Family is a peculiar thing, isn’t it?
There’s the old adage that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. The sentiment expressed here is that friendships, though seem ever so strong, seem to many times ebb and flow during seasons of life. But family—family has to stick by you. Family is the place you turn to when you are at your very rock bottom and need some one sit sit by us, to hold us, to remind us we are not alone. But they also hold us accountable when we need to be held account.
Now there’s some truth to do that—to a certain degree. Many have experienced times when family is there in ways no one else can. But we also know that, sometimes, families do choose. Many times that’s a wonderful event, like an adoption or fostering or bringing grandma into the household in order to make sure folk are taken care of in a proper way. And we know that, sometimes, families make other choices that are painful and isolating.
But then there’s this other wonderful gift—family of choice. Sometimes we have friends that seem almost like family; friends who have stuck by us when family doesn’t; friends who are indeed the ones who sit by us, hold us, and remind us who we are. And for those who’ve had family who have made those painful choices in this past, these kind of friends are life-giving, sometimes quite literally.
Sometimes we refer to a congregation as church family. Many times the parallel works. We encourage, stand by each other, support, and hold each other accountable, like families do. And yes, if we’re honest, sometimes feelings get hurt—just like in family. And like family, when we hurt feelings, we say sorry.
This image of church as family serves well in many congregations, such as this one, where many of us are not native Atlantans. Our families are physically distant. And so this community of faith has, time and time again stood in the gap, functioning as that family—a family of choice for so many.
But this is not the only way we think of family. This church has such a strong sense of solidarity with the folks experiencing housing insecurity. These folks are part of our family—our sisters and brothers. We strive to take that seriously. From time to time, this facility has even been home. We also think of the other churches in the Ponce Corridor as extended family—our cousins, if you will. We gather from time to time as churches. We’ve even taken in, if you will, our Lutheran and Baptist cousins in when they had a short-term need.
This all seems natural expressions of our relationships that we have.
As we turn to the Gospel lesson, there’s this question about family… who is Jesus’ family. In Jesus’ ministry, he is inviting people into a new a new way of being. In this new way of being in the world, a new way of living into God’s Kin-dom (not kingdom) Jesus represents something challenging for folks who are comfortable with the status quo. He defies expectation, he is truly inviting us into a life with a new set of priorities and allegiances. (aside: I wonder, if sometimes, in our desire to make the Gospel more palatable to others, if we short-sell this reorientation, this new life so that we won’t be called crazy).
Now for many, new things are refreshing possibilities to keep us from getting in a rut. For others of us, new things can be scary because there’s inevitable change associated with doing a something new. Most of us fall somewhere in between. We want to be faithful. We want to respond to our baptism, we want to see verve, energy, new life. And yet we find change difficult.
But Jesus says this when it comes to allegiances and God’s new way of understanding our identity. Those who are in the Jesus’ family are those who do God’s will.
Now this sounds daunting. If understood i the negative (unless you do God’s will, you’re out of Jesus’ family). But I wouldn’t hear it as conditional, in or out. I would hear it this way: seeking to be faithful to God’s will, God’s vision is being part of Jesus’ family. No conditions, but always with an invitation to grow deeper.
In just a few minutes, we’re gathering around the supper table…. family. We’re all at home, all in a place of welcome. And we’re all once more as we rehearse and remember, we are asked to consider who is our mother, who is our brother. As we are concluding worship, we’re going to hear about a possibility that is before us to ask that in a way we haven’t considered before. I invite, friends, to be open to asking that questions again. Our family might just be a grander context than we’ve yet to imagine.