“How Big is Your Family” ~ Fathering Sunday
Mark 3: 20-35 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ June 17, 2018
On Fathering Sunday, when we think a lot about families, so I thought I might start with some quotes about families to get our conversation going: *Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts. -Unknown *Insanity is hereditary; you get it from your children. - Sam Levenson *Bleeding ulcers run in my family: We give them to each other. -Lois McMaster Bujold *Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. - George Burns *For the first time ever I was taking the family on the road. We stayed with my in-laws, which on life’s list of experiences ranks right below sitting in a tub full of scissors. -Jeff Foxworthy *And another one which might fit right in with those quotes comes from a peasant Rabbi you might have heard of named Jesus. When they called to Jesus saying: ‘your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you’, Jesus replied: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers and sisters?’ And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said “Here are my mother and my brothers [and sisters]! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”.
These quotes along with this morning’s text are odd ones, to say the least. And it seems particularly odd for this to fall on a Sunday that seems to champion family connection and values. We have had two beautiful baptisms this morning ~ Luka Lovelace and Brian Nelson. Many of us have been preparing our homes for food, fun and festivities to celebrate the Dads in our lives ~ as the family gather around them. So…how does this text speak truth and life to us amidst this day of celebrations? Perhaps, as you look at this text, you might wish ~ as the people did ~ to have Jesus committed as crazy? Is Jesus overcome by Beelzebub? Tempting us away from our call to family? Or … is there something deeper going on?
Well, let’s spend some time considering the particular Jesus we find presented in Mark’s gospel ~ our gospel focus in this lectionary year. It is good to be reminded at the outset, as we consider family values, that Mark does not place a birth story or even an infancy narrative in his gospel. And when we move later in the story of Jesus’ life, with the women at the foot of the cross and later to the empty tomb, Mark doesn’t even identify Mary as Jesus’ mother. As far as Mark is concerned, Jesus’ biological family are the ones doing God’s will. In the text, Jesus says to those who are sitting among him: “Here are my mother and my brothers [and sisters]! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”. So much for this kind, gentle Jesus being the champion of “family values.” For Jesus, family is that community that shares the common cause of the gospel, not the ones that share his biological DNA. Converts from one religion to another can face pressure from family to embrace the new faith community and abandon the previous. And conversion can be seen as a rejection of family tradition and values. Jesus’ followers were called to “leave their nets and follow” ~ leave their family, the family business and follow. They had chosen to follow the way of Jesus and family and friends would likely not have been supportive. Family would have worried ~ thought they were possessed by Beelzebub. They would plead: ‘my son…my daughter…come home, abandon this new religious identity, and remember where you belong’. Yet…Jesus calls them ~ first and foremost ~ to follow the way of God.
Now before we go too far with this, I want to say clearly, that I do not believe that Jesus came to abolish the idea of family or household. It goes too far to suggest Jesus overthrew his culture’s values about family, society and religion — in this passage or any other. Just like Jesus’ work of coming to broadening people’s understanding of who God’s children were ~ not exclusively the Jews as being God’s chosen people ~ but the Gentiles too, I would like to suggest that Jesus is now transforming people’s understanding of who is to be included in the definition of family. And remember what the function of family was: back in Jesus’ days, family were people’s lifeline for survival. In an era before social safety nets, when a widow was sentenced to destitute poverty in biblical times, her brother-in-law would marry her. Sons would carry on the family business. The family would take care of one another because ~ at that point in history ~ no one else would. What Jesus is doing here is broadening our understanding of those we are called to care for, those we are called to help in their times of need, those we are called to lift up when they fall, those resuscitate when they are dying. Jesus is saying that by virtue of us being children of God, everyone who follows the Way of shalom / peace is your kin, everyone who has breath is your responsibility to care for, and love, and lift up, as you are able ~ not just those with whom you share biological DNA.
This is the very thinking that informs why we do outreach, isn’t it? As we hand out plates of food for the Hot Lunch ministry ~ and we say “God bless you brother” ~ we are reminded of how very big our family is. As we assemble shoeboxes filled with essentials for life on the street~ we are reminded of how very big our family is., as we make up Christmas hampers each year ~ we are reminded of how very big our family is, as we hand out food through the week ~ we are reminded of how truly big our family is. As we welcome people to church for worship, for study, for fellowship, for the various dimensions of growth ~ we are reminded of how truly big our family is. When I first became a father, I remember being a really nervous Dad. I was afraid: would I be a good parent? Would I know what to do? What to say? Would there be enough of ‘me to offer this little life? Eventually, I realized ~ ‘I can do this…I’m not perfect, but I have enough love for this little one…in fact, we later realized that we had so much that we had space for another…and 3 ½ years later our son was born. I think what this text is calling us to, is an awareness that we all have enough love, enough care to broaden our definition of family beyond the ones with whom we share DNA with. I know of a number of families who are geographically spread out, yet when it comes to holiday time, they take an opportunity to welcome new people to their table for holiday dinners ~ others who would have been alone ~ and they create family. Their family is growing! I know of others who welcome foreign students into their home…and their family is growing! I know of people who have stopped amidst the busyness of their day and talked to a ‘street person’ listened to their story and returned with food…and their family is growing! You see, I don’t think it dishonours your biological family to broaden the borders of a family definition, I think it honours and celebrates the grace of God!
I served for a term as a director on the BC Council for Families and one of the issues we dealt with during my time there was the definition of family. If we were the BC Council for Families, we had better define who we were serving. Is the definition of a “family” a husband, wife and 2 children? But…what about single parents, like I am, with two children whom I share custody with their mother. Am I a family with my children? What about a couple of seniors? Are they a family? What about a person living on their own? Are they a family? What about a same sex couple? Are they a family? What I loved in our work was that we came to the definition that Jesus would have danced over. Rather than defining family, they simply chose to welcome the diversity of community by coming up with the following statement: “welcome to BC Council for Families we consider you our family”. You are our family. Jesus said it this way: looking at those around him, “Here are my mother and my brothers [and sisters]! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”.
Earlier in the service, we celebrated the baptism of Brian and Luka. As we consider how big our family is, we are reminded of God’s grace in including us all in this beautiful family ~ not that it occurs at the moment that water is poured and hands are laid, but that it is deeply celebrated. This is the day of Luka’s and Brian’s baptism and we celebrate how truly big God’s family is! The earliest baptismal liturgy that we have, I read in the liturgy. Paul was responding to that very question: [do you want to know how truly big God’s family is?] “there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female ~ [you can add all the other worldly divisions that we place between people] ~ all are one in Christ”. And to that invitation to be a supportive, welcoming family to Brian and Luka, you rose and said “We will by the grace of God”. If that’s not a sign and symbol of how big Jesus calls us to understand family, I don’t know what is!
Please, please, please ~ don’t lose the love and joy you have in your DNA family. It can often be a beautiful blessed thing. Jesus calls us to simply broaden the boundaries. It’s interesting when we consider who gathered beside Jesus in his last day. When Jesus hung on a cross, even then as he took his last breath, he broadened the definition of family, in a last, wild act of inclusion, he invited a common thief to join him in paradise - a stunningly defiant rebuke to the ways the world gathers people. Jesus paraded into paradise arm-in-arm with a criminal. A final exclamation point on his passionate mission calling us to love all humanity as family. And I believe that every time the family of God gathers for Holy Communion or a fellowship supper or serves up food to the homeless on the street corner, or welcomes the stranger in so many other ways, God’s family gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
And for that we can say: "Thank God for this big family”! Amen.