“In The Family Way” – September 23
Sermon - Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost, Year B
Readings: (Proverbs 31:10–31); Psalm 1; James 3:13—4:3, 7–8a; Mark 9:30–37
Families are those collections of people we love, and the same people who drive us crazy. Families know all about us, and love us anyway. Thomas Jefferson said, “The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.” It’s a nice quote. Lucky for him he lived before YouTube, Twitter and tabloid magazines. It turns out Jefferson had a lot of families besides the one up in the fancy house on the plantation. I wonder which family he was thinking of when he said that?
The Kevin McCallister character played by Macaulay Culkin in the movie “Home Alone” says, “This house is so full of people it makes me sick. When I grow up and get married, I’m going to live alone.” Judith Timson, the Canadian journalist provides some balance: “While there are not perfect families, there are perfect family moments.”
I have three brothers–I’m the second child, and Rita and I have two boys–and I have to agree with Timson. There is conflict, rivalry, poor communication and worse. And there are some perfect family moments. Like the one in the picture on today’s bulletin. Laughing until we cry, spontaneous “I love you’s” and hugs, shared activities that seem so right they take our breath away, bring a lump to the throat. Love that has no equal–all-embracing, right down to the core. Family life is not all good, of course. Timson’s comment about perfect family moments is true for most of us, but we keep hearing that family life can be murder for some.
By coincidence, the Statistics Canada report on how families are changing in this country came out this past week, just as the lectionary gets to all kinds of reflecting about families and relating. Things are loosening up, it seems. More dads are taking on the parenting after marriages come apart, more same sex couples turned up in the census last year. The bible knows quite a bit about varieties of families. I think it was Virginia Ramey Mollenkott who counted up configurations of families in the bible and got dozens of different kinds.
The message today is Wisdom, Part 2. Last week we thought about wisdom as it plays out in world affairs and church life. This week, things are much more intimate. The author of James writes to the young churches, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom...the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”
And we don’t want that kind of wisdom just for dealing with our nearest and dearest. Did you hear about the bus driver in Winnipeg? A passenger reported him. Denise Campbell told the Winnipeg Free Press she was on a city bus last Tuesday. "He was basically at the corner of Portage and Main when he stopped. I was thinking, ‘Oh no, there’s a problem or maybe he’s waiting for someone who’s running to catch the bus.’ Then he stepped off. He says, ‘Hey buddy.’ He’s chatting with the fellow. They’re about the same age. I thought he knew him. All of a sudden, the driver takes his shoes off. He hands them to the man. He gets back on the bus. He has no shoes on. He’s just got his socks on." Turns out the driver’s name is Kris Doubledee. Someone asked him why he did it. He said, “I just saw him walking and thought, ‘Hey, I could do something.’ It looked like he needed the shoes more than I did. Anybody would do the same thing.”
Hey, I could do something. That kind of sums it up. Although a lot of good parenting, a lot of things happened so that “Hey, I could do something,” was what he thought when he saw a scruffy guy with no shoes. It’s stories like the one in today’s gospel that help shape that kind of thinking, the idea that we are all one big, human family. This curious notion about greatness, that it lies in receiving or welcoming, embracing the person with no power. In Mark the gospel writer tells the story of Jesus and a child. With Princess Diana, it was a person with HIV/AIDS. She knew the power of that symbol: when people with the disease were still feared, she shook hands with those living with it, she shared her wellness with them and their illness with her.
Kris Doubledee, the bus driver, says anybody would do the same thing. I love that faith in human nature. Opportunities do abound. If we were writing the story about Jesus welcoming someone on the margins, who might that be these days? A Pacific islander whose whole country is slowly going under water? A former asbestos miner? A person with a university education working at a decent job? According to Gail Nyberg at Daily Bread, besides more new immigrants, there are also more people with higher incomes paying too much for housing.
Who is my brother or sister, my parents, my dear ones? Bible writers have this insight that wisdom is loving others in a family way. Receiving them home again no matter where they’ve been or how long they’ve been away. Anybody would do the same. Perhaps that’s true. In the right circumstances, anybody could be selfless. There’s a lot of encouragement to look after number one these days, a lot of anti-gospel thinking out there, encouraging people to keep their stuff and never reach out a hand. All very appealing until it stops working and I need a food bank, or a meal, or a place to stay. Then I discover the power of what my neighbours have been doing: embracing a different message, organizing themselves to look after people in dire straits.
Remember when Jesus’ family came to find him? Mark has this story early in his gospel. Jesus had gone home, to Nazareth, but he was being swarmed by a crowd eager to hear him, to be healed. His family came to rescue him, it looks like. “Your mother and brothers and sisters are calling for you.” Remember what he said? “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.” (Mark 3:33b-35) Is he blowing off his family, or expanding the definition?
Shirley Erena Murray has set that conversation to music, and gone on to explore the definition of family, and the inspiration to love that is Jesus Christ. Murray is a New Zealander, and prolific hymn writer and a grandmother. Her middle name, Erena, is Greek for peace. She writes hymns about the seasons of the Church year, human rights, care of creation, women's concerns and above all, peace.
Loving others because we are first loved is a tonic for many of the ills of the world. Having a broad definition of family helps resist the people preaching narrow self interest. Welcoming people, especially those with less power, puts me in touch with the Christ who walks on wounded feet and welcomes others with torn hands. As you sing, let your embrace grow and grow, and feel the embrace of all the other’s in God’s family.
‘Here’s the hymn.
1 Who is my mother,
who is my brother?
All those who gather round Jesus Christ:
born from the gospel
sit at the table, round Jesus Christ.
2 Differently abled,
widen the circle round Jesus Christ,
crutches and stigmas,
all come together round Jesus Christ.
3 Love will relate us ‑‑
color or status
can't segregate us, round Jesus Christ:
human derailings ‑‑
all are accepted, round Jesus Christ.
4 Bound by one vision,
met for one mission
we claim each other, round Jesus Christ:
here is my mother,
here is my brother,
kindred in Spirit, through Jesus Christ.
Words by Shirley Erena Murray
© 1992 Hope Publishing Company