Family Letters

A sermon 7 June 2015 – 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (An infant Baptism Sunday!)

A reading from the gospel according to Mark 3:20-35. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Then Jesus went home. And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Admittedly, this is not the best text for a day like today. Here we have a baptism of a beautiful little boy who has been born into a wonderfully loving family and we’re hearing Jesus kinda casting aside his own biological family. As Jesus is going around Galilee healing those others wouldn’t touch. Calling regular ole’ folks to come follow in the ways of the reign of God he is announcing. Saying that God’s favor is with those who suffer. Even breaking Sabbath rules as he’s trying to let folks know that in him the feast has begun! Then, early in his ministry, he’s reported as going home. Who would have thought that there – by his own mother and brothers and sisters, he’d be told to get back in line. We may understand that they were just afraid for the reputation and life of one they loved. But their seeking to talk sense into him shows his biological family is as confused as the next that the Spirit at work in him is of God – not another. He must be so very disappointed that not even his mother and siblings can recognize the difference. So that when they persist in pushing their way through the crowd to get close to him, at least according to the text – maybe it just didn’t get recorded that he finally went out to speak with Mary and his family. But according to the text, he proclaims that his true family are those right there with him. Seeking healing, opened to hearing, wanting to know how best to live according to God’s rule of love. “Here are my mother and my brothers!” he’s reported as saying. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). If we want to build up the connections in our biological families, we will not find Jesus’ support of that here.

The last thing I want to have happen today is for little Daniel, who is about to be brought forward by his loving mother and father that they might make the promises of Christian discipleship for him. At least for now until he’s old enough to claim Christ’s saving and sending love for himself. We don’t want him to absorb any kind of teaching today that gets between him and his family. We want to hold in balance the beauty of life together in a Christian biological family that will care for him at home and teach him the faith and the family of God here – his spiritual family of the church – that also will care for him and raise him up to God’s desires for his life. As that is part of what we celebrate today, listen to a few family letters. The first one goes like this:

Dear Church Family: It’s little Daniel here. We all know I can’t yet write, but if I could, here is what I would say to you as the family of God in which I am included, as my baptism shows today. So dear Church – which includes my mom and dad and big brother too. And while I’m at it, I might as well say this to those of my extended family who have come today who too are a part of God’s church, just not necessarily gathering here each week. So (as is said in the South) to all ya’ll: thank you! Thank you for welcoming me into this loving fellowship where young and old alike seek to worship and follow God. Thank you for supporting my mom, dad, and big brother as they made space for me in their hearts and home. I am so young and so small so that it might be easy to overlook my needs among you. God has put me here with you in order for me to begin to experience that unconditional love that is God in our midst. You can practice it – as will my mom and dad at home – so I will begin to feel it. . . . My little body is growing and taking in this world through you all each day. For the next several years as I continue to develop, you – my church family alongside my family at home – will be how I come to know God. How I come to trust and love and feel peace in my life. . . . Tend me well – even if it seems I’m too little to matter much, because you are setting the foundation for me to be able one day to say yes to God! To say: “Yes, God! I love you so very much and I want to use the gifts and abilities you have put in me in order to live a little bit more like Jesus each day – in order for the principles of your reign to be seen through me – things like grace and forgiveness and acceptance of all as those in whom the imprint of God can be seen.” . . . Every generation has its challenges – I’m not too young to know that. And I hope, church family, that you will remember mine. That I have been born into this great big, globally-interconnected world. Things are changing at the speed of light and babies like me have no idea what it all will look like just a few years from now when I start kindergarten. I’ve already heard of scary things like bullying on the playground and violence in schools and horrible storms and bitterly dividing fear. I need you to tell me the stories of God’s presence always with me so that I grow up secure in the love that never lets me go – no matter what I have to face in life. I need you to live the ways of God’s reign so that I will know that the other kinds of things I see which seek to hurt and destroy are NOT the ways or the will of the God who lives in us and wants us all to know we are one united family. I need you to pay attention to me and all the other boys and girls of this church and community. When I seem withdrawn, just hug me and ask me if everything is ok. When I’m acting out, sit with me until we’re both clear what I really need. Pray for me, please, and teach me to pray for you too as I get older. Be the kind of family that lets me know you always celebrate me, and support me, and accept me as I grow into whoever my little body, mind, and spirit will grow to be. Listen to me and love me – not just today when I’m all cute and cuddly, but in the years ahead when I’m a rambunctious elementary school boy and a rapidly changing puberty-stricken teen and a young man heading off into the world to find God’s place for me. Remember the promises you are making to me today so that I will be able to grow into one who can say for himself: “I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I reject the things that lead us away from God and with God’s help I seek to fulfill my calling as a disciple of Jesus Christ!” These are my wishes and words to you on this monumental day in my life with you, with the world, and with God!

At least, that’s what I imagine little Daniel would say to you today, his church home – and his biological family. . . . And because I’ve been listening to you all during my time as your interim pastor, I can imagine exactly what you’d say right back to little Daniel.

Dear Daniel Patrick – precious, precious child of God! We are SO excited to welcome you into this expression of God’s family! We are young and old alike – a few from each generation – and we seek to love one another and those beyond this membership as much as we love God. We practice grace here. We forgive. We start over. We are generous and we seek the justice – the just-enough-for-us-all, which is God’s desire for the world. We have so much to teach you about the grace of God and the ways of God’s Spirit in our lives. How we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. How we can face any challenge that comes to us collectively or in our individual lives back home because we are never alone – we have each other and we have God among us too. We want you to know that you are so very treasured by the great Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of it all! . . . O little Daniel, we look in your face and it is as if we can see the holiness of God. The purity of Christ. The joy of the Holy Spirit pulsing through each little finger and toe of your sweet body. We want to remember that every day. Not just today when life is new for you, but each day as you grow. And may we never forget that each step of your life, YOU have something to teach us too. How God lives through and experiences this world in you! . . . We wish all the chaos, trouble, and difficulty of life in this world were not here and never, ever would come to touch you. But we know; we all know the challenges of the living of these days. The sadnesses that come when you open wide your heart to love in a world that is not perfect. The fear that can get under your skin when you live by what your eyes can see instead of what God’s Spirit in and among us can do. But o the joy too! The beauty of this gift we are given called life! May you never forget – and may we, and your parents, and brother, and whole extended family never let you forget to cherish each glorious breath of this journey of life. To enjoy the ways Christ lives in you. To be courageous and ready to pass along all that you will learn in the adventure of life! . . . On this very important day for us all, our prayer for you is a life filled with peace, joy, and love. Brimming with the hope we have in God. The never-ending possibilities known to us because of our resurrecting LORD of Life! . . . Savor each step, little Daniel! And thanks be to God! For we cannot wait to see it all unfold!

I think it’s safe to say, that’s just a fraction of the hopes and dreams we as God’s people have for this fresh little one created, redeemed, and sustained each day by God! . . . May God make it all so!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen!

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

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