Pastor’s Newsletter Message – April 2016
~ Everybody’s Family is Weird ~
And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said,
“Here are my mother and brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Dear Members and Friends,
I wrote this sermon introduction some years ago, but then I chickened out and never used it:
Many years ago, I was engaged to a woman who would console me sweetly by saying, “It’s okay. Everybody’s family is weird.” Was she right about that? I don’t know. In the case of her family and mine, she was! Our engagement came to naught, but I still tease myself with her well-intended words. “Everybody’s family is weird.” I think she meant to say that all families have their quirks, and entanglements, and hidden histories; it takes years for an outsider to master them all.
As a rookie pastor, my parents and siblings made “easy pickings” for sermon illustrations. And yet, I quickly discovered that stories about the minister’s relatives are embarrassing for congregations. Oh, but indulge me just for today; none of them are here! I come from a family of five children, and I fall in the dead middle, like Peter Brady.
My only sister is the oldest, and we four brothers are as different from each other as April, July, October, and January. Because both our parents worked while we were growing up, our sister was in charge. And boy was she ever! To this very day, whenever the seven of us find ourselves together, my sister remains very much in charge. Even my parents do as they are told. My brothers and I used to say that when the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks first to see if our sister is hiding under his bed. If you remember Pip’s older sister from the wonderful novel Great Expectations, by Dickens, then you’ve got the idea. In fact, I believe that book sounded such an echo in my heart that it nudged me toward a degree in English instead of commercial art.
Well, Michelle and I are hosting the family Easter celebration today. My sister usually hosts, but her nursing job occasionally requires her to work on holidays. And as I think about the inevitable events that will transpire around the dinner table this afternoon, I am both excited and already a little bit troubled. No need to read the text; I know the song by heart. Without my sister present, no one knows how to interact with each other. My mother will ask us all once, “How are you?” She won’t listen to the answer, then she’ll remain unresponsive to any attempts at further conversation, except to call my children by the names of my older brother’s kids and ask them in baby-talk how school is. My father will tell the same stories and jokes that he’s been telling since I was a child. The two brothers in attendance will say nary a word. Not one. Each time Michelle leaves the table to fetch a salt shaker or a butter dish, all chit-chat will grind to a halt. I’ll feel the need to fill that silence with affable chatter—a draining task for an introverted minister on Easter afternoon—and everything I say will be heard through the old “ear trumpet” of family history, which is filled with decades-old landmines. The relationships around the table are laden with ancient booby-traps, like the ones that the pyramid-builders laid for grave robbers, still waiting to snap into action, still waiting to snare their prey. It’s exhausting. It’s messy. But it’s family…and I love them, and it’s entirely worth the effort.
Is everybody’s family weird? Is yours? Each family comes with its own internal rules, and codes, and unspoken assumptions. There are locked rooms, and secret doors, and back staircases. But being in relationship is worth the effort. Church families can seem strange to newcomers, too. As visitors become more a part of our regular worship experience, I hope each of us will do more than just greet them cordially. Invite them to sit with you. Welcome them to coffee hour or to class. Encourage them to sign in on the pew pad. Strike up a conversation. Every family can feel kind of weird and a little disconcerting for a newcomer…but being family is always worth the effort.
In Christ’s Peace,