9 Oct 2016
“When [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.” (Luke 2:42)
In the name …
We hear an awful lot about Christian family values, and we hear it so often, and we each experience it so directly, that we may come to imagine that Christian family values are clear-cut and very well defined, and that they have been forever. Well, we’d be wrong. And I point to this morning’s first reading from Ephesians as exhibit A. The warmest, must cuddly passage that the church could find in the New Testament are the few verses we just read that tell us children must obey their parents and that fathers are not supposed to “provoke,” and that’s the exact word from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, that fathers are not supposed to provoke their children. And by the way, there are no instructions for mothers in this passage about Christian families. And mothers should be grateful. I’m a father and I kind of wish I were left out of this passage myself. All we’ve got here is a message that children must obey and that fathers must not provoke. Then, just in case anyone started to get sentimental about the Christian family, the biblical author makes his point clear by immediately linking the children-father relationship with the relationship between a master and his slaves. The reason the church has to rely on this uninspiring passage is because there just is not a lot in the New Testament about family life.
Christian family values are not determined by explicit biblical passages. They are established by our taking Jesus’ gospel message that He applies to all relationships and downsizing that message to fit into a household relationship. The Christian family is simply Christianity lived in its closest proximity. In this sense, the Christian family is the training ground for the Christian life, and the Christian family also benefits from everything good that flows out of living like Jesus lived. We’ve all heard horror stories about what some people have had to endure in their families, in their abusive families. This is the main reason why our church grants permission for re-marriage. Marriage is sacred and when entered into we hope it is “until death do us part,” but our church will not force people to stay together at any and all costs. The sanctity of marriage does not grant sanction for abuse, whether it be of a spouse or a child. The Christian family is based on love because Christ based everything on love.
I was reading the other day about a robotics start-up company in Boston. They’re working on a robot that turns and faces the person it is talking to, and this is supposed to simulate a more human-like interaction. They advertise the robot as being able to help with videoconferences, playing games, and then it added that the robot can read bedtime stories to your child. There’s something wrong there. Bedtime stories are not to teach your son or daughter how to read. Bedtime stories are those quiet moments at the end of a day when a family can come together, maybe finally come together after a busy day, and be with one another. If that is something we need to write software for, then I feel sorry for those families. The robot can mimic human interaction, but it can’t replace it. Christian family values are about not wanting to even try.
This feast day was born in 1914. World War I began on July 28th of that year. The war involved 70 million combatants. 16 million people were killed and almost half of them were civilians. Trench warfare, the machinegun, poison gas, this was such a horrible spectacle that when it was over in 1918 it was called the war to end all wars. No one could imagine ever doing this again. When our delegates met in Synod, I would bet that everyone there had close relatives in battlefront countries. 1914 was a long time ago. We need to remind ourselves that communication was at best a letter crossing the Atlantic by ship and then being carried over land half way across a continent, then the whole thing had to be done in reverse. During war, people could not know the fate of their loved ones. And this worry and anxiety had to be on the minds of our Synod delegates.
When they created this feast day, of course they were thinking about family members, but it’s just as likely that they were also thinking of the Christian family as all of God’s people. How could we do this to each other? How could we become so savage and cruel? How could we think of others as so unimportant? I started off by saying that the New Testament doesn’t have a lot to say about the family, and that Christian family values come from synthesizing the gospel that Jesus preached to everyone and boiling it down to household-size. But this means that the Christian family is only living out what the larger family of all God’s children should be doing. Jesus was clear that there were no boundaries to His gospel. That’s why the Christian family is our definition not His. In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.’” (Lk. 6:32-33) Jesus is testing us. He’s tempting us to see bigger than we’re used to. We appreciate the blessings of the Christian family, but can we then see that we’re all family, that for as different as we are, we all share this same blue dot of a planet, and if we’re going to do so in peace and prosperity, then we’re going to have to do it together. This is also the message of the Christian family writ large.
Jesus practiced the religious faith of His family, we are told in today’s Gospel. May the practice of our faith within our families inspire us so that ours may be homes of love, relationship and faith, and may then our Christian families inspire us to spread those virtues out into our shared world where they are so desperately needed. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo