Column by Mary Lee Talbot.
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers and sisters? Is it my family of origin, choice or God? Jesus’ response affirms all three,” said the Very Rev. Tracey Lind at the Wednesday morning 9:15 a.m. Devotional Hour.
“Family Values” was the title of her sermon, and her texts were Mark 3:31-35 and Acts 10:44-48.
She talked about “The Birdcage,” the movie adapted from the French film “La Cage Aux Folles.” In the movie, a Jewish gay nightclub owner and his drag queen partner pretend to be a straight couple so that his son can marry the daughter of a conservative senator. In order to avoid news reporters, they all exit the club in a drag parade to the tune “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. The final scene is the interfaith wedding of the young couple performed by a rabbi and a minister.
“This is a wonderful 21st-century commentary on Jesus’ family values,” Lind said.
In the Scripture lesson, Jesus has settled in Capernaum, his adopted home, and his mother has come to take him back to Nazareth.
“They are trying to rescue him from himself and his enemies,” she said. “How many families do you know who have done this? They are embarrassed, afraid and confused, like Jesus’ own family. These families feel an obligation, often led by siblings, to solve a problem. Like a mother bear, we try to protect those with whom we are most bonded by birth or adoption.
“Jesus asks his own coming-of-age questions about family. He makes one more claim of his own truth — here are the people I choose to call family. He said this in a society where identity was tied to family, where family took precedence and where family was a financial contract. He chose a family based on lived, shared values.”
Lind called the family of choice an American right of passage. We don’t want our parents to choose our spouses; to bring home our own Mr. or Miss Right is an important step.
“We also bring the in-laws, or, as my family calls them, the out-laws, who come along as well,” she said.
“Our families are made up in lots of ways — religious communities, friends, people living in shelters, prisons, colleges, retirement communities, places like Chautauqua. Who do we claim as family? How have our values and shared experiences shaped our idea of family? Jesus simply claimed a new family of choice based on shared values. Race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity does not matter. What matters is the quality of our relationships and the fruits that we bear.”
Lind said: “Jesus did not say much about marriage and family. There is no unified teaching on marriage and family in the New Testament. Scholars have said that if we choose one set of family circumstances over another, we fail to acknowledge the authority of the whole teaching of Scripture.
“Jesus did say a lot about right relationships. He talked about fidelity, respect, equality, justice, commitment, creativity, gentleness, mercy, compassion, receptiveness, truthfulness, faithfulness and abiding love. The Great Commandment, Jesus’ elevator speech, has an implicit offer of respect for our neighbor’s choice of family. We may not like our neighbor’s choice, but it is not our place to judge. God will judge and will ask questions and draw conclusions.”
The story in Acts is a story about Christian family values, she asserted. Peter’s vision to baptize Cornelius broke the boundaries that were being erected between Judaism and early Christianity. Peter, she said, found himself converted to a new way of being just as Jesus found himself converted by the Canaanite woman.
“Family values is a hot topic, and the word ‘radical’ is often batted about. What is ‘radical,’ what is at the root, might inform our debates about gay marriage. I know we might not agree, but isn’t that what debate is all about? As Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’”
Lind said that she came out as a lesbian in the 1970s and has watched the evolution of civil rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for more than four decades.
“The progress is the result of one-on-one relationships with neighbors and co-workers that led to acceptance and new understanding,” she said.
She described a vision she had where everyone who was part of the LGBT community would turn purple at the same time. Then anyone who was a relative of an LGBT person would turn purple. Then the vision expanded to include anyone with an LGBT doctor, lawyer, hairdresser, etc.
“The world would become a beautifully woven tapestry of purple. I could see the policies of the government and the practices of the faith community changed. I never believed it would happen, but God is with us in the midst of change.
“Martin Luther King Jr. told us that the arc of the moral universe is a long bending toward justice, but it does not bend on its own,” she said. “We have to put our hands on it and bend it toward justice.”
Lind said she had seen that in May when President Obama said that gay and lesbian people should have the same civil rights as heterosexuals. She noted that he had evolved to that position and called it a difficult and courageous stand to change his mind in the midst of an election.
“Jesus, in his farewell discourse in John’s gospel, says that there is not greater love than to lay down our life for a friend. I give Obama credit for taking the risk to lay down his political life. Jesus calls us to bear fruit. That does not mean bearing children, but to witnessing gospel values. Bearing witness is complicated,” she said.
Lind said that she was one of the first openly gay, partnered chaplains at Chautauqua.
“About 10 years ago, Emily’s mom came for the closing service. A man came up to me afterward and said that his daughter had told him she is a lesbian and he did not know what to do. Emily’s mother just smiled and said, ‘Love her, just love her,’” Lind said.
She said: “We have come a long way, but we hear about family values all the time, and it is a wedge issue especially in swing states. Jesus had little to say about family. In claiming the non-traditional family of choice, he chose fidelity, respect, equality, justice, commitment, creativity, gentleness, mercy, compassion, receptiveness, truthfulness, faithfulness and abiding love.
“Moreover, he pointed to God whose ways are not our ways. God’s generosity and creativity are not constrained by our hearts and minds. As someone said, ‘At the wedding today, two families are becoming one. Pick a seat and not a side.’”
The Rev. Natalie Hansen presided. The Rev. Caroline Jinkins, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, Va., read the scripture. She is a fellow in the New Clergy Program. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, led the choir.
The Motet Choir sang “Christ’s Flock.” The text was adapted from work by Francis Kimmelwershe (1540?–1580?) with music by Martin Shaw. The anthem was written for the Church of St. Francis in Ngong, Kenya. Built by African and Asian craftspeople and funded by European congregations, the church was consecrated in 1952. It is a mixed race congregation that worships in English and Swahili. It was named for St. Francis, because birds fly through its open windows.