Genesis 22:1-19 Matthew 10:34-42
There are people who, from their earliest years, strive to read whatever was put in front of them. There are others for whom reading was something learned from teachers. Many of us did not enjoy all of the work that it involved. As a kid in Sunday school I had lesson books. At my church, Sunday school happened BEFORE worship, and because I found worship boring, that’s when I would do my homework. If the instruction was to read verses 13 to 26, I would take that to mean 14 to 25 (the ones BETWEEN 13 and 26) because I didn’t like reading! After high school, I began to read for pleasure. If what I read interested me, I could go on and on. If it was an assignment, though, I got bored. Eventually life happened, and reading is now one of my favorite things to do. I’ll read anything, including the instructions that come on medicine bottles, where we often find the phrase, “Not For Use With Children”.
These words occurred to me when some of my students presented videos they made for an assignment to do a Childrens sermon. We’d watched pastors surrounded by children and having a great time learning things like how we’re all the same inside, and God loves us all. Though they had seen it in action, half of my students chose, instead, to tell Bible stories. It’s not a bad idea, but you have to choose carefully. One guy told the story of Noah and the boat full of animals… 2 of each kind. I could imagine a child asking, “Pastor, what happened to all of the puppies and kittens that didn’t go for the boat ride?” Would the pastor announce, “they all died!”? Someone else told about David killing Goliath by the power of faith in God and skillful stone-throwing. He left out the “chopping off the head” part. A third told a parable from Jesus, using coins as props, but I doubt that any child could have followed it.
Recently as Taiwan has moved towards inclusive marriage law, some pastors have joined the crowds who oppose it. They have shouted loudly about what they call “Biblical Family Values.” Whatever the Bible may or may not say about marriage, it’s NOT a good source book on Family Values. We read from a couple of places today that show family situations which are Biblical, but are Not for Use with Children.
I: SACRIFICE YOUR CHILD Genesis 22:1-19
What little Hebrew I learned started with the story of Abraham obeying God and taking his son Isaac, whom he loved, out to kill him. Where we read in verses 7&8 of them talking on the way TO the mountain, the words are tender and can be understood as evidence of Abraham’s faith. But at verses 9 and 10, we want to cry, “stop!” (and in verse 11, an angel of the Lord did just that).
The story ends well. Isaac lives, the Lord provides an animal for a sacrifice, and preachers through the ages are given a phrase to use, “On the Lord’s mountain, he provides.” Nothing is said at all about any conversation between father and son on the way home. You might well imagine that any time after that when Abraham invited Isaac for a little talk, or to take a walk, there might have been fear and mistrust. And I wonder what might have been said when Isaac’s MOTHER heard about what had happened!
The point is, this story is not for use with children, who MAY be led by it to trust in God, who provides, but to distrust parents, who are willing to sacrifice children on altars. Jews, Christians and Muslims all have this problematical story in our scriptures. In the Holy Quran the son is Ismail Abraham’s firstborn. In his case the knife gets all the way to the throat, which God has made too hard for the cutting. . Ismail is the hero of the story because he submitted to the will of God, which is the central Islamic value. Were I a Muslim parent, I might save this story for when my children were older.
II: DENY YOUR FAMILY Matthew 10:34-39
It’s scary enough for children in ANY religion to imagine that their parents’ God should ask for a child-sacrifice. Even worse, though, may be what we read from Jesus’ own lips, statements that might not be included on the list “Biblical Family Values” that some pastors in Taiwan have been shouting about recently.
Much of what we read from Matthew 10 this afternoon was upsetting. Among the many titles we use for Jesus is “Prince of Peace”, but here we find him quoted as saying “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” As for Biblical Family Values, we find some of the ones that Jesus preached in verses 35 & 36: “I came to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law; a man’s worst enemies will be the members of his own family.”
That isn’t the “sweet Jesus” whom we want to read about. We prefer Jesus who loves the little children, who seeks out lost lambs, who says that we should be like children if we are to come to him. But it goes on in verse 37: “Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not fit to be my disciple. Whoever loves his son or daughter more than me is not fit to be my disciple.”
That’s kind of harsh. Perhaps as adults we interpret it so that we are talking about how much we ultimately and eternally love Jesus as compared to the time-limited love we have for parents and children. But these verses are Not For Use With Children.
There’s a church van that I sometimes see parked in the neighborhood where I live. On the side there’s a verse about “honor your parents and have a long life”, which is a biblical promise. But I haven’t seen the words of Matthew 10:34-39 ANYWHERE on a van or car or poster, though.
Telling a child a story of a Father who is willing, for the love of God, to sacrifice a son (whether in a Jewish, Christian, or Islamic context) is scary. The idea that children could be called upon to reject their parents whom they can see, to love God whom they have not seen asks them to forsake even themselves. To assert that there’s something called “Biblical Family Values” requires us to ignore both the Old Testament and the New Testament things we read today.
III: SHOW WELCOME TO ALL Matthew 10:40-42
Any child who has heard the story of Abraham’s interesting behaviors involving parenting and marriage who rejects Bible teaching for how to be a family, or who has read Matthew 10:34-39, and has looked elsewhere for guidance on how to relate to parents, I’d say, “can’t blame you.” As people around the world are looking for broader ways to define marriage than “one man and one woman”, and for broader ways to define family than “shared DNA”, we look for guidance on what that might look like. And in Matthew 10:40-42, we begin to get a glimpse of it.
We find something that we try to do here at Tainan International Community Church. Welcome people, whoever comes through the door. We may have language problems communicating, but we welcome whoever comes, and we mourn the loss of any who move on, or who don’t come back.
In verses 37, 38 and 39, there were parallel phrases beginning with Whoever…. “Whoever loves…, Whoever does not…, Whoever tries to…, Whoever loses….” Those parallels continue in verses 40-42, where we read, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me. Whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes God’s messenger…, whoever welcomes a good man, whoever gives even a cup of cold water…” WELCOME is what the followers of Jesus are to be about. He welcomed children, outcasts, sinners, lepers, people who doubted, people who didn’t believe. He welcomed EVERYONE. The only rejection was that of people who rejected him, and EVEN THEY WERE WELCOME TO COME BACK.
It is especially important for us to be welcoming, because this is at the center of Jesus’ Family Values. A Canadian blogger, David Heyward, recently wrote of church experience like this: “The very reason I decided to go to church again was so that I could meet people. I don’t just mean to get introduced but to actually meet them and get to know them and even form friendships. I’ve been attending here for years and it still hasn’t happened yet. This church just isn’t interested in community. I think fellowship is its greatest asset. I’m positive almost everybody here is here for the fellowship… But just being next to each other doesn’t cut it. If you’ve been in a bad marriage you’d know that you could sleep in the same bed but be complete strangers. Same here. We sit in the same row and are miles apart. We might smile to each other, say hi, shake hands, talk small talk over a coffee. But it all makes me feel even more lonely. I bet even the pastor’s lonely but it’s so built into the system he’s just as trapped as we are. Maybe the reason why we all just keep coming is because it’s a promise, as painful as it is, being with people is the next best thing to being loved by them.”
The call and command today is to welcome the stranger, the wanderer, the new student in the dorm or the new neighbor on the block. There’s promise in the verses of sharing a reward, but no information on what that reward might be. Perhaps it is found in the ending of our loneliness, the filling of our need for each other, and the expansion of our understandings of what it means to be living by Jesus’ family values, in God’s forever family. These values are definitely for use with children. They’re better than many Bible stories.
Usually when coming to this part of the sermon, I say a few things and end with, “in the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit, AMEN. Maybe I’d follow that with a prayer. Today, I just ask that we sing our response hymn “Weave us Together in Unity and Love.” It’s our conclusion, our response, and our prayer all in one. We’ll sing it, and repeat it several times. But more importantly, let’s pray it, and live it.