Posted by: smstrouse | June 9, 2018

Who Is My Family: a Sermon for Pentecost 3

Pentecost 3                  Genesis 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Who’s My Family?
Twenty-some years ago, when I was a chaplain at Sisters of Charity Hospital in Buffalo, NY, I became friendly with one of the other chaplains – Kathy. One day, Kathy invited me out for dinner; she had something she wanted to ask me. I said OK, not having any idea what the something might be. After dinner, Kathy explained that she’d been in therapy for a while for some issues with her family, and now her therapist was suggesting that she put together a healthy family with members of her own choosing. She asked if I would consider being her big sister. I was honored to be asked. I was honored several years later when she and her husband asked me to be godmother to their first daughter. It was good to be part of this intentional family.

Then, the cool thing was, as I was telling this to an older acquaintance, she said that she’d love to be my sister, too. Her relationship with her own sister was strained to say the least. So I also acquired an older sister. Now, for me, this wasn’t about doing these friends a favor. I have had my own family issues. If you’d ask about my relationship with my family, I’d have to say, in the words of Facebook “It’s complicated.”

I suspect that’s true for many of us. For some, even “It’s complicated” might be too positive. I saw a post the other day on Facebook that said: DfA-E_rU8AI1kixI think “support yourself” means “love and care for yourself” in this context. At least I hope it does.

Reading the gospel text for today, I couldn’t help thinking that that could have been written by Jesus. You know, so often, when we think of Jesus, we picture this perfect man kind of floating around in a pious cloud, not having to deal with messy human realities like family. Yet, here we have snapshot from the Mary and Joseph family album that’s a lot different from those sweet baby pictures of the holy family in Bethlehem. Here we have a story of Jesus’ relatives – mother, brothers, sisters – coming to “take charge of him” because they thought he had lost his mind. To be fair, Jesus was going about teaching in a way that was challenging the religious and political authorities. Maybe they thought that one would have to be crazy to poke the bear of church and state. They were right to be fearful for him. But they didn’t understand that it wasn’t madness that drove him; nor was it Beelzebul, as the religious leaders thought. It was the vision of God’s realm that invites us to participate in a family beyond the bounds of the biological – and even the intentional – families to which we belong.

I mean, listen to what he says. As he’s teaching, one of the people in the crowd listening to him breaks in to tell him that his mother and brothers are outside asking for him. Jesus immediately turns this into a teaching moment and says, “Who is my mother? Who is my family?”Looking around at them all, he says, “You’re my family! Anyone who’s doing the will of God is my sister, my brother, my mother.”

This was unheard of. It was one thing for him to violate the Sabbath (like last week), but this time Jesus was undermining the very fabric of society. In that culture – as in Arab and Jewish culture to this day – nobody talks about their family like that. Family’s the core reality around which every other aspect of life revolves. Yet Jesus turns his back on his own kin, embracing here a new kind of family, one created through relationship with God rather than by blood.

Now I don’t believe that Jesus was issuing some kind of commandment that we should all go out and disown our family members. I think the family relationship status on his Facebook page would also say, “It’s complicated.” We have the stories of Jesus disrespecting his parents at a young age when he stayed behind to talk with teachers in the temple. We hear him being rather snippy with his mother at the wedding in Cana. When Mary tells him that the wine has run out, he retorts,  “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”

But we also have him reminding his disciples of the commandment to “honor your father and mother.” And John’s gospel tells of Mary standing near the cross with the disciple that Jesus loved. When Jesus saw them, he said to his mother, “Here is your son” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother,” ensuring that his mother would be cared for after he was gone. Complicated, messy human relationships. Jesus knew all about that from his own experience. And knows all about it from our experiences as well.

His declaration that “Here’s my family, here with all of you” breaks wide open the possibilities for healthy relationships within the human family, among those who seek to dwell in God’s realm of compassion, justice, and peace. Possibilities, perhaps for reconciliation with relatives who have not been loving or accepting. But perhaps not. Forgiving someone can happen even when there’s no repentance on their part, because to forgive means letting go of that person – to stop allowing them, as Dr. Phil would say, “to rent space in your head.” It does not mean condoning what they’ve done or continuing to put up with it.

Reconciliation can also happen, but only in a spirit of mutual acceptance and respect. When that’s not present, there’s no reason to continue being disrespected, unloved, or abused. That is not God’s realm of compassion, justice, and peace. We need to remember that the realm of God is not only a dream of some day in the future after we die; it’s right here and right now.

So, perhaps this Pride month, we are a little more mindful of those who might need to hear: “Congratulations! I’m your family now. Stay hydrated. Eat your veggies and support your-self. I’m proud of you.” As citizens of God’s realm of compassion, peace, and justice, we need to reach out to convey that message – and then follow through on it.

I have to tell you that when I became Kathy’s sister, I had to stop and think about what that meant; what were my responsibilities as a sister? This was more than friendship; this was family, healthy family. Did I know how to do that? It also called into question my relationships with my two brothers, with whom I’d not been close. I began to seek ways to connect and be an accepting, caring sister. I found that, in God’s realm, transformation can happen.

We might also be mindful this month of our own need to hear “Congratulations! I’m your family now. I’m proud of you.” And if that’s true, I encourage you to take the courageous step of asking someone to be part of your intentional family. Maybe it’s not even a formal invitation, like mine was. Maybe it’s just being thankful for someone who is already filling that place in your heart. In which case, it would be a great idea to tell them how grateful you are for them.

Before I close, I do want to offer a word of caution. Sometimes we think of church as family. Which is fine – unless it becomes a closed system that no one else can break into. I’ve seen it happen in congregations unknowingly. It’s not what they set out to do, but the circle becomes so close, so tight that it’s almost impossible for anyone else to join.

A congregation I served many years ago had as its symbol a circle of people holding hands. The problem was that there were no openings in the circle for anyone else to get in. This was a small congregation. The altar was in the round and everyone was able to come to the table for Communion at the same time – which was very lovely. But I often wondered what would happen if more people joined and there wasn’t enough room for everyone at one table. We did grow enough to experience that, but before too long the numbers dwindled back down so the “family” could be together. That’s the danger. That’s not the kind of family Jesus is talking about here.

Sometimes the circle is tight because of a shared experience, whether joyous or tragic. Bonding naturally happens, but the question then must be asked, “How do we include others who haven’t had the same bonding experience? Or who aren’t like us? That’s the call to the church in every age, but now more than ever. With diminishing numbers across the church, it would be too easy to circle the wagons and close ourselves off in survival mode. But that’s not what the realm of God is about. The commonwealth of God is open, flexible, ready to move, ready to change in response to changing needs – not to change the message of the gospel of compassion, justice, and peace – but how to deliver it to a changing world. What also doesn’t change is the human need to belong. In Jesus, we have the unique opportunity to offer community and real human connection to people, especially to those who are estranged from their family for whatever reason.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean we’ve lost our minds. Being part of the church doesn’t mean we check our brains at the door. Here, family doesn’t mean being exclusionary. All really are welcome. That is as radical and countercultural as it was in Jesus’ day. And we celebrate that fact.

So congratulations! We’re family now. So stay hydrated. Eat your veggies and support one another. I am proud of you.

Amen

 

Genesis 3:8-15
For my commentary on this text, see “Eve Was Framed here.


When they heard the sound of YHWH walking in the garden in the cool of the evening, the man and the woman hid from YHWH’s presence among the trees of the garden. YHWH called to the man: “Where are you?”

“I heard you walking in the garden,” replied the mam, “I was afraid because I was naked and I hid.”
“Who told you of nakedness? Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I forbade you to eat?”
The man replied, “It was the woman you put beside me; she gave me fruit, and I ate it.”
Then YHWH asked the woman, “What is this that you have done?”
The woman said, “The snake tempted me, so I ate.”
Then YHWH said to the snake, “Because you have done this, you are accursed: lower than the cattle. Lower than the wild beasts; you will crawl on your belly and eat dust every day of your life.I will make you put enemies of one another, you and the woman, your offspring and hers; her offspring will wound you on the head, and you will wound hers in the heel.”

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
But as we have the same spirit of faith that is mentioned in scripture -“I believed, and therefore I spoke” – we too believe and also speak,knowing that the one who raised Jesus to life will in turn raise us with Jesus, and place you with us in God’s presence.You see, all of this is for your benefit, so that grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow, to the glory of God. That is we don’t lose heart. And though this physical self of our may be falling into decay, the inner self is renewed day by day. These light and momentary troubles train us to carry the weight of an eternal glory, which will make these troubles insignificant by comparison. And we have no eyes for things that are visible, but only for things that are invisible; visible things last only for a time, but the invisible are.For we know that when our earthly tent is folded up, there is waiting for us a house built by God, an everlasting home in the heavens, not made by human hands.

Mark 3:20-35
Then Jesus went home and again such a crowd gathered that he and the disciples were unable even to eat a meal. When Jesus’ relatives heard of this, they went out to take charge of him, thinking that he had lost his mind. The religious scholars who had come down from Jerusalem said of Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out demons through the ruler of the demons.”
Summoning them, Jesus spoke in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?If a realm is torn by civil strife, it cannot last.If a household is divided according to loyalties, it will not survive.Similarly,if Satan has suffered mutiny in the ranks and is torn by dissention, the Devil is finished and cannot endure.No attacker can enter a stronghold unless the defender is first put under restraint. Only then can the attacker plunder the stronghold. The truth is, every sin and all the blasphemies the people utter will be forgiven, but those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness they are guilty of an eternal sin.” Jesus spoke of all this because they said, “He is possessed by an unclean spirit.”
Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived and sent in a message asking for him.A crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they said to him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who is my family?”
And looking at everyone there, Jesus said, “This is my family! Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my sister, my brother, my mother.”

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Responses

  1. This is a truly great post, and I really appreciate all of the thought and time that went into writing it. Thank you!

    Like


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