Nothing stretches us as much as family. Stretch marks are real but they are not just for moms. Family stretches us all: physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Families stretch in order to grow.
By birth, by adoption, or step by step, families blend, marry and merge. My own family grew a bazillion percent over the last few years. I now have two daughters and not just one. I now have three grandchildren by Rebecca. And my youngest son, Jacob parents his partner’s little boys, giving me three more. December, a year ago, I added a brother-in-law, when Joseph married John. And this past November, I gained a daughter-in-law – Jen — who married my son Zach on a boat on the Hudson River with the Statue of Liberty’s arm raised in blessing.
Stretching is not all good, of course. Stretching can lead to strain and stress. There has been a whole lot of kabuki theater drama associated within my own family as we have stretched to include all of the above. The Peacock family melodrama might make a good TV series someday – if we all manage to live through it. Relationships have been strained to the breaking point at times – but on the whole, we are bigger and better and more deeply connected than ever.
And we all have the stretch marks to show for it.
He has his own family mess on his hands. In fourteen heated verses in the Gospel of Mark, we hear why “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Accusations fly: “He has gone out of his mind. He is possessed by Beelzebul (which literally means Lord of the flies). And by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.”
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.”
That’s a pretty chilling rejection. No one can fault his family for their concern. He’s acting strangely. He’s not eating enough. He doesn’t care where he sleeps. And he’s been talking a bunch of crazy stuff about the kingdom of God. And no one can really fault the religious authorities for wanting to keep things kosher, either. Faith and family are the bedrock of society. Right?
One family stands outside. Another gathers around to listen at his feet. Jesus does not so much trash traditional family values as he stretches the meaning of family beyond its comfy cozy cultural boundaries.
A scholar writes:
It is an odd feature of Jesus’ ministry that he is open to everybody: Gentiles, the Jews, the poor, the demented, the sick, the working class, women, tax collectors, sexual outcastes.
The only people who provoke Jesus’ intolerance are his family and the law-abiding scribes. The ones closest to him and the ones who are like him. It seems they are least able to make the leap [from traditional family values] to open-hearted love of God’s beloved and disfigured humanity.” (Wendy Farley, Feasting on the Word)
These are the ones who have the most trouble making the stretch.
DNA does indeed make a family but so do a lot of other things. It is often said that “We can’t choose our family.” But Mark’s gospel pretty much smashes that conceit.
We are gathered here as a church family – choosing to pray and praise and sing together.
We are gathered here as a larger family who chooses to reach out to a family-larger-still beyond these walls – in service to our hungry neighbors, in service to the homeless, in service to the strangers in our midst.
We choose to stretch. Our faith and our creed – far more than any politics – demands that we stretch.
And we are also citizens, members of an American family – not defined by blood or birth. America is born of our forbearers’ idea that we left behind the divisions of religion and race and nation – to a nation of laws: Where all men (and women) are created equal.
The Peacock clan have been native Washingtonians back to 1801 – when William Peacock was the sole member of the family counted in the city census. But Peacocks came from England. Some from Wales. Some from Ireland. There are a few Vikings in the mix, as well. Some fled religious persecution. Some fled famine. Some just came looking for a better life for their kith and kin.
How did your family get here? Did they arrive on a slave ship? Did they emigrate through Ellis Island? Did they flee the oppression of communism? Did they escape from the anti-Semitism of the Third Reich? Did they flee Castro’s Cuba? Were they refugees from any of our many wars abroad?
We are a country defined by our stretch marks.
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon hand glows world-wide welcome…”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus)
We are a people made stronger by our stretch marks.
And never has there been a more urgent time for us to recall who we are: as Americans and even more importantly, as a people of faith.
Families, refugees seeking asylum come here not on a whim or a lark or to take advantage of us. Most are fleeing conflict, war, famine, degradation and persecution. These are, for the most part, very vulnerable people, and the most vulnerable among them are their children.
Xenophobic fears that immigrants bring crime and disease are not born out by the facts. Immigrants – who take so many jobs Americans don’t want: cleaning our hotel rooms and landscaping our yards and picking our crops and babysitting our children: These people just want a better life for their own families and children.
Criminalizing crossing our borders, America has callously separated hundreds of vulnerable children from their asylum-seeking parents. It punishes and traumatizes the children – who have no choice in the matter – and who likely have lived through trauma to reach our shores. It puts these little ones at high risk for PTSD, depression and anxiety – not just temporarily – but risks long lasting effects on their healthy development.
And so, what would our Jesus have to say about this? What would our Jesus do? Well, Jesus welcomes little children. Jesus reaches out in love to the least of these. The stranger. The marginalized. The outcaste. The poor. The sick.
No exceptions. No exclusions.
People from all four corners of God’s globe. (Not just Norway.) People of every color, creed and stripe.
When it comes to family – Jesus asks us to STRETCH far beyond our comfort zones, far beyond the narrow boundaries of blood and soil.
And how much stretching do we need to do? A whole lot, I believe both as peopleof faith and as a parish family. Prayerfully, lets dig deep to discern what might be done. On the big scale and on a little one, as well.
More of us can support the refugee families Emmanuel currently sponsors: two single moms with their two little boys from Afghanistan. We can join a care team. We can donate summer clothes or household goods. We can make a contribution to the Christ Church Refugee Fund that supports families across the City of Alexandria.
We can educate ourselves about the needs of immigrants and refugees. We can volunteer for ESL programs in the schools. We can advocate for access to community services for those most in need. We can call a congressman or senator. We can write a letter to the powers that be.
With God’s help, we can STRETCH ourselves to stand up for family – not as we define it – but as Jesus does.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that in your good time, all nations and races may gather in harmony around the table in your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.