Christina Kukuk Sermon: “Where the Heart Is” (Feb 9, 2020)

Rev. Christina Kukuk

February 9, 2020


Christina Kukuk / UCC Ashland

“Where The Heart Is”


Whenever people speak of biblical family values, the family in today’s second story is one of the many that come to mind. Herod’s family, the Herodians, were a royal family that made a bargain with Rome to rule, essentially, over their cousins in Judah in exchange for the favors of empire; power, position and wealth. It was a family in whose DNA ran paranoia and lying as well as violent habits of control and the objectification of women. That’s the root of the conflict that Herod has with John. Herod has taken his brother’s wife before that marriage was really over and just helped himself. You can tell part of the dysfunction in today’s story just based on what Herod promises is not even his to give! He was tetrarch; not emperor.   He could not gift up to half his kingdom. It’s quite a boast. But this family is great material for operas. They are pretty much the dysfunctional family par excellence. And not at all what people mean when they want to celebrate things like biblical family values or the festival of the Christian home if you’ve heard of that. The truth is families are fraught and the biblical ones just as much so as ours. And the two themes together; faith and family, can be a messy combo – toxic even – depending on how they get tangled up together. And Herod’s family reminds me this week of a very contemporary family or pseudo-family. You may or may not know that the nickname for the clandestine international network that puts on the National Prayer Breakfast every year is The Family; also known as The Fellowship and founded way back in 1935. They are primarily white men who believe they are called by God to powerful positions in government. The stated purpose of the fellowship sounds pretty good: “To provide fellowship forum for decision-makers to share in Bible studies and prayer meetings and worship of God, to experience spiritual affirmation and support.” But this family operates with extreme secrecy and has cozy relationships with dictators and autocrats. The founder has rationalized this, saying Jesus ate with sinners and tax-collectors. There is a Netflix series about this and an expose book. Faith and family – supposed to be the most positive of those values…working for good in the world….and yet this week, the person who made the most courageous statement of faith in the public spotlight was Republican Senator Mitt Romney who struggled to maintain composure as he spoke about how seriously he takes an oath before God, and who knew that his vote and his explanation would draw the ire of friends and possibly even family. Faith. And Family. Two powerful forces; forces that together can heal and do miraculously, at times. Forces that entwined in other ways, can cause devastating harm. And we may not have been listening for it during the first reading but those two come together also for Jesus in today’s stories with mixed results. After a successful tour of teaching and healing and other deeds of power, Jesus returns to his home town. His disciples follow him there which tells us this is not just a family visit but ministry. And on the Sabbath as he has been doing all about the surrounding countryside, he begins to teach in a synagogue. Though Jesus’s words initially wow and impress, he does not get the celebration of a hometown hero making it big. The initial accolades devolve into whispered criticism, “Who does he think he is?” I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases it, “He made a real hit; impressing everyone. ”We had no idea he was this good,” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden; get such ability?” But in the next breath, they were cutting him down. “He’s just a carpenter. Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers James, Justice, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they know about him and fell sprawling and they never got any further. They tripped over what little they knew about him and never got any further. What little they knew about him includes that salacious little piece of gossip about who Jesus’s father really was. They’ve called him only ‘Mary’s son’ which is somewhat unusual in a time when a person’s lineage is traced through the father. The parentage of a person would not be mentioned without their father. So Jesus’s cousins and neighbors trip over what little they knew about him, and it’s that block – their inability to imagine something more – that limits Jesus’s ability to work the same healing he has in other places. And even Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith; their unbelief. More importantly, by their failure to allow that Jesus could be anything other than who they thought he was, the locals blocked what Jesus wanted to do for them, Bonnie Thurston writes, ‘Even Jesus cannot work in us without our invitation.’ Families are fraught. People can have a strong frozen view of who you are. Anyone here have family relationships that are fraught? Maybe a little bit moreso in this political climate? People can have a strong frozen view of who you are. And you can have a strong frozen view of who other people are. Families are fraught. Which is why whenever we speak of the church as a family, I always get a little bit of hives. Because when we speak of the family of God, do we mean the secrecy, the authoritarianism, the limitation of each of us members to prescribed roles; the control? Is that what we mean? Or do we mean the support, the freedom, the ease that comes in those time and places when we feel truly accepted, truly at home? Do we mean loyalty above all else? Or do we mean the heart of compassion that heals; sometimes miraculously so. Since the beginning of Mark’s story, Jesus has been radically redefining family. Back in chapter three, a couple of chapters ago, that time Jesus drew a crowd so thick a few men had to climb up on the roof and dig a hole through that roof to get a friend who needed a healing to Jesus’s side. Do you remember that story? That was the day that Jesus’s family had had enough. They decided he’d lost his mind and they showed up outside to collect him and take him home to bed. Do you remember that day? Jesus basically denied they were even related. When folks said your mother and your brothers are outside, he looks around and says, “Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister…and mother,” he said. Holidays and family reunions must have been a little tense. And maybe it isn’t Jesus’s own fraught family life, his own rejection in his home town, that he finds that catalyst that spurs him on to send out the disciples in pairs to further his ministry, to go into homes, especially those that welcomed and listened to their message, to create together new households of God. Households at whose heart beats that good news that the kingdom of God is very near, that the time is now, and we can turn and trust it together. Today when we welcome new members to this particular household of God, we do not promise perfection. There are no returns, exchanges or rainchecks. Like all families, this one too can be fraught. We do not ask for theological uniformity. Sometimes it would be easier if we did. We do not invite only the rich and the powerful. We do not require our members to have it altogether which means things do get messy in here. And yet here, the evil that clouds hearts and minds…and can so overwhelm us to the point of despair…gets cast out with the psalms and the prayers and the testimony of those around us. In here broken hearts have found healing balm. Sometimes in just having one other set of listening, loving ears. And here, we together tend that promise that all are welcome in a way that creates room for real peace. What makes this family a household of God is that its heart is Jesus’s mission, the same heart that beat within those disciples that Jesus sent out. We don’t promise to get it right all of the time. We do promise together to tend that heart that makes this family holy; even sometimes divine. Christ’s living presence among us, casting out evil, healing the sick, proclaiming the good news that puts people and planet back together again. And that part, that part is where true home is.


Thanks be to God. Amen.