Sunday, July 15, 2012


A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
July  13, 2012
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Romans 12:10a
John 7: 1-9 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
            For your eyes show us the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

We continue our study of the "Marks of a Christian Passage from Romans 12:9-21. We've made it to the second verse, which is "love one another with mutual affection," according to the NRSV. Then I chose the Gospel reading from John 7:1-9, I believe the connection though not apparent right off the bat will be obvious in a minute.  

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. 2 Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; 4 for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even his brothers believed in him.) 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. 8 Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.
In order to get all of us on the same page about our brief passage, we've got to take a look at the words, themselves, and the choices that translators are apt to take. This text, which the NRSV marked, "Love one another with mutual affection" is quite varied in the choices that translators make for it. Here are a few:

KJV: " Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love"
NIV: "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love "
NLT: "Love each other with genuine affection"
ASV: In love of the brethren be tenderly affectioned one to another;
The Message: Be good friends who love deeply
The New Century Bible: Love each other like brothers and sisters  

You can see from all these different translations there are a lot of words used, you'd expect a lot of words in the original language too, then wouldn't you, but there are only three. This passage is merely three words, though it is translated out to many more than that when converted to English. The Greek though is just three words: Philostorgoi allathus Philadelphia. The Allathus is "one another" and then the other two are compound words that pretty much are saying the same type of thing. They both share the same root Philo, which means love, it means love for us too in words like Philanthropy (the love of humanity) and Philosophy (The love of wisdom. So then you have two different words compounded with the Philo (love), and that is Storgoi - which is another word for love in the Greek language, so it's almost like saying "love" "love." We translate both of these words as love, and here they are put together. Storgoi is usually translated as the type of love that is natural, like between a parent and child, or vice versa, or between other close familial relationships, like between siblings. This is what is really interesting because then it is paired in the sentence with another word "Philadelphia" which means, love of a brother, or brotherly love.
I used to wonder why they called Philadelphia, "The City of Brotherly Love" because if you've ever watched a sporting event played in Philly, whether the Phillies, or the Eagles, or the Flyers, the fans would be brutal. They'd boo anybody. Opposing players had no chance, even their own players would get booed when slumping. It could even be a star, I saw big name get booed, from Mike Schmidt to Donovan McNabb. There is something about the fans in Philadelphia that are worse than other cities. The Eagles played one time on Christmas Day, and I was watching, and at halftime Santa Claus came out and they booed him. That may be the lowest of the low. Booing Santa Claus. It wasn't until much later I realized it was because the name. Phil- love and adelphos- brother.
So in our passage for this morning we have literally: love like natural family love, one another, with the love you'd have for a brother. It seems kinda redundant. You can see why the translations are so wordy and diverse. Ok great, but how are brothers supposed to love each other? What is brotherly love? What does it look like?
To answer that question we could look to The Bible. It would seem like for Presbyterians that would be a good place to start. So I did this week. I tried to think of instances in the Bible where brothers acted towards each other in a loving fashion, you know as an example we could use for modeling our own brotherly love, but the problem is there aren't any good ones. Biblical Brothers do not have a good track record.
The first pair, Cain and Abel, to say the least they have their problems. Cain gets envious of Abel and smashes his skull with a rock. Brotherly Love?
The next set of brothers, Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricks Esau out of his birth right, out of his father's blessing, and more, then flees living in fear of his brother's anger. Is this Brotherly love?
Then Joseph's brothers in our Old Testament lesson for today, get so envious of Joseph and their father's favor, and resentful of Joseph's arrogance that they want to leave him for dead but then decide finally to sell him into slavery. Brotherly Love?
What about New Testament Brothers? In our Gospel passage we see Jesus' brothers, not believing in him, and trying to get him to go do his acts in public, which could certainly get him killed, since he has already turned the scribes and pharisees against him. Jesus's brothers, the ones closest to him do not act as they should. Brotherly Love?
Then again in the Prodigal Son parable,  we get another example of  brotherly love, when the prodigal is welcomed home and the fatted calf is slain, the elder brother refuses to come into the party. He is overwhelmed with rage, anger, and envy and cannot be a part of the joy. Again Brotherly Love? Maybe those booers in Philadelphia have it right. Brotherly love is a troubling concept.
Another popular understanding of what brotherly love is all about is the idea of being a brother's keeper. Does loving according to Brotherly Love mean that we are to be our Brother's Keeper? I don't feel that the The Cain and Abel story, from where that famous phrase comes points us in that direction, but yet we misquote it as such all the time.
It is one of the big tenets of the Blue Ridge School Code of Conflict. It says, "At all times be your brother's keeper." I've always had problems with this, at least its use at the school. It seems like we use it as a way to try to get the boys to police one another, to get them to try to keep each other out of trouble. But sometimes trouble itself is the best thing for a person. As the head of the discipline committee this past year, I saw a lot of boys, who made poor decisions. I would say that those boys grew more from those poor decisions than they ever would have if they were kept safe from them. Sure it may have been the easier road, but the easier road is not always the most healthy. How often do we do this with people we are close with. We love them by protecting them, or keeping them, calling it brotherly love, or brother's keeper, but I really think it falls short or even goes against what we are called to do.
Another of my favorite movies is the Disney Pixar film "Finding Nemo." When it first came out I actually saw it in the theater three times. I was working with my uncle at a summer marine science program, and each week there was always one rainy day, and we'd go again. The movie is such a classic, but one line in it always comes up when I'm thinking about the idea of brother's keeper. If you are not familiar with the movie, there is a clown fish who builds a home for his wife and him at the drop off, which is dangerous but has a wonderful view. They have a bunch of eggs, but before the eggs hatch a shark comes and ruins their plans. The wife dies and all the eggs except one are lost. The father pledges to never let anything happen to his little son, who turns out to be Nemo. He becomes an over protective father, and Nemo rebels, and accidentally gets taken by a diver and put in a tank. The movie is then centered on Nemo's dad battling the ocean to save his poor son. He runs into a fish named Dorry who befriends him and tries to help, but she has a special ailment. She has not long term memory, so she is kind of a mess, but helps in her own way. She actually, like a Shakespearean fool character, despite her flaws speaks great wisdom. Marlin, Nemo's father, at one point has reached a point where he has all but given up, and he is talking to himself, and repeats his vow, saying, "I promised I'd never let anything happen to him." To this Dorry replies in her typical flighty wisdom, saying, "That seems to be a funny thing to promise, because if you don't let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him, not much fun for little Harpo." Dorry repeatedly gets Nemo's name wrong. But that's it. How often do we seek to keep people safe from harm in the name of Brotherly love?  It can be harmful.
I don't have a brother, but I am a brother. One thing I find from observing others with brothers is that there seems to be a bond there that even the biggest of fights do not sever completely. Maybe that is the big important piece of the equation, forgiveness. Because there seems like there will be fights, and envy, and jealousy, and jockeying for position, and harsh words, and discord, and division, and rivalry, and over controlling and over protecting in all human relationships, no matter what, but if we are "loving according to brotherly love, we can get past all of that and forgive, no matter what." There is a bond between us that just isn't broken, no matter what occurs. We don't love our brothers despite their faults, we love them through them.
The Joseph story is the only one example that offers that type of reconciliation. When Joseph has his brothers in his hand, he chooses to forgive rather than harm them, and when reading that story our hearts are warmed because it seems we know that it's right to forgive our brothers and wrong to envy them. We feel shame when we wrong our brothers, don't we. There seems to be something in us that knows that loving our brothers is right, and not doing so is somehow unnatural and wrong.
One of my favorite linguistic features of that Joseph story happens in the beginning when it says that Joseph's brothers were so upset with him that they could not speak shalom to him. Literally they could not speak peace, or wholeness, in other words the relationship was broken, leading to their mistreatment and selling of their brother. Maybe this gets us a little closer to what brotherly love is supposed to be, by seeing what it is when it falls apart. Shalom, or peace, in the Hebrew culture was a word that meant so much, it had to do with health and perfection and things being as they are supposed to be, as created by God. Breaking Shalom is setting things deeply out of order. When we do not love our brothers we set things out of order. We break the natural created order of the world. We sin, and the world suffers for it.
This is an important mark of a Christian, to love with brotherly love, knowing that with God as our Father, that makes Jesus our brother, too, and though we did not know what we were doing, Jesus forgave us, and asked for the father to do the same, "Father forgive them they know not what they do." Jesus did not keep us from sinning, but sacrificed himself to save us from our sin, he did not keep us from it, but loved us through it, restoring, reconciling, relationship. It seems to me that that is the true mark of brotherly love, seeking to forgive, to restore, to reconcile our relationships with our brothers and sisters. May we all be blessed with such distinction. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 7:1-9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.