(An “unpreached” sermon for 6/10/18)
Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
Growing up, I watched many television shows about all kinds of families. For instance do you remember the “Brady Bunch” a comedy about a widow and widower who bring six children together under the same house. “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was a comedy about a wealthy nuclear family that takes in a street-wise cousin, in hopes of offering him a better life. “All in the Family” was a comedic drama about a family who was wrestling with the social and political issues of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and social changes of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. All of these dramas represented the ever-changing nature of family today. Families have changed quite a bit over the last twenty years.
Webster defines “Family” as “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.” However, families are very complex in the 21stcentury, and they can be described in many ways: Nuclear Family, single-parent family, Extended Family, Childless Family, Step Family, and Grandparent Family, and the one some of us may have a more intimate understanding with, the Dysfunctional Family. In Jesus’ time, the Nuclear Family (consisting of two parents and children) was most likely the norm.
In Jesus’ world, families were sacred associations, and they represented the most precious relational connections a human could have with another. Family represented the most dedicated commitments, loyalties, and obligatory connections one might have in that era. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus was speaking about these familial associations among people. In a dialogue with a particular crowd one day, Jesus redefined the idea of family, and in so doing, I believe he offers us some insights into our understanding of the Body of Christ, the church, the family of God.
When I was a kid in Sunday school, our teacher taught us a cute, little poem, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and see all the people.” This exercise was a way to teach children about the idea of church in late 20thcentury America. I would argue, the idea of church, or the Body of Christ, as merely a building was not what Jesus ever literally envisioned. The church is not a building, but a band of people who are knit together in Christ. In a unique way, the church is a family, and the head of that family is Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Webster also defines family as “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.” (1) The church is a group of people who have been washed by the waters of baptism, who have made promises to live a life based on the “Way of Jesus,” and who work together to bring about God’s Kingdom in the midst of the community into which, it has been planted. The church is more than denomination, dogma, ritual, mission statements, and even buildings. The church is a group of people on a mission.
St. Monica’s is a sacred group of people who in this day and age, exist as a beautiful, diverse, quirky, “wild and wooly” association of deep, intimate connections of people, the world has ever known. Nonetheless, being a Christian, a member of this family, requires us to live into a new way of being. It can be frightening for some of us to make new commitments to groups, but to truly follow Jesus, and to be a part of this family, it may require us to let go of other ties, other associations, or other things, agendas, or ideas that might separate us from the family of God.
A New Kind of Family
Jesus makes it clear that birth, affinity, co-residence, or even secular law does not define his family. We hear in today’s gospel that “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
In a way, you might think that Jesus was rejecting his Mother Mary and his other family members through this dialogue with crowd. His words can sound a bit terse and distasteful to us, because we might think our Lord was rejecting the woman who bore him, the woman whose heart would break, when he took his last breath on the cross. That is not what Jesus is doing here. In actuality, I think Jesus is widening the circle of family, and opening the door for all of us. In other words, Jesus was saying that participation in the most intimate human connection with him, we follow him.
“Whoever does the will of God is my family.” Jesus is re-defining a new kind of family. We are no longer children of God by some genealogy (my parents were Christian) or membership card (I’m a cradle Episcopalian). This new kind of family is defined by how we live the “Way of Jesus.” We are a part of God’s family when we, who are recipients of grace, love, mercy, and peace, actually live the way of grace, love, mercy, and peace. The challenging part of this association is that we can become something else, when we stop living the Way of Jesus. In other words, the church is susceptible to division, when we lose sight of our purpose, and when that happens our witness of God’s love is shattered.
Jesus said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Sometimes even families can be divided, and when that happens, the ties that bind break, and the sacred unit of association in which, we find our deepest human connections, unravels. We see divisions among organizations, associations, political parties, and yes, we even have divided churches today.
Petty issues, personal agendas, misunderstandings, and even inappropriate behavior among Christians can divide the family of God. I believe we are more susceptible to division, when we fail to communicate clearly with one another, when we fail to hear our sister and brother’s concerns and anxiety, when we reject the needs of the community for our own needs, when we participate in triangulation and gossip, and when we forget the whole purpose of our association in the first place.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the writer captures in simple words, the purpose and nature of gatherings of the church. He wrote: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42 NRSV) We gather as a community to be devoted to the teaching of God’s word. We gather to learn, grow and be transformed through the study of scripture. We gather for fellowship with other Christians, so that through our common life, we might grow, support, love, and encourage one another. We gather to share communion, to participate in the sacred meal of the Eucharist, being filled with the Body and Blood of Christ, so we might be the Body of Christ in the world. We gather to pray, to have Holy Conversation with God.
We are a family because we are and do these things together in Christ. As a family we may have our quirky disagreements. We may have our little spats. We may even be a little dysfunctional sometimes, but we are the family of God, because we live as the family of God. Yes, the church is building, program, liturgy, tradition, and fellowship, but we are so much more. The Apostle Paul wrote, “We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” My sisters and brothers, we are so much more than the edifice in which, we gather each week. We are the family of God, knit together by cords of love that although susceptible to unravel, will remain bound strong and unyielding, if we remain focused on Christ and his mission of love through us.
Aichele, George. “Jesus’ Uncanny ‘Family Scene’.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, vol. 74, June 1999, pp. 29-49.