“Our church is like a family,” or “We are the family of God!” So many of us say some version of that metaphor on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure I heard it within the very first meeting I had with many of your Council leaders, at a coffee shop in St. Paul. But what do you mean by that?
* Turn to someone close to you and say the first thing that pops into your head; don’t over-think this. What do you mean when you call this congregation ‘a family’?
Some of those things you named might have been assumptions in Jesus’ day, but also the family was security, legacy and support in old age, your identity (since it was not an individualistic culture at all).
So, how do we get into a “church family”?
*Turn again, to the other side, and share briefly: How did you get into this church family?
In the first reading, from the Gospel of John, Jesus is establishing the church that will live on after his death, and it is a family formed by adoption. Now, this adoption plan is made by a child for his mother, but it’s the same process. Like in adoptive families you know, the new relationships formed will change the lives of all involved. And its going to take ongoing commitment.
We all know there’s a difference between being counted as part of a group and really experiencing belonging. When we think about families formed by birth, sometimes we just assume that “belonging” happens automatically, but to really love and be loved takes effort. It’s the concept of attachment. For those of us raised by the parents who birthed us, our emotional attachment to them develops when we are infants, as they meet our needs. Every time. Even in the middle of the night. It is loving, but it is work. When we have to build attachment later in life, maybe through adoption or with potential spouses, especially after we’ve been hurt by others, it takes even more effort. It takes repeated words and actions, actions and words that prove “you belong to us. Nothing will change that. This is forever.” We all test those boundaries, try to push past the limits to see where they are, if we will still be loved if we do this, or reveal this about who we are. It takes complete commitment to being family no matter what, in order to build a secure attachment.
It is a choice, a commitment to be part of the family of God. But not a choice that we can undo, since it is made by God. We opt in, in some ways, claim our membership in the family by being drawn to Jesus, but then it’s the mutual responsibility of all the family members to keep relating, reconciling, loving each other. It’s a different meaning than “choosing” a church or “joining” a church, than our consumer approach to finding a community that will meet my needs. Look closely at these two Gospel stories. Jesus makes the family ties. People who have stuck close to him, he declares to be his family. I kind of wonder if Mary and John were on board with this new relationship – Jesus’ adoption plan for them – or not. Perhaps they got on each other’s nerves, or felt competitive for Jesus’ attention. They wanted to be close to Jesus, but perhaps not particularly each other. Do you ever feel that? Church would be great if it weren’t for the people. They became a family anyway.
The second story is a bit of a slap in the face to Jesus’ birth family. “My family are the ones who love God, and are seeking to stay close to God, to do God’s will,” Jesus says. Belonging in this family is not about being entitled or gaining special access to God’s attention. It’s about serving God’s will, not being served. And that’s really tough, because we turn everything we can into a means to gain recognition, pats on the back, a way to exert authority, to show how much we matter, or just to be reminded that we are lovable. But being part of this family is not an entitlement. None of us own any branch of Jesus’ family simply by being born with a certain heritage. We have to ask ourselves, are we actually seeking to do the will of God, or to hold onto the patterns or identity that make us comfortable?
Being part of a family is an active process, not passive. Doing nothing will indeed produce a result, of our relationships atrophying. We are as individuals always changing and so are those with whom we are in relationship. And somehow, so is God. We describe ourselves as being made in God’s image, and we understand God as the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, however you want to say it. God is, by nature, in relationship. Being in relationship means that we are committed to being changed by one another. So leaving a household of the Family of God because of a disagreement destroys attachment not only for those who leave, but for those who stay. Can’t we talk about, even argue about, the really hard things in our family without breaking apart?
“And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” They didn’t pay lip service to “being a family.” They just did it. This viral video was going around awhile ago, asking people to stop inviting people to church. If you want to share your faith, invite them into your life instead. Care about them where they are. Share your faith in conversation. Re-enforce the love you have for them – for Christ’s sake – so often that they know to whom they belong when they pick up their briefcase, or put on their backpack and go out into the world.
This congregation is like family for many of you – and all the different things you mean by that. But it is also one household of a large, extended family. The family of God is vast and diverse and surprising, actually, in whom it encompasses. So, how will you convey that to others and have confidence in it for yourself, if this particular household of the world-wide family of God doesn’t continue to stay in one place?
Know that Jesus makes some surprising relationships for us. When you are actively seeking to follow the will of God, you will be surprised who becomes your family. You are not entitled to anything, but you are so loved. You are Jesus’ siblings, you know.
Preached on Sept 9, 2017
John 19:25b -27 Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Matthew 12:46-50 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”