First Sunday after Epiphany          January 9, 2022                    St. John, New Orleans

I’ve been blessed to have a good relationship with my entire family

No big scandals, fights or disagreements

No black sheep that we don’t talk to 

Even those who are difficult to love are kept in the fold and encouraged

Now, I know many don’t have this same experience

some of you are not close to your families at all,

or, maybe just part of the family

even in your own house, things might be rather chilly between you

Simply put, love and relationships are not a given in any family 

And that can make you feel very alone, deserted, overwhelmed

And all of this dysfunction is not normal

I would seem that, at times, love isn’t enough

But that was never God’s intention for you or me.

From the beginning of time all people were made and intended to be in relationships, loved by one another

God formed Adam with his loving hands and breathed his own life into him

God made Eve to be Adam’s beloved companion and helpmate

He made them to have someone to love besides himself

And the Bible tells us that they walked with God in peace and love in Eden

Until they didn’t…

Satan entered the serpent and tricked Adam and Eve into thinking they were missing something

That God was withholding something from them

Perhaps even sowing seeds of doubt concerning his love for them

And, yet, after they sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, God lovingly made a covenant with them 

When he promised them a Savior

Throughout the O.T. God renewed that covenant with Israel, Adam and Eve’s descendants

Often after Israel had broken its half of the covenant

And especially when Israel was starting a new journey or chapter of its existence

And even when it was low, as we hear in Isaiah today

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. 

If that’s not a love letter, I don’t know what is?

But after hundreds of years of “do-overs”(where God would forgive Israel and renew the covenant) something finally changed.

From the moment sin entered the world God knew he would have to be patient

He knew that only he could keep the covenant

And, eventually, the time came for him to release Israel from the covenant

To do so, he sent an Israelite who could keep the covenant 

He sent Jesus, his beloved, with whom he was pleased.

The monkey was off Israel’s back because God allowed Jesus to represent the whole nation in covenant with God

If Jesus could keep the Laws of God, the covenant would be kept and he would live forever

But, in order for ISRAEL to be brought into the covenant, some part of their life had to intersect with Jesus’ life

And because it was sin that separated Israel from God’s love, 

It would be their sin that would be placed upon Jesus

And it would be his love for Israel which would take him and their sin to the Cross.

That’s why the father made his declaration at Jesus’ baptism and why the Holy Spirit was a witness as well

To declare that the love the Father had for Israel was being repeated through his son.

And it demonstrated to God that Jesus would not shun his sacred duty.

That, starting from his baptism, he signaled his willingness to save all sinners, stating with Israel

Jesus didn’t need to be baptized in the Jordan by John—he hadn’t sinned

His baptism was to make himself equal to us mere mortals in every way

To do what he would later ask us to do 

All so that he could be our Savior

All so that God’s beloved Creatures could be united to him again forever.

Everything Jesus did on earth he did for his beloved—those who would follow and trust him 

From his humble birth and formative years

To the three years he spent teaching, preaching, and getting the apostles ready for his departure from this world

To the pain, suffering and death which he endured 

So that his holiness would cancel out our sinfulness

And so that our sin could be put to death once, for all (Rom 6:1-11)

To the resurrection which gives us hope

 To the ascension which gave us proof of ETERNAL life

And it was because of Jesus’ love for us by which God declared his love for Jesus

So, what does that have to do with your family or my family and our ability to get along?

As we read the Bible we read about many families

Some get along great, but most have lots of problems

Sound familiar?  Yet God still loved them all.

Moreover, God speaks in familial terms, 

calling himself our Father,

 we his children,

 Jesus the bridegroom, and the church His bride.

In other-words, family is the natural order of relationships

And the only way those relationships held together over the millennia was by God’s love, grace, and mercy

What do you think would happen if we modeled our families after God’s vision of family?

Forgiving often and much

Confessing our sins so that we might be forgiven

Striving to serve others over ourselves 

Selflessly sacrificing all so that others might have some

Dedicating our lives to our families, simply because we love them.

This doesn’t mean it will be easy—far from it!

When we suppose to emulate God’s love for us as we love our families, we will, certainly fall short

But, if we are focused on how he loved Jesus, and in return us, surely, our love for others will at least resemble his love?

And that love is a beautiful thing that does not go unnoticed, even if it isn’t always appreciated.

And when that love of Christ is shared in a family, it can be a very powerful thing.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that Christians have bulletproof marriages or have fewer problems than non-Christians

But I will tell you that that families who are disciples of Jesus,

Knowing him, trusting him, and honoring him in their homes

Worshiping him and studying his Word and following his commands

Confessing to one another before him and absolving each other by the power of his name

Well, these families are not usually self-centered

They are usually not drowning in guilt and shame

Not mired in sins they cannot escape from

They are, usually, traveling the road of faith together

And when brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, are following Jesus, they know they are loved

Not only by familial blood

But by the blood of Jesus 

And that, by that blood, they are beloved of the Father in heaven.

That same beloved relationship is extended to and through each of us here at the church as well.

Because we are God’s beloved, and because we love each other in Christ, 

We work harder at getting along, working together, accomplishing goals together which were given us by our loving Father in heaven

We forgive one another and spur one another on toward good works

All because of the love God has shown us and so that we can share that love with others.

At Jesus’ baptism, God made a big scene in demonstrating his love for Jesus

And Jesus did the same for you and me

On the cross

At the Resurrection

And when he ascended into heaven

And I can’t wait to see how he will show his love when he returns on the last day

And I hope each of you

Buoyed by his love for you

And by the love of your brothers and sisters in Christ

Know that love you have now

And are just as excited for Christ’s eternal expressions of love for you on the last day

But until then, let us continue together in his love, and continue sharing his love to others, that his loving family may ever grow.  Amen.