I remember the first Christmas after I came out as a gay man. My teenage children first celebrated with their Mom in her new apartment. Then they came over to my place to continue their Christmas. It was more than a little weird. I was so overwhelmed I ran out of time to wrap their presents. So I would run upstairs, wrap one gift each for each of my daughters, run back downstairs, give them each a gift, watch them open it, and then run back upstairs to repeat the cycle. Towards the end of the process, I was down to presents in boxes from the Gap, and my wrapping had deteriorated to a name tag and a stick on bow securely attached to each blue box from the Gap.
What I remember most from that Christmas was a gift from my eldest daughter which she made herself. It is a simple piece of paper glued on a blue wooden plaque. On the paper she wrote: All that a family requires is love. That plaque is on the wall of our Bay Area home today. The ink lettering has faded but the message is clear.
And it rings as true to me today as it did way back then.
The idea that love makes a family is relatively new. In many cultures, families are still defined by lineage or marriage certificates or state laws. Throughout much of human history, marriage did not center on two people who loved each other. Instead, marriage was about alliances of families. Marriages were made to forge political alliances, build business connections, and for a long list of highly practical purposes.
In ancient Rome, marriage governed by civil law. After Rome fell, church courts assumed responsibility for managing marriage. But it wasn’t until the 12th Century that Roman Catholic theologians began to see marriage as a sacrament, or a sacred ceremony tied to experiencing God’s presence. Marriage didn’t officially become a sacrament until the Council of Trent in 1563. Even then, marrying for love instead of following your father’s wishes could lead to being disowned or worse.
So the idea that All that a family requires is love is a relatively new one. Except for LGBTQ people: we’ve long had to build new families based on bonds of friendship and affection. Until the decades following the Stonewall Revolt, being recognized as LGBTQ was grounds for many families to disown and disavow a son or daughter or brother or sister. Even today, LGBT young people ages 13 to 25 are 120 percent more likely to become homeless than their straight peers, according to a national survey. These young people face the daunting challenge of doing as generations did before and building new family for themselves, a family based on love.
In today’s Gospel story (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus is told: Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And Jesus knows they are there for an intervention, there to take him home and calm him down, there to make him stop challenging the status quo and instead live out a peaceful life.
But Jesus is not interested in making peace with the hard-hearted Pharisees we met in last week’s story form the Gospel attributed to Mark.
So “he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”
This is not what his family expected to hear. It is not what they wanted to hear. For just as LGBTQ people have down for generations, Jesus redefines the most basic building block of Jewish life: the family. He says that if you – if each of us – does the will of God then we will be part of his family. And what does God will us to do? To love our neighbor as ourselves. To make no peace with oppression. To show mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with our God. But most of all, Jesus tells us, God wills us to love each other.
For the third Sunday in a row, we are reading from the Gospel attributed to Mark. Last Sunday, Jesus excused his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath before curing a man’s hand also on the Sabbath.
To reach this week’s reading, we skip over a story where a large crowd gathers around Jesus because of his miraculous healings, and Jesus appoints the twelve apostles.
This week, the author of Mark shares a series of sayings – sayings might seem at first to lack a common theme. But there is a pattern here: a theme of house, home, and family is woven into this reading. And that makes sense. For family is one of the Bible’s foundational concepts. Our Bible begins in Genesis, with the story of families. Real families. Made of Real people. Who have real problems. Who make horrific mistakes. And some of these families are so dysfunctional one wonders why anyone would ever advocate “Biblical family values.” Just wait a few weeks until we read the story of King David and Bathsheba. They are poster people for “Biblical family values.”
To be sure, the Bible is rife with other ways to see our relationship with God. Some of the Bible’s stories show us as subjects who have God as their King. Others portray us as slaves. Yet, the Bible always seems to return to the family as the fundamental unit, or metaphor. In this light, we live as God’s children; God’s daughters and sons; a part of God’s family who bring great joy as well as great consternation.
Mark’s story suggests Jesus’ family may be either frustrated with, or deeply worried about him. Jesus is drawing crowds again, he is challenging the Pharisees and their allies, so his family tries to restrain him. They know life doesn’t always end well for people who disrupt the way things are, the way things are said to have always been.
But instead of going home with his family of record, instead of quieting down and avoiding trouble, Jesus opens up the concept of family and invites everyone who wants to join in, the chance to enter. Who is his family? All that a family requires is love.
The family of Jesus is this kind of wide open family. The door to the family is wide-open. All you have to do is love one another to be part of His family. All you have to be part of St. Cyprian’s family is love one another – and join in our healing liturgy.
Like the families described in the Bible, we each bring our own special kind of dysfunction in the door with us. Sometimes if you look at St. Cyprian’s you might even think we look like a group of misfits. But what we gain as part of this family is amazing. And the greatest of these gifts is love. Come on in. Join the family.
Let us pray. God of judgment and mercy,
when we hide ourselves in shame,
you seek us out in love.
Grant us the fullness of your forgiveness,
that as one people, united by your grace,
we may stand with Christ against the powers of evil. May the church say: Amen!