A Family Resemblance

Lessons for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; and, John 14:1-14.

People tell me that I look like my father. Now, my father died fifteen years ago but I still hear it sometimes: “You look like your father.” When I was young, people used to claim that I looked like my mother.  Comparing old pictures, I suppose that it was true. When I was younger I resembled my mother, and as I grew up I began to look more and more like my father. And, if I’m honest, for better or for worse, the family resemblance is clear.

Has anyone ever told you that you look like someone: your mother, your father, a grandparent? Resemblances in families can be strong. It’s not just about DNA either, when you think about family resemblance. Behavior can be copied or learned. When I was little, I noticed a distinctive habit of my father’s. Whenever he had some task requiring particular attention (balancing the checkbook, writing a letter, etc.) he would stick out his tongue to the left and sort-of bite down. I thought it was really kind of strange and peculiar. Well! Wouldn’t you know that when I was in high school, a friend came over to me after math class, and asked, “Why do you always stick your tongue out when you are doing math?” “I do not!” I replied, horrified that I was accused of something my father did. “Yes you do,” he said. And I realized that he was right. Whether we are aware of it or not, we do sometimes speak like our parents, behave like our parents, and stick our tongue out like our parents.

Not too long after I was ordained, some old family friends visited the church where I was serving. I had known them since I was six. They were actually friends of my parents, and they knew them pretty well. I had told a story about my mother in my sermon that Sunday. While chatting with my friends who were visiting, a parishioner approached, and said, “I just love the stories about your mom. I wish I had had a chance to meet her.” Now, one of my friends replied, “If you’ve met Robert, you’ve met his mother.” I was moved by the sentiment and a little deprecating because my mother was a far better person than I have ever been. But I appreciated the family resemblance comment regardless, especially if it meant that some of her goodness could be seen in me. 

It’s Mother’s Day so I tend to think of my parents, especially my mother, and about the mystery family resemblances. But isn’t it curious that Jesus speaks of the same mystery in today’s narrative from John’s gospel. 

This is all happening during John’s version of the Last Supper, on the night before Jesus died. Jesus had just carried that humble act of loving service in washing his disciples’ feet. He revealed his betrayal and that his death was near. So, it is a very poignant and difficult moment in the narrative when Jesus says to the remaining disciples: 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God, have faith in me.

John 14:1

Jesus then goes on to say that he is returning to his Father, which will thus enable him to prepare a place with the Father so that where Jesus is, there we may also be.

Then, in typical fashion for Philip in the Fourth Gospel, Philip wants to know the way, and says 

Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?

John 14:5

And again, apparently dissatisfied with Jesus’ cryptic answer about being the way, the truth, and the life, Philip the says, 

Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.

John 14:8

It’s Philip’s questions that precipitate Jesus’ reply:

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.

John 14:9

In the narrative, Jesus seems a little disappointed in Philip (and presumably the others). Isn’t the family resemblance clear and obvious? “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Do you hear that? Hear and listen to what Jesus says: 

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

John 14: 9b-10

The Father who dwells in me does his work! Wow! What Jesus is essentially saying is that if you see me, you see what your heavenly Father looks like, maybe not in physical appearance but behavior, attitude, and disposition, in active love and humble service. In other words, if you hear Jesus, you are hearing the Father. If you see the way Jesus acts, that reveals how the Father acts. Jesus bears a family resemblance! 

Indeed, this is the amazing, radical, and unique Christian conviction: In the person of Jesus we see the Father, hear the Father, and experience the Father. The ineffable and invisible God became visible, tangible and evident in the person of Jesus, the Son, God incarnate. The family resemblance is so strong that if you’ve seen the Son, you’ve seen the Father. 

This is why we need the gospels, the stories of Jesus; they inform us of who God is. If you want to know what God looks like, look to Jesus, the Son. The son who was humble enough to be born in a barn and gentle enough to embrace the children. The son who was compassionate enough to hold hands with the sick and strong enough to lift up the lowly. The son who was generous enough to give everything for us, even unto his own life. The son who was victorious and rose from the dead. That’s what God looks like. God looks like Jesus. 

If you want to know what God sounds like, look to Jesus, the Son. The Son who said “Blessed are the peacemakers.” and “forgive seventy times seven times.” The Son who said “your sins are forgiven” and “take up your mat and walk.’ The Son who said, ”Just as you did to the least of these who are my family, you did to me.”  That’s what God sounds like. God sounds like Jesus. 

If you want to know what God acts like, look to Jesus, the Son. The Son who fed the multitude and calmed the raging sea. The Son who healed the sick and expelled demons. The Son who spoke truth to power and challenged an oppressive empire. That’s how God acts. God acts like Jesus. 

Now, what’s key here for you and me is that we are created in God’s  image and likeness. Have you ever thought much about that phrase? We are created in “the image and likeness of God.” In other words, there should be a definite and obvious family resemblance that connects you and me to Jesus and the Father.

When people see me, they should see Jesus! When people hear me, they should hear the message of Jesus! When people encounter me, they should find me doing the deeds of Jesus. During these days of pandemic when our lives are so radically altered, there are many people around the world wondering where to find God in the middle of this mess?

My answer to that question is this: If you want to see God, what God is up to right now, pay attention to what the people of God are up, and I don’t mean those political sycophants who use their religion as a political party but the people of God right in your midst. I the last few weeks, I have seen and heard of Christian individuals and communities ardently feeding the hungry and helping those who have hit economic hardship. I know of many in this community who have spent countless hours reaching out out friends and checking in on elderly neighbors. Just this morning, I had someone add to the pile of grocery and store cards, gifts for people they’ve never met. 

Right now, Christians are praying at home, immersing themselves in the scriptures, spending time with family, taking a walk to be with God in the silence. Right now, when others are despairing, Christians are people filled with hope. 

There’s a prayer that I once heard. I don’t remember where but it has struck a chord,

Lord, may every person I speak with today, may every person I email today, may every person I encounter today, see Jesus in me. Lord, may I live my life in such a way that the people who encounter me might someday say, “Gosh, you look and act and live like Jesus.

Now, that’s a family resemblance to rejoice in!

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