HARWICH, Mass. -- In general, religion thinks family is important, even if there are differences among faith traditions about what family means.
Jesus, for instance, once was interrupted while speaking to a group and told that his mother and siblings were outside and presumably wanted him to stop what he was doing and come away with them. Instead, he asked who his mother and sisters and brothers really are.
His answer had nothing to do with bloodlines. His parents and siblings, he said, are those who do the will of God.
On this trip to New England for a "family" wedding, I've been thinking about Jesus' answer and whether it has any meaning that's related to what I consider my family.
The first visit to family that my wife and I made was to see my sister and her husband. Barbara has been family since two years before I was born. And Jim has been part of my family since 1964. The fact that they have made different decisions about matters of faith than I have doesn't change any of that. It simply means that when we get together in person or by Zoom we don't spend all (or any) of our time talking about Presbyterian matters.
Next we were scheduled to visit Haven, the widow of my late nephew. He was the son of Barb and Jim and was murdered in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (The Japanese maple tree shown in the photo above is one my two other sisters and I gave to Barb and Jim as a memorial to Karleton.) Haven and her now-family live on Martha's Vineyard, but she was ill and we had to cancel the visit. But Haven and her husband Dan clearly are part of my family. In fact, Haven and I are closer now than we were when Karleton was alive.
While in Boston, we also were able to have a brief visit with my niece Erin, Karleton's sister, and her two children. Too fast, but a great catch-up. Erin lives in Cambridge and is within a few months of the age of my younger daughter Kate.
In Boston, we stayed a couple of night's with my wife Marcia's first cousin once-removed. Mark is also family and we're happy to have this wonderful man as part of our extended clan. While there, we had dinner with Mark's parents, also part of Marcia's (and, thus, my) family.
Also in Boston we attended the wedding of my niece Julia (daughter of my first wife's sister). (The other photo here show Julia with me and Marcia.) That branch of human beings has been part of my family since 1968, and the fact that I'm no longer married to the sister of the mother of the bride hasn't broken our family ties. We have made a choice to be family, despite the broken marriage.
And now that Julia and Michael are a married couple, we think of him as part of our family.
The day after the wedding, we visited Marcia's nephew, his wife and their children in Newton, near Boston. John is the son of Marcia's late sister and that clan certainly is part of our family, too.
I'm not saying that Jesus didn't have a good point when he described what he considered to be his family. He did. In fact, I once preached a sermon called "Water is Thicker Than Blood" in which I argued that in some ways the waters of baptism create a more eternal family than do blood connections.
I still think so, but for now I don't live in eternity, exactly. So what I mean by family now is much more focused on the people who, by blood or choice, come into my orbit.
When people of faith talk about "family values," the term often is a cover for narrow prejudice against LGBTQ+ people and others who don't hold to the same pietistic values of those using the term.
So the question I ask you today is this: Who is in your family and why? I hope that when you're given a choice about that you widen the circle instead of narrowing it. Sometimes family is what keeps us sane and loving (except, of course, when it does the opposite).
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A PAPAL REFOCUS ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Speaking of family, as I was above here today, our family on Earth is threatened by climate change, so Pope Francis has just announced that he plans to update his 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato Sì. It's not clear what difference that will make, but Francis has a prophetic voice and I'm glad he uses it -- often wisely. Every day we become more aware of the ways in which the climate is becoming increasingly wild and unpredictable. And humanity's activity and policies are part of what is causing that. So the pope must speak.