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Welcome to the Family!

Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Welcome to the Family!” based on Hebrews 2:11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered on Sunday, December 30, 2018

About 30 years and about 60 pounds ago, I met my first true love—and her name was Spalding. When I was growing up, I ate, slept and breathed basketball. It was my life. In fact,I can remember spending numerous sweltering summer nights as a high schooler playing pickup basketball games in the gym of Winnebago Lutheran Academy. There were usually 10-12 guys at these informal open gyms, but it’s important for the story that you understand there were never, ever any spectators at these open gyms.

Now at that time, I was usually the youngest guy in the group. All the other players, including Pastor Steinbrenner by the way, were older and they were better than me. I desperately wanted to impress them. I desperately wanted them to think I was cool. Any possibility of that happening went right out the window the night my family showed up at the gym—parents, older brothers and sisters, their spouses and their young children, lawn chairs in hand. Setting those lawn chairs up along the baseline of the basketball court, they proceeded to cheer wildly every time I touched the ball. They weren’t being serious, of course. They were cracking up the whole time. They did it for one reason alone. I was the little brother. And older siblings take great pride in finding new and creative ways to mortify an overly image conscious little brother.

I should mention that they’re wonderful people by the way. Today, I number them among my closest friends. But that night, I wasn’t exactly proud to say that they were my family. “Who are those people?” “Ummm….I don’t really know.”  I was hoping to create as much distance between me and them as possible. That feeling is the exact opposite of what our text for today is talking about. Because Christmas isn’t about God creating as much distance as possible between him and us. Christmas is about Immanuel-God With Us. It’s about God coming near and proudly claiming us as his own family, his own flesh and blood. That’s what the writer of Hebrews is talking about when he says in Chapter 2: Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

But, you know, shouldn’t he be? Has there ever been a human being who didn’t let Jesus down on a consistent basis? His mother Mary? She left her kid behind in Jerusalem (for crying out loud!) and decades later came out to wrangle him home, trying her best to quiet him rather than having him proclaim the kingdom of God. Peter? He spoke too often from zealous selfishness instead of having in mind the things of God. And then there was that whole denial episode. The apostle John? The apostle Paul? Every single Old Testament patriarch, matriarch and hero of faith? Time doesn’t allow us to specifically address them all, but as you skim the Bible through that lens you realize: every single person in the book does something cringeworthy, has some skeleton hiding in their closet, does something that should by any measure result in Jesus turning away in disgust and shame.

And then there’s us…I mean if Abraham is cringeworthy, if Bible heroes like Noah, David, Elijah, Mary and Paul all are guilty of doing things that are embarrassing to Jesus, how do we stand up in comparison? Have you given Jesus good reason to be ashamed of you?

For what generally speaking causes you to be embarrassed of a person? Isn’t it when someone close to you does something or says something that is wildly inconsistent with the things you hold important or dear?  My example from earlier was supposed to be humorous example of that—I valued being cool and my family showed up purposely acting as absolutely uncool as they could be. That embarrassed me.

But it’s far more serious when we give Jesus reason to be embarrassed, when we act in ways that are wildly inconsistent with the things he holds important or dear. He gives us families to be present for but so often we ignore them in favor of our screens and devices.  He gives us homes to shelter and warm us, but we complain and are dissatisfied with the stuff inside them. He encourages us to bravery, we offer him cowardice thinly draped in excuses. He encourages us to obedience, we give him embarrassing excuses and loopholes.

They caution you about using the pulpit as your personal confessional so I’m not even going to tell you the things that I do to embarrass Him, the things that shame me so grievously–but they are many and they haunt me daily. I know the Gospel, so do you, but that doesn’t erase the memory of my embarrassing actions of the past and my ongoing failings of each day….they always stand lurking in the shadows of my heart. They are never far away for you either, are they? With the sinful woman of Bethany, we wash Jesus’ sinless feet with our tears of regret, shame and embarrassment. With Isaiah we say, “Woe to me, I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” With Peter we say, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinner!”

He has every reason to turn away, red faced and angry and ashamed of us. But he does not turn away. He does not chop up the manger or chop down the cross in disgust. For the manger and the cross are monuments of God’s faithfulness, not measures of our faithfulness. Did you notice there’s nothing conditional in our text? Through his inspired writer, God makes a simple statement of fact, as true today as it was at Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. Immanuel isn’t just a name. It’s an ongoing status. Immanuel keeps being God with us, not God at a distance from us. Why? Because Bethlehem happened and nothing can change that. We’re his family now.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity. He, too, shared in their humanity—the import of that statement may not fully strike you until you consider how completely unwilling we are to settle for anything less than we think we deserve. If we pay for second row seats behind home plate, there’s no way we’re going to accept being ushered up to the 25th row of the upper deck terrace instead. If our team is robbed of a victory by an official’s error it will sting as we remember for years to come.  If we reserve the Ford Edge as our rental car and all they can offer us at the counter is the Ford Festiva, we are going to grumble and complain and grouse to anyone who will listen. Do you want to see how awesome Jesus is? Look at how willing he was to settle for less than he deserved, to share in our humanity. He deserved the best heaven could offer. He willingly traded it for headaches and stomach flu. For a crust of bread as his dinner and a rock for his pillow. For the indignities of childhood and for insecurities of young adulthood. He has shared in our humanity. All so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

It’s a fact of life that you just never know which sermon will be your last sermon. For one weekend we could be here and the next weekend our usual space could be empty. I’ve seen it happen and so have you. But if we don’t happen to see each other again, could there be better words to part with than these? Set free. One day we will die, but don’t let that thought bind you in chains of dread and fear. Jesus lived a perfect life. Paid for all your sins on the cross. And then came to life, conquering death for you.  He has done everything necessary for you to live eternally in heaven. And if it all depends on what Jesus has done…none of it depends on what you have done. Don’t let the thought of death hold you captive. Let those shackles fall. Jesus has  set you free.

Christmas is over. But the joys of Christmas still sparkle fresh and new. The one who has every right to create distance from us, instead draws near to us. The one who has every right to be ashamed of us, instead embraces us. He shares flesh and blood with you. He shares his victory over death with you. Rejoice today that Jesus is a part of our family. Amen.