June 1st 2014, John 17:1-11
Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
Our families are the basic units of our society; thus our families are important. Within our families is the primary place where values are taught; this is a fact whether we like it or not! The stability and success of our society, any society actually, is based on the unity and functionality of our families.
People have many different definitions of what a family is. For some people a family can be any group of people; for others the term “family” only applies to a mother and father and their children. We know a family can be made up in many and various ways. Single parent families are acceptable and commonplace in our society. We as a family of faith rejoice that meaningful strides forward have been made in regards to the acceptance and recognition of same sex parents in our community, as-well-as in our society. Different cultures have different models of family. In some cultures there are extended families that include three or four generations in one small dwelling and resemble a tribe in their size. In other societies families only include one generation and their dependents. As a church, we recognize and experience our faith fellowship as a family. In the same way support and recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous frequently operate as a family unit.
Within these different definitions and models there are many sets of values. Some families value love and support and are nests where people are cared for and nurtured. Other families are dysfunctional and people are hurt and abused instead of loved and nurtured. Some families reach out with love to others and seek to include others. And yes, some families take advantage of outsiders all in the name of preserving the family. With all these competing sets of family values we need to decide what values will be central in our families.
As Christians we need to start with the question “What are God’s family values and how does God define family and how are families to live together?”
Let me read to you from Psalm 133. The opening line states its theme: “How good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to live together in unity.” Let us build from that theme. It is good for brothers and sisters to live together in unity with oneness and in harmony, sharing all things in common with a singleness of purpose. That’s what unity is about; that’s what being a family is about.
Historically, the role model for good mothers and fathers alike, as we have known them throughout our society, is to know what it means to sacrifice in order to hold their families together. They understand the concept of love and forgiveness. They give of themselves every day for their children, their spouses and partners, their family, as-well-as for their extended families.
What makes a good parent, mother or father, anyway? Is it patience; compassion; broad hips? Or is the ability to teach your children how to fish and play baseball? Perhaps you believe it is the ability to nurse a baby, while cooking dinner, and sewing a button on a shirt, all at the same time? Or is it heart? Is it the ache you feel when you watch your son or daughter disappear down the street, walking to school alone for the very first time? Yet, it may just be the jolt that takes you from sleep to dread, from bed to crib at 2 A.M. to put your hand on the back of a sleeping baby? Is it the need to flee from wherever you are and hug your child when you hear news of a fire, a car accident, or a child dying?
Parenthood, and all it stands for, is a vital aspect of holding together family values. With this thought in the forefront of our thoughts let me share about some visitors that I had in my office, a number of years ago. I later learned those visitors were part of a community that, as a minister in the United Church of Christ, I am encouraged (by many) not to be affiliated with. But, setting theological politics aside, they had a message about family values. Two of these three women were from Japan, a culture that has various customs. I was polite and open to hearing what they had to say. Other clergy in the community I was serving barred them from their offices. I was told I was a gullible fool by my peers at a clergy luncheon for letting them take a picture of me with them in front of the beautiful church I served.
However, their message was simple and seemed quite genuine to me. They were speaking of family values: the sanctity of marriage, and the expectation of moral conduct for couples and their children. Their message was as basic as “motherhood and apple pie.” They gave me a simple gift as a sign of their sincerity. They extended an invitation to take part in the renewal of my wedding vows. I declined their invitation, not out of distrust for their message, or for concern for who their leaders were. I declined because I trust in the sacredness of the commitment I have already made. I spoke with them as a matter of courtesy and interest in the values they spoke of.
I believe we all strive for similar values and try to live our lives accordingly. It is however, important to hold ourselves open to the values of others, for they may differ from ours. As we wrestle with this thought let us also try to put ourselves in the shoes of those around us. By this I mean… let us not judge another’s choices until we have come to understand their personal journey’s in life. Let me share a short story that was shared with me by a friend recently. I believe it makes the point very clearly.
Charley, a new retiree-greeter at Wal-Mart, just couldn’t seem to get to work on time. Every day he was 5, 10, 15 minutes late. But he was a good worker, really tidy, clean-shaven, ‘sharp minded’ and a real credit to the company and obviously demonstrating their “Older Person Friendly” policies.
One day the boss called him into the office for a talk. “Charley, I have to tell you, I like your work ethic, you do a bang-up job when you finally get here; but you’re being late so often is quite bothersome.” “Yes, I know boss, and I am sorry and am working on it.” “Well good, you are a team player. That’s what I like to hear.” “Yes sir, I understand your concern and I will try harder.”
Seeming puzzled, the manager went on to comment, “I know you’re retired from the Armed Forces. What did they say to you there if you showed up in the morning late so often?” The old man looked down at the floor, and then smiled. He chuckled quietly, then said with a grin, “They usually saluted and said, Good morning, Admiral, can I get your coffee, sir? /Author Unknown/
Remember, don’t judge others, until you know where they have walked; stay open to another person’s journey in life.
Parents of each generation try hard to pass to the next generation all that they know, and in so doing they pass along their value systems. As we do so we pray and hope that the next generation will do the same, that is: pass it on. Prayerful, each generation is able to hang on to the things that were important to their parents. We all hope for the same basic things. We want our children to at least have what we had and hopefully a bit more. Some will be successful and some will not, yet we, as a people, cannot stop caring and trying to nurture and nourish those that will and do follow us; just as those who came before us pray that we shall honor their values as well. Certainly unity is a value that ought to be passed from one generation to another. Isn’t this what Jesus was trying to do?
The interest in our structure, as a united family, began a long time ago. That interest and need is still with us. And we all know our family systems need some help. The role of mothers, as-well-as the role of fathers, play a vital part in the formation of these values. Their diligence and devotion to parenthood, even in a culture where both parents are often expected to go out of their homes and work is amazing.
Your gender is not the key here; your commitment to your family, your devotion to God and your ability to share God’s love and your commitment to the essence of truth and integrity are!
Jesus shares with us his prayer to his Father in heaven, a prayer that was witnessed by his disciples just prior to his arrest at the end of his earthly ministry. /John 17:11/ “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” His prayer ends with a plea to make us one. So also we must be one family, no matter how many variations of that family we are. We must continue to seek new ideas on how to strengthen our family values as we continue to work towards the idealist goal of becoming one family under God. We must be open to hearing other’s suggestions on how to improve our family system.
As a church we are a family and as such we are responsible for the values we pass on to the children in our care. In our family we are the essential source of their understanding of God. Let me assure you it takes more than one good children’s sermon and it takes more than a relationship with a good Sunday school teacher or volunteer. It takes consistency and it takes all of us a family, a family working together with the same set of commitments and values.
Recently I went to a workshop on this subject and it was suggested that we need to build on forming relationships with our children. The goal is five – not one adult for each child. Yet, if we are a typical church we are lucky if we have one adult for every ten children. Our children are our responsibility. We need to do all that we can, and like any parent we need to change with the times. This makes each one of us responsible to be authentic, and willing to reach out with love to the children in our care.
This expanded version of our gospel message just scratched the surface, but I think we can see that God’s definition of family is bigger than most of us are willing to imagine. Living together in unity takes in many things. I pray that all of us will not close our doors to new ideas on how we might strengthen our one family.