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Love Makes a Family

By Terry LePage

Love Makes a Family
(a reflection on Mark 3:20-35)

Love makes a family. I hear that saying to describe nontraditional families created by same-gender-loving people. Sadly, the family that love made has often had to stand in for the family a gay person grew up in. The good news is that gay marriage is legal, and more and more of the time, love is winning over prejudice, and families are accepting their children the way God made them.

Love makes a family. When I grew up, this saying was used to affirm adoption: that adopted children truly belong. This might seem a given to you, but in many times and places adopted children never quite belonged. My two younger brothers are adopted. As the eldest child I witnessed my mother’s passion to assure her boys that they were valued members of our family.

Love makes a family. Jesus said something very like this. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. And the will of God? The details will be specific to your life, but the short form is to love and be loved, and to figure out how to put that love into action. We will do it far from perfectly, but as we seek to receive fully the love God gives us, to step into its flow and to share it generously and wisely, we find kinship with others who seek the same thing, a kind of family beyond traditional family. With a little word play, we can transform the Kingdom of God, a rather archaic concept to us, into the Kin-dom of God, because we are all kin, all connected by God’s love.[i]

There is a rhythm to belonging and separating that most of us know, reaching inward to the people who defined us for nurture and familiar roles, and reaching outward to find and express our unique path in the world, and possibly to recover from some early wounds. That rhythm is not always easy for those we love. We all have roles and expectations around family, and in some situations those roles don’t fit. In his public ministry, Jesus dashed the expectations of his family. He was no longer the family breadwinner and the reliable presence; he never did start a family of his own. Instead he went on the road and stirred up trouble. And so we are blessed, because he had something much bigger to create: this Kin-dom of God, this wider form of belonging.

The Gospel of Mark shows Jesus naming this new Kin-dom in the midst of controversy:

“…and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark could tell a good story, and he often told it in the form of a sandwich. Chiastic is the technical term. The bread for the sandwich is about Jesus’ family. The top slice of bread: “Jesus, your family is coming to town, and they’re upset. They think you’re crazy.” The bottom slice of bread: “Jesus, your family are pounding on the door, they want to talk to you right now,” but instead he names those gathered around him listening and learning as his family.

A spicy, strange filling lurks in the middle of this sandwich: talk of Satan and unforgivable sins.

Jesus tells a strange parable about binding a strong man, that’s Satan, and plundering his possessions, that’s us! What does that mean? It’s what Jesus does for us, according to the gospel of Mark. I don’t like personifying evil, but evil is real. Does anybody feel oppressed by events in the news? By the carbon-generating lifestyle in which we are trapped? By economic systems that use people like they’re disposable, that make accumulation of obscene wealth a virtue, and structural poverty a vice? It’s easy to go to fear and hopelessness and helplessness, or to try to come out on top in a sick system, or to just put our fingers in our ears and hum. That’s how we live in “the strong man’s house”, in a system that treats people like possessions and the earth like a garbage dump. And when it is all we know it feels normal and we accept it as normal. Getting freed is disruptive, even scary.

Jesus, and Mark, knew better than to demonize people. Yes, people do evil things. Yet people are not the evil. Labeling people evil is called scapegoating, and it only makes things worse.

With the power of Jesus Christ, we lose our fear of naming oppression and evil for what they are, because we can trust that oppression and evil will not have the last word. We are not helpless, and we are not hopeless. That freedom upsets people who do not understand why we do not just keep quiet and pretend everything’s OK. Sometimes we confuse the people we love, and sometimes we discover new people to love, and who love us: the Kin-dom of God. Our love is too small, I know. So limited. But God’s is not.

And then there’s that unforgivable sin. “Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.” What does that mean? People extract that verse from its context and puzzle over it. Place it back where it belongs and it’s pretty simple. First, Jesus is angry. He might not have been making a theological statement for all time. He might have exaggerated a little in his frustration. Set in context, he is simply saying, “Can you believe what ridiculous lies they’re saying about me? Being called crazy is one thing. But publicly labeling God’s work evil? That’s the worst. Just the worst.” God’s work of transformation can be disruptive. You don’t have to like it. But publicly labeling it evil… means God’s not getting through to you anytime soon.

How do we avoid labeling God’s work evil and relieve any worries about committing the unforgivable sin? How about “Do not judge”? Withholding judgment doesn’t mean putting up with everything. It means expressing concerns respectfully, not scapegoating, treating people respectfully, and admitting that we may not see the whole picture.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is busy setting people free from what binds them, and messing with the corrupt established order, angering the Powers that Be, and creating new kinships of shared values. It’s a wonderful adventure, but it scared his family. They had reason to worry– it got him killed! The reason Mark was still talking about it over a generation later is because families were still getting scared by people following Jesus and getting freed from oppression and evil. Who knows, that might still be happening.

The Kin-dom of God is found in life-giving relationships. Where do we find it today?

Anna’s father was a trucker. Her mother was long gone, and she spent long hours and even overnights at the babysitter’s. That babysitter raised her. That babysitter loved her. At some point after she no longer needed babysitting, that babysitter insisted on legally adopting her, an event that filled Anna with amazement and joy. True belonging. Anna has a married child of her own now, and I never would have known her story, except she wanted to brag about her mom to her pastor.

Essie Parrish and Mabel McKay were sisters.[ii] They shared a passion, around which they built their lives, to preserve and practice Native American cultural arts and spirituality in Northern California in the mid-twentieth century. Essie and Mabel kept Pomo culture alive through much of the last century. They were not sisters by blood. They had just discovered each other, discovered their common gifts and passion, and declared themselves sisters. And so they were to the end of their lives.

My youngest brother Rich is my cousin by birth. When my grandmother realized she couldn’t raise him, my parents adopted him. We were his third family. He had struggles growing up, and a very short first marriage. We sort of expected him to give up trying and stay single. But he found Sandra when he was around forty, and I got to officiate at the wedding. Sandra understands Rich, and brings out the best in him. Now he is the wise and gentle patriarch of Sandra’s clan, all in a big house together with a son and daughter and son-in-law, and three grandchildren. Rich is not yet fifty years old. And Rich belongs.

I was talking to a friend who’s been through a lot of health challenges about this theme, “Love makes a family.” “Oh, like you and me,” she said. After a moment of reflection, I said, “Yes, like that.”

May Jesus Christ free you to risk the love that makes us part of God’s family, that widens and deepens your family. In God’s family, we are free to become who God is inviting us to be. In God’s family, you belong.

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[i] The term ‘kin-dom” of God was apparently first introduced into public discourse by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, who said she learned it from Georgene Wilson, O.S.F.

[ii] Mabel McKay, Weaving the Dream. Greg Sarris, UC Press, 2013.

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