I thought I’d begin this morning by sharing with you a little bit of humor that I found on the Internet. It’s entitled, “You might be in a country church if . . .”
1. You might be in a country church if . . .The call to worship is, “Y’all come on in!”
2. You might be in a country church if . . .The preacher says, “I’d like to ask Bubba to help take up the offering” – and five guys stand up.
3. You might be in a country church if . . .The restroom is outside.
4. You might be in a country church if . . .Opening day of deer hunting season is recognized as an official church holiday.
5. You might be in a country church if . . .A member requests to be buried in his four-wheel drive truck.
6. You might be in a country church if . . .Never in its entire 100-year history has any of its preachers ever had to buy any meat or vegetables.
7. You might be in a country church if . . .The church directory doesn’t have last names.
8. You might be in a country church if . . .Four generations of one family sit together in worship every Sunday.
9. You might be in a country church if . . .The only time people lock their cars in the parking lot is during the summer and that’s only so that their neighbors can’t leave them a bag of squash.
10. You might be in a country church if . . .People wonder when Jesus fed the 5,000 whether the two fish were bass or catfish.
Having preached in a few “country churches” myself, there is much to be said about the close bond that usually exists between the members of such congregations. But no matter what the size of the church, that close bond should still exist. Because, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the church was never intended by God to be a lecture hall or a corporation or even a social club. It’s a family. The church of Jesus Christ is a group of people who share their lives with one another, who truly enjoy being with one another, who freely turn to one another in times of need.
We sometimes hear it said that “blood is thicker than water”. What we mean by that is that we consider our family relationship to be the most important relationship in the world. And there is something special about family. Have you ever seen a brother and sister who fight like cats and dogs, but if someone else begins to pick on little sister, big brother steps up and says, “If you mess with her, you’re going to have to deal with me, too.” Why is that? Because no matter what your disagreements may be with each other, blood is thicker than water. Your family is important to you.
A number of years ago, I served as a police chaplain for about 5 years, and during that time I witnessed an amazing thing when a police officer got called to the scene of a domestic argument. Nearly every time, the officer would walk into a house to find a husband and wife yelling at each other, cussing each other out, sometimes even hitting each other. And when the police officer tried to protect them from each other, very often they both turned on him. Because even when you’re in the middle of a fight, people have this sense that blood is thicker than water.
And so, many would say that the family relationship is the most important thing on the face of this earth. There’s no limit as to what we would do for our families.
And, as Christians, we know that God holds the family in high regard. I don’t have to tell you this morning that family is important to God. We all recognize the importance of the husband-wife relationship, the parent-child relationship, the brother-sister relationship. And yet, there are some passages in the Bible that make it clear that there is a relationship that is even more important to us. And these passages tend to make us a little bit uncomfortable.
In Matthew 10:34-37, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Sometimes we are forced to make a tough choice between God and family. When I was a teenager, I went to summer camp with another teen who really wanted to become a Christian. But his parents said, “No way. If you become a Christian, you’re not living in this house anymore.” But he did it anyway. He was forced to make a choice and he chose to put God in front of his family. That’s a tough choice to have to make, but there is a calling that is higher than blood. Blood isn’t always thicker than water.
At Harding University several years ago, there was a young couple who were madly in love in one another, and they had been engaged for several months. And then, one day, the boy went to see his preacher and he said, “Our engagement is off. She’s not committed to the Lord. She grew up in the church and she’s been baptized but she doesn’t really love the Lord. She loves me, but when I try to talk to her about spiritual things, she doesn’t share my interest; she doesn’t share any of my visions for life. And though I love her more than life itself, I have decided that I can’t marry her.”
The preacher listened to him and his initial reaction was to want to rescue the situation, to say, “No, no, let me talk to her!” But then he realized the young man was right. And even though there were people putting pressure on them — “You need to be married”, “You can’t be 28 and single”, “Your standards are too high, that’s the problem with you.” But I think he did what Jesus would have him to do. It’s not very pleasant, and somebody back home wasn’t very happy about it and maybe a few gifts had to be returned, but here was a young man who realized that God was the most important person in his life, and he didn’t want to get married to someone who didn’t feel the same way.
The truth is, we sometimes have problems if family is our number one priority. For one thing, there are a lot of people that get left out. Because if you’re not in a family, you’re apt to be very lonely, even in some of our churches. I’ve heard it expressed by a lot of Christians over the years that it’s very difficult to sit in a worship service as a single adult. Everybody else has their family with them — there’s Mom, Dad and all the kids sitting together as one big happy family. And if you don’t have that, you sometimes feel a bit awkward, a little bit out of place.
For other Christians, the topic of family is a painful one. When counselors listen to deeply troubled people, the one thing they talk about most is family. And if you’ve experienced problems in your family, if your family has been a source of pain in your life, you need somewhere to turn to, someone to lean on. You need someone who’ll be there when family lets you down.
And that’s where the church comes in. The church is family even when we don’t have any other family. The church is family even if physical family lets us down.
In Mark 3:31-35, we read that “[Jesus’] mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Look around you this morning. This is your family. There is something even deeper here than the physical family relationship. The waters of baptism bring you into a family where God is your Father and Jesus Christ is your older brother. And that’s why I want to suggest to you this morning that “water is thicker Than blood”.
Let’s turn to the book of Acts to get an idea of what I’m talking about. Acts chapter 8. The problem here in this chapter is blood. Some of the blood flows through Jews and some of it flows through Samaritans. And if blood is always thicker than water, then those two groups can never come together. They worship at different places, in Jerusalem and Gerizim. They emphasize different parts of the Old Testament. They have different traditions, different customs.
And the result was that the Jews and the Samaritans simply avoided each other. The Jews would travel miles out of their way to keep from walking on Samaritan soil. All of them except for Jesus, of course. And when he stopped at a well in Samaria, a woman said to him, “‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9).
And yet, in Acts 8, we find Philip preaching to the Samaritans. And “when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (Acts 8:12). And this marvel goes out across the land that there is this inclusion. If blood is always thicker than water, then you’ve got to have two different churches, you’ve got to have the Jewish church and the Samaritan church and they can’t have anything to do with each other. But if water is thicker than blood, if baptism brings you into something that’s deeper than just family, then there is an incredible hope.
Later in the same chapter, Acts 8, there is an Ethiopian eunuch who has been to Jerusalem to worship. He was a man of faith, but he was a man of faith who was kind of on the inside and kind of on the outside. He obviously was a man who loved to worship God because of the great distance he traveled to get to Jerusalem, but once he got there, he had to face what Deuteronomy 23:1 said, that a eunuch shall not enter the assembly of the Lord. He was excluded from the temple.
Think about that. How would you like to have been one of those people and to hear those words proclaimed? To travel all the way from Ethiopia up to Jerusalem, hundreds of miles, wishing that you could go into the temple area and worship and then somebody reminds you – “No, no, no. The scriptures are clear — A eunuch shall not enter the assembly of the Lord”.
This eunuch was probably devastated. He would never have a family. Israel’s survival was based on the family. Throughout the Old Testament, children were praised as a reward from God, a sign of divine favor. So the Law of Moses said that the eunuch can never enter the temple and praise God with the rest of those folks who have been blessed by God with family.
But we pick up with the eunuch riding in his chariot, on the way home. He’s reading from the book of Isaiah. He may have started his reading with chapter 56:3-5, which was probably one of his favorite passages. Isaiah said,
“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and let not the eunuch say,
‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name better than sons and daughters.’”
Doesn’t that sound a lot better than Deuteronomy 23? Then God says, “I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:5b). Don’t miss the double meaning of what God is saying here. There is a part of them that has been cut off. But God says, “I will give them a name that nobody will be able to cut off.”
It makes sense that the eunuch was reading from Isaiah. Because when you get to the edge of the assembly and you’re turned away, it’s only natural that you would want to read from Isaiah, because it’s a book that’s filled with hope talking about a better day, especially for the foreigners and the eunuchs.
And as the Ethiopian continued reading in Isaiah, he read about someone who took our infirmities and our sorrows because if this “dry tree” is going to have the temple of the Lord someday, somebody has to make it possible. But who is this man who was stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted, who was pierced for our transgressions, and was crushed for our iniquities and the punishment that brought us peace was laid upon him and by his wounds we are healed, who is this man?
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35). And after hearing what Philip had to say about Jesus, the eunuch said, in verse 36, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”
And Philip says, “Absolutely nothing. Let’s go.” “And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:38-39).
Of course he was rejoicing. Because the words of Isaiah were true. Water is thicker than blood. Before, he’d just been a eunuch who had come up from Ethiopia, somebody without family. But now he was a brother in Christ. The waters of baptism had brought him to another blood — the blood of Jesus Christ.
Then we come to Acts chapter 9 — what about Saul? Well, Saul was on the road looking for blood. He was planning to track down those Christians, round them up, throw them into prison, kill them if necessary. And then along the way, a light blinded him. And Jesus spoke to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). He’s taken back into the city and there he meets Ananias who talks to him and eventually says, “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” (Acts 22:16). Water is thicker than blood.
In Acts 10, now we really mix blood, because we’ve gone from those half-breeds, the Samaritans, to Cornelius, this Gentile. Peter can’t believe that God would send him to preach to a Gentile, and it takes a while for God to convince him But when God sends His Holy Spirit on Cornelius and his household, it’s evident that God’s hand was at work. And so Peter said to his companions, “They obviously have a right to be baptized, to be a part of our family.”
Meanwhile back at Jerusalem, in chapter 11, word spreads about what has happened and the Jewish leaders aren’t happy. When Peter gets back to Jerusalem, the scriptures tell us they “criticized him” (Acts 11:2). But Peter said, “This is what God told me to do”, they stop complaining. And, in the end, water is thicker than blood.
Listen to these words of Paul in Galatians 3:26-28: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
So many of the divisions that exist in this world are blood divisions, feuds between different families, different tribes, different races. But we don’t have those divisions in the church. In baptism, all those old categories and divisions have been broken down. The church is a place where you can be accepted regardless of what your background is. Regardless of whether you’re a Jew or a Greek, regardless of whether you’re American or Ethiopian or Puerto Rican, regardless of whether you’re Caucasian, African-American, Asian or Hispanic, regardless of whether you’re single, married, divorced or widowed. None of those things matter.
We know that God values family and there is this central place for family in our lives, but we also know that there is this larger group, that water is thicker than blood. And baptism is the point at which the church gathers round and says, “Welcome to the family.”
And there’s something significant about that, because you were born into an earthly family that you had no choice about. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, you didn’t get to choose your father or your mother, your brothers or your sisters. If you could’ve, you might have chosen different ones than you got.
But when you became a Christian, you were born again into a family that you did have a choice about. And in this family, there is something greater than just chromosomes drawing you together. There is the water of baptism, and the blood of Jesus Christ behind that baptism that means so much. The tie that binds us together is founded on the truth that we have accepted the lordship of Jesus Christ, and we have been baptized together into his death.
I know there are some clubs and lodges where people address each other with words like “brother” and “sister”, but in the church those words aren’t just empty titles. Within this church family, we have a group of people who share a common goal. People who will weep with you when things are going bad, and who will rejoice with you when things are going good. People who can encourage you. People you can share your weaknesses with and find strength to do better. People who will hold you accountable for living the way you want to live and the way you know you ought to live. People who will pray for you. People who care.
I heard once about a preacher who was visiting a congregation. After the services, there was an older couple who spoke to him privately and they confided that they had a problem — their son had AIDS. This was a secret that they had never shared with anyone in that congregation, nor did they feel that they could. But, as soon as that couple walked away, there was another couple who came up the preacher and they confided the same thing. They said, “We have a son who has been diagnosed with AIDS, but we don’t dare say anything because no one in the congregation would understand.”
I think that’s so sad. We need to share our struggles with one another because that there is not only a group of people who can understand, but a group of people who care. We share a bond closer than that of family. There is something about baptism that is even more significant than birth. As beautiful and as wonderful as the births of our three children were, the way I felt then was nothing compared to what I felt when I was there for their second births – their baptism into Christ, that moment when they entered into another family — a family of faith.
And so, in the family of God, we share something in common with Christians all over this globe. If I travel to Scotland or to the Bahamas or to Panama or to Zimbabwe, wherever I find the Lord’s church, I find family. And there is a bond that I feel with people I’ve just met that defies explanation. Those words we sing are so meaningful: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.”
I don’t know what your family situation is. You may have a large loving, supportive family. Or, you may not have any family at all. Regardless, you have the opportunity to be a part of the most wonderful family on the face of this earth.
Maybe this morning you need the support of your brothers and sisters. That’s why we’re here. Know that there are people here who care. People who will do anything they possibly can to be of help to you.
If you aren’t experiencing that kind of relationship with the church, then I want you to know you’re missing out on something special. If church is a place where you slip in the door unnoticed and slip out unnoticed and you don’t build a relationship with anyone else in this congregation, then you’re missing out on one of the greatest blessings that God has offered to us.
Perhaps what I’ve described this morning sounds inviting to you. You’d like to have that kind of a family relationship, and you can. Just like the Samaritans, just like the Ethiopian eunuch, just like Paul, just like Cornelius and the Gentiles. The waters of baptism can bring you into contact with the blood of Jesus Christ, and bring you into a family relationship that is stronger than anything you’ve ever experienced.