Chosen families

Texts: Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 (“Who is my mother?”) * “Revolutionary love” by Valarie Kaur

Video of the complete service * Order of service

The word “family” refers not only to our biological relatives. Our work colleagues sometimes come to feel like a family. Our school friends may become more of a family to us, at least for a time, than our parents and siblings. Some of us belong to the Oilers Nation, which is a family of sports fans. Others belong to Bachelor Nation, which is how viewers obsessed with a particular reality series identify themselves. And, of course, a church often refers to itself as a family of faith.

On several occasions, Jesus encourages his friends to expand their definition of family. In today’s passage from Mark, Jesus returns to Nazareth where his mother and brothers ask to see him. But Jesus does not do this, at least not immediately. Instead, he declares that anyone who does the will of God is his mother, or sister, or brother.

Parenthetically, Mark, unlike the gospels written after him, has little to say about Jesus’ mother and only uses the name Mary for her once (Mark 6:3).

Expanding the definition of “family” seems counter-cultural, but perhaps less so today than in pre-modern times. Before the industrial revolution, most people lived on farms and had little interaction with people beyond their immediate area. Farming was a family occupation, and pretty much everyone belonged to the same circles, which might not extend much beyond church.

In modern times, our choices have expanded exponentially. In a city like Edmonton, there is not just one occupation but thousands. There is not just one denomination but scores of them from all religions. There are not just a few cultural offerings to enjoy. There are unlimited offerings from every corner of the world.

So, we have a lot of options when choosing a new family. If we want to join one or more that jostle in our hearts besides our family of origin, we can do so. Most of us relish this freedom. It allows us to expand our identities and benefit from an ever-expanding cultural smorgasbord. At the same time, we need to beware, for it is not just biological families that are dysfunctional. Conflict and unhappiness often mar chosen families as well.

People join this family of faith, Mill Woods United Church, for a variety of reasons. Some come for the wonderful music led by Bryan and the choir and the joy of gathering with others who like to sing. Some are grateful for opportunities to engage with the community through outreach projects like The Bread Run and justice initiatives like Truth and Reconciliation. Still others appreciate belonging to a community that encourages diversity in belief, cultural background, and lifestyle. We will talk more about the latter aspect of the church next week on P.I.E. Day.

Above all, we are church defined by values. Though we are flawed individuals who come from families marked both by blessings and wounds, we try to build a community that is marked by love.

I appreciate how Valarie Kaur defines love in the first reading we hear this morning. She writes that it is not just a feeling. Love is a sweet labour that engages all of our emotions, including joy, which is the gift of love, grief, which is the price of love, anger, which protects that which is loved, and wonder, which returns us to love when we are tired . . . Isn’t that wonderful?

She follows this by writing, “loving only ourselves is escapism; loving only our opponents is self-loathing; and loving only others is ineffective.” But combining all three not only makes love possible, it makes it revolutionary.

I believe this sorry world needs a revolution. But I am also aware that successful revolutions are rare events. So, I am also glad that Kaur continues to write that [quote] “revolutions do not happen only in grand moments in public view but also in small pockets of people coming together to inhabit a new way of being. We birth the beloved community by becoming the beloved community.”

At Mill Woods United we aim to be a chosen family that inhabits a new way of being. We try to model the type of world we want for ourselves, our children, and for all of suffering humanity.

Jesus asks the question “Who are my mother, and brothers, and sisters?” This morning the answer seems clear. Here are my mother, my brothers, and my sisters, for we are people who are trying to give birth to God’s realm of Love by becoming a beloved community.

May it be so. Amen

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