Jan. 31, 2016 sermon
New Breed of Family
In Montreal, I have friend who invites a lot of friends for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and St Jean-Baptist Day (a Quebec holiday). He’s from Saskatchewan, went to Montreal for school and never went back. He doesn’t have a good relationship with his parents but it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s gay (because he grew up in the United Church and his parents are not homophobic). So every holiday, he would invite his friends, mostly gay and/ or not very close to their family and celebrate together. My first Christmas in Montreal, I went to his party and met some of his friends. With people who mostly don’t have a very supportive family, WE felt like a family; after all, it was with us that they were celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving!
Being a part of the LGBT community in Montreal taught me to broaden the meaning of the word “family”. A lot of members of this community don’t have a good relationship with their biological family for an obvious reason. My friend from Lebanon whom I am marrying this summer to another friend of ours is one of the many people from outside who came to Canada seeking the basic human rights to love whomever they want and to pursue happiness. One of the many reasons we bonded with each other was that our own cultures don’t foster diversity. Although we both have loving families back in our motherlands, in this foreign land that we made our home, we became family to each other. Besides, I’m not only marrying this couple; when they get a baby, I will be the godmother! Then I would really be a part of their family!
In today’s gospel story, Jesus has a very different experience than in last Sunday’s story. In last Sunday’s story, Jesus goes into a synagogue and reads the Isaiah text; and at the beginning of today’s text, people “spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words, that came from his mouth” (v. 22). They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” They are amazed that the son of their acquaintance Joseph would be so gracious and wise, but for some reason, I’m also imagining these people giving each other this look (look of suspicion); well it’s just me, I guess. But in any case we can imagine how difficult it was for Jesus to preach in his own hometown. In the United Methodist Church in the US, they have a policy of not appointing a pastor to their home parish. I mean, how can you minister to the people who saw you grow up; crying, being disciplined, maybe peeing your pants as a child, or go through a rebellious phase as an adolescent? It must be a burden!
After last Sunday’s story, people were amazed at him when he preached about God sending him to bring good news to the poor and the oppress; but in today’s story, they got mad at him when he quoted the stories of Elijah being sent to a widow in Sidon, and of Elisha being sent to Naaman the Syrian. Shocking! How dare this boy from our own town come to us and preach about God favoring the Gentiles over the Israelites?! Traitor! Well, too bad for the Israelites who felt superior just because they were born Jews, but God is telling all of us through Jesus that they are not favored just because of who they are. Some other gospel texts witness to this by conveying the message that it’s not the birth that is important but how faithfully they serve God who chose them. Remember the sermon of John the Baptist in Luke’s gospel? He says, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Don’t begin to say to yourself, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones”. To translate this message to our context, “Christian is as Christian does”.
The Jesus that we meet in the gospel texts not only gets rejected in his hometown but also teaches an unconventional concept of family. When his biological family comes to see him when he’s teaching the crowd, he says, “Family? What family? Here is my family; those who do the will of God is my family”. This is a paraphrase of the scene in Luke 8:19-21. It seems kind of cold of him, doesn’t it? I can just imagine his mother Mary going, “What kind of an insolent child did I raise?” Anyway, in the end we shouldn’t focus on these wandering thoughts that probably come from cultural misunderstanding, but listen to Jesus preaching about this new concept of family.
This new concept of family is what we need to serve the world as the followers of Jesus. If we only think our legal family is our family, why would we care about other people who are not related to us? This selfishness is not at all what Christianity is about. As people of God and of Jesus, we have a different/ a more universal concept of who we consider family. In today’s Jeremiah text, young Jeremiah is chosen and anointed by God as a prophet. God says to him, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer. 1:5). As people of God, we belong to God before we belong to our earthly family. We are family to each other outside our families because Christianity is a community-oriented religion.
We become family to each other when we get baptized; this is the initiation ceremony of becoming the “Jesus family”. At baptism and when we renew our baptismal vows, it is like we are being born anew. We are born into our new “Jesus family” when we are baptized and whenever we get a new start, usually at the beginning of the Christian Year, which is now. It seems like we have been talking about this “beginning” stuff for a long time! But don’t worry, next Sunday is the last time this year we will talk about being at the beginning of our journey. But meanwhile, we are still at the beginning of our Christian journey, the Season of Epiphany. Today, let’s have an epiphany about us being formed into a new family not based on blood relations. Imagine yourself being born again, baptized in the river like the old times. You sink into the water as an old self, and when you emerge from the water like a phoenix would from the ashes, you are a new person! You are born again as a child of this new universal “Jesus family”!
I don’t like the phrase “born again” a lot because conservative Christians tend to abuse it; but in an understanding that we have about God transforming us to become better “lovers” as opposed to better “haters”, I will use this phrase. Today, and for the remainder of this Season of Epiphany, let us be born again to start a new Christian journey, as someone who has just been baptized. Think of us as a newly born children who are starting a new life journey; because that’s what we should do as Christians every year and every day. This Epiphany, let us be born again into a new family formed by God and Jesus. You and I are family now. Our local and global neighbors are our family too. In that knowledge let us start a new life together as a new family. And of course, if we are family, we should act like one and take care of each other. I know we all know that; just reminding ourselves. So let’s go out into the world and act like family. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim