Family: The Real Deal
The “Brady Bunch,” “Leave it to Beaver,” or “Modern Family” are just a few of the many family models portrayed on American television over the years. In every episode of these comedies a crisis emerges, then it develops into a story of how the family deals with the issue, then somehow miraculously, life returns to “normal” right before the final credits roll. In these comedies Dad was the best Dad, Mom was the best Mom, and the kids were perfect in every way. Keep in mind that all of this drama takes place in less than 30 minutes.
We all know that sitcoms families are not the way real families operate, but maybe we want the family systems in which we live to function like this model. From our own experiences real families do not end the day with everyone smiling, sisters and brothers holding each other in loving embraces, and joyous celebrations and peace prevailing at bedtime. REAL families have moments of elation and celebration, but these joyful times are always co-mingled with opposing ideas, conflict, anger, and hurt feelings.
Some people refer to the church as their “church family,” but that idea may be filled with false expectations. Some hope that their “church family” is more like the sitcoms we see on television however, once things get real, people become very disappointed. Some expect we church folk to all agree, and everyone should be happy all the time. Some expect the clergy to be forever perfect, smiling, and without concerns and worries, and able to say the right words at the right times, and without fault or mistake. Some expect the governing board to make all the right decisions every time, and always benefiting our own individual agendas. Some expect their sanctuary seat always to be vacant and waiting for them. Some expect all the right songs to be played and to be sung perfectly and in pitch. Some expect the weekly bulletin to be without error and perfect every week. My friends, If we have these expectations, we must be ready, because we are going to be very disappointed, because we seek not a church family, but Nirvana.
The Body of Christ (the Church) is a holy association of messy togetherness, fragile unity, and loosely tied commitment, because we all are in desperate need of grace, redemption, transformation and reconciliation, and we all show up to this party with our baggage. We are a wounded, broken, scarred family and yet, we live in the hope and anticipation that we are raised to a new way of life in Christ. We are the family of God, and yet, we are human with all our warts and ways.
Family units today are diverse and beautiful and can be traditional nuclear families, single parent families, stepfamilies, extended families, LGBT partners, etc. Regardless of the framework, families are often grounded in a relationship joined together “for mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity.” Like a marriage, mutual joy, help, and comfort is God’s intention for the church, his Body, his ambassadors and agents of grace in the world, but disunity in the church abounds, and we too, experience conflict or disagreement.
Sometimes, rather than doing the hard work of reconciliation, we prefer to look at our sisters and brothers in Christ and say, “I no longer like this or that.” We say, “I disagree with so and so,” or “these folks are headed in the wrong direction,” or “I don’t like the music, sermon, or how we do things.” With those words, we frivolously cast away our commitment to one another. We all are prone to cast away relationships, in hopes the next one will be better. That was a common practice in the culture of first century Palestine, and that is why we hear Jesus condemning that practice in today’s gospel reading.
D I V O R C E
Many preachers will avoid Jesus’ dialogue about divorce, but I cannot. Many of us in this room have seen the threads of “mutual joy, help, and comfort” unravel before our very eyes. Some of us have walked the journey of separation and division and the pain of that experience is lasting, but I believe Jesus gives us hope today.
In the scene, Jesus was being drawn into another conflict with the Pharisees when he was asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” The patriarchal system of his day allowed husbands to nonchalantly end one marital relationship, so they might enter into another. King Herod embraced that practice. The tragic result was that the woman was abandoned and left to live in poverty and rely on charity. I do not believe Jesus was necessarily condemning divorce when all else fails. I believe he was condemning this practice of the flippant destruction of a committed relationship, for the mere pursuit of another relationship based on lust, greed, or inappropriate desire.
Jesus was not telling the abused spouse with abused children to stay in an abusive marriage and avoid divorce at all costs. Jesus was not telling the victim of infidelity, who worked to bring about reconciliation but was unable repair the damage, to avoid divorce. Jesus was pointing out that the flagrant disregard for our commitments to one another is against God’s intent. If we merely toss away our commitments to enter another commitment, without good reason or cause, we are destroying God’s plan for unity. In all relationships, we must not avoid the hard work of reconciliation, just to throw away our relationships like old trash.
Unions and Divisions
For centuries we humans have entered into committed relationships and associations (marriage, church, trade agreements, treaties, and employment contracts). Many times, without regard for what God desires for these connections (mutual love, affection, and support), so when things “get tough, the tough tend to get going.”
Sometimes, if we do not get our way, or when conflict emerges, our hope for greener pastures start to become appealing. Just watch the political rankling on television and social media and you will see that the fragile threads of the bonds of mutual affection in the United States are being ripped apart with precision and intent. We are no longer living with the principles of “e pluribus unum” or “Out of many, one,” we are living in an era of “Erras sum rectum” or “I am right, you are wrong.”
A wise priest once told me, “It is better to be in relationship than to be right”. Division and disunity should never be our first course of action. We are God’s family and yes we will struggle, we will disappoint, and we may hurt one another, but when conflict happens, and promises are broken, we must strive for reconciliation. Jesus, knows our frailties, and rather than offering condemnation, He offers us an invitation to peace.
“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.” Right after Jesus addressed the Pharisee’s question about divorce, he welcomed the little children to come near him. Jesus always welcomes us (his children) to come to him, especially in times of difficulties, pain, tragedy, and disagreements. When we have seen joy, comfort, and mutual support fade from view, when the promises we made one to another are no more, Jesus says, “Come to me.” Jesus says, “I will make all things new.”
There is a peace knowing that God will perfect all things, even if the reconciliation we seek does not happen in this lifetime. In God’s time, all will be restored. Divorce, political divisions, and even church strife, or in life’s broken promises to one another, we must strive for peace. Sometimes though, for the sake of health, for the sake of joy, for the sake of love, we may have to choose a difficult roadof and accept that our circumstances must change and relationships must end. There are times when, because we are not yet perfect, we must face our own frailty and part ways, but only after we have done the hard work of reconciliation.
Be it in church life, married life, or in all of life, we all know that there is no “Brady Bunch,” “Leave it to Beaver,” or “Modern Family,” sitcom formula for relationships. Peace and unity is hard work, it is messy work, but that is our reality. We all show up to this holy party with our brokenness, our heartache, our fears, and our baggage. These are the challenges and disappointments, the joys and celebrations of “being in relationship versus being right. ” Reconciliation is the hard work of the family to which, we all belong, which is the church, the Body of Christ. So, rather than expecting the Church of Nirvana, my hope is that we will all come to this table, ready and willing to be transformed into the blessed messiness of the family of God.
1 Lundblad, Barbara K. “Let Them Come To Me.” Christian Century 108.25 (1991): 804-318. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.
3 Collier, Gary D. “Rethinking Jesus On Divorce.” Restoration Quarterly 37.2 (1995): 80-96. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 4 Oct. 2012.