Being God’s Family
July 26 “Being God’s Family” Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11, 45b; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
According to my Dad this, this picture was taken in the Little River near Franklin, Tennessee, when my grandmother was probably 10 years old. Can you guess who she is? I vaguely remember a picture of her in my grandparents’ home that was a collage of sorts, her picture as an adult with industrial, city designs. Even at 10, her features were distinctive, although by the time I knew her, age had changed them. I wish I knew the stories of the other people, especially the severe looking preacher and the photography, who apparently was also standing in the river. Everyone is looking at the camera except my grandmother, who stands on the far left, looking off somewhere. What is she thinking? She doesn’t seem to be too involved in the occasion; her expression vague. This is the same person I knew when she was a much older person, who would tap her cheek with her finger when I would arrive at her house, a mobile home by that time, and exclaim: “Give me some sugar!” (i.e. “give me a kiss!”)
I had to look up Franklin online since I have never even been in that part of the country, but is a major starting point for our family, which migrated from there to Oklahoma when Indian lands were made available for purchase, and then Westward after WWII as they searched for employment, eventually settling in Oregon. Franklin is a pretty city in a beautiful land but was once the site of a decisive battle in the Civil War. By the time my generation came into being, much of the history and customs of the area were gone, the traditions, sayings, and stories fading. My grandmother was said to often cling to her Bible in her last years, after she had slipped into dementia. I don’t remember her ever speaking about her faith, or going to church, but somehow her upbringing lingered after she had lost much of her cognitive abilities.
Even though we often are not aware if their influence, our families play a huge part in who we are, for good and for bad. We can never fully separate ourselves from the past, no matter how much we may try. The underlying assumptions and learned behaviors continue even when the surface trappings are long gone. Actual events may fade from memory, but how we deal with events and each other, learned from our families, continues. Such behaviors can be traced back decades, even centuries; for my family, to groups in what is now the UK (specifically the “Scots-Irish”) who migrated to the US in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Whether we deny them or accept them, are families determine who we are as individuals.
We often compare our church families to our families of origin, with good and bad results. There are some similarities, and many differences. Both are supposed to places of acceptance and belonging, but too often they are not. Both can be places of the deepest love, but also the source of the deepest hurts. Our Scripture lessons for today speak to the family of God, which we may think of as the eternal family, including the characters in these stories that happened so long ago. I’m not sure if distinguishing between “our” church family and the family of God is helpful or not, perhaps we should just consider “our” church family as a branch of the larger family of God.
Our Gospel reading talks about how the family of God should live, seeking the Kingdom of God and working to make it a reality for all people. Here is Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52:
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
The Kingdom of God starts small in our eyes, like a seed or some yeast, but when properly sowed and tended (shared with others and allowed to take root in our hearts) it grows into something beyond our wildest dreams. It is something of greater value than any material possession, for which we should give all that we have to obtain it. The Kingdom is not something up in the clouds where we shall go someday, it is here in our midst, enrobed in God’s grace and guidance and care of the Spirit, not made up of things and church buildings but the people in whom the Spirit dwells.
However, we don’t enter into the family of God and then sit around waiting for Christ to return, we get busy. We nurture the people of God, helping them grow into fuller disciples of Christ, becoming better equipped to transform our world. To differing degrees we are all scribes, studying Scripture in order to wisely live our lives and share God’s wisdom with others. Jesus reminds us that we are to be good and faithful servants, for Judgement Day will come. As in our earthly families, we will make mistakes and hurt the members of the family of God. We will fail to bring into the family of God those who are sent our way. We must stay active in sharing the Gospel and in conforming our lives to its message and instructions. On our own we will fail, but with the Spirit’s help we will have victory.
This is serious stuff, with eternal consequences, both good and bad, but Paul reminds us that the family of God has nothing to fear if we are faithful to God’s call. In Romans 8:26-39, Paul writes:
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are never promised in the Bible to have easy lives or to live without pain. But we can have blessed lives, claiming the love of God and the fulfillment of His promises even when we have hard lives and more than our share of sorrow. This earthly life is but short and temporary, God’s love is eternal and glorious. Nothing can separate us from that love if we can fight the good fight of faith and remain devoted to Jesus through hardship and disappointment. For most of us, the hard times usually help us to rely more on God and draw closer to Him, it’s during easy times that we get lazy and lose sight of Jesus in our lives. Mature discipleship grows from faithfulness at all times.
How many of you join me in declaring this to be a favorite Bible passage? God is with us always, and there are two major images that this passage provides. First, that nothing can separate us from God. We are forever wrapped in His arms, protected from harm. God loves us so much that His love separates us from anything that may seek to separate us from God. He joins us into an eternally family where we will always have a home. Nothing can separate us from the love of God!
Second, we are never alone, for the Holy Spirit dwells within us. When we are scared, confused, lost, angry, exhausted, or whatever life throws us, the Spirit is with us, praying for us the petitions we can’t yet put into words, comforting us, encouraging us. God knows us so well, as He should, since He created us, that he provides all that we need. We are part of His family, and He is ever providing for us and protecting us.
The Trinity is often referred to as a dance, as an intricate relationship making one entity, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit intertwine and form a most sacred family. We as followers of Jesus are invited to join in this dance, sharing God’s grace, passing on His love. We as individuals join together in this sacred dance twirling over the centuries, each a beloved member of God’s family.
O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
He is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generation