The culture around us is celebrating Mothers Day today; the church is celebrating the Festival of the Christian Home. There’s an important difference, and the difference is about the difference between traditional family values and the values of the reign of God.
If you think Jesus supported traditional family values, think again. When the early church was coping with harsh persecution as a result of living the gospel, they recalled Jesus saying, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (Mark 13:12).
They found comfort knowing he had predicted what they experienced. From now on, he had said, because of what I’m ushering in, families “will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:53).
Apparently the seeds of division already existed in Jesus’ own family. They organized an intervention to save him from himself, by force if necessary, when people thought he had gone out of his mind (Mark 3:20-22), and when they tried to separate him from the crowd who gathered around him, he turned a deaf ear to them and redefined what a family is in God’s reign. “Who are my mother and brothers,” he asked? “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (vv. 33-35).
Jesus understood that in God’s reign family is not an accidental grouping of people related by bloodline; it’s an intentional affiliation of people related by faith line, united by the Spirit of God to embody God’s will on earth. Just as a person must experience spiritual rebirth to see and enter the kingdom of God, so a person requires not merely a physical home but a spiritual home, a truly Christian home, to be nurtured toward the full spiritual maturity that is the goal of our life in Christ.
A spiritual home can take many forms. Toward one end of the spectrum is a traditional monastery, like the Cistercian Abbey of the Genesee at Piffard, near Geneseo, an intentional community designed not to retreat from the world but to show the world that there is another way of living together that is truly life giving.
Near the other end of the spectrum might be the folks who gather every Tuesday morning at Spot Coffee on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo. They call themselves the “old guys,” and mainly they schmooze, talking about their health and families and life’s milestones. You wouldn’t expect to see them picketing on Main Street to protest an injustice, but in the simple ways in which they value and care for one another they embody the relationship with their neighbors that makes real the reign of God on earth.
Somewhere between the Cistercians and the old guys is our congregation. We don’t look much different from Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, or Unitarians, and in fact we may not be all that different from them – or from the Muslims and Sikhs, Jews and Buddhists who are our neighbors. We’re all people who have been led to our places here because we’re searching for God and because we have the sense that our best chance of encountering God is in community with others who are searching for the same things, who are engaged in the same human struggles, and with whom we share the same hopes and needs and questions about life.
How do you make a Christian home? You don’t make it by labeling yourself Christian and then living a life like everyone else in your neighborhood, but it doesn’t require a sudden, grand transformation, either; you start small, by intentionally looking for God in everyday life. According to Kara Oliver, author of Passing It On: How to Nurture Your Children’s Faith Season by Season, “That starts from the moment we wake up to over breakfast to the drive home from work and going to bed at night. Just being attuned to God’s presence is the . . . starting place in the home.”
The Rev. Tanya Campen, director of intergenerational discipleship for the Rio Texas Conference, advises, “Start simple and pick one thing” like a simple prayer at the dinner table. Don’t create something new; instead, find occasions where families are already together, and use that time to pray and talk about where God could be found today. One of the best things you can do is end each day asking each other, “When did I feel close to God?” or “When and how did I experience God?” and then spend some good time discussing your responses.
When Jesus turned to his friends and said, “Here are my mother and brothers and sisters,” he invited all of us to love a new Christ into being every time we love someone enough to see them as who they really are, agents of God’s love in the world. We are all the family of a new Christ today, giving birth to each new incarnation of the love of God. That’s our vocation.