July 25, 2021 New Bridges: To Family, by Pastor David
Ephesians 3:14-21 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of God’s glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to the One who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Will you take a moment in silence with me? noticing God’s life in our own, realizing that we are part of God’s family.
July 25, 2021 New Bridges: to Family
The bridge behind the church continues to evolve slowly. I met the new priest from Our Mother of Good Council a few weeks ago - Father Joe, and I told him that we appreciated the bridge being built between us. This bridge is growing in symbolic significance through this sermon series - as a bridge between faith groups, a bridge to a new time beyond the virus, and this week a new bridge to family.
You all know how much I appreciate my family. It seems like I talk about them most weeks in sermon examples and stories. We learn who we are in our families. Our families shape us for better or worse. We are loyal to our families to a fault, defending their idiosyncrasies and strangeness in our own lives. We say, “Blood is thicker than water” understanding that maxim as declaring our basic ties and loyalties belong to family. Every time one of my parent’s birthday’s roles around, I can count on one of my brother’s to note the birthday by saying, “Happy birthday to the best father ever” or mother. We usually feel, all of us that our particular family, our particular tribe, community, state, country, is the best. We are loyal to our team, the team of our city or region. We are loyal to the ones who loved and love us. It just makes sense to us.
Even though my brother and sister-in-law refuse to get vaccinated, I love them and I wish them the best. Of course, I wish they would get vaccinated, but in some ways, that concern makes me pay special attention to them - in my prayers and in my phone calls. It does make me realize and remember that families are not automatic, not always the easiest relationships. If blood is thicker than water, why are family relationships sometimes hurtful and difficult?
I’ve been thinking about family ties the last couple of weeks in preparation for my vacation when we -inevitably - visit family, and also in response to this passage. It opens with the author saying “For this reason, I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” In English, we miss the wordplay in this passage, which in the original refers to Father “pater” and family “patria.” The names are literally related in the original.
For early Christians this understanding was essential and revelatory. Their definition of family was expanding. They already had a bigger understanding than we do. “Patria” implied extended family, or tribe - not just a few people in a nuclear family. And early Christians felt that Jesus had expanded the tribes of the Hebrew family and included Gentiles. Early Christians sensed the parenthood of God expanding to include all people who knew Jesus, all people who claimed the Living God in their hearts.
That’s what this passage is about. The writer is praying that, “out of God’s glorious riches God may strengthen you with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” In other words, these new relationships are more than an intellectual understanding that so and so is your sister or your brother. The prayer in the letter to the Ephesians is that they will find their hearts moved by a bigger mind or a bigger heart than theirs, transforming their lives and expanding their family and who is in it.
The writer of Ephesians knows that this is not original language to Christians - They stole it from Caesar who says condescendingly that he is everybody’s Daddy. But the emperor doesn’t think some people belong in that family and simply defines them as not human. anybody who is human is part of my family. Ephesians is arguing with that exclusion and says we all belong, because God is our creator, our parent, our daddy.
We are such an individualistic country that we need this transformative understanding. I read about a study this week that measured attitudes in countries all over the world on different scales. One of the scales was individualism vs. community. The study found that the US is the most individualistic country in the world - by a lot, an outlier in the statistics. Our religious beliefs have transformed and reinforced our belief in individualism as well.
We talk about individual salvation and individual souls going to heaven and it reinforces a belief that we are all in this for ourselves and not for each other - not for the whole, the tribe, the family. This kind of individualistic thinking gives billionaires permission to spend their billions on their own personal whim to go to outer space instead of on a collective good and a collective need.
It’s immoral, and all of us American folks are infected with this kind of thinking. We all have trouble understanding how deeply we are connected with each other, through a common Creator, a common Parent. We define our family as quite circumscribed compared to our ancestors in faith. They knew a much broader family connection.
I heard a poet speak this week about her work. She is a transgendered woman and the interviewer asked about her family. The poet answered that she is still not able to speak to her biological family after years of estrangement because of horrible things they said to her and ways they treated her in the past. But she said that she and her husband have found new relationships and have formed an extended family of caring and depth that has made up for the pain and suffering in her past.
35 Then she said something that really got me thinking. She said that she had discovered that the maxim “Blood is thicker than water” actually originally in the 12th century was phrased, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. Obviously when you say it like that it turns the maxim on its head.
I’m not sure if that phrasing of the maxim goes back to the twelfth century, but I do know that soldiers who have gone through hard times together understand the phrase that way when they talk about being blood brothers or blood sisters.
And this was also the understanding in the first century as we see from our passage today. As the early Christians embraced each other as family in the midst of the oppression of the empire, they found new brothers and sisters among Jewish and Gentile, enslaved and free, men and women.
And today, we may come to know this truth in our gut as we make covenant with each other. We really are all the same stuff, created from stardust. We are one family and we all belong.
Maybe saying we are family with everybody in practice is hard to get our head around - especially saying Jeff Bezos is my brother - or the guy playing music really loud outside my window at 5 am this morning. We know people as family when we are in covenant as we are when we baptize little ones like Dylan - as we are going to do in October. We welcome people as family as we make covenant with other religious communities and find brothers and sisters in the Jewish and Muslim community.
39 We make covenant with each other in the church as we find our hearts and our families enlarged by caring for each others children, parents and grandparents, and as we vow to love each other. We cannot do it on our own. We only do it by being rooted and grounded in the love and care of God
Responsive Hymn: 447 Our Parent, By Whose Name