God and Family
Based on 1Samuel 8:4-20, 2Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1, Mark 3:20-35
I started out this week to create one sermon, however, God had another message for me to deliver entitled, “God and Family”. Therefore, our focus for today’s reflection is about God and family and the relative importance of those entities. It is a reality that you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family. All of our family units have their strengths and their weaknesses; no family is perfect. There are as many different iterations of what it means to be family as there are families. The “nuclear” family of the 1950’s with a mother, father and some number of co-created children has given way to a dizzying array of people’s lived experience of family. Divorce and remarriage have resulted in “blended” family units as well as the ability of marriage between LGBTQIA+ persons who are raising children; not to mention those who have created their families through adoption or foster parenting. Suffice it to say that our understanding of the term “family” has had to expand along with these societal realities.
Folks who study genealogy and seek out their roots, along with those who have used technology like “23 and Me” have brought to light connections that they would not have otherwise understood as family. Genetic links to folks from around the world have helped us understand that kinship is much broader than our familial stories and memory have provided. A broad understanding of kinship is important for us as Christians as well – as in our baptisms we are all brought into the Body of Christ as a family of fellow believers. Case-in-point, Amy Peterson writes in her book, “Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy”, the following, “…‘In Middle English,’…‘the words ‘kind’ and ‘kin’ were the same – to say that Christ is ‘our kinde Lord’ is not to say that Christ is tender and gentle, although that may be implied, but to say that he is kin – our kind….” In other words…we are family!
Our scriptures teach us once again that all baptized believers are one under God. When we elevate humans or human relations above God, we commit the sin of idolatry. Whether it is replacing God with a human king as in our reading from 1Samuel, Paul writing that we do not declare ourselves but Jesus as Lord, or Jesus teaching that whoever does the will of God are kin to Him, we see the relative hierarchy that we as followers of the risen Christ are supposed to live. Let us go to God now in prayer asking for God to remove our idols so that we can devote ourselves to worship of the One, true God…
The last Judge of Israel, Samuel, is coming to the end of his service to God. He had appointed his sons to carry on after him, but they had really messed things up. Without a defined and trusted successor as Judge over Israel, the people demand a King. Samuel asks for God’s opinion and God tells Samuel to let them have their way (as God has tired of their sinful behaviors). However, says God, if they are going to replace me with a human ruler, please let them know what they are going to experience. Turns out, God’s views of human kings was less terrible than the real thing (as Israel found out over the next 400 years).
Paul has made the case in the verses preceding our reading for today that God’s power alone is to be praised for our many blessings. He writes, “…For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…” and further down he continues, “…we have this treasure (the knowledge of the glory of God through Jesus) in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us….” He finishes our reading for today by stating the obvious that nothing that humans make, the families we value, nor the bodies we inhabit, will last. The only things that lasts is our faith in God, who is eternal and Almighty, and what we co-create with God.
According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has just called the Twelve Disciples. He has been doing miraculous healings all over the Galilee and has ended up back at “home”. Scribes from Jerusalem and others thought Jesus was either demon possessed or had otherwise “gone out of his mind”. Jesus informs the naysayers that what they were saying was rubbish and that he was engaged in overthrowing the strongman (Satan) and plundering hell. Jesus’ family of origin tries to do an intervention to get him to stop saying and doing things that brought shame and suspicion on the family name. He rebukes them and puts human family ties in context saying, “…’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….’”
Did you catch that message straight from the mouth of Jesus? Those who discern and then follow the will of God are considered members of the family of God. This would mean subverting our current view of our family as the primary focus of our lives to focus first on God’s will! Peter Marty, in an article in the Christian Century entitled, “Has family become an idol?” writes, “…In the Gospels, the family is always secondary to Christ’s claim on his followers. Jesus never asks us to choose him over the devil; he asks us to choose him over the family. This message is hard for many believers to swallow. What Jesus implies is that fixating on love of family will not make one a disciple. It may even get perilously in the way. Jesus creates a new concept of family, one based not on blood but on love in action…he referred to those who do ‘the will of my Father in heaven’ as those who are his ‘brother and sister and mother.’
What’s going on in these and other utterances? Jesus is dethroning the biological family and asking us to transcend our genealogy and clan enough to become members of a larger family of faith. Family can be a beautiful means to even greater affections. But when it becomes an end in itself, our availability to and for others shrinks dramatically. That makes for a very small religion….”
Anytime we elevate things above God we engage in idolatry. Israel idolized the idea of a human as King instead of their savior God. Jesus’ ministry was shaking up the power structures and causing distress – he must be out of his mind saying that God’s will is the most important thing for humans to focus on. In current times we idolize not only the biologic family but political party affiliations, uncritical nationalism in the guise of patriotism, Facebook and other social media groups and platforms, Bible interpretations, money, power and prestige/celebrity, acquisition, etc. Possibly because of this we see our congregations shrinking and religion being marginalized – we are living into a very small religion indeed.
The way forward is to put God’s will first. We will all need to be intentional about this and engage in more consistent prayer and study. We will also need to focus on the needs of our brothers and sisters in the faith before our own needs. If we do not, then the Bible is clear on what God will do. I’m certain that no one here want to live in that reality. May God’s love save us from our love of idols! Amen.