Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Reetz family reunion (Luke 8:19-21)

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this afternoon is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the eighth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: every family has its memorials, its sacred places, like the cave east of Mamre, where the biblical patriarchs were buried, and you are sitting in one of them. Of the nine children of William and Augusta Reetz, six of them were married in this very sanctuary. My own great-grandfather Fred was confirmed and married at this altar, which today still stands right before your eyes, though a few miles from its original location. Look around you; this mass of people, over twice as many as we anticipated, all trace their roots (or the roots of their spouse) to the same two people, immigrants from Germany, William and Augusta Reetz. This is their legacy: you, and many more who are not here today, and even children yet to be born, generations to come. William and Augusta were not celebrities, nor influential politicians, the decision-makers that set the course for a state or a country. Just farmers, part of the waves of immigrants from Germany that brought to Nebraska all the roots of my own family tree. To the world, the name of William and Augusta Reetz doesn’t mean too much; to you and me, they are a part of us, our heritage, our history, our family, and we can all look at each other this day and know one thing: our roots (or the roots of our spouse) go to the same place.

It is good, right, and salutary that we should gather here as family to give honor to family, to celebrate the heritage we hold in common. Through this family God gave us life, through this family God not only brought us into this world but sustained and nourished us, providing for the needs of our body through them. It is God-pleasing to celebrate our family, so God-pleasing, in fact, that God Himself set forth the Fourth Commandment to protect the institution of the family: “Honor your father and your mother.” Martin Luther teaches us the explanation in the Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” For the God who created all things, the human family, man and wife bringing forth the next generation, is the foundation of society, it is the very building block on which all else is built, and thus we are to honor our parents, and not just our parents, but all those who went before us, as the children of Israel did, honoring Jacob and Joseph’s request to be buried in the family cemetery. Our family deserves our respect, whether the world gives them any or not, they deserve the honor of their office, because God Himself has commanded it.

But we should take care to understand what the Fourth Commandment does not say. The Fourth Commandment says “Honor your father and your mother,” not, “Worship your father and your mother.” Another commandment has something to say about worshipping anything other than God, the First Commandment, and the idols we craft are not just statues or false religions, but so often we turn the good gifts of God into our objects of worship, we bow down before the creature rather than the Creator. Satan tempts us to twist anything that God gives into an idol, to make it the focus, the center of our lives. That is the danger of a gathering like today, that we would make more of our bloodlines than we ought to, that we take more pride in our human lineage than anything else, and forget what is most important. Jesus’ mother and brothers certainly thought that bloodlines counted for something, they thought that they should have priority. They stood at the edge of the crowd, this mass of desperate people, hungering and thirsting for the Word of God, and they wanted to see their son and brother. And they thought they should have no problem doing so. “Then His mother and His brothers came to Him, but they could not reach Him because of the crowd. And He was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.’”

Now one would think that any good Jewish boy, especially the Son of God, would remember the Fourth Commandment, pause His sermon, and obediently go out to visit His family. After all, mama’s calling! But not Jesus; He, as usual, does something completely unexpected. “But He answered and said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.’” He doesn’t stop His sermon, in fact, He puts an exclamation point on it. Throughout Luke chapter eight Jesus has been teaching about faithfully hearing the Word; He has taught that those who listen to the Word bear much good fruit, they shine their light out into the world, and now comes the kicker. Those who hear the Word and ‘do it,’ that is, who believe that Word and live according to it, have a closer relationship with Jesus that even His own family. No one related to Him by blood is as close to Jesus as those who are related to Him by faith. Jesus doesn’t abolish the Fourth Commandment here, He subordinates it, as all things are subordinated, to the First Commandment. In the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, including our family, including our bloodlines. And the only way to fear, love, and trust in God above all things is to hear His Word and do it, to hear the voice of His Son Jesus and believe. Apart from Jesus, you do not have the true God, apart from Jesus, God is not your Father.

Jesus came to establish a family, to bring forth children of God by reconciling sinful men to their Creator. His suffering and death was a ‘family event,’ for in giving Himself into death as the price for your sin, He eliminated all that separated you from your heavenly Father, all that estranged you from Him. He came as our brother, in our human flesh, to make us brothers and sisters with a bond closer and more important than any earthly family can muster, founded in His death for your sake. You’ve heard the expression, ‘blood is thicker than water’? Well, it’s not true. No blood is thicker than the baptismal waters, which bind us to Christ as our brother, to God as our Father, and to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. St. John proclaims it: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

We are called children of God because that is exactly what we are. We are children of God because we have been reconciled to Him by the blood of His Son, poured out for us on the cross of Calvary. And the resurrection of Jesus on the third day is the guarantee that there will be at least one more family reunion on the Day when all the graves are opened, including those at Zion Lutheran cemetery, Thayer, Nebraska. On that Day, all the saints, all those who heard the Word of God and did it by faith, will be raised up to join in the family reunion forevermore in the new heavens and the new earth. There, we will join our brother Jesus, our heavenly Father, and all who have gone before us, William and Augusta, their children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, and on down the line, all who clung to Jesus in faith.

There, on that Day, William and Augusta will see their legacy. The legacy of William and Augusta Reetz is not in the acres farmed, not in lasting contributions to society or government, not even in the children born from their line. Their legacy is a legacy of faith, the Word of God handed down from generation to generation. Their legacy is in the saints who will stand with them in the hallowed halls of the New Jerusalem forevermore. God used them as His instruments to pass on the faith once delivered to all the saints, to bring little ones to the baptismal font. Through them Jesus was proclaimed, and His gifts were delivered; through them, each succeeding generation was brought from this earthly family into the most important family, the family of Christ. That is what we give thanks for on this day, that is what we celebrate: God taught the Word, He delivered Christ, to generation after generation through this family, and I personally give thanks to God that He preserved the faith from William and Augusta, through Fred and Helena, to Velma and Willis, to Gail and Steve, the faith that I have the honor and responsibility to pass on to my children. You belong to this family, but more importantly, you belong to the family of Christ, the only family that will last forever, world without end. Amen.

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