“Whose Family?” MCC Windsor, June 22 (Pentecost 2A)
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above the master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of the household!
“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your God’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before God in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before God in heaven.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Will you pray with and for me? God of our ancestors, give us the grace to hear your truth and wisdom in simple human words. Bless our speaking and our listening, may your truth and love shine like the sun through me, in spite of me. In all your names, amen.
Wow, Jesus sounds harsh here, doesn't he? Not peace, but conflict, even between members of a family. We are used to families--parents and their children, grandparents, aunts and uncles--being the focus of society. It was even more so in Jesus' day--the extended family was the main unit of society. Sons followed the craft or trade of their father; daughters married whoever their parents told them to; several generations of family lived together and shared a trade or a farm. If you lost your family or were thrown out of your family, you literally had nowhere to go, no means of support or income. At the same time, within your family you were guaranteed work and food and a home.
So for Jesus to suggest that his words, his message, will bring dissent within a family, disrupting the harmony and structure of a family, is very disturbing to his listeners. It does not hit home with the same power for us. The extended family, even the nuclear family, is not the basis of our economy or society any more. They are still important, but they are not the foundation, as they once were.
Some of us have not had very good relationships with our families. Maybe they rejected who we were, or our partner, or preferred not to discuss certain subjects with us. Or maybe they simply didn't know how to communicate very well or were dealing with substance abuse or other issues. For whatever reason, our parent, our sister, our brother, our child, our cousin, couldn't be what we needed from them. When we spoke our truth to them--whether it was, "Mom, I'm gay," or "Grandma, I will not come over and see you when you have been drinking," or "Chris, you are my brother, but I cannot watch you treat your children that way"--we were not heard, or we were ignored or spurned, and so we have had to draw back from them. We must always speak our truth, in whatever way is best for us, but sometimes that means alienating others who cannot or will not be open to truth. Looking at the reading for today, the truth Jesus means here is the truth of the gospel, the truth that God is love and cares for every human being, even the ones we don't, we can't bring ourselves to love. No matter who a person is, God loves them. Some people cannot accept that. They do not accept that God loves them in spite of their flaws, or that God loves people they disagree with, or that God loves people who act in ways they don't like. When that happens to you, when you are seen as someone God cannot love (which is impossible), sometimes all you can do is walk away. It does not mean you give up on them or that you hate them...it means you let go of trying to make them into a person that will behave differently, or you let go of the pain they cause you. You know they will give you pain, so you choose to not expose yourself to that pain again.
This, I think, is what Jesus is referring to. Sometimes, in order to be the full, whole person God intended us to be, we have to step away or back from people who are keeping us from that wholeness, or do not accept us or our truth--again, whether that truth is about us or them, sexuality or psychology, abuse or finances.
Our true family is found in the people who care for us as we are, accept us, flaws and all. They may try to remind us of our flaws--impatience, laziness, drama-mongering--but our mistakes and missteps do not cause them to stop loving us--and vice versa. Sometimes these true family members are found in our biological family, always in our chosen family. Wherever you find such people, treasure them. They may not stay in your life forever--the circumstances of life, time or even death may separate you from them--but while they are there, recognize them for the treasure they are. These are the people who in turn treasure you--as you are meant to be, your true, authentic self, not what others wish you were, or try to form you into. They are your true family.
In a larger sense, Jesus is calling us to live lives of integrity--to speak your truth, even when it isn't popular or when it will alienate you from people you love. It isn't easy--that's why he says we have to pick up that cross and carry it--and it is heavy and splintery and rough--but it bears the truth.
Hagar and Ishmael were sent away from their family, and pretty much abandoned in the desert. Sarah could not accept the truth--that Ishmael was also Abraham's son and no less deserving of a place in his household. And so Hagar and Ishmael had to leave that family, and find their own, make a family of choice, even if it was only the two of them, out in the desert, the greater world.
If we have to, we can do that too. When our biological family does not accept us, or chooses to behave in ways that are not healthy for us or for others--then we know it is time to create our own families of choice. I remember holidays when I was growing up, when friends of my older sisters who were in conflict with their families would come to spend Christmas or Easter or a July 4th picnic with us. Sometimes our chosen family is a blend of biological family and chosen family--the aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings who are supportive, and the friends we love who love us.
Speak your truth, whatever it may be, and if your family of origin cannot hear it, cannot accept it, then make a family that can accept you. We are all God's children, and all of us need to be part of a family--God's family. Find your place in God's family through the grace of those people who love you and accept you. And then you will be at home. In all God's names, amen.