Brothers, Cousins & Consequences

EVENTFUL SUNDAYS! We’ve had our share. This is another. We send off one of our own for six months to touch one of the most troubled corners of God’s earth. We celebrate disciples who’ve given a lifetime of Kingdom service, seen and unseen. We get to consider with our kids, this All Hallows Eve, which is better. Do I dress up today and make-believe I’m what I want to be? Or do I try to grow up and make-sure I am and look … more and more like Jesus? This is important, Holy stuff!  And it’s ours for the choosing and the doing! So allow me to spur you on. It’s a Bible thing, I’m here to say. In family, in faith, in church, in community, IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO BE SURE IT’S NOT TOO LATE!

Scripture contrasts two families who don’t/do learn this lesson. The consequences trace and bend the arch of the family’s life from generation to generation. Look at Eli’s Family and its end.  Then there’s Jesus’ family and its offer of new beginnings… Which would you choose? Which would you be? Which way are you headed? It’s never too early to be sure it’s not too late!

Wholeness of heart. That’s the first thing God wants. Wholeness of heart toward God. You and I and all our families, we live in an era that makes giving our whole heart to any thing, any one, some one, much less God, seem almost impossible. There are just so many choices, distractions, competitors, temptations. There’s endless kid stuff. 2 income schedules. 180 TV channels. The boss’ demands in a “don’t lose your job” economy. The galaxy of gadgetry that connects us to “now”, cons us into believing history doesn’t matter and eternity’s a thing we needn’t pursue. No wonder more than ½ of us are home, sleepin’, shoppin’ or chillin’ come Sunday AM. But we’re not the 1st. 11 C. before Jesus there’s this family. Priestly Eli & the Mrs. Their sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Now, Eli, ‘far as we know, is pinin’ to please God. The boys, not so much. Maybe Eli & the Mrs. are too tied up with “church work” to rear the boys right. It’s a PK thing. Maybe Eli pushes too hard to get them in the “family business”. Maybe the boys are just turned off, tuned out, or ticked off with God. Gouged-open souls, rebels without a gauze! Somehow, they just don’t understand: it’s never too early to be sure it’s not too late! All we know is The sons of Eli were worthless men; they had no regard for the Lord.Their sins: they take from the offering intended for God, perhaps by force, and they force themselves on the women of the temple. (Some celebrity clergy can still say “Amen”!) Get this. What dishonored and disqualified them from favor with God or the good folk of their day: they lacked any telling wholeheartedness toward God. It began in boyhood. (Note: girlhood is not exempt, our day or theirs.) Somehow, they just don’t understand: it’s never too early to be sure it’s not too late! The family’s is a sorry end. The boys are off to battle the Philistines. The Rev. Eli (96) is overdue for retirement. He’s overfed from what he himself has consumed of the people’s tithes. And he is overwrought at the fate of his sons. (Perhaps he wishes he could have given them the faith he gave Samuel, not his, but Hannah’s boy. Samuel… who’d go on to anoint Saul and David Kings of Israel and Keepers of the Faith!) Well, listen up. Eli’s told, “Your sons are dead, and the ark of God, captured.” Eli’s overcome. He falls over backward; his neck is broken. He dies, for he was old, and heavy. [Dag! Why’s it always gotta be a weight thing?! We wouldn’t mention it, save that it’s a sign of one who has indulged oneself. The sin is not pounds, but two-heartedness, God and self, not God alone.) It is a sad end. Whether it is, as the Bible says, a case of the “sins of the father visited upon the sons”, or the sins of the sons rubbing off on the father, we cannot know. What we do know: to this day… divided-heartedness is our problem, single- heartedness God’s passion, and the urgency in it, God’s caution to us all. It’s never too early to be sure it’s not too late! Remember that, rearing the young and tending your loves and your life.

Thank God, we can trace the arch of another Bible family. Its end is our beginning! Look what happens when families focus on how to live toward God, utterly! Elizabeth has her Zechariah. He’s literally dumbstruck, priest that he is (like Eli). He can’t believe God’ll do as God has promised: a child at his late age! Liz, on the other hand, can believe nothing else. Nor her cousin, Mary. Ahh, Mary, carrying a message from God herself! Jesus! Sweet Baby Jesus! Now, compare the arch of Eli’s family to this extended family. Elizabeth and Zechariah are John the Baptist’s parents. That’s Jesus’ cousin. John becomes the Herald of Christ. The Voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the dessert a highway for our God!” He will be the Troubler of Israel. Some will think him Elijah. The Great Prophet. ‘Returned to bring in the Kingdom. He will so agitate souls all Israel will flock to the Jordan to be washed in the waters and bathed in the promise of new life. John will literally choose to lose his head, rather than his soul. He does.

Then there’s John’s cousin Jesus. Mary will feed on the promises of Jesus’ birth from cradle to cross, and beyond. Mary kept all these things, and treasured them in her heart.Weeks ago, we began this series of messages on families. We were asked. What can we learn from Bible families that will help us with ours? Well, here’s a pretty good lesson. Feed on the promises of your children from birth. Keep all these things and treasure them in hour heart. Mary has to rear him through his Temple wandering at 12. By his teens, she may be a widow. A single parent. She doesn’t understand his choice of vocation. His friends don’t seem the finest influence. He does/says things that baffle, then frighten her. She sees her healer, teacher, miracle-worker son judged by the world, tortured by the cruel, dismissed by the self-righteous, slain before her eyes. [So what have you got, dealin’ with your kids, or theirs, or your neighbor’s?] Mary never loses hope; Jesus never loses faith. The result: not the end, but a new beginning, for us and for all. The shadow of the cross is no match for the shattering of the tomb!

Eli’s family. Jesus’ extended family. Look at the arch of each and compare the two. There are lessons here for us all. IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO BE SURE IT’S NOT TOO LATE! From the beginning, across your life and your family life, practice a holy singlemindedness, hard as it is. Be wholehearted toward God and withhold nothing for yourself that’s given for God’s glory. Feed on the promises of your children from birth. You’ll need ‘em! Keep all these things. Treasure them in hour heart. Whether you just dress for church today, or trick-or-trunk, or Halloween, ask yourself. Do I dress to make-believe what I want to be? Or do I grow up to look and be … more and more like Jesus? How will the arch of my life and my family’s stretch across the heavens?

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