June 10, 2018
It is Pride weekend in Albuquerque. Pride is a big deal for the lgbt community. It is a time for many who have felt excluded, judged, and outcast to be celebrated. It is wild and crazy and fun and sometimes shocking! I came out later in life and was really scared of being rejected by family and the church. In fact, coming out for me meant leaving the church I had known my whole life for the UCC – a place I do not have to be anything less than I am, a place I can be authentically me. I don’t know how to describe the power of being in a church where I am free to be who I am.
Even though you and I may know that, I became aware that you had to be inside the building to know it. I wanted us to tell people outside our building that this is a church that you can be who you are. Too many people have experienced church as a place that tells them to be something else. One of the most profound things we have done to let people outside our walls know who we are is putting up the rainbow doors on Lomas. Those rainbow doors and the words that accompany them are simple, but profound “God’s doors are open to all.” It seems like a no brainer to me, but many people don’t believe the church is a place that would welcome them. The doors are our way of saying, “we welcome everyone.” We continue that when people come inside and hear us say “no matter who you are and where you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.”
One of the words that is commonly used in the lgbt community is family. It is often a way of identifying someone else who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or gender non-binary. Because so many folks who identify in those ways have been cast out of their own families, they have learned to broaden their definition of family.
Many (maybe all of us) carry wounds from our families. The scripture today is one I struggle to grasp, but one thread in it is Jesus talking about family. He is clearly breaking open what family means and saying, “it is bigger than you think.” How many of you have people in your life that you consider family even though they may not have an official title – mother, father, aunt, uncle, cousin, sibling, etc?
The church as we know it today came along after Jesus, but he is talking about the community of faith as family in some way and explains that family isn’t about genetics or sharing a last name, but it is those who follow God together. It isn’t that he doesn’t care about his family. He expresses love for his mother at his death.
Jesus has been healing people and casting out demons. We don’t know exactly what that means, but it could be diseases like epilepsy or some forms of mental illness. People are concerned about Jesus’ mental health, so his family of origin shows up to restrain him. But Jesus isn’t going to allow his family to keep him from doing what God has called him to do.
So much of the rest of this text is really difficult to read. There are demons, plundering property and tying up the strong man, blasphemy, eternal sin that cannot be forgiven, and seeming to deny his birth family. I have wrestled with this text this week and wondered what in the world we might take from it.
It has caused me to spend some time reflecting on family. It has caused me to spend time reflecting on church as family. Later this summer we are going to begin an intentional season of one on one conversations where we just get to know each other better with no agenda or no attempt to recruit. We are family when we form teams to care for some of our members who are wrestling with illness. We are family when we listen to each other’s stories. We are family when we take vows to support one another at baptism and when new members join. We are family when we eat together. We are family when we serve others who are hungry. We are family to Kadhim and Reham and Courtney.
I heard a story of a woman who was beaten by the man in her life and stayed home to hide her bruised face. After a few days, she needed to get milk for her baby, so she put on all her makeup and wore dark glasses to the grocery store. A woman approached her and asked, “who did that to you?” She replied that it was an accident. The woman responded, “don’t lie to me. I know about that because I have been beaten too. You need a church. Come with me tomorrow.” The woman picked her up and took her to church and later she told that story saying she got to the church and realized, “this is the family God meant for me to have.” (https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/9046/jesus-family-values)
In the text today, Jesus is defining family as those who do not try and restrain the work he is doing, but those who do God’s will with him. What matters most to Jesus is being part of God’s healing work in the world. The scripture invites us to ask how we are doing God’s will and being Jesus’ family.
Frederick Buechner said, “The human family. It's a good phrase, reminding us not only that we come from the same beginning and are headed toward the same conclusion, but that in the meantime our lives are elaborately and inescapably linked. A famine in one part of the world affects people in all parts of the world. An assassination in Dallas or Sarajevo affects everybody. No one is an island. It is well worth remembering.” (http://www.frederickbuechner.com/quote-of-the-day/2016/10/5/family) We see this in a week when two prominent figures committed suicide. We begin to pay attention to the pain. There are many who are hurting in our human family. Our lives depend on each other.
Jesus wants us to understand that true family means room at the table for everyone. It means every voice is valued. It means no one out ranks another. Jesus came to set us free and to call us into relationship with each other. He calls us to lay down the things that divide us and enter into this community open to being changed.
When he uses the word house in the reading from Mark, he is talking about the faith community. He is calling our community to be a family where all are welcome. My friend visited Riverside Church in New York City and posted a picture of their sign which says, “Whoever you are: You are safe here. You are loved here. You are invited into full participation in our life together.” That sounds like family to me.
Many years ago, I was introduced to artist Judy Chicago’s statement that I have carried with me through many moves and life transitions. Maybe Jesus was trying to describe a vision of community/family that looks something like this:
“And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both women and men will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another's will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will share equally in the Earth's abundance
And then all will care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life's creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again.”
+ Judy Chicago
May it be so.