Today’s bonus reflection is by Petra Rickertsen, a member of the Redeemer community and Coordinator of Network Engagement for ELCA World Hunger. This reflection is not on one of today’s Daily Texts, but on the nature of family in God’s kingdom. This will also appear as an article in the upcoming edition of ELCA World Hunger’s magazine, LifeLines. Thank you to Petra for sharing with us!
“Jesus replied to them, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” —Matthew 12:48-50
What three words come to mind when picturing the holidays? Even when accompanied by lighthearted commentary about tolerating certain family members’ irritating qualities, for many, “family” makes the cut. The ever-present “family” theme in holiday stories, movies, and advertising could justify one reason why, but the theme wouldn’t resonate so well if it didn’t ring true for most Americans.
In movies, characters who come together for Christmas work to quell the arguments, set aside differences in opinion, and look past clashes of personality in the name of enjoying the holidays. Some people might do this in their real lives, because they think they can’t change their family or feel societal pressure to set aside differences and come together.
Letting go of the narrow definition of family as “those with whom we share blood” allows us as Christians to embrace more fully our “kin-dom of God” family. We practice this when we welcome children of God of all ages into the family through baptism and into the mission we share.
When someone told Jesus his mother and brothers were arriving, even He replied: “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Living as “little Christs” then (for this is what the word “Christian” means, coming from the Greek christianos), our family is everyone who lives with us in Christian mission.
Yet, what does it mean to make a congregation one’s family?
Rev. Mollie defines family in two “prongs”: one of origin; one of choice. Rev. Mollie embraces chosen family at Lord of Life (Thousand Oaks, CA), with whom she connected as a college student and still feels most “comfortable and purposeful.” After cutting ties with family of origin, this is no metaphor: this congregation is her family. “They’ve modeled for me what radical hospitality and acceptance looks like, and what it means to not settle for anything less than you deserve. Everyone needs and deserves to be loved, and if your family of origin doesn’t do that…your chosen family is waiting to be made.”
“Beyond the sense of biological, I believe that family also expands to include those who offer support, guidance, and grace,” offers Louis. “That calling that we all have in different ways” first called Louis to the congregation, now family, of Living Lord Lutheran Church (Lake St. Louis, MI). For Louis, this calling manifests in journeying with others through life in its fullest expression: from celebrating anniversaries and baby showers, to the blessing of being with people as they journey out of this life, then celebrating their life thereafter. It’s not exclusively sharing these life-altering experiences that makes congregation family, though; it’s also the way being present with the people is an opportunity for the Spirit to move. “When I am comfortable and thus able to take people into the Gospel in ways that they haven’t been able to before—that is when I know that I have found a family with the community.”
People of Pilgrim Lutheran Church (Chicago, IL) form Betty’s calling to the church family too. Betty’s blood relatives don’t let her help them, and don’t help her either. But when Betty offers to take care of the kids during worship services and make bread pudding for the annual holiday picnic, to name a few ways she wants and knows she can use her God-given gift of care, the congregation in whom she’s found a family graciously accepts. Because her church celebrates her gifts of helping others instead of dismissing her, Betty shares, “being in church with the people makes me happier.”
Perhaps a congregation being one’s place to turn for the holidays doesn’t mean they will become “family,” because the word itself is too damaged from broken relationships. Dr. Peter Carlson, Associate Professor of Religion at California Lutheran University, adds that a congregation should never self-title themselves as family to another because it looks like they need it for the holidays. But Dr. Carlson continues that when people of a congregation welcome people of God’s kin-dom to Christ’s table—not just at the altar, but also at our home dinner tables or physically distanced picnics—throughout the year, “maybe…then when the holidays come around, those of us whose lives are lived on the edges and in those in-between spaces, for whom “family” and “home” are damaged goods, might experience something new and redemptive. We might have to come up with new words to describe it, but it will be available to us, and will be safe, and filled with nourishing love.”
Sincere thanks to Rev. Mollie (San Diego, CA), Louis Mohlman (St. Louis, MO), Betty Ramos (Chicago, IL), and Dr. Peter Carlson (Oxnard, CA) for sharing your stories.