The Family

click for more The Sunday Sermon: Third Sunday in Advent – December 11, 2016

view it Scripture:  Mark 3:19b-21, 31-35

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E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come …

We don’t have any idea what we’re praying for, hoping for, singing for. Beautiful, again, choir. Thank you. But, we don’t have any idea. The answer to this Advent song and our Christmas prayer would change everything that orders our comfortable lives. It hasn’t yet, to my way of thinking. We’ve had enough chances, enough opportunities, I believe. In an old list of Roman bishops, the words “25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betelem Judeae” appear in a listing from 336 A.D. “December 25th, Christ born in Bethlehem, Judea.” This day, December 25, 336, is accepted as the first recorded celebration of Christmas. So, year after year, for about one thousand six hundred and eighty years, the celebration of Christmas hasn’t really changed much, at least for long. We’re still singing “E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.” We’re still waiting.

Maybe … maybe this year it’ll actually happen in our lives … ? In our communities? For our world? Pray with me …

            The waiting continues, O God. But who is waiting for whom? Be patient with us still. Maybe this year will be different … May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our heart be acceptable in your sight, you who are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

So let me “lighten up” a bit and continue with an easier question (I hope). Has anyone noticed anything a bit different about our Advent candle lighting this year? … Who lit the first candle? That’s right, Clare Grant. How many of you felt something missing two weeks ago as she came forward, read the assigned liturgy, lit the candle we called “Our Life,” and led us in prayer? Anyone notice something missing?

Sure … to begin with Rick was missing. All of us here in this community can hardly picture one without the other. Some of us, myself included, can’t do that at all. (I close my eyes to picture Clare and *pop* there’s Rick … always. I can’t …). So last week, we added Rick. Another, the Other. Hard as it is for any of us to imagine, even the two of them, themselves, at one point Rick was as unknown to Clare as any stranger – and other one – is to her now. They overcame that “strangeness,” that “otherness,” with what eventually could be described as Love (capital “L”, in their case).

So then, what about last week? Did anyone notice anything missing last week as Rick and Clare came forward, read the assigned liturgy, lit the candle we called “The Other,” and led us in prayer. Anyone notice someone, or some “ones,” missing?

Yes, of course … Serayah and Toby. Their children. The rest of their “family.” All of us here can hardly picture Rick and Clare together without Serayah and Toby at least close by. Some of us, myself included, can’t do that at all. (I close my eyes to picture Clare and Rick and *pop* there are Serayah and Toby … always). So this week, we added them. From one life, to another, to a family. It’s growing, you see, the longing with which we wait, the Life we wish to celebrate, the Love we so anticipate during Advent. It always does, grow, and it never stops, not until we allow it too. But we’re not going to allow it to, I’m not going to allow you to allow it to … at least not yet. We still have one more Sunday of this season after today left. How much bigger can this thing get? We don’t have any idea what we’re praying for …

Listen for the Word of God … Read Mark 3:19b-21, 31-35. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

(Well, that’s not part of a birth narrative! No angels, shepherds, innkeepers or magi … I’m sure you knew it wouldn’t be when you saw that our Gospel reading was from Mark, though.) Of course, but be patient with me. Though it’s not part of a birth narrative, this passage has some deep implications for the meaning of Christmas and Emmanuel for us this year.

Our reading this morning is the beginning and end of a larger passage in Mark. Even if you didn’t read along with me this morning, you can see by what’s written in your bulletin that I skipped over a whole bunch of verses for this reading. Nine of them, to be exact, verses twenty-two to thirty. I didn’t want to confuse any of you any more than necessary, or distract you too much with what is written there. But it seems to me what lies between our two sets of verses is worth talking a bit about so we may understand what Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark is saying about what family “is” and why “family” is important in our journey through this world.

If you’re reading those verses now, or will do so later, you’ll understand why I didn’t read them out loud. They are confusing and contain some ideas strange to our modern ears: Beelzebub, Satan, Demons. Almost certainly in his time Jesus believes more literally in their existence, so he takes them seriously. Our twentieth century “enlightened” minds have difficulty with “literal” interpretations, but we need to take the presence of demonic forces seriously, too. “Satan” need not mean a personality with horns and a red tail, but the idea still describes a very real and present power that is actively engaged against the compassionate and reconciling love of God. Satan, Beelzebub, demons and words like them in our scripture name the forces and configurations of power that capture us and cause us to hurt ourselves, to hurt others, and to hurt the Sacred in our midst. What are some of these forces, these powers ?

There is the power of racism, which tells us to believe that one group is superior to another simply because of our skin color or cultural heritage.

There is the power of patriarchy, which tells us that men should dominate women.

There is the power of materialism, which roars at us that money gives life.

There is the power of militarism – the belief that weapons and war bring us peace and security – that causes us to kill one another, often in the very name of God.

These are only a few, the number is legion, but … surrounding the realities of all that is wrong in our world, before and beyond the forces and configurations of power that capture us and cause us to hurt ourselves, others, and even God, are our verses this morning, verses that define one of the most powerful deterrents of all to all that is wrong in the world: Family.

I know many interpreters of this passage tell us that “family” is one of those powers we are captive to. That those who love us most deeply and take care of us most intimately actually keep us from God and God’s call in Jesus. I know we most often hear or remember Jesus’ question of “who is my mother and my brother?” as a rebuke of them, as a turning of his back on them. But that, it seems to me, comes from a very simple and negative understanding of family. And it has, I believe, very little to do with Jesus’, and so with the Christian, understanding of family.

Quite apart from whether or not the relatives that are seeking Jesus were his biological mother or his natural siblings, Mark’s writing confronts us with a central reality of being a Christian: We live in community with others, close knit community with many others – with Family. Jesus is not rejecting his biological lineage in verses thirty-three and thirty-four, he is embracing his world family. Who are they? Whoever does the will of God.

There is no other restriction here. Neither race, nor gender, nor orientation. In fact, there isn’t even any restriction on religion or doctrine. Mark, the earliest Gospel of them all, with no loveable birth narrative at all, does not give us a systematic or dogmatic and profound account of Christology. It’s not what you believe that makes your part of the family. It’s what you do … “the will of God.”

We have moved very intentionally, whether you’ve noticed it or not, or been here or not, from one life loved by God, to another life that joins with the first and shares that Love, to the gracious and stunning love of God experienced through family. I can’t begin to describe my gratitude for the families of this church. To begin with the Grant-Fletchers – Toby, Serayah, Clare and Rick. And I’m grateful for (Tom and Betty and Stephanie and Kenny and Ethan; for Karen and Jay; for Holly and Geoff and Alison and Nick; for Debbie and Anita; for Tom and Lamont; for Sally, and Sis, and Bob, and Vivien, and Julia); for every single one of you – single, couples, married with children – all the families in this church that create the family of this church. Together, we share the gracious and stunning Love of God together, seeking to do the will of God, and so we … are … family. But it doesn’t stop here.

Who are our mothers and brothers, our fathers and sisters? “All” who do the will of God. So, as we close this third Sunday in Advent, we may ask: How big can our family get? As big as it needs to get to save us from ourselves. Please be here together next week. We have one more week to prepare for the rest of our lives together.

Amen … for now.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / December 11, 2016