SERMON: 3 Pentecost B 6 10 18
I was going to say a million years ago, but actually only sixty three years ago, a mere blink of the eye, relatively, the Museum of Modern Art in New York produced probably the most popular photographic exhibition the world has ever seen. The world famous photographer Edward Steichen, the museum's director of photography, used hundreds of images from photographers around the globe to create an exhibition, which was later rendered in a book, that showed, in the words of the old pop song, we are family. The title of the exhibit and of the book was "The Family of Man."
This is what the Museum of Modern Art says about it now:
"This ambitious exhibition, which brought together hundreds of images by photographers working around the world, was a forthright declaration of global solidarity in the decade following World War II. Organized by noted photographer and director of MoMA's Department of Photography Edward Steichen, the exhibition took the form of a photo essay celebrating the universal aspects of the human experience. Steichen had invited photographers to submit photographs for consideration, explaining that his aim was to capture "the gamut of life from birth to death"-a task for which, he argued, photography was uniquely suited. The exhibition toured the world for eight years, attracting more than 9 million visitors."
I was a youngster when I was given the book of the exhibit for my birthday or Christmas. Involved as I was at the time in things like bike riding and looking for frogs, it surprised me then and surprises me now how clearly I remember the images, the people from other places, the message of family. The family of all humanity.
This came to mind this week as I read the Gospel lesson. Jesus is drawing so many huge crowds he and his followers can't even find a place to eat. The scene sounds crazy. People are suggesting Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul, the devil, because he is casting out demons from afflicted men and women.
It seems like Jesus tried to reason with the critics and skeptics, but they only grow more hostile. Eventually the word reaches Jesus' family, and they go to the place where he's drawn such a huge and cranky crowd, to try and extricate him from the midst of the mob.
When the people are told his family came for him, it seems like they taunt him; as though he needed his family to get him out of the pickle he's in. That may well have been what his family thought.
Well, so much for trying to work with and reason with the mob. Jesus decided to lay it on the line. When he was told
, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you," Jesus replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" The Gospel then says, "And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
These are hard words to hear. It sounds like a rejection of Mary and her other children. But Jesus meant every word he said. What unfolded as Jesus made these rash statements is an appreciation that as important as we might think family is, there are more important bonds. We might not ourselves be able to imagine what would be more special than family connections. They can be delightful, enriching, meaningful, rewarding. But unlike olden times, family is not the exclusive means of survival, or social acceptance, or even love. Especially in the last couple of centuries as people have left the old country--or been taken from it--they still survived, did what they had to do, perhaps even thrived.
Let us remember, too, that after all, families sometimes are not kind and warm, they sometimes hurt one member and help another. All kinds of disorder and unhappiness can derive from family relations. That of course is not to denigrate family life altogether, only to acknowledge it is sometimes less than nourishing.
When Jesus spoke to the crowd as he did in today's reading he was speaking with his understanding of his place in the Trinity, as being part of God's family, and how there was a place in that family for all who sought to do the will of God. I think with our understanding of God and God's will for us, that we love God and love our neighbor, we can extend our understanding of God's family to all of humanity, not just those who seek to do God's will.
When Jesus was making these remarks the importance of family could not have been greater. Jesus was challenging the people who came to him to hear him or be healed by him or to heckle him. He challenged them to recognize the role God could play in their lives if they would consider themselves children of God. And if they were able to do this, they should also be able to view all others as children of God as well. Brothers and sisters in humanity.
The intervening centuries between these utterances of Jesus and the Family of Man exhibit and book demonstrate quite well how hard it has been for civilization to live into its name, to be civil. It was noted in the paragraph I read from the Museum of Modern Art that the Family of Man exhibit "was a forthright declaration of global solidarity in the decade following World War II."
Jesus saw the need for human solidarity and though he usually expected fidelity to God, he held in very high esteem the prospect of love guiding all human affairs as contrasted with self-interest or control.
Our other readings give us good insights into how it works when people choose not to follow God's will. Samuel is essentially encouraged to let the people have a king, even though God through Samuel has repeatedly advised against it. Rather than follow God the people want to follow a king, so let them suffer the consequences, God tells Samuel. In the epistle Paul encourages the Corinthians to not lose heart. Things may not go the way we want them to go, but we have hopes in eternity.
When first we heard Jesus' words redefining his family we found them harsh, even cruel. But as we consider his larger family, to which we all belong, we realize he was transmitting the message that echoes through all eternity to all faiths and all people: love God and love your neighbor. Amen
A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY on June 10, 2018, by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector