By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
August 30, 2020
Video of whole service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/3104095439699576
Scripture: Mark 3:31-35
As you can tell from today’s Children’s Message, I have been thinking about family this week – specifically this question: who is included in the family of God?
Well, that got me thinking about Matt, Ruby, and I spending Thanksgiving those couple of years with Jerry and Randy and their friends and family. As I thought about that, suddenly I remembered that there were also people around during my childhood for family get-togethers, who weren’t technically family. There was my Grandma Ina’s friend Ruth who had been widowed for quite some time. On Christmas Eve at my Mom’s parents’ house, Ruth and the Burmeisters from next door often came over.
Then I realized, that once I joined Matt’s family, he had a bonus family member as well. I remember asking him one time, “Now how is Marty related to you?” after one Christmas celebration. He responded, “Oh, she’s not. She’s my Grandma Coorsy’s friend. They used to teach together.” Marty celebrated Christmas with us every year, even for many years after Grandma Coorsy died. Nowadays, after Matt, Ruby, and I are done opening our Christmas presents, we always pick up Gabe to come over and have Christmas Day brunch…another bonus family member in my life!
So then I started asking around: some of you saw the post on Facebook. What about you? Do you or did you have any bonus family members in your history? Have you ever opened your home up to folks without family in town, or have you been one of those guests? I found out that some people have an open invitation for friends to join them for holidays every year. I found that a group from this very church used to gather for potluck-style holiday meals that included church members with family members thrown in. I learned that one year, there was a snowstorm that cancelled holiday plans, so person invited their also-stranded neighbors over for potluck Christmas dinner. (I think I remember that year!) I imagine many of you have similar stories of when you opened up your doors to someone new, when suddenly family wasn’t a narrow, exclusionary category; it was an inclusive, expansive group.
There’s also this phenomenon of “Friendsgiving.” Have you heard of it? Here’s how the Miriam-Webster dictionary site defines it: “Friendsgiving is a mashup of the word “friend” and “thanksgiving” that refers to a large meal among friends eaten during the Thanksgiving season. The level of formality is dependent on the participants, but the word first appeared around 2007 as an informal replacement for the holiday typically spent with family.” [https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/friendsgiving-meaning]
When I think about this definition, the word that sticks out to me is “replacement.” Friendsgiving is a replacement for a holiday typically spent with family. I definitely know about some Friendsgivings that are truly and necessarily just that – replacement meals for people who no longer feel safe or welcome with their families. I often hear of Friendsgiving as a gathering of LGBTQ folks’ chosen families – friends who have stepped in to love and support queer people when their families-of-origin have rejected them.
To be honest, I used to read today’s scripture passage as Jesus having a kind of Friendsgiving and leaving his family of origin out entirely. You heard what is happening. Jesus is either inside a house or at least away from his family with a group of friends, a group of followers, surrounding him. There are insiders (Jesus’ friends) and outsiders (Jesus’ family).
Jesus’ family tries to get his attention. In fact, a few verses earlier, we hear that they have come because some people are saying something is wrong with Jesus. Those people had told Jesus’ mother and brothers that Jesus was out of his mind and that they should come get him. So they do. They show up and try to bring him home.
When they call out for him, his friends say to Jesus, “Hey, your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” You heard how Jesus responded. It’s a very quotable line:
He looked around, and he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Wow. I mean, the first time I read it, I was like, “Dang, Jesus. That is harsh.” Your mother and brothers come looking for you, and you are like – y’all are OUT now. These new followers of mine are my REAL brothers and sisters and mothers. Biological family, you are OUT. New family, you are IN.
That’s how I used to read this.
While I do think this text poses a grave challenge to the idea that a traditional nuclear family is somehow the epitome of Christianity, I don’t think I was reading it quite right when I thought Jesus was rejecting his family members. We often bring our own assumptions and biases to these texts. One of those assumptions for me, I think for many of us, is that only one group can be included when Jesus names who is his real family. Of course, it’s always our own group we imagine to be “in” and the other group that is out.
But that is not what Jesus is saying here. He says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus does not reject his biological family. He expands his family to be “whoever does the will of God,” and he invites his biological family to be part of it. He invites them just as he invites his disciples, the crowds, sinners, the outcast, and those who are “the enemy.” He invites all kinds of enemies: those who are enemies because they are of a different political and religious group like the Samaritans, and those who are enemies because they were the people in power like the Roman guard.
He opens the door to welcome literally anyone into the group of people with whom he has the most intimate, deep, and abiding relationship. He blows up the narrow confines that sometimes enclose the idea of family into the expanse of the Beloved Community. He doesn’t leave his biological family behind doing this. He invites them into a larger family.
This is a truly expansive vision of family. When Jesus says who is part of his family, it is not tied to race or ethnicity. Jesus was a Palestinian Jew, but he doesn’t say only Jews or Palestinians are part of his family. When Jesus says who is part of his family, it is not tied to politics. He doesn’t say that only those who are colonized are part of his family. When Jesus says who is part of his family, it’s not tied to religion. He doesn’t even say “Anyone who believes in me is part of my family.” He says, “Whoever does the will of God is my family.”
Jesus invites all people who are seeking to do God’s will, in the broadest sense, to be part of his family – even those who haven’t understood the expansiveness of his mission and of God’s love. Even though maybe his family of origin didn’t get it at first. Even though they thought he was embarrassing them by going on and on about the kingdom of God and by confronting the religious authorities when maybe they wished he would just keep it down a bit. Even though maybe they thought he had veered way too wide on the grace and forgiveness and trying to include everyone, and maybe should just come back home and be quiet already. Even though they didn’t understand him, Jesus never gave up on them. He loved and cared for them just as much as he loves and cares for his whole family. Through his love, he makes the Way for everyone to truly be his family by doing the will of God.
Here’s how I know Jesus never gives up on his family of origin. A commentator this week reminded me that Jesus explicitly connects his biological family to his “new” family at the end of the Gospel of John. It happens at the foot of the cross. Jesus’ mother is there. His aunt is there. A number of Jesus’ disciples are there: Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple. They are all there: all the ones who love Jesus. His family of origin is there: the ones that maybe Jesus has rubbed the wrong way with his insistence that family is more than just them. His disciples are there – this new family, maybe a little bit suspicious of the old family. But there they all are, in their most difficult moment, watching the life drain from Jesus, the one they all loved more than anyone else.
In that moment, Jesus reminds them that they need one another. They can’t afford to not love and care for one another. He looks at his disciple, this new family member and he looks at his mother, with whom he’s had a bit of a rocky relationship, and he says, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” Both of these groups – the insiders and the outsiders – they had to figure out a way to live once Jesus was gone from them. They simply couldn’t do it without each other. Life was too hard to have the family of God be divided.
Life is way too hard, in 2020, to have the family of God be divided. We need each other. Our narrow tribal factions have gotten us into this mess, and Jesus shows us that they all must and can be broken down so that we can be healed.
We are all children of God. We need one another. We belong to each other.
We can do the will of God together.
Thanks be to God.