The Holy Family
Small congregations often refer to themselves as a "church family" and we do it often at Summit. It's a fitting metaphor, even a model. We love and care for each other the way families do at their best - or we try to. We're bound together by something beyond our personal affection for each other (or lack thereof); although we "choose" a church, we don't choose everyone who's in it, just as we don't choose our families. We divide the work as a family divides chores, and as Rob pointed out in his Moment for Mission, we even budget something like a family. We also use it to emphasize the warmth of a church home. Just as "love makes a family" it can make a church family as well.
There are dangers to thinking of ourselves as a family, however. The entrance bar to most families is high - marriage, birth, adoption - and can be intimidating to outsiders. Families can be clannish, and put their needs above the greater good. Families also have unspoken rules and subtexts and secrets which can take decades for members to uncover, often at their peril. And, sadly, violence and abuse can be hidden in families, families who may present an admirable front to the world. For these reasons, some folks prefer the bland but less provocative term "church community."
But Jesus talked about the church as a family. In Matthew 12:47-50, someone tells Jesus, "‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ . . . Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’" In Luke he goes even further to stress the primacy of discipleship - and by extension the church family - over loyalty to other families or anything else: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26).
Despite these strong words, Jesus was not anti-family. He was born into a family, a faithful but young family bearing the stigma of a pre-wedding pregnancy, when he could just as easily have shown up on a doorstep. According to Luke, his mother and brother continued his ministry as members of the early church and according to John, Jesus creates a new family from the cross, when he commends his mother and the beloved disciple to one another. In Advent and Christmas as we remember the Holy Family -- Jesus, Mary, Joseph - it's a time to offer support and blessing to families inside and outside the church. Through the Thanksgiving food drive and the Angel tree. Through prayer, support and advocacy for families whose food stamps are being cut, who have members in prison, who have lost someone to gun violence. Through giving money to help families who are facing devastating losses in the Philippines. Through celebrating the pageant with our children, and by remembering those families who have lost someone dear to them. By being a "church family" in the very best sense of the word.
Grace and Peace,