame the disciples for not understanding or, at least, not wanting to understand. This is not what any of them want for their Lord or what they picture happening to the long awaited Messiah. The people whom Jesus comes to save will be the very people who reject Him…punish Him…and kill Him. It is the ultimate betrayal! But Jesus says this is exactly what is going to happen! John 1:11 states it so chillingly: “[Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” The plain truth is that Jesus came into this world to save the very people who rejected Him…who sinned against Him…who killed Him.
        Yes, that includes you and me. There is not one us here this morning who doesn’t fall into this category. You and I have betrayed God and neglected to do what He asks. You and I have gone chasing after other gods. You and I have been unfaithful to our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Of course, you don’t like to think of yourself in these terms. But you and I need to because this is the reality of who we are…poor, miserable, wretched sinners, who have “…bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in [our] hearts” (James 3:14) as St. James puts it. “You adulterous people, continues James. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

        In a book titled: The Heat: Steelworkers' Lives and Legends, Joe Gutierrez tells five stories from his 42 years as a steelworker. In one story called, "Snow Danced in August," he describes a scene of silvery dust flakes that frequently floated to the floor in an area of the mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. For years, workers and visitors alike flocked to the sight, which was especially picturesque at night. Then they discovered the dust was asbestos. "Everybody breathed it," wrote Gutierrez, who suffered from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as did many other plant workers. "Who am I? I'm everybody” he continued. “Can't walk too far now. I get tired real fast and it hurts when I breathe, sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job." How many things in our culture and society resemble the silver flakes in that steel mill…very enchanting but deadly to us?

Even when you fail God and sin against Him…even when you have nothing to offer to Him…the Good News is God will continue to love you and have compassion on you. Because the LORD chose to die for all those in His dysfunctional family, including sinners like you and me who have rejected Him at times and chased after idols…He has paid the terrible price for all of our sins, including our double-mindedness and our rejection and refusal to receive Him. By doing this, the LORD restored the relationship that we broke with Him. He reconciled us to Himself and thereby gave us eternal life.  

Of course, on this side of heaven, you and I will continue to struggle with sinful dysfunction in our lives. But confidently know this: God sacrificed HHimself for your sins and He loves you perfectly. Constantly repent and return to Him to confess your sins and to experience the gift of His merciful restoration once again. After all, God has made you His own, now and forevermore. Amen.

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