Summary: Blood is thicker than water. But the blood that matters is not ours - not our common ancestors, not our genetic heritage, not even a shared cultural or legal identity. The blood that makes the church a family is Jesus’ blood.
One of the things I have always like about being here in Clayton is the small town, family atmosphere. I moved around so much when I was young that I don’t know anyone I went to kindergarten with; I hardly even know most of my relatives. But here... We have multiple generations sitting right here in these pews. Most of you don’t have to travel for more than a few hours to see your nieces and nephews and grandchildren. It’s an exception, rather than the rule, to have to travel across country to see a brother or sister. Which, of course, makes family reunions a whole lot easier on everybody.
One thing about family reunions, though... As the old saying goes, you choose your friends, but not your relatives. Almost everybody has a black sheep or two ... the crazy aunt in the attic or the ne’er-do-well uncle, the sleazy brother-in-law or the embarrassing ex-wife. But hey - what can you do? they come with the package. They’re family. And if an outsider tries to intervene in a family quarrel, you better watch out! They’re likely to close ranks immediately and turn together to defend their own. Blood is - as they say - thicker than water.
But Jesus tells us that there is something more important than being related by blood. Matthew tells us that when Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his mother and brothers wanted to see him, Jesus said, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." [Mt 12:48-50]
Blood is thicker than water. But Paul tells us that the blood that matters is not ours - not our common ancestors, not our genetic heritage, not even a shared cultural or legal identity. The blood that makes the church a family is Jesus’ blood. Because whoever believes that Jesus is the son of God becomes the child of God as well, and in the vows we make at our baptism we acknowledge that we know that to be true. “...to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God." [Jn 1:12] But of course that’s easier said than done, isn’t it. How can you love someone you don’t even know? And there are an awful lot of people out there who are Jesus’ sisters and brothers whom we don’t know. And I’ve got to admit it - there are a whole lot of people out there who are Jesus’ brothers and sisters whom we don’t particularly like, either. But we still have to love them. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” [1 Jn
Now this is no new thing. From the very earliest days in the church people divided themselves into “us-and-them”. In Jerusalem it was between the Hebrew-speaking Jews and the Greek-speaking Jews. But when the persecution began, they suddenly discovered that they were all in the same boat together. The next great divide was between Jews and non-Jews. And this rift was a whole lot tougher to mend.
Now, by the time Paul was writing this letter to the church at Ephesus, the basic matter of whether or not Gentiles could become followers of Jesus without being circumcised and obeying all the food laws had been decided. But having the Jerusalem Council proclaim official policy didn’t make it a whole lot easier in the local congregations.
Most of us know that in Jesus’ day the Jews and the Gentiles were like oil and water. They just didn’t mix. It’s not that they just didn’t like each other. It’s not that they just didn’t understand each other. It wasn’t simply a failure to communicate, or fear of the unknown, or any of the ways we commonly explain away hostility between groups. No, the rift went deeper than that.
Part of it was that the Jews had always thought they were special, because God had chosen them out of all the people of the world to belong to him. They had a special relationship with God, and they treasured it. They had hung on to their distinctive ways of thinking and living at some considerable cost, and they weren’t about to share that special status with anyone who hadn’t paid their dues.
But it went even deeper than that. You see, the Jews thought Gentiles were unclean. They really believed that if they hung out with Jews, ate with them, let them into their homes, that they would lose their special relationship, their access to God.
What they had forgotten was that the whole point of God’s choosing them in the first place was to bring the whole world into a right relationship with him. The whole point of choosing the Jews to be a special people was to witness to the power and goodness and wisdom of God so that they would understand and be ready when the Messiah came.