Monday, May 14, 2007

Children of God Everywhere

This is my Sunday sermon.
Caveat: At the 10:00 family service, the children were worship leaders. One of my challenges was to figure out how to include them in the sermon, as well. Finally, I came up with the idea to say the phrase "children of God everywhere" a few times throughout the sermon, and to have them stand each time they said it. And now, without further ado...

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a part of a large family. I had one sister and one brother, but that wasn't enough for me. I wanted there to be more children. The Catholic family down the street -- they had five children, and I thought that was wonderful. Why couldn't we be more like them? Everything there seemed more lively, more interesting. And I read books about large families, like Cheaper by the dozen, about a family with 12 children. I even read about one couple who blended families and had 18 children! Can you imagine? I thought that would be wonderful! But you, as hard as I tried I couldn't convince my parents that we oulght to expand our family.

Just after Jesus' resurrection, there were only a few disciples -- gathering together to worship and to pray and to help each other. And in some ways, they were like a small family. In fact, sometimes they spoke about each other that way, calling each other, "sisters and brothers in Christ." Also, most of the first Christians were Jewish, so therewas a sense of "family" -- they had all worshiped and believed the same things before they became Christians. They probably all ate the same kinds of foods, wore the same kinds of clothes, and spoke the same language as well. But little by little, that began to change. First, the apostle Paul -- who we read about in our first lesson -- began to travel farther away from the rest of Jesus' disciples. Somehow he felt God was calling him to go our and tell more peole, different people, about Jesus' love. And some of them spoke different languages and some of them ate different foods and some of them maybe even wore different kinds of clothes. But Paul had the feeling that there might be children of God everywhere -- if only they had hte opportunity to hear about God's love and become part of god'sw fmaily.

In our lesson from Acts today, the apostle Paul is about to set out on another journey. If you were to read just prior to our lesson, you would find out that two places Paul wanted to go were blocked -- somehow, he says, he got the feeling that the Holy Spirit didn't want him to go there. But then he has a vision in a dream -- there are people in Macedonia who are waiting for him, ready for the message that he is bringing. Now I'm not sure whether Paul would have gotten the idea to go to Macedonia by himself or not. By going there, he's getting just a little farther away from home. He's crossing over into another country, another area of the world. For some people, that can be frightening. When I was about 8, my grandfather decided to take me over the border into Iowa, which was only a few miles from their farm. As soon as we crossed over, I looked at him and said, "let's go back!" I was nervous about crossing that boundary. I felt far from home. These days it isn't so much the boundaries of countries or states that give us trouble. We travel many more places than our grandparents did. The boundaries that are still troublesome are those of race and colr and even class and language: it might be more difficult to visit the hispanic family acrossthe street, for example, than to visit Lutherans over in Europe. Despite those boundaries, though, the Holy Spirit wants Paul -- and us -- to know: There are children of God everywhere -- even in Macedonia.

In Macedonia Paul meets Lydia, a gentile woman who loves God. Now there are several unusual things about Lydia that might make her an unlikely candidate for evangelism. First, she is a gentile: not Jewish. She is not of the same ethnoic background as Paul. Second, she is a woman. it would have been unusual for a Jewish man, likek Paul, to speak with a woman -- just like it was unusual for Jesus to speak with the Samaritan woman who came to the well, in John's gospel. Third, she was both a merchant, and the head of a household. She had a family, but it was not a traditional one by the standards of the time. She may have been a widow with children, but her household also probably included servants. And she dealt in purple cloth, which, by the way, was a luxury item, so Lydia was probably connected. But she was at the place of prayer, and her heart was open to god. So Paul performs the ultimate act of hospitality -- he baptizes her and her whole household, and welcomes them to the family of God.

Writer Anne LaMott tells many stories about her journey to faith in God. And she's not ashamed to talk about herself as the unlikeliest person to become a Christian. She was skeptical about religion, she was freewheeling in her life. She talks about having the feeling at some point that Jesus was pursuing her and turning her back on him and thinking, "I would rather die." She just couldn't imagine herself a believer Yet at the same time she found herself at this little Presbyterian church on Sunday mornings. She wasn't even sure how she got there. And -- as I have mentioned before -- the people at this church were kind to her and welcomed her. She says of them, "Somehow they mistook me for a child of God" --but you see, they knew, llike Paul, that there are children of god everywhere -- and one morning -- they performed the ultimate act of hospitality -- and she was baptized and welcomed into their family, their congregation.

Baptism is many things. It is dying and rising with Christ. It is being born again. It is getting a cleansing bath, and then being clothed in a robe of righteousness. But it is also the ultimate act of hospitality. For whenever we perform a baptism, we are saying, "You may be a stranger, but now you are a member of my family." Sometimes we shy away from the "family of God" imagery. I think that's because sometimes the danger in talking about the church as the "family of God" is imagining it as an exclusive place, where we all look and dress and act similarly, where we ha ve come to expect (and even like) a certain family resemblance." That's why I like the image of baptism as "adoption into a new family, becoming a child of god" -- especially in this era of international adoptions, when children and their parents don't necessary look alike. It helps us to imagine better what God's family really looks like.

I used to babysit for a family with two adopted sons. Among their picture books, which I used to read to them, they had one that explained what it meant to be adopted. I remember especially one statement: "You are really special, because we chose you." and the message must have gotten through, because I remember one of their sons used to go around saying, "I am really special, because you chose me, right?" Adoption is really a radical act of hospitality, saying, "You were not born to me, but you are my child." It is to give the homeless one a home, and the lonely -- a family. So Paul welcomed Lydia into God's family, and Lydia welcomed Paul to her household. They were now related -- both of them adopted children of God.

Once, while Jesus was out of the road with his disciples, his mother and brothers and sisters tried to see him. He said, as if to put them off, "Who are my mother and brothers?" Then he said to his disciples, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother... and sister... and mother." At the time, it might have seemed a mean thing to say: to turn his own family away. But perhaps Jesus was not so much narrowing the definition of a family, but expanding it -- perhaps he was practicing radical hospitality. He wasn't so much turning them away as he was adding others, embracing others.

Today is Mother's Day. It's a happy and busy day for some: a lonely day for others. But here today let us remember that before god none of us is childless, and no one is an orphan. For thereare children of God everywhere (Children, please remain standing.) There are children of God in nursing homes and elementary schools, in Tanzania and down the block: and speaking Spanish, English, Somali and Russian. We are all mothers and father, and sisters and brothers, members of a large and diverse (and sometimes noisy) family. The homeless have been given a home -- both here on earth and later in heaven. The lonely have received a family. The hungry have someone to share a meal with them. God in Christ has come to you, has stretched out his arms to welcome you, has given you brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, as many as the stars. And it is our call, our task, our privilege -- to go out with open arms and hearts -- and to expand God's family. Look around you and see --- there are children of God everywhere.


Barbara B. said...

thanks for posting your sermon!!!

Amanda Craig said...

I love that you used this medium to post your sermon. I could hear to saying it as I read... Thank you for sharing. I miss your Saturday night sermons!!!