Family of God
Holy Covenant UMC
May 1, 2011
Rev. Kate Hurst Floyd
When I was a junior in college I studied in Sevilla, Spain. One of the goals was for this to be a total immersion experience: learn the language, eat the food, spend time with the locals. I didn’t want to be a tourist on a trip, but instead do all I could to really experience the culture and become a part of it. Well, as a part of it as a 20 year old blonde girl from Texas could be. Despite my best efforts, I still stuck out like a sore thumb.
A central part of my time abroad was living with a Spanish family. The parents, Maria and Jose, their two children, Jennifer and Alejandro, and their dog, Pepe. I also had an American roommate. The six of us spent many months together living in a small flat. It’s a curious thing to temporarily join a family for a period of time. To enter into unfamiliar rhythms, customs, and dynamics. Maria fixed us three meals a day, so there wasn’t any choice about what I was eating or when. In fact, I was so nervous because I didn’t eat red meat and pork is a staple in the Spanish diet. I practiced on the plane all the way across the Atlantic how to say: I don’t eat red meat in Spanish. I confidently proclaimed this to Maria my first night there, thinking I had gotten through and we were on the same page. The next night I politely ate the jamon, ham, she served for dinner and tried again.
Because the biggest hurdle for me was the language. I had taken Spanish in High School and college, and grown up in West Texas surrounded by the sounds of Spanish. But I was by no means fluent, and when I arrived could not comfortably understand nor carry on a conversation around the dinner table. I already felt like an outsider in the family but it made it harder that I couldn’t get to know them through language in the ways I wanted. It was a struggle day in and day out just to communicate with the very people I was spending most of my time around.
About two months in I had a dream that I still vividly remember, 8 years later. I was sitting in my bedroom studying and all of a sudden overheard the family out in the living room speaking pitch perfect English. I tore out of my bedroom and confronted them, angry and also so, so relieved that they could understand me and I could understand them. I couldn’t believe they had been keeping this from me the whole time, when I had been struggling to communicate. Well, I woke up, and turns out they still knew less English than I knew Spanish.
I continued to learn and practice and we became closer by the end of my time. My Spanish improved and I felt more and more a part of the family. But I never felt completely comfortable and by the end of my time I was ready to come home, to see my own family.
Our new worship theme, in May and June, is entitled: Family of God. We’ll be moving through this letter to the Ephesians, written by Paul or an apostle of Paul, to an early church community figuring out what it meant to be family with one another as they discerned how best to follow Christ as a community. 2,000 years later, we’re still trying to figure out what it means to be “family”.
For family is quite loaded: For some of us, this word evokes warm feelings of home, comfort, and being taken care of. Of our favorite meals cooked by our grandmother that we can’t seem to replicate on our own. Close relationships with siblings, who know us better than just about anyone. Family means our children, nieces, and nephews, who bring us boundless delight and love.
For others, our family of origin is a painful place, conjuring up feelings of abandonment, abuse, neglect. Being misunderstood around that dinner table, even though everyone is actually speaking English. We want our family to look a certain way right now, but struggle with infertility or finding a partner. Divorce, betrayal, death have shattered our expectations.
For most of us, it’s probably somewhere in between. Family is complicated, at the same time bringing us comfort and tension, love and rejection, laughter and annoyance. After all, we don’t choose what family we’re brought up in.
But we do talk about having chosen families. Most people here aren’t native Chicagoans and you speak fondly about your “family in Chicago”. No matter your relationship with your family of origin, these are the people you share meals with, cry with, celebrate with, for better or for worse, right here in the city. We have our family from grad school or the gym or music classes; Many of you talk about your work family, asking: please pray for my work family…a colleague’s sister has been diagnosed with cancer and she’s having a hard time. We find ourselves as part of communities of love and care.
And, of course, we have our church family at Holy Covenant. As Christians, part of a faith community, what does it mean for us to be family? This is the same question addressed in our text. The epistle begins with familial language, right from the outset: To God our Father.
Some of us shudder when we hear “Father” language for God. It’s problematic for many reasons. This address has been used by some in the church for centuries to claim that God is male, and thus that men are more created in the image of God than women and superior. The theologian Mary Daly famously said: If God is male, then male is God. (more…)