A Faith Family, June 6

A Faith Family

1 Samuel 8:4-20; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; June 6, 2021

 

 

I have spent Sunday nights through most of the pandemic on Zoom calls with my family.  The cousins meet at 5, at the call of my Aunt Carol, and my immediate family – parents and siblings, along with the next generation of kids, our girls and their cousins, meet at 7:30.  The gathered crew comes from Seattle to Raleigh, North Carolina to northern Maine and a small town north of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada.  The later call has had a spread of 86 years – from Luke in Washington, D.C. to my parents in New Jersey.  I’ve spent more hours talking with, and listening to, my cousins, my brothers, and my nieces and nephews since last March than in any other year I can remember.  It’s been fun. I’ve known my cousins all my life, but mostly they’ve lived far away – in Wyoming and Kansas and California.  I’ve kept up with the news of their lives, been to a few +of their weddings, and I see many of them at Thanksgiving each year, now that we’re back on the East coast.  This past year on Zoom, we’ve grown closer.  I know there are families who live with this sort of closeness of siblings and nieces and nephews, cousins and their families, all of whom live nearby and share their lives.  Zoom helped make that a reality for me this year.

 

Strong family bonds are not a modern concept.  Brothers, sisters, cousins, parents have formed the basic circle of human community from the beginning of time.  Many stories in scripture revolve around family relationships – Joseph and his brothers fight and then forgive, David is the youngest of many brothers, and Ruth and Orpah and Naomi are the survivors among an extended family across generations.  Bonds among siblings and across generations are basic to human experience.  Jesus builds on these bonds to talk about the community he is seeking to build.  My mother and brothers, says Jesus, they’re here.  This gathering is my family – those who are joined not simply by blood, but by connection to my Father in heaven.  The DNA of Christian family bonds is the Dancing, Nurturing, Active Spirit of Christ that binds us together in love.

 

This new family relationship was an essential part of the early church.  Paul and other apostles spread the gospel by traveling to cities across the known world and telling the story of the love and power of Jesus.  As people listened to the story they had to tell, they came together to be baptized in that power, to experience the Holy Spirit in their midst as they loved one another and praised God.  Paul frequently references church leaders as siblings, identifying, for example, our sister Phoebe as a deacon of the church in Romans 16:1. The early churches were made up of all sorts of people – successful merchants like Lydia and people with means like Cornelius, and also widows who struggled to make it and slaves and freed slaves who had been taken from their homes and their people in battle and brought hundreds of miles away.  In the church all of these found a new family – where widows and orphans were cared for and slaves were as welcome and accepted as free citizens of Rome.  They called each other brother and sister; they became family for each other, loving, listening, laughing, eating together and supporting each other as they then went out and shared the gospel with others.

 

It’s still who we’re called to be as church.  A community of people we can count on, when we are at our best, and even when we aren’t.

 

Did you watch the Friends reunion on Thursday night?  I didn’t, but I have dear friends who have loved the show for years, in its original broadcasts and through years of reruns.  Critics mock the show for the lack of realism that young people starting out in New York City could afford such nice apartments, especially because they spend so much of their time hanging out at the local café and not working.  The show remained a hit, however, because there’s a part of many of us that wants to belong to a group of friends much like the one on the show, a circle of people who love us and accept us, friends who know our quirks and our weaknesses, and love us anyway.  That’s the community Jesus calls us to be.  A new family of faith, finding joy together, not giving up on anyone as we go through the ups and downs of life.

 

Many of us feel like church is family.  It’s what we love about our church.  We are becoming family, too, not only within our churches, but among them as well.  Over the past five years we’ve grown together.  It seemed to be an awkward step-family when we began this charge.  It’s not anymore.  We have been to the chicken barbecues and Soup Suppers held at other churches.  We have listened to reports at charge conferences and admired Quarryville’s active local mission program, Palenville’s faithful weekly Bible study, and Catskill’s musical accomplishments.  We collected materials for hygiene kits and assembled them together; and we’ll do that again soon, once we’re back to in-person Annual Conference. 

 

The family connection is wider even than the charge.  The whole Catskill Hudson district put together a cookbook this spring and it’s pretty excellent. Sharing recipes is a very family thing to do.  Somewhere I’ve got my cousin Heather’s Aunt Margaret’s ginger cookie recipe.  And it’s good.  I’ve been impressed by how many of you have knowledge and appreciation of the church in Delhi I’m headed to in July.  We do love each other, and support each other, across the charge, across the district, and across the Annual Conference.

 

No, family bonds aren’t always wonderful and loving.  There is brokenness and pain in families, and there is brokenness and pain within the church as well.  We can’t be everything to each other; we will stumble at times, and in our falling we may trip someone else on the way.  There are those who won’t choose to love beyond themselves, and their selfishness does harm.  I would love to exempt that part of the family metaphor from the reality of the church, but I can’t.  I can say, we can do better.  We are given power, the power of the Holy Spirit, and that power is never coercive because it is love.  That’s what we’re offered, and we claim it as our way because we recognize its power in the resurrection.  Love wins.  Love is triumphant over sin and death.  If we let love, patient and true, forgiving and hopeful love, be the power that gets and keeps our church going, we will be the church that Jesus calls us to be, following the word and ways of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Jesus makes it pretty clear that we are to love – love neighbor, love one another, love enemies.  Just love.

 

That love is what makes us church, and that love pushes us out to become more church.  You become more church as you love one another beyond your walls, not only by bonding with other churches, but by engaging your community.  There are a lot of people in our villages and hamlets who don’t have a community of friends like the TV show.  They’re lonely, they’re isolated, they’ve been living life without connection for so long.  Offer them love; speak to them of the family you’ve found in church; listen to their hopes and dreams, and let the Spirit lead you to creative ways to work together.  I’m headed to Delhi, because I believe the Spirit of God’s love speaks through the discernment of the bishop, envisioning new things in the name of the God who makes all things new.  You will meet Pastor Mina and I trust you will love her.  She will do new things, some intentionally, some unintentionally, because of who she is and who God is calling her to be.  She may prove capable of singing short hymns, something I seem constitutionally unable to do.  She comes to you as a sister in Christ, and you can welcome her in love, ready to appreciate the gifts and graces and leadership she brings. 

 

The church of Jesus Christ is our chosen family, bound together by our connection to God and by our sharing of life lived in service and praise of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The only genealogy that matters in the family of Christ is the shared DNA of power – the Dancing, Nurturing, Active Spirit of Jesus Christ.  We are living specimens of that DNA when we live as those who do the will of the Father, that is, when we love.  Amen.

 

 

 

1 Samuel 8:4-20

4Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, 7and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

 

10So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

 

 

Psalm 138

1I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;

2I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name

     for your steadfast love and your faithfulness;

 for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.

3On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.  

4All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,

   for they have heard the words of your mouth.

5They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.

6For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;

    but the haughty he perceives from far away.

7Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

   you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies;

you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.

8The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;

   your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.

   Do not forsake the work of your hands.

 

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

13But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. 5 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

 

Mark 3:20-35

20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

 

28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

 

31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

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