My encounter with a family of cardinals as I was working in our church landscape reminded me that families come in many different forms in nature. We human have the most complex family structures, which are necessary for the nurture of our children who have a long adolescence. The basic biblical pattern is that of a life-long monogamous union between husband and wife. We affirm that sexual union is for pleasure, and closeness, and procreation. Still, we notice that family patterns kept changing throughout the Bible and that our present model of nuclear families in not found in the Bible. Our families face multiple challenges in our postmodern world. Christian family values that respond to these challenges need to be more than a moralistic parsing of right and wrong. Our focus is on the good, the true, and the beautiful—that which brings life, joy, and flourishing communities and respects the dignity and worth of each person.
Remembering our mothers on Mother’s Day is little more than sentimental kitsch if we fail to recognize the crucial role than women serve in creating flourishing communities. Empowering women, therefore, changes the world. This sermon also opens my series on human sexuality in response to our recognition that we’re not all on the same page with respect to what it means to welcome and include our LGBT sisters and brothers. We begin with the recognition than sex is an integral part of God’s good creation. For our discernment, we will use the standard Christian sources of authority that begin with the Bible and include reason-science, tradition, and experience.
Small churches are wonderful places for creating relationships that enhance our lives. But that takes time, which is in short supply as we find ourselves constantly multitasking in our American rat-race. Young families especially feel the squeeze. Jesus’ disciples most likely felt similar pressures that led to the decision to pull an all-nighter fishing on the sea of Tiberius. After a demoralizing night of not even catching enough for a decent breakfast, let alone some to sell, they meet a stranger on the beach (who they eventually recognize as Jesus) who tells them how to catch a net full of fish and invites them to breakfast on the beach. It’s a heartening story of grace and provision when we feel that things couldn’t get much worse.
The recent attacks and mass killings at houses of worship have created lots of anxiety. How do we respond as communities of faith? The Fairfax County Clergy and Leadership Council recently held an event where we addressed this, and people from the police department gave advice on tightening security. Sure, we will want to take prudent safety measures, but living in a climate of fear only plays into the hands of those who perpetuate violence. We will also want to take proactive measures in working for peace in the way of Jesus. One such initiative was the Interfaith Friendship Walk in the City of Fairfax that our church recently participated in.
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he stops and weeps over the city because they do not know the things that make for peace. Jesus also weeps for us and our country. Jesus models the way of peace with his humble, servant leadership. This reflects the heart of God and ushers in a dramatic cosmic shift that involves the whole creation. The very stones would cry out if his followers would remain silent and stop celebrating.
Like a congregation of barnyard geese, we can regale ourselves with stories of how far our ancestors had flown. But such remembering becomes perverse if it reinforces our present complacency and keeps us from being alert to present realities, being responsive to new opportunities, and from the potential for growth into yet-unrealized possibilities.
Some religious leaders were accusing Jesus of hanging out with some dodgy characters. Relating to such people as objects of our evangelism or social concern is one thing but partying and eating with them indicates an unsavory social acceptance of them. Jesus counters with three parables of rejoicing and celebrating because the lost has been found. Like the prodigal son, perhaps we all need to leave home in order to find ourselves.
Child dedication services are special because blessing a child puts us in touch with a divine mystery. The divine, which we name as “God” is not something that can be proved with airtight, rational arguments. There’s always a gulf between the divine mystery and our limited ability to comprehend and explain. Instead, as theologian Bryan Stone explains, “When truth and goodness are connected to beauty, faith comes alive.”
We need to come clean about the ways we have used scripture to silence and disempower those who have been abused. Part of the problem is our reluctance to admit that we and our people can be abusers. Being victimized doesn’t strip us of all power. As Denise Anderson, coordinator for racial and intercultural justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, says, “Even at the receiving end of someone’s bad behavior, I can control my own response. I still have agency.” Jesus’ teaching on loving my enemies is about using my agency in such situations. And if I’m the one who has done the slapping, it’s about putting myself at the mercy of the person I injured and how that person will use her or his agency.
All of creation is connected. The Bible is full of images from creation that reveal our relationship with God. Jeremiah contrasts a desert shrub with a well-watered tree to depict depending on mere mortals versus depending on God. We can, however, turn that image on its head, and use the desert shrub as a powerful image of trusting in God during times of adversity. The blessings and woes in Jesus’ “sermon on the plain,” with their stark contrasts between poor—rich, hungry—full, weeping—laughing, rejected—accepted, teach us that God meets us at the edge of human possibility.