This is a sermon I preached at Edgcumbe Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, MN the First Sunday of Christmas in 2006.
Luke 2:41-52; Colossians 3:12-17
December 31, 2006
Edgcumbe Presbyterian Church
St. Paul, MN
Mary’s having a baby.
No, I’m not talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus here, I’m talking about Mary Cheney, one of the daughters of Vice President Dick Cheney. Now, normally this wouldn’t garner so much attention, but the fact that Ms. Cheney is a lesbian and has been in a committed relationship with a woman for 15 years and the fact that a vocal group within the party she and her father belong to think homosexuality is wrong IS news. Usually, the news of a pregnancy brings good news, but for a number of religious leaders, this was not good news. Janet Crouse, the leader of Concerned Women for America, called the event and I quote, “unconscionable.” A policy analyst for another group, Focus on the Family said that while he had empathy for Cheney and her partner’s good news, “love can’t replace a father and a mother.”
What does family mean in almost 2007? That has been the question that has inflamed what is called the “culture wars” for about 25 years. For some, it means having a father and a mother who are married. For others, it could mean two same sex partners.
This past June, I had the opportunity to attend a family reunion in Louisiana. I had the chance to see relatives that I haven’t seen in years. We Sanders live all over the place, from Louisiana, to Texas, to Georgia, Michigan and Minnesota, Arizona and California. We had a great time of catching up and eating great food; fried chicken, fried catfish, crawfish ettoufe, boiled shrimp and so forth. Events like these remind me of my family, it reminds me of who I am: a Sanders.
So for a follower of Christ, what should family mean? You see, those culture wars I talked about are also affecting the church and I’m well aware about how these debates are affecting the Presbyterian Church. Notice I didn’t say what does family mean, but what should it mean. I say this because I’m beginning to think that how God looks at family is bigger than how we look at it.
In today’s gospel, we see that Jesus and the family are going on a trip to Jerusalem. When I was a kid on long trips, I would probably sing to myself or read a book. I have no idea what Jesus did. Anyway, they went to Jerusalem for Passover. Afterwards, they headed home. Mary and Joseph didn’t see Jesus, but thought maybe he was with friends, so they journeyed on. After a while, the didn’t see him at all. Now, they were starting to worry. They turn around and head back to Jerusalem and spend three days searching for him. They finally find him in the temple talking to the teachers. You can imagine that his parents were fuming. His mother was angry that he had caused them to worry. Now, at this point, you would expect that a kid like Jesus would say something like “I’m sorry.” But Jesus didn’t say that. Instead he says, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
That left Mary and Joseph stumped, and it leaves us stumped as well. Didn’t Jesus care about his mother and father? And what’s this being in his Father’s house?
I think this little exchange reminds us that Jesus had a different understanding of what it meant to be family. In later years, Jesus would say that whoever does the will of God is his mother and brother.
So what is Jesus saying about family? I don’t think he saying that family is bad, but Jesus seems to be saying that family should be bigger than blood ties. Jesus said he needed to be in his Father’s house. This meant that he needed to be about God’s business and that was of higher concern than family ties.
There is a lot of talk in Christian circles about family values. Now, I’m certainly not against families and I don’t think Jesus is calling for the breakup of families. However, Jesus is concerned when family becomes a god and takes the place of godly values.
When Jesus walked this earth, he seemed to be willing to accept everybody. He made friends with people that many would not want to be near at all. Jesus practiced a radical hospitality that made anyone a member of the family.
As Christians, we are called to practice this same hospitality. We are called to be a family of God that is made of up people from different walks of life.
A few years ago, I visited a church in the area that has the word “family” in its name. The service was okay, but no one really welcomed me to the church. This church seemed to care a lot about families of the nuclear sort, but it didn’t welcome a stanger into their church family.
But there is a positive example of what family is and I didn’t have to go to far to find it. A few years ago, I started to attend this congregation for a time. It was in early March of 2002, that I found out that my mother had breast cancer. I sent an email to Pastor Cindy Ray about this. A few days later, checked my email and noticed that there were a ton of emails from members of Edgcumbe who all said they were praying for me and my Mom. I was deeply touched by this, because I was someone who most of you didn’t know and yet you treated me as if I were a long time member. That’s what Jesus means by family.
As Christians we are to be about family values, but our definition has to be wider. We need to welcome those from all backgrounds, regardless of their race or gender, regardless if they are rich or poor, regardless if they are straight or gay. All of these people are God’s children and therefore part of the family.
A well known restaurant chain has a slogan that goes, “When you’re here, your’e family.” That should be what any community that claims to follow Jesus is like, a place where all are welcomed and none are excluded.
Let us be about our Father’s business. Thanks be to God. Amen.