Sermon May 12, 2024

To start this morning, I want to share a story with you that Rev Nora Vedress, a United Church minister from PA, shared with me this week as we were thinking about the service this morning. Nora writes: “Families are funny things” at least that is what my mother used to say.   She’d hear about families doing this that or another, perhaps behaving poorly, treating each other badly, or making questionable decision, and she’d shake her head and say, “families are funny things.” For a long time, I thought she was just being judgemental. After all my mother was, well still is, an opinionated person. But the older I get I have to come understand that her attitude was less one of judgement and more of bafflement, like she truly didn’t understand how families could be so different.

You see, Nora goes on, my mother was an only child born to older parents, and her mother, my grandmother, died when she was twelve. So, my mother was raised by my grandfather who himself was adopted. Consequently, they had a very small family. It was just him, and her, and a couple of old aunts. The concept of a large family was utterly foreign to her.

The closest experience she had was at the neighbour’s house across the street. They were Catholic and had 10 or 12 kids. My mother often found herself playing with them over the years but there was one evening that she still talks about to this day. She was having a particularly grand time. The laughs, the games, the noise, the chaos and mess, it was all amazing to her. Even before her mother’s death her house was always quiet, her parents were readers not much for mess or noise, so the neighbour’s house felt like another world.

After the excitement of the day, she was about to head for home when her friend’s mother came out their front door. With a holler she started rounding all the kids up. Turns out it was bath day. She shooed everyone inside and started dumping kids one after another, each one complaining ferociously, into the tub by the coal fire, my mother included. All attempts at protesting that she didn’t need a bath, that she didn’t actually live there, that she should probably be getting home, went unheard. It went so far, according to my mother, that she was eventually put into a nightgown and tucked into bed with five other kids… all of whom found the entire thing highly entertaining.

It wasn’t until my grandfather came knocking at the door looking for her that my mother’s true identity was restored. As they walked hand in hand back home and she was tucked into her own bed, quiet, alone, and happy, I imagine my grandfather shook his head and whispered to her “families are funny things.”

Today we honour Mother’s Day so it makes sense that Nora was thinking about her mom, but in service today we are marking was is called Christian Family Sunday. It’s a day where we are called to honour and give thanks not only for our mothers, but for family in general. I read this week that “family is family, whether it’s the one you start out with, the one you end up with, or the family you gain along the way,” (Unknown). As a person who had a biggish extended family, with several aunts and uncles and cousins etc., and then who moved away from city and province that held the majority of my familial connections, I have come to understand how true this statement really it.  There is the family that you ‘re born to, and then there’s the family that you acquire along the way. I’ve been particularly luck to collect chosen family members to help fill the little gaps being away from biological family can leave.

When we were planning this weeks’ service and discovered that the lectionary texts suggested for today simply wouldn’t do, we started looking for other Biblical texts that would better suit our needs. We discovered images of God as a mother, nursing her children and bounding them on her knee; images of God as a father, present and kind whom Jesus referred to as “Abba” which is “Daddy” when translated into English. But the more we thought about it the more we felt drawn to the power of the entire family. And how this faith family that we have been gifted by God is, according to our reading from Ephesians this morning, “rooted and grounded in love.” (Eph 3:17)

The Letter to the Ephesians is different than all the other letters attributed to Paul the Apostle.  While not likely written by him personally it would have been penned by one of his closest disciples, a common and expected occurrence at the time. What sets this letter apart is that the people to whom it is written don’t seem to be facing any sort of trial or tribulation, nor are they needing any correction or reprimand like most of the other folks Paul was writing to. Rather from it’s outset, this beautiful text points to a group of people that is pulling together, overcoming racial and societal boundaries, and building a community of faith in Christ’s name. We can see this in the terms of connection that are woven through the first few chapters.

Words like Adoption (Eph 1:5), inheritance (1:15, 18), one new humanity (2:15) Reconciliation (2:16,) members of the household of God (2:19) and perhaps my favourite, “in God the whole structure (the community of Christ) is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God (2: 21-22). How wonderful to know, to hear those words, that a group of people who come together as the body of Christ in the world grows into a dwelling place for God. That tells me that you and I gathered here today, we are God’s home. I’m not sure I’ve heard anything that beautiful and that hope filled in a really long time.

As there is nothing of note requiring significant improvement in Ephesus the author of the letter moves instead into a time of prayer. Now, I’m not sure how often you’ve heard someone pray for you but as Sally Brown, associate professor of preaching and worship at Princeton Seminary notes: “It can be faintly embarrassing to eavesdrop on prayer – a little like listening in on someone’s personal phone conversation. But prayer on our behalf can be a revelation – about ourselves and about God.”

And so, gathered here this morning we hear this ancient prayer, lifted for a community of faith that walked the earth generations ago, a group of people who thought it would be a great idea to keep this letter safe and pass it on, so that people like us might embrace its hope and its intention. Perhaps they too knew that families were funny things and that we would need to be reminded of what we really are… a dwelling place for God.

So, this funny family of ours is reminded of the source of our strength, the importance of feeding our faith, the necessity of serving others, the requirement that we allow grace and mercy to be priorities in this life we share, Even when we disagree, or behave poorly, or when we are tired, overwhelmed, hungry or fed up.  Even when we mourn the passage of time and how things aren’t the way they used to be, what is revealed to us in this letter is we are family,

When the author, whoever they were, wrote the beautiful words of this letter to the early church in Ephesus, the idea of mutual love and care in a community was revolutionary. Rachel Held Evans said, “it is hard to recognize it now, but [early church leaders like] Peter and Paul were introducing the first Christian family to an entirely new community, a community that transcends the rigid hierarchy of human institutions, a community in which […] all are free.”[1] What an incredible inheritance to be people who are rooted and grounded in holy love rather than held in place by the faulty structures that we humans have assembled.

Scott Hozze wrote: “At the bright center of the universe there is love. Abounding, unimaginative love. It is the source of all we know. It is the deepest answer to our hardest questions. It is our destiny. Paul wants the Ephesians and everyone to be filled up to the brim of as much of this very love as we can manage to perceive.

This morning, we celebrate Christian Family Sunday and that can mean a lot things to a lot of different people. There’s no one cookie cutter for what a family should look like, and what a gift that is! But at its core, whether isn’t the family we’re born with or the family we choose, the family that we wander into without realizing it or the family that we intentionally seek out and build, God’s dream for humanity is that we would be a community that is rooted and grounded in holy love. And that, my friends, is my feverant prayer for what this church family is like when we are at our very best – a place where God’s very presence dwells amidst the ordinary, the beautiful and at times, the chaotic mess that we can be at times, as long as we are grounded in love.   Amen,

[1] Rachel Held Evans A Year of Biblican Womanhood, p.218