Reaching Out To Families

As the summer winds down, we are almost done with our summer sermon series, Why I Come To Church.  The topic this week was family.  We ended up getting two totally different perspectives, which was nice!  The lay person who offered their testimony talked about our church family and I preached about the call to reach out to families in our church.  After my sermon, Jordan started playing and singing the song, What A Wonderful World, and I jumped in on my saxophone. <3 I posted the video to the church Facebook page if you are interested!

Here’s my sermon.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 28, 2016
Summer Sermon Series, Why I Come To Church: Family

Mark 10:13-16

Reaching Out To Families

Growing up, I always equated church with my family.

For a lot of people, church means family time, but, as a preacher’s kid, more often than not, family time also meant church. Christmas Eve dinners were held in the church kitchen in between services and usually consisted of hot dogs that we bought at the gas station and an assorted variety of chips. Easter mornings started long before the sun came up; not with my sister and me grabbing for our Easter baskets, but for whatever instruments we were playing at the sunrise service that year. Last month when my dad’s family gathered in Connecticut for our annual Fourth of July “Camp Keck,” no one ever discussed our plans for Sunday morning; we all just woke up, got ready for church and piled into a couple of cars. It is just what we do (the pre-worship selfie, however, was new this year!)

But, again I say: I am a preacher’s kid. My family has to go to church. It is not unusual for us to figure out a way to fit church into our schedule. We have no other choice but to work around the church calendar and the people around us have learned to accept it.

But what about the families who do not have to come church? What about the families whose friends and bosses and coaches do not expect them to have a standing Sunday morning commitment? What about the families who are trying to balance church along with everything else and who are trying to make church “fit” into the crazy and hectic lives they lead? What about the families who feel guilty that they cannot come to church more or give more or be more involved? What about the families who feel powerless against their own schedules; who want to be here at the church and be part of the community, but also want to provide extracurricular and athletic opportunities for their children, opportunities that often occur on Sunday mornings?

As a church, we can help these families. As a church, we are called to help these families. In fact, I believe this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do in the scripture that we read this morning from the Gospel of Mark.

This scripture talks about receiving children. We read it when we baptize children and promise, as a community, to always welcome them, embrace them and support them on their faith journey.

But even though Jesus was talking specifically about the children that were in his midst, I also think that there is a bigger meaning and purpose to what he was saying.

This passage is part of a broader narrative; immediately before it, the Pharisees had questioned Jesus about divorce, asking if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Rather than answering perhaps the way the Pharisees wanted him to – that it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife and leave her without money, status or power – Jesus favored women in his response, showing he believed women should be considered equal.[1]

And then Jesus started talking about children.

So, let’s think about this: In terms of who had power in the culture and society Jesus was living in, women (particularly divorced women) and children were pretty low on the list. And these were the ones that Jesus took favor on; Jesus cared deeply for the powerless. Jesus wanted to open his arms wide and welcome the powerless into his midst; Jesus wanted to lay hands on them and to bless them and to ensure them that there was a place in the world for them.

The powerless.

Jesus cared for the powerless and went out of his way to reach out to them. I would argue that, as Christians, we are called to do the same.

I know that when we talk about reaching out to the powerless, it opens up the door to also talking about reaching out to other groups of marginalized people; orphans, immigrants, minorities, people with special needs and who are sick, widows and widowers and many more. And I certainly do not want to overshadow these groups or forget about them!

But today in church we are talking about families; specifically family being the reason that we come to church. And so today, in looking at this scripture and how it shows Jesus reaching out to the powerless, I want to talk about families and how sometimes they struggle with feeling powerless.

And I want to talk about how we, as a church, can help them.

I would argue that families today often feel powerless against the craziness of the world that we live in. While the type of powerlessness they feel is different from the systemic powerlessness experienced by the children Jesus was talking about in this scripture, I believe the call to action is the same.

I spend a lot of time working with families at this church, particularly younger families, and I see them struggling in real and sometimes impossible ways. They often feel pulled in too many different directions, lacking the time, energy and money to keep up with everything society is telling them they need to have and do. They have to constantly fight back against the ever-changing world of technological and social media advancement. They have to make difficult choices and often cannot automatically equate family time with church time because their Sundays are taken up by work, sports and other extracurricular activities.

And they feel powerless, unable to find balance in it all.

But this is where the church comes in. We can give power to the powerless.

In this instance, giving power to the powerless means that we can help the families in our community who are struggling and feeling lost. We can empower our families by making sure they know that they are welcome here, at this church, no matter what their lives look like. When we hear the call of Jesus to, “Let the children come to me,” we need to respond by opening our arms wide and making sure our church is a safe space for all of our families to experience God’s love, learn and grow in their faith and worship in a way that is meaningful, relevant and accessible.

When my mom and I were in Hungary, we worshipped at a Catholic Church in Hévíz, which is in the Lake Balaton region, about two hours from Budapest. And while we each got a lot of different things out of the experience, we both commented later how wonderful it was to see so many young families in the church. It felt a lot like being in our own churches. There was movement; there were small voices asking questions, babies crying, parents shushing and little feet pitter-pattering around the balcony. Even though I was sitting in a Hungarian Catholic mass, it all felt so familiar to me.

And I loved it. I loved a watching a young family settle in next to an older woman who had her head covered was clutching and kissing her visibly worn rosary beads. I loved watching the children kneel and stand and try to sing along with the familiar hymns and prayers. I loved watching a young father frantically try to get his screaming baby out of the church during the homily. I loved seeing this church bear witness to Jesus’ scriptural call, to open their doors wide so that everyone, regardless of their age, gender or life circumstances, could be on the receiving end of God’s grace.

This is what I want for our church.

As a church, we are called to be a safe place for families to come and learn and worship and pray and grow in their faith. We are called to set good examples for them, to help them discern how to find balance and support them when their journeys are difficult. We are called to love them and be patient with the chaos that they sometimes bring. We are called to adjust our calendar if something works better for their schedules. We are called to ask for their opinions and be willing to change if there is a way we can better accommodate their needs. We are called to remember that we are at this church today, as adults, partly because someone embraced us in the church when we were children and we want that legacy to continue.

It is not always easy to embrace a multitude of families in the church and create a space where they can all come and are free to be themselves. But our families need our support; many of them are fragile; some feel powerless.

And Jesus calls us to reach out to the powerless.

As I thought about families in the church this week, I was reminded of a line from Hamilton (sorry, my obsession has continued throughout the summer). It is from the scene where Alexander Hamilton dies; time freezes right before the bullet strikes Hamilton and he launches into a monologue.

Legacy, what is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.[2]

As a church that is committed to our families, we are touching lives in ways that we may never see or know. But we are also touching lives in ways that are real and powerful and grace-filled and life changing.

So let us plant seeds; let us celebrate families and support families and love families. Let us open our arms wide and welcome families into our midst, blessing them by placing our hands on them and ensuring them that there is a place in this church for them.

And may our children one day tell the stories that we are helping to write in this church today.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] In Matthew 10:1-12, Jesus says that if a man divorces his wife, it should be considered adultery, but if a woman divorces her husband, it should also be considered adultery. I wouldn’t go as far to say that Jesus is condoning divorce, but I do think he doesn’t think there should be a double standard.

[2] Hamilton, Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. From the song, The World Was Wide Enough.

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