There was this video that was all over social media this week and I wanted to open my sermon
with it this evening. So tell me if you can relate to this:
Whenever a video goes viral, I like to look at the comments to see what it is that people are connecting with. So, for example, someone commented saying, “This is me telling myself I’m not gonna leave my essay to the last minute this time!” Someone else said, “This is us trying to do home renos.” But by far, the sentiment that was most expressed was, “Parenting: Exhibit A.”
I find the link between parenting and the image of this person trying to pull a young sheep out of danger only for it to dive right back in again — I find this interesting. It’s actually a link that, at first glance, Jesus seems to make in our gospel reading for this evening.
John chapter 10. We’re well into the Good Shepherd discourse where Jesus likens himself to this good shepherd who does not let thieves get in and destroy his sheep; who is in fact the very gate to the sheep; who knows each one of his sheep by name; who doesn’t leave the most important, the most “hands on” of caregiving tasks for his sheep to a hired hand, but does this work himself. Now, the religious authorities listening to Jesus want to know by what power is Jesus able to make such statements. And Jesus says:
"I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."
Four times Jesus appeals to his “Father.” Four times it seems Jesus appeals to some sort of familial, parental authority. But why would the religious authorities be threatened by that? If Jesus was talking about his literal earthly father, they would have nothing to be afraid of (no offense, Joseph).
In Jesus’ day, “Father” was a nationalistic term used to denote the Empire. It was common for the autocratic ruler of the time to be hallowed as the Son of the Father, the Son of God. So when Jesus invokes the title Father and says that he is speaking by that authority, that he is receiving commands from his Father, that he is the Son of God, the Son of the Father, in addition to this being a statement with a long religious history, this is also a deeply political statement. The religious authorities, namely the Jewish authorities, they’re afraid. And who wouldn’t be? They are under constant threat from the Empire and when they hear that Jesus, a fellow Jew with a prestigious lineage, is making these kinds of claims, they don’t want to go down with him. This is a huge risk to their community and they don’t want him speaking on their behalf.
Now, what’s really interesting is that those who are willing to go down with him, Jesus’ disciples, his followers, they’re hoping that since he’s appealing to the Father, since he’s making claims and performing all kinds of miracles that would demonstrate he has the power to be the Son of God, they’re thinking, okay, maybe this guy does have some sort of plan for military overthrow, some plan to rise up as King, as Emperor. And they have this idea because this sort of thinking is in their DNA.
We know from reading the Hebrew scriptures that the people of God, from time to time throughout history, had this pattern of falling into a hole; God pulls them out; they say, “How will we ever go on! Send us a King!”; God sends them a king. They jump into another hole; God pulls them out; they say, “How will we ever recover? Give us a King!”; God sends them another king and so on and so on. It’s almost like there’s something wrong with the model, with the very notion of Kingship?
Fast forward. Just after the Good Shepherd discourse which we heard in our gospel reading this evening, just after this the religious authorities find Jesus in the temple walking through the portico of Soloman, as in King Soloman. The religious authorities stop Jesus in this King’s passageway and they once again question him. And again Jesus appeals to the Father. And again they think he’s appealing to Kingly power and might.
"I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one."
The religious authorities, whom I think most of us would count ourselves among, they are scared. They want Jesus to show them a King and he keeps giving them a Shepherd. They want Jesus to appeal to a Father who rules with power and might and he will soon show them sacrificial love, power in weakness. We know how the story goes. Jesus is crucified; dies a “criminal’s death” at the hands of the state.
There is no army. There is no overthrow. There is no Empire, no Kingdom. But there is kin-dom: k-i-n-d-o-m.
And here’s what that looks like:
Kin-dom looks like caring for the world and for one another in familial kinds of ways. Think of what Jesus says when he’s on the Cross. He doesn’t say, “Long live King Jesus.” He looks down at his disciple and his mother, and he says, “Woman, here is you son” and to his disciple he says, “Here is your mother.” In their time of greatest need, he invites them to appeal to kin-ship, not kingship.
When Jesus rises from the dead, where does he appear to his disciples? In a garden; on a road between two towns where people risk their lives crossing borders in order to build familial ties with their neighbours. It’s in the middle of Sunday brunch; at a relative’s house. Jesus walks in and says, “Peace be with you: got anything to eat?” The images we get of Jesus in his life, in his death, and in his resurrection are not of him meeting with royalty in a palace. They are of him meeting with kin — blood, adopted, and chosen kin. They are the aunties and the sisters and the cousins who first learn that the tomb is empty after going to tend to Jesus’ body; they are the images of Jesus saying woman here is your child; child, here is your mother; images of eating at table together; images of a Shepherd, who knows their flock not by constituency, but by name.
I am sometimes asked to preach on the Fatherhood of God because I preach an awful lot on the Motherhood of God. So here it is: the Fatherhood of God is kin-dom, not kingdom. It’s building communities based on kin-ship, not kingship. And when I say kin-ship I’m not talking about the nuclear family as some sort of Christian ideal. There are lots of lovely families who have a mom and a dad, two kids, and a dog. And there are lots of lovely families who are put together in other really special, sacred ways.
When I say the Fatherhood of God is kin-ship not kingship, I mean that Jesus appeals to the Father in order to turn upside down the idea that authority is derived from power and might. Jesus looks to the Father in order to disrupt the notion that the only way to show strength and influence is to have a King. Jesus shows us that power and might are derived from vulnerability and community; from sacrificial love; from caring for one another in familial kinds of ways. I’ll close tonight with a quote from Nick Peterson, who is an itinerant deacon with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a father to twin boys. Nick has written an essay titled, What makes a family? in this fabulous new book called The Sandbox Revolution: Raising Kids for a Just World.
And here’s what Nick has to say about kinship:
"For those of us who identify as Christian, this idea of a made family is essential to the Gospel. I like the idea of the realm of God and God’s reign being about kinship, as opposed to kingship... As Paul stated to the church at Corinth, not many of us are of noble birth, but God has called us. God has welcomed us in and made room for us. Siblings, this week let us find ways to build kinship in the world. Amen."