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Proper 4, Year A

Would you like your parish to have an assistant who preaches and teaches like this? (And blog entries are just the first draft of my sermon on weeks when I preach!) I'm on the job market, and am also available for consulting, retreats, and guest preaching. My bio and C.V. are here.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21,26-28 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 7:21-27 - link to NRSV text

Our readings from both the Hebrew bible and the gospel for this Sunday are about something that is somewhere between unpopular and terrifying to hear about for a lot of people (well, for me, anyway):

Obedience. It was in our gospel for last week too, in the “Great Commission,” which commissions us not just to bring people to church, or to get them to say the “sinner's prayer.” We're not making converts. We're making disciples -- people who have not only experienced Baptism, but who also have experienced catechesis, having been taught what it means to follow Jesus in a way that is actually going make a difference in behavior. In other words, Jesus' followers actually do what Jesus taught people to do, as I blogged about last week. This week's readings have a lot to say about that.

Our reading from Deuteronomy for this Sunday also has a lot to say about family. And I've blogged about this before as well. When this subject has come up in the past, it's usually been in response to one of Jesus' consistently negative comments about what we usually mean when we say “family,” namely the group of people who are related to one another by blood or marriage.

People are often taken aback when they discover that Jesus didn't speak highly of that kind of family. When someone in the crowd called out, “blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nourished you” (Luke 11:27-28), Jesus' reply wasn't, “Blessed rather are ALL mothers, as there's no calling in a woman's life that could be more important.” It wasn't even, “No, for your blessing betrays some serious sexism. You should say, 'blessed are all PARENTS,' as fathers are just as important as mothers, and parenthood is the most important thing in the world for men as well as women.” Here's what Jesus said:

“Blessed rather is the one who hears the word of God and obeys it.”

It's very similar to what Jesus says when he's told that his mother, sisters, and brothers are outside waiting to see him: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mark 3:31-34).

It isn't that all families are awful, in Jesus' eyes. It's just that they are wonderful or awful precisely to the extent that they do what Christian communities do, inviting all members to use their gifts to help the whole community move toward maturity in Christ. Parents are disciples first, second, and always. So are children. For Christians, families are groups of disciples who live together in community, and as very local gatherings of the Body of Christ, the Great Commission is for them as well.

Our reading from Deuteronomy for this Sunday points to one specific way in which families are called to live into the Great Commission: like all Christian communities, they are called to catechesis, to teach and equip one another for discipleship. This, by the way, is one of the reasons I'm such a great fan of Faith Inkubators, and especially their Faith Stepping Stones curriculum. Their motto is “every night in every home,” as that's where most formation for children and youth takes place -- for better or for worse.

It's just not possible to outsource this to Sunday School teachers or youth pastors. Here's what happens when a family tries this: for one to three hours (maybe as much as five, if the kids never miss a youth group meeting) each week, kids are exposed to one or two adults who at least pay lip service to the importance of formation (one would hope that it would be WAY more than lip service, but when churches pay those who work with children and youth least if they have a designated staff person for it at all, sometimes congregations end up with children's or youth minister who has a great heart but very little training, if any). And each week, the kids spend the rest of their waking hours either on their own, or with adults who don't talk with them about the faith and stories of God's people as we see them in the bible. Here's a pretty primitive visual aid representing the number of waking hours a young person has in a week:

XXXXXoXXXXXXXXXXXXXXoXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXXX
oXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXX
oXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXoXXXXXXXXX

Each red 'o' represents one hour of intentional Christian formation outsourced to church workers: five hours in a week, assuming a young person who goes to Sunday worship, Sunday School, and youth group every week without fail. Each blue 'X' represents one waking hour in which young people are being formed with mentoring from their teachers, SpongeBob (who's a great guy, as far as animated characters go -- and I'm glad he's received an unequivocal welcome from the United Church of Christ -- but I wouldn't say he's necessarily the best person to teach my kids about who God is), and by what they observe of their parents' priorities.

How much effect do you think that the 'X' hours have in comparison to the 'o'?

God is immeasurably gracious, and can work powerfully even in a climate least hospitable to the work of the Spirit, but let's face it -- we're seriously tempting fate if we expect that Sunday School and youth group will on their own provide sufficient catechesis for serious discipleship ...

Unless, that is, we take Deuteronomy 11 seriously. In the ancient world, people were seen as the sum of three 'zones': thought and feeling, listening and responding, and making and doing (once more, props to Malina and Rohrbaugh). By saying that we are to take God's word into our heart and soul and write it on our forehead and hand, Deuteronomy is telling us that God's word is to permeate our whole selves -- body and soul, at all times and in all places. When we do that, our children can see for themselves what's important to us. Nothing else could be a more powerful influence to form our children as disciples who love scripture. And when we treat our home and the set of those who live there as an intentional Christian community, every bit as much as any parish or monastery, we find that each member has gifts to build up the whole for mission; our children will teach us and minister to us as well.

Not everyone who cries, “Jesus is Lord of this family!” or plasters fish alongside the American flags on the minivan will experience the fullness of what God wants for us, the rich blessings of living in a community in which Jesus really is received as Lord. Blood relation, adoption papers, a seal of approval from the state, and the right combination of genders for parents don't make real family any more than hours of shuttling to soccer practices and SAT prep classes will. Jesus never said anything about “family values,” but he said a lot about what kind of community he values, whether it's a parents and some children, a set of roommates, a monastery, or a parish.

Real family, real community, is found wherever members hear Jesus' words and follow him. That's what's solid, no matter what state laws or genetic ties say. It's true what they say: love makes a family. And not just the love of members for one another, but the kind of love that Jesus showed, a Great Commission kind of love, that says that this group of people are members of one Body, given not just for their own joy, but for the sake of others, for the sake of the world.

That's Jesus' view of family. When we hear this word on this and put it into action, we will find and value our family whenever and wherever we meet sisters and brothers in Christ of any generation and whatever their genetic or legal relationships. And our children, having grown up steeped in God's word, Jesus' love, and Christian community will, like Abraham, be blessed so that they will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2) -- to us, to the world, and to the God who made and loves them.

Thanks be to God!

May 25, 2005 in Christian Formation, Deuteronomy, Kinship/Family, Matthew, Ordinary Time, Scripture, Year A | Permalink

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It has been another wonderful week here at the U of B-SC. Go Puffins! AKMA has been at it again with all the thinking. I wonder how he does it. This time he is looking at a variety of ways... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2005 8:21:04 AM

» university update from conjectural navel gazing; jesus in lint form
It has been another wonderful week here at the U of B-SC. Go Puffins! AKMA has been at it again with all the thinking. I wonder how he does it. This time he is looking at a variety of ways... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 4, 2006 6:36:34 AM

Comments

I agree with you that we need to view a commitment to Christianity as one of personal transformation, where each Christian is committed to passing on that transformative experience to every other person. As Tony Campolo has written, we need to spend less time talking about career and more time talking about vocation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I do disagree with your exegesis involving Jesus and families. I incorporated Mark 3 into an essay I wrote a few months back, and drew entirely different conclusions about Jesus's relationship with his family and God.

So-called "families of choice" are great for what they are, but there's something about mother and father and a loving household, that we all desire. If we haven't had such a thing, we feel the loss. When we have experienced it, we understand its foundational power.

Posted by: James | May 26, 2005 10:05:02 AM

I guess that depends on your family of origin. Often we find the support, care, and Jesus kind of love in our chosen families rather then our family of origin.

Posted by: Sparky | May 26, 2005 3:13:49 PM

Boy, how many times have I seen this. Some family gets it in their head that Christianity would be a good lever of power to try to move some child in some direction that the parents want them to go.

It generally comes to nothing, or worse gives the child a bad sense about Christianity.

And then there are the marvelous exceptions that point to the presence of the Spirit and that wonderful intagible thing we have - choice. I know a wonderful young woman who had a terrible home life, but was brought to church and dropped off. The church became the family she did not have. She is presently a teacher in the Dallas area and considering seminary. And one of my favorite people in the world.

Posted by: real live preacher | May 27, 2005 1:44:14 PM

You know, I have often wondered abou this stuff. I was not raised in the church. IN fact, one might even say that my parents tried to keep me from the church because their own experiences were so horrible.

So, as an act of gen-x rebellion, I became a Baptist Minister, the worst of the worst! Aiee! Oh no! Yeah, welcome to post-modernism.

But what I have elarned growing up outside and the coming in is most of the times the church is not the safest place to be, that the "morality" so valued is not present...and that the church can be the greatest smokescreen for very serious family troubles.

Also, I think of Christianity as a dangerous faith. We should take it bery seriously that the apostles did not retire in Boca when their ministries were over.

Posted by: tripp | May 27, 2005 5:05:57 PM

And I need to learn to type, edit and then post.

Posted by: tripp | May 27, 2005 5:09:12 PM

I was really struck with two things: first the idea of letting the word seek deep inside - in your head, in your soul, even into your body.

Second, that Jesus said the statement (in the Matthew text) in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, an incredibly challenging text that challenges and doesn't give easy answers sometimes. Maybe the lesson here is that we need to wrestle with the Word.

Posted by: J. M. Branum | May 29, 2005 10:02:22 AM

You have a splendid site. I will be a regular reader and I hope I will be a regular commenter.

I preached about how Jesus' life is a strong argument against those who would tell us that his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are not livable. Over on Real Live Preacher I read that faith is something you do. If this is the case then by living the non-violent, non-resentful life that he apparently did Jesus shows us how great human faith can be and he makes that faith of his available to all of us. I like the idea that the wonders intended for us by the bubbling effervesence behind all of creation are delivered to us through the faith of Jesus Christ.

Thanks for having such a cool blog.

Posted by: MontanaPastor | May 30, 2005 6:36:49 PM

thanks for your reflections on family - I am continually perplexed by the pro-family lobby & the promotion of the Christian family. The problem is Jesus comments/actions re family are ambivalent at best. Did up a quick look at 12 significant gospel references to family - none are positive per se [on my blog]. Family is fine for those called to live in families. . . but to divinise it is idolatrous.

Posted by: bill millar | May 31, 2005 1:59:37 PM

Its good to see the provocative "family" sayings of Jesus used to hold families to a higher standard of involvement in Christian nurture. At a time when family values and inclusiveness are too often used as opposing trench lines in the culture wars it
points us in a more creative and hopeful direction. (A comprehensive review of Scripture reveals quite a bit of material supporting
BOTH family values and an expanding inclusiveness) The paradoxes of Scripture
are a fruitful place of learning and growing with creative synthesis,providing we are
ALL willing to take our turn at having our comfort zones invaded by the living God.

Posted by: Steven Hagerman | May 31, 2005 7:22:57 PM

Greetings! I couldn't agree more about the need to put the focus of faith nurturing back in the family's hands!

I am the Coordinator of Faith Inkubators' Faith Stepping Stones, and I'm glad to hear it is helping you in your ministry!

God Bless,
Ben

Posted by: Ben Hoogland | Jan 3, 2006 5:54:20 PM

My twins were having their baptism so I wanted to have some extra special baptism invitations to send to my family and friends, but I didn’t have time to search all over town. Luckily, I found four excellent sites while searching the Internet, http://www.announcements-shoppe.com/Baptism_Invitations_Cards/productsList-19-1.htm,
http://www.cardspersonalized.com,
http://www.express-invitations.com/religious_invitations_announcements_cards/Religious-Invitations-Announcements-Cards.php and
http://www.cardsshoppe.com/Religious_Invitations_Announcements/Religious_Invitations_Announcements_Cards-4-1.htm

Although it was a difficult choice, I ordered from http://www.announcements-shoppe.com and could not have been more pleased. The personalized baptism christening invitations are simply fabulous!! Everyone just loved them, and I will certainly order from them again in the future.

Posted by: Nacy | Aug 14, 2007 3:33:37 PM

My twins were having their baptism so I wanted to have some extra special baptism invitations to send to my family and friends, but I didn’t have time to search all over town. Luckily, I found four excellent sites while searching the Internet, http://www.announcements-shoppe.com/Baptism_Invitations_Cards/productsList-19-1.htm,
http://www.cardspersonalized.com,
http://www.express-invitations.com/religious_invitations_announcements_cards/Religious-Invitations-Announcements-Cards.php and
http://www.cardsshoppe.com/Religious_Invitations_Announcements/Religious_Invitations_Announcements_Cards-4-1.htm

Although it was a difficult choice, I ordered from http://www.announcements-shoppe.com and could not have been more pleased. The personalized baptism christening invitations are simply fabulous!! Everyone just loved them, and I will certainly order from them again in the future.

Posted by: Nacy | Aug 14, 2007 3:34:40 PM

Once again you nailed it! Thanks for your insight and challenge. In the context of the reading it seems to me a mighty compliment to say "You Rock"

Posted by: Matt Thiele | May 28, 2008 10:53:41 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
Dylan's lectionary blog: Proper 4, Year A

« welcome! | Main | Proper 5, Year A »

Proper 4, Year A

Would you like your parish to have an assistant who preaches and teaches like this? (And blog entries are just the first draft of my sermon on weeks when I preach!) I'm on the job market, and am also available for consulting, retreats, and guest preaching. My bio and C.V. are here.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21,26-28 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 7:21-27 - link to NRSV text

Our readings from both the Hebrew bible and the gospel for this Sunday are about something that is somewhere between unpopular and terrifying to hear about for a lot of people (well, for me, anyway):

Obedience. It was in our gospel for last week too, in the “Great Commission,” which commissions us not just to bring people to church, or to get them to say the “sinner's prayer.” We're not making converts. We're making disciples -- people who have not only experienced Baptism, but who also have experienced catechesis, having been taught what it means to follow Jesus in a way that is actually going make a difference in behavior. In other words, Jesus' followers actually do what Jesus taught people to do, as I blogged about last week. This week's readings have a lot to say about that.

Our reading from Deuteronomy for this Sunday also has a lot to say about family. And I've blogged about this before as well. When this subject has come up in the past, it's usually been in response to one of Jesus' consistently negative comments about what we usually mean when we say “family,” namely the group of people who are related to one another by blood or marriage.

People are often taken aback when they discover that Jesus didn't speak highly of that kind of family. When someone in the crowd called out, “blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nourished you” (Luke 11:27-28), Jesus' reply wasn't, “Blessed rather are ALL mothers, as there's no calling in a woman's life that could be more important.” It wasn't even, “No, for your blessing betrays some serious sexism. You should say, 'blessed are all PARENTS,' as fathers are just as important as mothers, and parenthood is the most important thing in the world for men as well as women.” Here's what Jesus said:

“Blessed rather is the one who hears the word of God and obeys it.”

It's very similar to what Jesus says when he's told that his mother, sisters, and brothers are outside waiting to see him: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mark 3:31-34).

It isn't that all families are awful, in Jesus' eyes. It's just that they are wonderful or awful precisely to the extent that they do what Christian communities do, inviting all members to use their gifts to help the whole community move toward maturity in Christ. Parents are disciples first, second, and always. So are children. For Christians, families are groups of disciples who live together in community, and as very local gatherings of the Body of Christ, the Great Commission is for them as well.

Our reading from Deuteronomy for this Sunday points to one specific way in which families are called to live into the Great Commission: like all Christian communities, they are called to catechesis, to teach and equip one another for discipleship. This, by the way, is one of the reasons I'm such a great fan of Faith Inkubators, and especially their Faith Stepping Stones curriculum. Their motto is “every night in every home,” as that's where most formation for children and youth takes place -- for better or for worse.

It's just not possible to outsource this to Sunday School teachers or youth pastors. Here's what happens when a family tries this: for one to three hours (maybe as much as five, if the kids never miss a youth group meeting) each week, kids are exposed to one or two adults who at least pay lip service to the importance of formation (one would hope that it would be WAY more than lip service, but when churches pay those who work with children and youth least if they have a designated staff person for it at all, sometimes congregations end up with children's or youth minister who has a great heart but very little training, if any). And each week, the kids spend the rest of their waking hours either on their own, or with adults who don't talk with them about the faith and stories of God's people as we see them in the bible. Here's a pretty primitive visual aid representing the number of waking hours a young person has in a week:

XXXXXoXXXXXXXXXXXXXXoXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXXXXX
oXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXX
oXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXoXXXXXXXXX

Each red 'o' represents one hour of intentional Christian formation outsourced to church workers: five hours in a week, assuming a young person who goes to Sunday worship, Sunday School, and youth group every week without fail. Each blue 'X' represents one waking hour in which young people are being formed with mentoring from their teachers, SpongeBob (who's a great guy, as far as animated characters go -- and I'm glad he's received an unequivocal welcome from the United Church of Christ -- but I wouldn't say he's necessarily the best person to teach my kids about who God is), and by what they observe of their parents' priorities.

How much effect do you think that the 'X' hours have in comparison to the 'o'?

God is immeasurably gracious, and can work powerfully even in a climate least hospitable to the work of the Spirit, but let's face it -- we're seriously tempting fate if we expect that Sunday School and youth group will on their own provide sufficient catechesis for serious discipleship ...

Unless, that is, we take Deuteronomy 11 seriously. In the ancient world, people were seen as the sum of three 'zones': thought and feeling, listening and responding, and making and doing (once more, props to Malina and Rohrbaugh). By saying that we are to take God's word into our heart and soul and write it on our forehead and hand, Deuteronomy is telling us that God's word is to permeate our whole selves -- body and soul, at all times and in all places. When we do that, our children can see for themselves what's important to us. Nothing else could be a more powerful influence to form our children as disciples who love scripture. And when we treat our home and the set of those who live there as an intentional Christian community, every bit as much as any parish or monastery, we find that each member has gifts to build up the whole for mission; our children will teach us and minister to us as well.

Not everyone who cries, “Jesus is Lord of this family!” or plasters fish alongside the American flags on the minivan will experience the fullness of what God wants for us, the rich blessings of living in a community in which Jesus really is received as Lord. Blood relation, adoption papers, a seal of approval from the state, and the right combination of genders for parents don't make real family any more than hours of shuttling to soccer practices and SAT prep classes will. Jesus never said anything about “family values,” but he said a lot about what kind of community he values, whether it's a parents and some children, a set of roommates, a monastery, or a parish.

Real family, real community, is found wherever members hear Jesus' words and follow him. That's what's solid, no matter what state laws or genetic ties say. It's true what they say: love makes a family. And not just the love of members for one another, but the kind of love that Jesus showed, a Great Commission kind of love, that says that this group of people are members of one Body, given not just for their own joy, but for the sake of others, for the sake of the world.

That's Jesus' view of family. When we hear this word on this and put it into action, we will find and value our family whenever and wherever we meet sisters and brothers in Christ of any generation and whatever their genetic or legal relationships. And our children, having grown up steeped in God's word, Jesus' love, and Christian community will, like Abraham, be blessed so that they will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2) -- to us, to the world, and to the God who made and loves them.

Thanks be to God!

May 25, 2005 in Christian Formation, Deuteronomy, Kinship/Family, Matthew, Ordinary Time, Scripture, Year A | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c234653ef00d834582b7e69e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Proper 4, Year A:

» university update from conjectural navel gazing; jesus in lint form
It has been another wonderful week here at the U of B-SC. Go Puffins! AKMA has been at it again with all the thinking. I wonder how he does it. This time he is looking at a variety of ways... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2005 8:21:04 AM

» university update from conjectural navel gazing; jesus in lint form
It has been another wonderful week here at the U of B-SC. Go Puffins! AKMA has been at it again with all the thinking. I wonder how he does it. This time he is looking at a variety of ways... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 4, 2006 6:36:34 AM

Comments

The comments to this entry are closed.