The Sacred Story this week comes from Paul's letter to the people living in the big metropolis of Ephesus - read the full story here.
Families are a lot of things. Families are where we find love, full of surprises, messy, lumpy. Families are a refuge, a choice, a soft place to land. Families are authentic, real, difficult, given and chosen. Families are complicated. Even the definition of family is hard to pin down exactly. Are families defined by blood and genetics? Are they defined by proximity as in…people who live together? Are they defined by the nature of the relationship?
And so, of course, there as many kinds of families as there are definitions. There are elite families that belong to social clubs so prestigious and exclusive, that you can’t even buy your way in. It may seem easy to rag on them from the outside, but they can be communities of generosity and support too. And there are families that scrape by an existence or whose names will never be on a fancy plaque. There are families that either rally together beautifully in tough times or splinter under the stress, or do a little of both.
Families in the bible are no exemption to this complicated dynamic. It seems like every story is one of siblings who betray each other, parents who manipulate their kids, and marriages that struggle. And among them are also stores of families that forgive and reconcile, families that heal, families that empower, and families that bless.
The namesake verse of this community, Kindred, comes from the divine reminder of the Psalms, “how good and pleasant it is when kindred, when family, dwell together in unity.” The holy hope is that families are ideally communities of comfort, in which we are loved unconditionally and encouraged. That this might be for us a web of people that we are tied to even when we don’t get along, one we can keep coming back to, and thus a relationship that helps us to grow.
The reality is that, for better or worse, our families have a lot to do with who we are. They provide an inheritance for us that may or may not include grandma’s jewelry box, but we definitely will always have a part of her spicy spirit. They give us our medical history and our habits – from our faithful work ethic, how comfortable we are or are not in talking about our feelings, our sense of humor, the way we talk and the phrases and words we use, to hereditary disease, addictions, and cycles of abuse. They shape us, even when we’re not immediately around each other.
We may become separated from each other for a variety of reasons. Families sometimes get broken. We experience death, rejection, and harm at the hands of those who are supposed to provide love and protection for us. Even divorce that is ultimately a choice for long-term health, can cause confusion and hurt. And sometimes, we have to know that it’s ok to distance ourselves from relatives and friends who only cause us pain. Earthly families are sometimes strained.
Paul is writing to a people who were deeply aware of these familial complexities. The family was the heart of life in the ancient world, a central part of culture and personal well-being. Families were the safety net for the elderly, the widowed, children and the sick. You relied on your family to take care of you because no one else in society would. And so, several generations would live together under one roof the same way many people still live in other cultures.
Some of the people who heard the story of Jesus, were filled with passion and their whole household was baptized together. Others who chose to proclaim that Christ is Lord, were rejected by their families who just wished they would worship Caesar like “normal” people. Some deeply loved and cared for their families, but had to leave them and emigrate in order to find work in the big cities like Ephesus. Family is complicated.
It is then vastly more profound to hear a Gospel that is told in terms of familial relationship. The family of God is one of radical inclusion and deeply nurturing relationship. It is a family where the broken parts are made whole, and the old wounds find healing. It is a family rooted in love and forgiveness and redemption. And you are a part of it.
And this is not by accident. It’s not as if we stumbled into a good party and any second now someone will come up to us and say, “how did you get in here?” No, Paul says that we are chosen by God, adopted into this sacred household. God chose us – not after God saw that we were “good enough,” but before the foundation of the world.
Whether our families are made up of the people who share our genetics, or the children entrusted to us by others, or friends who become family or all of the above, whether they are large or small, near or far, functional or dysfunctional; we will always belong to a family that is holy and good, that is everything we dared hope a family could be and more. We are beloved, and forgiven - free of sin, and blessed to the same degree as God’s own child, Jesus Christ.
And what we inherit from this family is not just history or habits, not only a religious tradition and rituals or good values to live by. This inheritance isn’t stuff, but identity and relationship. It is the honor of being publically and universally claimed as a part of God’s lavish life-giving household. The thing passed down to us, to become our own to cherish, is the promised Holy Spirit with all its power and mystery. What a gift! What a wonder!
Blessed be the God and Parent of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the ideal parent to us and even to our children. Bless be Christ, our ideal sibling and friend, who has blessed with every spiritual blessing. Amen.