May 17, 2020 Sermon

A Family Resemblance

John 14:15-21


When I was quite young, it was not unusual that I would be out somewhere with my family and someone would see me and ask, “Where did you get that red hair, or where did you get all those freckles?” Quite honestly, I never knew what to say. As I got older though, my uncle started doing research on our family ancestry. Somewhere he came across the story of Honora O’Flynn.


The story goes that William Logsdon came from Northern Ireland in 1673. He served a 4 year indentureship working on a tobacco plantation in Pennsylvania to pay for his passage. Eventually he started his own plantation, that he named Brotherly Love, and it was along the southern border of Pennsylvania. “William lived the life of a bachelor, until one day in the year 1702 a ship came up the river and cast anchor not many miles from his plantation. Aboard this ship were several young women who had been brought across the ocean to become the wives of the unmarried planters in that section of Maryland. Some of them had come of their own free choice, while others had been kidnapped and brought aboard the ship against their will.”


“Apparently, William, after hearing of the ship’s arrival, went almost immediately to the place of the ship’s anchorage and … selected one of the young women for his future wife. He chose for his ‘bride to be’ an Irish Catholic girl who had been kidnapped on the Southern Coast of Ireland. Her name was Honora O’Flynn.” Now as I remember, according to my uncle, William Logsdon chose her because, of all the women, her red hair caught his attention the most. Now after that long story, I thought, Aha, that’s where I got my red hair from. It’s the Irish in me!


So when James was about seven years old, and people would look at him and say where did you get that red hair from; I told him this story about Honora O’Flynn. After all these years of hearing that question, I got my pay back when James was visiting my Mom and she took him to get a haircut. The barber asked the question, “Where did you get that red hair from and my then seven-year-old son launched into the tale about Honora O’Flynn. I think the barber may have been sorry he asked.


Does the red hair that runs in our family come from Honora? It might. Maybe for all she went through I would like to think it does. I once showed James a third-grade picture of me when he was in elementary school. He looked at it and asked me why I stole his face. I have been told that I can’t deny that he is my son. There is a family resemblance. Isn’t this true in most families? As I have looked at old pictures from ages ago, sometimes it occurs to me that there is a family resemblance that carries through the years.


In our previous text from last week, Philip asked Jesus to show us the Father. He said, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” Jesus often spoke about God as our Heavenly Father. In some places Jesus used the Aramaic word Abba, which could be translated more as Daddy. It is a phrase that a child might use to address his father. This created an understanding of God as being closer and more intimate than was the custom in Jewish thought. Typically, even the name of God was guarded and only carefully used, because to speak God’s name was to call upon God’s presence, and this was not to be done lightly. One of the Ten Commandments was that we should not use God’s name in vain. God was not to be trifled with. God was not easily approached. In the Old Testament to come before God required sacrifices and the intercessions. My understanding is that in Hebrew we are not even certain what the name for God actually was. This is largely due to the fact that in Hebrew the vowels are not written down. So, the name used for God is thought to be either Yahweh, or Jehovah. It depends on how the Hebrew is translated.


This is all relevant, because it creates a contrast to what Jesus taught. There is the image of a holy God; whose name some say is actually lost in time, and then there is Jesus who taught that God is like your dad. He taught his disciples to call God “Father.” Perhaps it was this insistence by Jesus of identifying our relationship with God as being intimate that caused Phillip to ask to see the Father. When you think about it, the question sounds something like what a child would ask. Where is God? What does God look like? It is like the old song that ask, “What color is God’s skin?” Can you show me God? Perhaps Jesus made God seem so real, so close, so intimate, that Phillip assumed there was a way to achieve visual confirmation. Jesus, show me the Father. Like Moses allow me to stand face to face with God and live to talk about it. If God is so close then let me see him, and I will be satisfied.


To these questions Jesus points to himself and basically tells Phillip, you just have to look at the family resemblance. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” Maybe we should think of this as spiritual genetics. As humans the years go by, but the genetics of who we are tend to persist. I remember once being told that it takes 64 people to make you who you are. In other words, you have the genetic traits found within 64 of your ancestors. If that is true, then I would expect that some of those traits may tend to persist even over farther generations. Thus, similarities are found throughout many years. I think it likely that there is a small part of your long-forgotten ancestor still alive in you.


However, in Jesus case the spiritual genetics of the Christian are 100% transferable and renewable. The spiritual nature in Christ was fully God. To see Jesus was not just to gather a hint about what God was like, such as we might guess what our Great-Great grandfather was like by looking at our Dad. But to see and know Jesus was to know the true nature and attitude of God.


When Philip asked to see God, Jesus declare that God was right before Phillip within the life he was looking at, and then Jesus takes the issue of family resemblance even one step further. Jesus promises that this 100% transferable and renewable Spirit of God will be within all those who believe. “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” As believers we are adopted into the family that we also might carry on the family resemblance of being in God’s family. As the Father was within Jesus and Jesus within the Father, then we in like manner can have Jesus within us and be within Jesus. That very same Spirit of God that was within Jesus can be within us. No, God is not distant or disconnected, but God has cast upon us family resemblance within His Spirit.


Through the presence of the Holy Spirit within our lives we can reflect and have the life of Christ within us. God is even closer than what we thought.

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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