Morning Worship: ‘We Are Family’ through our spiritual DNA

Chautauqua had a deep influence on the Rev. Dwight D. Andrews.

“My first revelation is that I am going to go home and play my sax in church,” he said. “The second revelation is that I am going to look for a different way to grow my church — to add people who look like you.”

The congregation applauded, letting him know that he had a deep influence on them.

Andrews ended his sermon series at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service with “We are Family” and his text was Mark 6:1-6.

But before he got down to his oral message, he and Jared Jacobsen provided an aural message, playing together “Come Sunday” by Duke Ellington.

“I wanted to lift up this piece because, although Duke Ellington was not a member of a particular denomination, late in his life he was interested in creating sacred music to describe his feelings about God and faith through jazz,” Andrews said.

“Come Sunday” is part of a larger suite, Black, Brown and Beige. For many years Ellington tried to get Mahalia Jackson to record “Come Sunday,” but she did not want to because she was a Gospel singer and did not want to be associated with jazz, Andrews said. She finally did record it in the 1950s after the Newport Jazz Festival.

“I want to bring all these musics together — all these styles together,” Andrews said. “I want to lift them up to God because God has given us so many styles and because God is so good.”

Andrews is a child of the 1960s and ’70s, and although he was classically trained in music, he can’t help but have pop songs ringing in his head, he said.

“I want to cast ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge in a different way with Mark 6,” Andrews said. “In Mark 5, Jesus had healed the man with demons, the woman with a hemorrhage and Jarius’ daughter. In Chapter 6, he is returning to his hometown.”

However, people still saw Jesus as Mary’s son and James’ brother; they did not know him as the Messiah. The villagers reminded him of his place. They asked, “where did he get his power, this new truth?”

“It is the truth of human nature that we are not recognized in our hometown in the way we are in other places,” Andrews said. “I had a very painful experience while I was in seminary. My friends would tease me and called me a ‘chicken eatin’ preacher’ and gave me the nickname ‘Chicken Wing.’ That is no name for an intelligent, articulate preacher. I was frustrated that they would not let me grow into my new reality.”

That dynamic — not letting people grow into a new reality — is one that holds back many families.

“The dynamics don’t move but people move,” Andrews said. “We don’t allow people to grow away from an addiction. My father was an alcoholic for most of his life, and it fractured him and our family. He got sober toward the end, and I never knew the sober man. But the family would never let him be sober. We get so familiar with the [addicted person].”

Jesus was amazed that the people in his village had such unbelief, Andrews said. He was able to do little there because of their unbelief.

“The belief of others had much to do with his ability to heal,” he said. “And a family should not be a great inhibitor to progress. We are family, but we have to allow everyone to come to the kitchen table. When alcoholics or prisoners come to the table we must be the very ones to help them grow and blossom.”

Andrews tells couples in marriage counseling to be very careful with the love of the person they are about to marry.

“Our friends are not as powerful as our family,” he said. “Families have to allow [those who are recovering] to be vulnerable and to take care of them. How are we going to be family together? How can we be different and valued at the same time? How do we appreciate the value of different songs?”

He recalled the song “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone. According to Andrews, the song is a plea for peace between different social and racial groups and what it means to be family.

“Jesus’ family eventually came along with him, but how different it is to keep everyone at the table and embrace them all,” he said.

The challenge for the 21st-century church is to meet the needs of people who don’t know God as the center of experience, Andrews said. The church needs to articulate a way to be that center.

“We have a more sophisticated challenge today than during the Civil Rights Movement,” he said. “What does the future hold? How can we be truly together today? I am strengthening my resolve to push toward a goal that I can’t see yet.”

There are few “colored and brown faces at Chautauqua,” Andrews said. “Let’s throw the door open and ask people to come who are different from yourselves.

“My first revelation this week was to resolve to play my saxophone in church,” he continued. “My second revelation is that mainstream churches will need a different way to grow. I need to go home and add people who don’t look like me [to the church]. I need to invite people like you. It is a subversive activity to change the world — not just to march with me, but to be with me, have breakfast with me, sit with me. The future can not look like the past.”

Andrews said, “I will look in different places for new members. The church must be a point of departure, not a point of destination. God made us with the spiritual DNA we share as family.”

There were many amens and a standing ovation from the congregation.

The Rev. Susan McKee presided. Jane McCarthy, co-coordinator of the Blessing and Healing Service and coordinator for Women in Ministry, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The choir sang “If I Got My Ticket,” by Roy L. Belfield Jr., based on an African-American spiritual. Peter Steinmetz was the tenor soloist. The Edmund E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Chaplaincy supported this week’s services.