Being A Family
John 1:10-13, Acts 4:32-37
First Baptist Church Laurens
February 4, 2018
Not long ago, Caleb, Ann Marie and I watched the delightful sports documentary Shaq & Dale. Though the context is sports in general and basketball in specific, the story is really that of a relationship between coach and player, young man and father-figure. It is the story of how the famous basketball player Shaquille O’Neal and his college coach at LSU Dale Brown became such important figures in one another’s lives.
It is also a unique story in that Shaq and Dale actually meet when Shaquille was 13 years old. He grew up in a Army family and when he was 13, his family was stationed at a base in West Germany where Dale Brown came to offer a basketball clinic. They met, Shaq asked advice on being a better player and Dale promised to send information when he got back home. That question led the two to keep in contact, eventually led to O’Neal playing for Brown at LSU and to them still staying in touch all of these years later while remaining an important part of each other’s lives.
What really touched me in their story was something that both had in common and that helped to draw them to each other. You see, both Shaquille O’Neal and Dale Brown came from families where their biological father was absent. Shaquille had subsequently been raised by his step-father, a good man, whom O’Neal considered his real father and whom he admired. Dale Brown was raised by his mother with no real father figure in his life. Again, this common trait drew them to each other because they both recognized something. Those who are flesh and blood are not the only people who fulfill the role of family in our lives. Indeed, no matter how strong our biological family ties are, all of us have people in our lives who become second moms and dads or extended brothers and sisters to us. They love us, believe in us, are there for us and help to keep us going. Without question, one of the deep yearnings of all of our lives is to have a family and we find this need and longing fulfilled in many, different ways.
The bible picks up on this idea too. God as our creator understands this craving in every human heart and soul. And, so, it should be no surprise to us that the Bible uses the image of family consistently while talking about who we are in Christ through the language of our inclusion in the family of God. The gospel of John says this beautifully in chapter 1 where we read in verses 12 and 13 these words – “to all who received him, who believe in his name, he gave power to become children of God who were born not of blood or of the flesh or of the will of man but of God…”
In essence, what John tells us and what the rest of the New Testament helps to flesh out for us is that as people of faith who have entered into a relationship with Jesus, we now have a family, and it is a family that really exists on two levels.
First and foremost, as we have said, we are part of God’s family through accepting Jesus as savior. Becoming a Christian, giving our life to Christ, is a way of being invited into the family of God. God is now our heavenly father, Jesus is now our Lord but also our brother. And, we are now brothers and sisters to each other as members of the family.
At the same time, when we become a believer and when we join a specific, local congregation, we become a part of that family too. Our church is a family. We know each other, we care for one another, we matter to each other. In essence, our family called First Baptist Laurens, is an example right here on earth of our part of the family of God. We are nothing more but also nothing less than one local chapter of God’s larger family.
This idea of a relationship with God and a relationship with the church being understood as a family is something to treasure. It is wonderful idea to be reminded of and something for us to be incredibly grateful for as one of life’s most important gifts. Saying that we are a family is also a nice catchy phrase to use as a part of a Church Capital Campaign as just as we are doing. Yet, at the same time, the idea of our faith understood as a family is not just about what we gain from this life together that we have been invited to enter. It is also a reminder that being a part of the family comes with expectations. Let me mention two of them.
First, faith understood in terms of a family means that all of us have a responsibility to the family. I love the passage in Acts 4 where the church in Antioch, one of the first examples of Christian community mentioned in the Bible, is described as a place where the believers shared what they had with each other. It is in this very passage that we first meet Barnabas, who become Paul’s fellow traveler on his missionary adventures. We are told that Barnabas, as a member of the church in Antioch, sold a field that he owned, took the proceeds from the sale and gave them to the overall well being of the congregation. You see Barnabas understood that he was a part of something larger than himself and it wasn’t his just to benefit from, he also had a responsibility to play a personal role in its wellbeing and he did.
In his writing, European Historian O.M. Bakke offers an interesting look into what it was like to be a child in the ancient world. One of the things that Bakke writes about is the fact that in the ancient world people didn’t even bother naming children until they were eight days old. The reason was that over the first week of their lives, a child’s survival was so uncertain that it wasn’t worth the effort. Obviously some children at the time didn’t survive the first week due to the dangers associated with childbirth. Modern medicine, of course, has taken many of those concerns away. But, others didn’t survive for much more inhuman reasons. Sometimes, the newborn was simply not the right gender. At other times, the child was born with some type of defect or they were simply unwanted. It was not unheard of for such children to literally be abandoned and die of exposure. But, then came Jesus and the believers who followed him,. Jesus spoke of the care for children, God as our father and we as his children as well as of our responsibility to each other. Suddenly through this one figure and the focus on human needs and family, feelings about children and their likelihood of survival changed dramatically. Countless hospitals, schools, missions organizations and global movements exist to this day out of a common root system in this very idea of a responsibility to one another as fellow members of God’s family and our task is to live this out as the family of God and as local churches today.
(Gleaned from Who Is This Man?, John Ortberg, Chapter 2)
At the same time, being a family not only means that we have a responsibility to each other but that we also have the privilege of inviting others into the family. You see, the family of God and the family of God called First Baptist Laurens are always growing, changing and we never reach a point where there is no room left for new comers. Our job truly is to extend the invitation that we once received to join the family to others and once people begin to respond, we must welcome them, support them and work hard to help them feel included.
This sounds simple enough but lets be honest, it is terribly hard work even for the most seasoned of believers.
My roommate in college was a guy named Scott. Scott and I roomed together all except for our senior year in college and the reason we stopped rooming together then was because he and his wife Julie got married after our Junior year. For some reason, Julie didn’t want me to have the spare bedroom in their apartment – go figure!?!
Over those three years that we roomed together, we not only became good friends but we both began to date the girls we would marry in Julie and Ann Marie. We both got engaged while we were rooming together and eventually we were both each other’s best man in our weddings.
One of the things that I remember about Scott and Julie’s courtship was that Julie’s father didn’t like Scott. In fact, if I remember correctly, Julie’s dad said “no” the first time Scott asked for her hand in marriage. Now, be honest, some of you who have given daughters away in marriage are not saddened by that story in the least – perhaps you would like his phone number to call and congratulate him on his good decision!?!
Truth be told, as far as I could tell, there were several reasons Julie’s dad said “no”. For one, he was an odd duck and just did eccentric things. But, beyond that, he didn’t know Scott very well. We were in school in Alabama and Julie was from Lake Oswego, Oregon and so her parent’s had really not been around Scott much. Also, they wanted to get married while still with one year of college left and understandably, Mr. Bader just didn’t think that was a very good or practical idea. But, the big thing, I think was that Mr. Bader just didn’t think there was anyone good enough for his daughter. You see, years ago, when Mr. Bader had asked for Julie’s mother’s hand in marriage, Julie’s grandfather apparently had been gracious, kind and welcomed him into the family despite whatever reservations he had. But, now that the shoe was on his foot, Mr. Bader had somehow forgotten that sort of responsibility of being hospitable that goes with the natural reality of one’s family changing. He liked things the way that they were, didn’t want things to change and thought more highly of himself and his family’s stature than he should have.
We do the same. We too have been invited in. Not because we deserve it. Not because we are perfect. Not because any of us happen to be the one person in the world whose sins and shortcomings are all justifiable and perfectly understandable. Nope, we are here because of grace, love and mercy – that of God and that of this church. We have been welcomed to the family and now it is our job to invite others in too.
The family of God – maybe the greatest gift of all. The family of God – a place of responsibility and always a place with one more seat at the table… Amen.