(preached at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, 25 May 2008 )
I would like to share with you something special about my son, John. He is the fourth oldest in our family and he will turn 13 years old in September. And John has a favourite T-shirt that he wears from time to time and the caption on the front of the T-shirt is this: I get my good looks from my dad. And from time to time, on special occasions, John wears this T-shirt. Now, I admit, I am biased. I think that John is a very good looking young man. But I am also a realist. And so I know that John gets some of his good looks from his mother, Susan. But I know that John wears that T-shirt because he loves me and he wants to honour me before others. He wants to declare to the whole world: I look like my dad. And I love John, and so I accept his loving praise with graciousness, because I want to honour him.
So who do you look like? Your mom or your dad? Your grandma or your grandpa? It is an important question to think about, because if you do look like someone else in your family, even if it is one of your ancestors from way back, it can help to cement your sense of identity, it can give you this feeling of belonging and it can even give you a sense of forward direction. A couple of Sundays ago, A. gave a tribute to her mother, B. And if you were here you might remember from that day that A. said that some people say that she looks like her mom, and as A. spoke, you could tell that she was filled with love and honour and respect for her mom and who she is as a person and A. told us that she would like to emulate her mother’s life of faith, love and dedication. So who do you look like? And to be more specific, who does your family look like?
The first two chapters of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, describe for us the beginning of all things. We read and hear of how God created the heavens and the earth, how he formed the dry land and then created plants and animals. And 26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. We often think of this passage being a description of the creation of the first two people in the whole human race, and it is that. But as God was creating the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, God was also creating the first family.
And as we speak of human beings bearing the image of God, perhaps we can also say that families bear the image of God: That just as the three-in-one God is a God of relationship and love, so are families are to be a special little community of relationship and love. In God there are three persons, each of them distinct and yet they are one in essence, and they love each other with a perfect, unconditional, unbroken love. And in families, there are two or more persons, each of them distinct and yet there is this special unique oneness about them. And when families are at their best, their family members love each other with an unconditional, unbroken love that longs to emulate the perfection of God’s love. And so, God did something special when he created families.
Families were created to reflect God’s qualities of love, compassion, protection, support, nurture and commitment. God made families so that children would be able to know the unconditional love of a parent who is whole-heartedly dedicated to them. God made families so that parent’s hearts would be touched by the love of a little child as they wrap their arms around your neck and hug you with all their might and then plant a big slobbery kiss right on your cheek. And God also made families so that when he tells us, “I lam your Father and I love you more than your own father loves you, more than you love your own child,” than we would know what he means. God created families in his own image to be a reflection of his love to us and to the world. So who does your family look like? Does it look like God?
There is so much pressure on families these days. As parents, we want our children to be well-rounded and so we involve them in activities like music and athletic pursuits. Sometimes our level of involvement in things outside the family can be too much. A centrifugal force can develop when we are running here there and everywhere so much that the family loses its centre. Or some activities can set themselves up as being more important than your family and they can drive a wedge between the members of your family. For example, if you play sports at a high level, some coaches will say, “If you don’t come to practice than you won’t get to play in our next game,” and it doesn’t matter if practice interferes with a special family event. The coach is, in effect, saying, you have a new family now and your new family is this team and this new family is more important than your family of origin, so get used to it.
Families are being pulled apart these days. And sometimes, the church can play a role in pulling families apart. If we are not careful in the various ministries of our church, we can become just another activity that drives a wedge into the family home and pulls people apart instead of bringing them together. Even our Sunday worship services can become anti-family. Years ago before I became a pastor, Susan and I were attending a nearby Lutheran church with our little son, Brandon, who was one year old at the time. Now the thing about this church is that it was long and narrow, like a cathedral, and it had stone on the wall and there were fantastic acoustics in that building so that if a little person sitting at the very back of a church were to make a noise, like all little people of that age do, the noise would carry throughout that building in an instant, and everyone would turn their heads and look directly at you. So Brandon and I would go into the little nursery room so we wouldn’t disturb others and there was this little speaker in there so we could hear the pastor preaching the sermon. But it sounded like the speaker in the Charlie Brown cartoons … and I couldn’t understand a thing. And it finally got to the point where Susan and I asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing? We don’t feel like we belong there. We are sitting in the ghetto for parents with little children in the back two pews or in the nursery room and we are getting nothing out of the service. So we quit going to that church and we became involved in another church some distant away that was much more family-friendly and it became our new church home.
Families are under stress because they are being pulled apart by various forces in our world. And families are also under stress because they are broken. The first family God created, which was initially perfect in the loving relationship that Adam and Eve had with each other and with God, that family was fractured and marred when the first man and the first woman in the first family disobeyed God for the first time. They lived in perfect freedom and they only had one rule that God had given them to follow. But Adam and Eve broke that rule, they decided for themselves what was good and what was evil and ever since, every family that has ever lived on this earth has fallen short of being all that God has hoped and designed and encouraged and called a family to be. So if you are a broken person in an imperfect, broken family, I want to assure you that you are welcome here. Walnut Grove Lutheran Church is not about creating this façade of perfection where it looks like our families have it all together. All of us, to one degree or another, have been hurt by the imperfections of our parents. All of us who have children, have moments where we feel like we have failed as parents. All of us who are married, know somewhere in the back of our minds, that we could and should do better in our love and support towards our spouse. And who among us here today has not had, at some point in their lives, and knock-down drag em out fight, with words or limbs, with one of your siblings? I know I have.
We are not gathered together as a community of faith because we have somehow discovered the answer to perfect parenting. We are gathered here today because of a person. And that person is Jesus. You see, our Father God in heaven loves us so much that he gave us his one and only Son, Jesus. And Jesus came into this world to show us what perfect love looks like. Paul describes the perfect love of Jesus for you when he writes in 1 Corinthians 13, 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) Jesus keeps no record of your failures as a parent or a child or a husband, wife or sibling. Jesus went to the cross to defeat the evil that threatens to destroy our families, and Jesus rose from the dead to declare his victory over sin and death and the devil, over everything that could pull us away from God. Jesus has established a new creation, a new kingdom, a new order that exists in him right now and is available to everyone who trusts in him. There is hope for your family, and that hope is Jesus. There is help for your family, and that help is Jesus. There is healing for your family and that healing is Jesus. And so I encourage you, as parents and children, as husbands and wives, as brothers and sisters, I encourage you this day, to let Jesus be the centre of your family. Let him help you prioritize your family life. Let him wash away all of your guilt and your shame. Let his love bring healing and hope to your hurting relationships.
And above all, remember this: When you were washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus brought you into God’s family. You have a perfect Father in heaven. Jesus is your brother and your forever friend. The Holy Spirit is closer to your than any sibling or parent could ever be—he lives inside of you to encourage you and to lead you and guide you through out your life. You are not alone. And Jesus has the ability to do what we cannot do—he can turn our hurting, broken families around and he can bring something good out of all the suffering and the pain.
Last Friday night, we celebrated C.’s birthday here at Walnut Grove. And during the program that evening, C. spoke how she realized that her husband D. was an alcoholic. And though C. didn’t dwell too much on what that was like, alcoholism, like other addictions, is so destructive to families that it can absolutely destroy a family. As C. spoke, she focused instead on how Jesus turned things around in her family, how D. started going to Alcoholics Anonymous and how, together, C. and D., brought AA to their area to the point that now there is an AA group meeting somewhere in that area every hour of ever day and thousands of broken people have experienced healing and their families have been restored. Jesus turned C.’s family around and worked through that broken family in an amazing way! And note that Jesus did not take away the brokenness of C.’s family. He worked through that brokenness to transform the lives of people and families all over the world! And he can do the same thing in your imperfect, broken family too! With the perfect love of our Father in heaven and with Jesus at the centre of all that we do, our families can be transformed into families of healing and hope. And when others are attracted by what they see in our families, we can say, you know what, we look just like our dad. Amen.