Morning Worship: Jesus opened, challenged definition of family

In this really long, long campaign year, everyone is talking about the breakdown of the family,” said the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “There are too many divorces, and women working outside the home, women on welfare not working outside the home, teenage pregnancy, and gays are all destroying the family.”

Here is Jesus, destroying the family — challenging assumptions, she said.

Lundblad’s sermon title was “Vanishing Values,” and the text was Mark 3:31-35.

In an earlier passage in Mark, Jesus’ family had come to get him and restrain him because they thought he was out of his mind. They came again to get him, and the people around him said, “Here are your mother and brothers.”

Jesus said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

Mary must have been thinking, “ ‘What do you do with a son like that? I am your mother,’ ” Lundblad said.

Jesus said some strange things about families, she said. He called people to leave their families. He called the sons of Zebedee, James and John to leave their father alone with the fishing boat. A man he called to follow him told Jesus he had to bury his father.

“Jesus said to let the dead bury the dead,” she said. “That was harsh, but also quite impossible.”

Jesus completely disregarded his family, Lundblad said. He looked at the crowd and said, “ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ Whoever does the will of God. He talks about mothers, and brothers, and sisters, but never about the Father; that is God. These people were as valuable [to Jesus] as his blood family.”

She continued: “It is hard to find a ‘traditional Christian family’ in the teachings or life of Jesus, and it is hard in the whole Bible. You hear about Christian family values, and [if] you go to the Bible and try to find the godly families in the Bible, who would you choose?”

The congregation laughed.

Lundblad started with Abraham, the “father of the faith” of Jews, Christians and Muslims, who fathered children by two different women. One woman, Hagar, had no choice. Abraham treated his two sons badly, almost sacrificing one (Isaac) and sending the other into the wilderness (Ishmael).

Jacob married two sisters, Rachel and Leah, and had children with two concubines, Zilpah and Bilhah. David took Bathsheba for his lover and had her husband killed. In the Song of Songs, a man and a woman extol their physical love even though they are not married.

“I have asked in marriage counseling, ‘What text would you like to read at your wedding?’ Some couples don’t know what text means,” Lundblad said. “Some say that wedding Jesus attended at Cana, but that is not about the wedding but about turning water into wine, which they think would be a fun idea. They mention Ruth and Naomi, but that is not about a bride and groom.

“It is hard to find a text about a wedding,” she said. “Some say I Corinthians 13, but that is not about a wedding, but about a community in complete corruption,” she said.

Sometimes, we try to excuse the Bible forebears by saying they were people of their time and place, but, Lundblad asked, who would you choose in the New Testament?

“We could start with Joseph and Mary,” she said, and then paused as the congregation laughed. “Joseph did the right thing and then disappeared. What sort of marriage is that? Then there was Simon Peter; Jesus healed his mother-in-law. Does that help you?”

There was more laughter from the congregation.

“I have wondered about that text,” she said. “What does it say if Peter was the first Pope? But that is a sermon for another time.”

More laughter from the congregation.

She mentioned Timothy, Paul’s chosen successor, who was raised by his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois.

“Then, in Acts, we have two couples,” she started to say and was again interrupted by laughter from the congregation. “Some of you have read your Bible. There were Priscilla and Aquila, who were commended for their good deeds, and Annanias and Saphira. They sold a plot of land and kept the proceeds for themselves when they were supposed to share them. They fell dead at the Apostles’ feet. Marriage was not the cause of death, but it did not assure their faithfulness.

“It is almost impossible to find ‘traditional Christian family values’ in the Bible,” she continued. “The Bible is not like a magazine at the supermarket checkout  — ‘Seven Steps to a Perfect Family’ — so why are some people so certain what a perfect family is? Where are Christian family values clearly spelled out?”

Lundblad continued: “If we are honest, family values are shaped by our childhood, the different families we have known, the community we grew up in, families who are different from ours. Some families behave better than others. Some are not good at all. Feelings are not morally wrong, and it is not wrong to have feelings, but it is wrong to equate my feelings with Jesus’ values. My opinion is not the same as Christian family values.”

She noted that some families with a mother, father and two children are nurturing. In others they, are treated badly.

“Then there are others [families] who don’t fit that definition at all who are lifegiving. Let us be as humble as Paul was in I Corinthians 7,” she said.

Paul said he had a word from the Lord that those who were unmarried would do well to remain so.

“Forget, singles,” Lundblad said.

Husbands and wives should stay together, but he had no word from the Lord about virgins; he had an opinion.

“That is honest,” she said. “You have the right to your opinion even if it is misguided, but you have no right to equate your opinion with the will of God.”

At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus gives the care of his mother to the Beloved Disciple.

“Jesus did not diss the family but opened it to an expansive view of the family. He included people who never would have been included,” she said. She quoted from Ursula Le Guin’s poem “On 23rd Street.”

“If we say that family isn’t everything, we can be open to say that family can be anyone,” she said. “If we are honest with one another, family is important, but it is not the most important thing if some people are never a part of it.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr., director of the Chautauqua Department of Religion, presided. The Rev. Scott Maxwell, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The choir sang “Hallelujah” from “Mount of Olives” by Ludwig van Beethoven. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy supports this week’s services.