Sunday, June 10, 2012

How can you possibly eat with people like that?

Just a month ago, our state was voting on what a marriage looks like. When we heard some Christians insisting that the Bible lays it all out, many of us had fun going pointing out how ludicrous this is by citing models of marriage that are found in the Bible. Those models include juicy stuff like: polygamy, incest, rape. It's not a pretty picture. If you really read the Bible, you could never conclude that a relationship between one man and one woman is what marriage looks like.

This is just one example of how we come to the Bible with preconceived ideas about what it says, and then…guess what? It says exactly what we thought it did. Imagine that! It's what always ends up happening when we twist the words of the Bible to support our own way of thinking, including our fears and prejudices.

Mark 3:31-35 is a doozy for all those who insist that the Bible supports family values. One of Jesus’ disciples tells him that his mother and his brothers are there to see him. And, without missing a beat, Jesus replies: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers? Anyone who does my will, anyone who is a part of my mission, that’s my family.”

Family values? Hardly. And this is not an isolated instance for Jesus. He really has it in for families. In another place he says, “I’ve come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother. And he also said, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even life itself, can’t be my disciple.”

With the words “Follow me” Jesus destroyed a family business, as fishermen abandoned their father in a boat so they could wander around the countryside with a traveling preacher. He broke the hearts of many first-century parents who were counting on their kids to help them in their old age.

And then there was the time Jesus encouraged a guy to skip out on his own father’s funeral. The man came to Jesus and said, “I’ll follow you. But first I need to go home and give my father a decent burial.” Jesus responded: “Let the dead bury the dead! Follow me and leave the funeral to somebody else.”

Jesus is not someone to lift up as a defender of family values. It’s why Bishop William Willimon calls Jesus a “home wrecker.” But to be fair, he doesn’t seem to be any more anti-family than he is anti-money or success, or government officials, or religious authorities. It seems like all the things that are really important to people, he snubs his nose at. Whatever people find to be valuable, Jesus devalues. Why is that?

For Jesus, all that stuff we become so preoccupied with is just fluff. It’s not even in the running compared to his mission, which, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was all about gathering God’s people together by inviting them to participate in God’s kingdom.

Jesus walked away from the family he was born into so that he could form a new family. And what a family it was! Do you remember what one of the earliest complaints against Jesus was? Why people found him so offensive? “How can he possibly eat with people like that?!” Jesus was supposed to eat and drink with his family, not with strangers. And certainly not with unclean sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes. The way Jesus chose to live his life was absolutely shocking. And he was consistent in his mission of including the excluded right up to the very end. Dying on the cross, he invited an outcast, a thief specifically, to join him in paradise. In all of his actions, and in stories like seeking the lost sheep and seeking the lost coin and the lost son, in all of this, Jesus was forming a new family composed of those who had difficulty fitting in with their human families.

How do you feel about your family? Do you have ambivalent feelings toward your family? Have you suffered untold damage from your family that you’re left to deal with? Or perhaps you’re one of those rare people who felt completely loved and nurtured by your family with no family baggage that you’ve carried into adulthood. (If you are, I’d like to meet you! I have yet to find a person like this anywhere, although I believe they may exist somewhere.) Well, no matter what your relationship with your family is like, Jesus would say that one thing is true about every single human family, including yours. It is entirely too small!

When we get together at Holy Trinity on Sunday mornings, we acknowledge that. The chief act of our worship is a family meal with everyone around the table, the Sunday dinner we call Holy Communion. It’s a family gathering as God intended family to be.

To be a part of God’s family, you must be willing to be adopted, by an all-new, all-inclusive, barrier-breaking family. You must be able to let go of your propensity to go it alone in the world and become connected to a family much larger and demanding than the one you were born into. As Willimon says, “You must join us at the table, addressing some of the most sinful, often difficult-to-bear rascals as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’, just because Jesus loves them to death.”

You can see why, when the Jesus movement got going, baptism, as the rite of Christian initiation, was so radical. Not only did it signify everything that water means – cleansing and birth, death and resurrection, renewal and life – but baptism also meant adoption. Becoming a Christian meant having your life taken over by Jesus, and being joined to a family bigger and even more challenging than your human family.

Family values? Well, maybe not the family values some Christians espouse. But, family values, yes. Family values, Jesus-style. And every time the family of God gathers for Holy Communion, or hot dogs and ice cream, or serves up soup to the homeless in our streets. Every time the family gathers, we’ll know we’re Jesus’ family if the world looks at us and asks: “How can you possibly eat with people like that!?”

1 comment:

Heather said...

Your first paragraph made me hold my breath...that was an amazing way to describe exactly why the whole marriage amendment situation was so ludicrous.

Glad you had friends to let you know that it was okay to be in a funk. It totally IS okay! If we were happy and chipper all the time then we wouldn't be human, would we?

Definitely plan on visiting you guys this week. When I work nights, it's more convenient to go to New Life, but I'd love to come and see your sermons!