Well, our Gospel reading doesn't leave us in too good of a place this morning, does it? Today's Father's Day, and instead of having some nice text about Joseph or a patriarch from the Old Testament, we have Jesus saying that he has "come to set a man against his father," and that whoever loves father or mother more than him is not worthy of him. It's quite shocking to hear, because this isn't the kind of thing I'm used to hearing from Jesus - I'm used to hearing "love your neighbour," to hearing Jesus tell John take care of his mother, to admonitions to let the children come to him. I'm not used to talk about bringing swords instead of peace, of setting family members against each other, of dividing people who love one another. I'm not used to hearing that "whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." It makes me wonder, when people talk about "family values" and use the Bible as their model, is this what they're referring to? If so, there's a big problem with this reading.
Except that I'm afraid that the problem is with us and not the reading. You see, it really shouldn't surprise us that Jesus say what he says, that he's putting the cross between us and our family. I mean, let's be honest, we know, and we say quite often, that we must die in order to be reborn, that we must be crucified in order to have new life. Paul says, in Romans, "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin." In baptism, we use all kinds of language to describe how we must die before being reborn. But do we really take seriously what that means? The fact is, there are certain things in our life that must die, things that must be put to death with and by Jesus, so that we can be given new life.
And one of those things can be our family. I know it sounds awful, and it goes contrary to a lot of the good things we hear in society today, and to the things that we were brought up to believe, but the family is not supposed to be the be-all and end-all of our existence. The family is not supposed to be the sole source of meaning for our lives. We are not supposed to give everything we have, body and soul, for our family. But we do - we rearrange our schedules, we make sacrifices, we change our lives, all for the sake of the family. We do things for our family that we would never do for anybody else, we put the well-being of our family above everything else. We fear for our family's safety, we worry about the future of those in it. We turn our family into our reason for living; it becomes the thing that we think about, day and night, week after week. In short, and you're not going to like this but it's true, in short, we turn our family into an idol.
And so Jesus comes to tear it all down. Jesus sets family members against one another in order to show that the root of our existence shouldn't be our family, but God. Does he do this to hurt us? Not at all. Jesus does it to show us that we can depend on nobody but God. We don't like to hear it, but the people in our families are human - our fathers, our mothers, our children are human. They hurt us, they betray us, they are in turn hurt and betrayed by us. God loves them, and we love them, but they are no foundation for our lives. Our families can't provide us with everlasting love and eternal, lasting, life-changing forgiveness. Only God can do that. And yet we persist in giving our families more attention than God, in putting our families above what God would have us do. So Jesus, taking drastic measures, brings our false idols crashing down until only God is left standing, and we have nothing and especially nobody.
Sounds pretty dismal, doesn't it? After all, this doesn't happen just to the "dysfunctional" families. Jesus does this to every family - the ones that seem perfect and the ones that end up on Jerry Springer. There's no difference, and so, yeah, things sound dismal. And it would be if the Bible ended with our Gospel reading for today. But it doesn't end there. There's more. Jesus says, "Do not be afraid." And then Paul, who talks about how we have all been crucified and our sin put to death, goes on to say more. "But if we have died with Christ," Paul says, "we believe that we will also live with him." It doesn't end with death and division. "If we have been united with him in a death like his," he says, "we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." You are not left in death, with your family set against each other, with everything in pieces. No. Through Christ's death and subsequent resurrection, you - and your family - are being given new life, a life that has a solid foundation, where fathers and mothers and sons and daughters are precious and valued and bring God's love to life. Yes, your family has been crucified, but only in order for God to bring it resurrection life.
That's why Jesus said and did what he did. Jesus didn't "come to set a man against his father" because he didn't want us to have a family. He did it so that God could rebuild our family into something that would bring life and focus on God and be healthy places for us. And that is what is happening right now.
You see, whether you see it or not, God is constantly rebuilding and renewing your family, renovating it with resurrection life. God's doing it with your family of origin - the family you share with your parents - and with your created family - the family you share with your children and grandchildren. God's doing it with your church family, and with your family that you call your circle of friends. And day by day, God is making this family - these families - of yours free from sin, free from the power of death, free from power struggles and arguments and even free from idolatry.
And this is our saving grace. We started out with Jesus saying, "Whoever loves father or mother, or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Well, that's us. We do that, love our parents and our children and our family more than Jesus. Which means that we're not worthy of Christ. Period. But God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is not content to let us remain unworthy. Thanks be to God that through Christ's death and resurrection, through God's constant forgiveness and renewal of us, through God's most amazing grace, we are made worthy. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, each one of us has, in Paul's words, "been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."
So it turns out that this is a good place to be. The Bible does have something good to say about family values. This is good news for Father's Day. Praise be to God. Amen.