(Note: a few weeks ago our Minister of Preschool/Children/Senior Adults Rev. Sarah Holik preached this sermon at the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald)
What makes a family? What makes something or someone holy? What makes a family holy? At this point it’s tempting to offer the obvious, Sunday school answer and say, “Jesus.” Jesus fits all three questions. That’s the end of the sermon—let’s all leave and go eat lunch. But these are short essay questions, not one-word-answer questions, and I can’t really do that with Dr. Mike sitting here. Maybe the next time he’s out of town…
Ideally, most of us hope to be part of a family with two parents who love each other; children who get along, get good grades, and who stay out of trouble; and where everyone is healthy. That kind of family—the kind where everything is perfect, just the way we imagined—that kind of family is rare if not imaginary. Sometimes we forget, but not even Jesus’ family was that perfect.
Hadlee just read the story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple, what we might celebrate as Jesus’ dedication, and everything seems bright and shiny, hopeful. Two parents, check. About 40 days after Jesus’ birth (the law for male babies), check. Coming to the temple to present the appropriate sacrifice, check. But those parents are probably sleep-deprived. Maybe they’re each wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into. And if we take Matthew’s gospel into account, Mary and Joseph may have already been to Egypt and back…40 days and a whole lot more, not quite on the perfect timetable of Mosiac law and ritual. Who knows what Mary and Joseph’s parents think, if they’re still living, if they’re still talking to their scandalized children. Sure, there have been angels singing glory to God and saying, “Fear not,” but there have been angels. And strange visitors. And even though it’s an honor to be the parents of the Messiah, they know a lot more about the future of their child than most parents do…and that’s a lot of pressure, raising the savior of the world.
So Mary and Joseph aren’t perfect, but they sound a lot more relatable. Jesus’ family is starting to sound a lot more like a family we know, maybe even a family we’re a part of. Most of us know that family is more than the people you’re born to or the people you live with. Family is something we can create—it’s the people we choose to be around, the people we invite into our lives, the people who understand us best. Family is made up of our friends in the next town, the people we call “neighbor,” the parents of our children’s closest friends, the people we worship with.
And Mary and Joseph have that kind of family, too. Our passage from Luke tells about Anna and Simeon—about their joy at the longed-for savior, about Simeon’s honesty that what’s ahead is not an easy road, that it will pierce Mary’s heart. Let’s imagine that this encounter is just the beginning though. This encounter is the first of the annual meetings at the temple until Anna and Simeon die because their purpose is more than being prophets in that one instance, because Mary and Joseph need their wisdom. They need cheerleaders for when the pressure of raising a savior is too much and prophets for when their heads get too big. And while we’re imagining, let’s say that the Josephs visit with Elizabeth and Zechariah each year. While Jesus and John play, they talk about the angels, the visions, the realities of raising a child whose birth was foretold in scripture, and all the things their other friends don’t understand.
Mary and Joseph’s family isn’t holy just because Jesus is their child. The relationships they have with others are built on their common faith. We’ve imagined a lot this morning, but we do know that Mary and Joseph valued their faith in God. They were open to the work of God in their lives. Despite the challenges, despite their doubts, despite the loneliness of their calling, they said, “yes” to God. They chose to pursue faith in the context of their family of faith and its traditions. They’ve created a holy family.
We do the same—you wouldn’t be here this morning if there wasn’t some part of you seeking family, familiarity based on common faith and shared belief. It’s why we don’t just sing songs and listen to preachers—we celebrate baptisms, we dedicate babies, and we eat at the Lord’s table together. We pray together, and we mark holy time together. But all of that is just the beginning. All of those things have meaning, but the things we do here--the actions, the disciplines, the church year—those things are not the only things that matter.
There’s a reason that we notice what’s going on in the outside world when we’re in this space—why we have special worship services for Memorial Day; why we have youth Sunday, children’s Sunday, senior adult Sunday; why we welcome guests like the ABAC Chamber Singers or local students for squad day. We do those things because our relationships matter, because God has been, is, and will be at work in our relationships, in the families we’ve made. There’s something special that happens when God and humanity interact, when God becomes enmeshed in who we are as individuals and as families. It’s why our litanies for mother’s day and father’s day thank God for the people in our lives who are parents even though we never lived in their house or shared their name or DNA. The relationships we have, the families we create aren’t just special—they’re sacred. They’re holy.
What’s holy might have its beginnings in this place, in what we do and say and sing here. What’s sacred in our lives might have their start in the prayers we say and the Bible we read, but none of those things are all that’s holy and sacred in our lives. It’s the people we love that speak wisdom and truth in our lives that make the Bible come alive, that make Jesus’ teachings come alive. It’s the people that pray over us and for us in our darkest nights that help us see where God is at work. What we do here as a family opens the door for us to be ready and receptive to the holy that happens—mostly in other places.
I have a great family, and a family that’s grown over time that I’ve helped create. We’re not perfect by any stretch. Like any family, we have our stories. As David and I got to know one another and began to talk about the family we’re creating together, I warned him that the family I grew up with—my parents and my sister—were about as stable and boring as my family gets. I’m sure he might have a different perspective now, but he was warned! Much of the holy that happened in the day-to-day activities of our house growing up happened because of a Presbyterian minister of public television fame—Mister Rogers. Mama says that we watched Mister Rogers every day not just because Jane and I liked him and were quiet for 25 minutes but because she needed those 25 minutes. She needed to be reminded that she was loved and special and doing a good job when it’d been a bad day and it would be a few more hours before my dad got home. Mister Rogers describes what is holy like this: “In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of -- moments when we human beings can say ‘I love you,’ ‘I'm proud of you,’ ‘I forgive you,’ ‘I'm grateful for you.’ That's what eternity is made of: invisible imperishable good stuff.”
What’s holy in our lives is often what we take for granted and it’s also the things that fall by the wayside when we think that we’re good about saying what we feel or when we get caught up in the busyness of our routines. It’s holy when we say, “I love you,” and it’s sacred when we prepare a funeral meal for a grieving family. It’s holy when we witness a child’s first steps, hear her read each night before bed, and when we sit with her family when she’s sick. It’s sacred when we remember a good man at his funeral, when we celebrate his retirement, and when we witness the first time he coaches a little league team to victory. It’s holy when we witness someone getting out of something difficult, knowing that they’ve made it safely to the other side of a rough patch. It’s sacred when we walk together through something so dark and sad that we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, when we let people in even though we’re not sure everything will be okay.
We need the rhythm of church life to keep us in check, to call us out of the routine of Monday through Saturday, but the holy doesn’t happen without other people. One of the things my mama said over and over to us growing up was, “I just know that God has something special for you to do. I’ve felt it since you were a baby—that God has a special plan for you.” Now of course she thought God’s plan for me was special—she’s my mama. I think what she was really saying was, “I’m trying to be aware of where God is working in my life and in your life. I’m trying to teach you to be aware, too.” But as a high school student trying to pick a college, then a college student trying to find a major, and then an almost grown-up trying to find a job, all I heard was, “God’s got a plan. Don’t miss it. Don’t pick the wrong thing and miss the plan God has.” I couldn’t figure those things out on my own. I couldn’t figure it out with just my mama either. Many of us know that our parents have wise words but we often need to hear them from other people. The holy task of finding God’s plan included my sister, college friends, professors, ministers, books I read, mission trips. My mom needed others, too. She needed the older ladies in our church in Kentucky when my sister and I were small, we were hundreds of miles from family, and my dad was away from home with the Army. She’s needed to her friends and our family to help her know that she’s being a good mother, to help her work through her fears and worries, and to learn how to let go as we grow. I have a great Mary and Joseph, but I need Jesus, Anna, Simeon, John, Elizabeth, and Zechariah, too.
What is holy and sacred in our lives, in our world is because of God but the holy and sacred includes people. Mister Rogers also said, “The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that’s what heaven is.” Jesus promises to come again, to bring God’s full kingdom in this world. I believe God is already doing that, already allowing pieces of the kingdom to break through in the holy and sacred we bear witness to, through the holy and sacred we help create with the family we’re born into and the family we’re creating.
My family isn’t perfect. Your family isn’t perfect. Our family here isn’t perfect, but when I’m with my family, when I’m with this family, I do see a little bit of heaven. So leave here ready to say, “Yes!” to what God is doing and receptive to where God leads. Keep your eyes and hearts open. Take note of the people in your life, of the family you have, and of the family you are creating. You are doing sacred, kingdom work. You are holy. Your family is holy. Our family is holy.