The Family Business


This is the message that I presented at Neon (KY) United Methodist Church for the 6th Sunday of Easter, 9 May 1999.  This was also Mother’s Day.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 17: 22 – 31, 1 Peter 3: 13 – 22, and John 14: 15 – 21.

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Some years ago, I was at a family reunion where I presented the devotional on Saturday evening. At that time, I pointed out that Jesus was born at a family reunion.

In those days a decree was issued by the emperor Augustus for a census to be taken throughout the Roman world. This was the first registration of its kin; it took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone made his way to his own town to be registered. Joseph went up to Judea from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to register in the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was of the house of David by descent; and with him went Mary, his betrothed, who was expecting her child. While they were there the time came for her to have her baby, and she gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn. (Luke 2: 1 – 7)

I think the most interesting part of Jesus’ ministry was its family orientation. The first four times we hear of Jesus – his birth, his baptism, the family’s flight to Egypt, and the trip to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, He was with His family.

It is interesting to note how Mary and Joseph acted as they returned home from that trip to Jerusalem.

When the festive season was over and they set off for home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know of this; but supposing that he was with the party they travelled for a whole day, and only then did they begin looking for him among their friends and relations. (Luke 2: 43 – 44)

They did not worry about their son because they thought that he was among their friends or family.

True, there were times when it appeared that Jesus had forgotten his own family,

“His mother and his brothers arrived but could not get to him for the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, and want to see you.’

He replied, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act upon it.” (Luke 8: 18 – 21)

Some might say that Jesus was cruel to ignore His family in such a way; it was obvious that Jesus saw the entire world as potential members of His family. But though Jesus might have had difficulty with his own family, He still kept them in his mind. Even on the cross, at the point of near death, His own thoughts turned to His mother.

Seeing his mother, with the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, Jesus said to her, “Mother, there is your son”, and to the disciple, “There is your mother”; and from that moment the disciple took her into his home. (John 19: 26 – 27)

And while today is Mother’s Day and it is a celebration of our mothers, both present and past, it is also a celebration of our families. As I noted in the bulletin, today is an outgrowth of efforts by a Methodist some 90 years ago to honor her mother. So, if you will bear with me, I thought that I would take a few moments and talk about my mother and my father’s mother.

My mother, Virginia Hunt Mitchell, was born in Lexington, N. C. “several years ago.” It comes as a surprise to many people when they find out that not only is my mother a grandmother but a great-grandmother as well. That’s because she doesn’t look her age nor does she let her age dictate what she is going to do. That, by the way, was also a characteristic of my father’s mother, my paternal grandmother.

For all the things that I could say about my mother, I think the greatest thing she ever did for me was to lay the foundation for my spiritual growth. She saw to it that I was baptized on 24 December 1950 at the Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lexington. And, as I mentioned last week, she took us to Sunday School every week. Even now, something isn’t right if I am not in church somewhere on a Sunday morning.

My grandmother, Elsa Schuessler Mitchell, was just as interesting a person. When I was going to school in Kirksville, MO, it was easier for me to visit her in St. Louis than to go home to Memphis. And when I would visit her, my parents would always tell me to help my grandmother with the housework and the yard work, especially during the hot humid Missouri summers. Yet, try as I might, I never could do so because she would get up early in the day and spend an hour or so working on the yard before the day got too hot or humid.

And though my grandmother died in 1985, her memory lives on. The flowers and shrubs that she so tenderly cared for were transplanted to my mother’s yard in Memphis and continue to grow to this day.

My grandfather served in the army from 1916 through 1943, often separated from his wife and two sons. The burden of raising my father and uncle thus fell to my grandmother. In all the memories of my grandmother, I remember her attending one church, a few blocks from her home in St. Louis. Though the church changed denominational affiliation at least twice, the core of the church were descendants of the German Lutherans who helped settled St. Louis and the surrounding area. The church was a central part of my grandmother’s life. And when my father died in 1993, I found out something about my grandmother and the church that was just as lasting a memory as the flowers, the shrubs, and the trees that were her avocation in life.

As the pastor who knew my father from the Boy Scouts was recounting that night just before my father died, he asked my father if he knew Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. My father acknowledged that yes, he did know Christ in his heart. And then they prayed. When they were done, the pastor, a Southern Baptist, said that my father gave the sign of the Cross. The way the pastor said it, you knew that he did not understand my father’s actions. But I knew that my father had been raised as a Lutheran and all I could think was how proud my grandmother, his mother, would be to know that my father was coming home.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother was “easy” and I have many memories, unpleasant they are, of what happened when I crossed them. But I know that both my grandmother loved me as her oldest grandchild and that my mother still loves me as her oldest son.

When I read the scriptures for today, I was struck by the caring and love that our Heavenly Father has for us. It is that same love that mothers have for their children. It is the same love that would have a daughter seek to honor her mother and all mothers. That we should honor our mother and celebrate our families today should not be surprising.

That the Heavenly Father loves us should not be a surprise. After all, as Paul spoke to the people of Athens, ”We are his offspring.”

As the children of God, we know that there is a place for us in heaven. Jesus pointed out to his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans. And just as we love our parents, as shown by the significance of today, so too do we love our Father in Heaven.

But how do we show that love? As Jesus also told his followers, our love for Jesus comes from following his commandments. But that is not always the easiest thing to do. In fact, it could very well be the hardest thing we can do. But what do we have to fear?

Peter wrote,

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who ask you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

If we follow Jesus commandments, then what to we have to fear?

Over the past few weeks, we have seen the need for God’s love in this world. The tragedy in Colorado, the repeated scenes in Canada, and the cruel jokes that have even played on the students in Letcher County all show the need to bring God’s love back to the world. I think that people stopped showing God’s love because they were afraid of what others might say. And yes, in some areas, people have suffered for simply believing in God and His salvation.

But that should and cannot stop us. The challenge that we have before us today, this day when we celebrate our mothers and our families is to show the world that we are all part of God’s family. Remember, what Jesus told his mother that day some 2000 years ago when they found him in the Temple with the elders, “but didn’t you know that I had to go about my father’s business?”

The work of the church in the community today is the family business. From the beginning of Jesus ministry to its end, the focus was always on the family. Yes, it would seem that there were times when he forgot his family but Jesus knew that His family, with God as the Father, were all those who believed in him and followed him. It is a most difficult task to take care of our own family today, let alone the whole world. Every time Jesus told a parable about the lost sheep and the efforts of the shepherd to find that single lost sheep, He was telling us of the Love that the Father has for his children.

The God-who-is has always been searching for me. By his choice, his relationship with me is presence, as a call, as a guide; he is not satisfied with speaking to me, or showing things to me, or asking things of me. He does much more.

He is Life, and he knows his creature can do nothing without him; he knows his child would die of hunger without bread.

But our bread is God himself, and God gives himself to us as food.

Only eternal life can feed one who is destined for eternal life.

The bread of earth can nourish us only for this finite earth; it can sustain us only as far as the frontier of the Invisible. If we want to penetrate this frontier, the bread from our fields is not sufficient; if we want to march along the roads of the Invisible, we must feed on bread from heaven.

This bread from heaven is God himself. He becomes food to us walking in the Invisible. (From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto.)

The work of the church today is the family business, not only in that Jesus Christ was God’s son and we are his children as well but also we must offer a place where the family can regain its place.

I have spoken the last two weeks of the vision that is held for this church in this community. John Wesley first expressed the vision of the church and its need to minister to the community in this interchange with Joseph Butler, Bishop of Bristol:

Butler – “You have no business here. You are not commissioned to preach in this diocese. Therefore I advise you to go hence.”

Wesley – “My lord, my business on earth is do what good I can. Wherever therefore I think I can do most good, there must I stay so long as I think so. At present I think I can do most good here. Therefore here I stay.” (Frank Baker, “John Wesley and Bishop Butler: A Fragment of John Wesley’s Manuscript Journal)

And when the church becomes a part of the community, its impact is wide. Bishop Earl Hunt, who served as President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops spoke of the impact of the church in a community.

“. . . whenever the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is turned loose in a community to help human beings and meet their needs and lift up the name of Jesus Christ, that church becomes indispensable in the community.”  (pages 173 – 174, New Life For Dying Churches!, Rose Sims)

There is a vision for the rebirth and growth of the United Methodist Church in the state of Kentucky. That vision extends to Neon and the Neon United Methodist Church. As we come closer to Pentecost and the day the followers received the Holy Spirit, I want us to think about how we can help that vision. Just as Wesley told Butler that here was where he needed to be, so to must we understand that here is where the church needs to be. And just as Jesus told his mother some 2000 years ago, so to must we say that we have to go about our Father’s business.

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