It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I am passionate about my family. Always have been. Always will be. I have always had a grasp of the fact that, according to the biblical witness all the way to modern social sciences, we are made for each other. We are meant to be in relationship. We are meant for family.
The earliest witness of our faith from our Jewish roots places the locus for worship squarely in the family. Temple worship is meant for a deeper encounter with the divine, and the synagogue is simply a place where people gather (the literal meaning of synagogue: we gather). The family, however, is the central place of worship and spiritual formation. It is where we tell the story of our family … our values … our people … our faith. In the ancient Jewish tradition, if it didn’t happen in the family, it just didn’t happen.
Jesus took the notion of family and broadened it. He saw everyone as his family. The gospels of Mark and Matthew including an interesting encounter between Jesus and his family. His teaching is getting a bit edgy. He is thought by some to be a little out of control, and his mother and brothers were outside wanting to speak with him … perhaps even to take him home. Jesus apparently did not go outside to speak with them, but instead spoke only to the messenger:
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)
Jesus will teach his disciples to call God “Abba!” A childlike name like Dada or Mama. He is redefining the family. The family is still the central place where we deepen our faith, but family is more than just our biological family. It is a series of relationships that connect us in ways that are far more intimate than we normally imagine. This is about a deeper understanding of family, and like siblings in a family, it comes through a connection with a common parent.
This is why I use the term family in talking about church. It is about us being a church family. Having a common God who unites us, we come together, not just as passing acquaintances, but as brothers and sisters.
In our church family at Wellspring, we are spending the Easter Season (the 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday) talking about the Beloved Community proclaimed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was Dr. King who spoke of a community where ALL were loved and respected. This is a community where justice reigns supreme and where, according to the teachings of Jesus, the last are first and the first are last … where the one who is the servant of all becomes the master of all … where the poorest are the richest. This is a place where we fulfill the greatest calling of our shared humanity.
We live in a world and so often participate in a culture where it is easy to dehumanize others. We dehumanize people whose color or ethnic identity is different from our own. We dehumanize people who speak different languages or who have different customs. We dehumanize people who have a different experience of the divine than we do. And throughout history, the male-dominated cultures have had a horrible tendency to dehumanize women. Sadly, this dehumanization continues today in all its ugly forms.
As a Christian pastor, however, I am calling us to task. If we are TRULY Christian, then dehumanization of the other is not possible. To be truly Christian is to see all others as our brothers and sisters. It is to see that we are all equally part of the human family. It is to see that we are all people deserving of respect and love and justice. It is to understand that, if we are to find ourselves deserving anything, it is because we are those who find our place, not at the head of the table, but in service to those who are the weakest … the ones whose power has been stripped from them.
This is about the rehumanization of our world … a task that requires courage!
This season of Eastertide is very important to me. Interestingly, the number 50 (as in the number of days of the Easter season) is important. In ancient Jewish culture, there was something that was supposed to happen after seven consecutive periods of seven years. After 49 years, during the 50th year, all debts were forgiven, all prisoners were freed, all land returned to its original state. The slate was wiped clean and there was a new start. It was called the Jubilee Year!
The Easter season is the time when we are challenged to realize (to make real) the Jubilee gift of Easter. All debts are freed. Justice is restored. Life is reimagined. Hope is reborn. This is the gift that comes to us when we rehumanize our world … when we discover, to our delight, that we are all part of the same family!