That Family Resemblance – The “Kin-dom” of God
A sermon offered to the people of God
at Bethesda United Church of Christ
July 15, 2018
It’s wonderful to be back here with you. The last time I subbed for Pastor Dee, many of you were on a bus headed to Baltimore for the General Synod meetings. I am delighted to be giving Dee some well-deserved rest, and I want to commend you on giving your pastor a lengthy time of renewal.
This morning, I want to wander with you in the first chapter of Ephesians. Now, as Biblical scholars love to do, there has been discussion and disagreement over the years as to whether or not Paul actually wrote Ephesians. Was it written by a scribe who took liberties with Paul’s dictation? Is it a restatement of Colossians? Is it from a student of Paul? Or is it from the latter period of Paul’s ministry, written for the struggles of the area surrounding Ephesus?
Honestly? I will let wiser heads than mine go argue about that. What is clear is that this book contains wisdom that the First Century Church needed. Its central message is of unity: one calling. One baptism. One household of faith. The earlier patriarchs decided that Ephesians was part of the written Canon and adopted it. Paul/or the author that only God knows wrote it. I think I’ll land there.
In just eleven verses, however, the writer unpacks some heavy-duty theology! He touches on predestination, creation, atonement and redemption: all those “churchy words” that would take a week to unpack and properly understand. The text declares our place in the Kin-dom of God as “God’s own people.” Oh… and just to make it “fun” for those of us who had to study Koine Greek, he does all that in one extremely long run-on sentence.
But I want to focus on these verses because it focuses on the “big picture” of the “kin-dom” of God. The “kin-dom.” Not the kingdom. You may have heard it before… But if you aren’t familiar with it… it is a word that describes the relational nature of God, the way that the Divine adopts, loves and relates to us. We are adopted Kin! This expression works for the central theme of unity, rather than a top-down, power-heavy structure in “kingdom.” Kin-dom has been in public discourse for many years, but appears earliest in the work of mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz and also the writing of Sister Georgene Wilson, a Franciscan nun.
A wise woman I know, Dr. Reta Halteman Finger, suggests that “The Kin-dom of God is a radical political statement. It is Jesus’ alternative to the Roman Empire. It is asking God to set up God’s reign on earth instead of the martial, stratified, and repressive reign of Caesar.” Instead of a top-down, authoritarian government that humans like to set up, there is a sense of communal responsibility and commitment to one another. That’s the kindom! And Paul, teaching this radical re-ordering of government, just might have upset Caesar’s priorities!
Kindom fits this morning’s Epistle reading. Can you hear its familial nature in the first verses of greeting? This concept of unity and community? Paul spends a lot of time defining and declaring the whys and wherefores of our relationship with God. As I reflected on the text, I asked myself, “What was SO IMPORTANT that he wanted to build this painstaking theological foundation?”
That’s where I was drawn as I pondered the text. It would be easier to outline and define each of the big theological words and then go home… and maybe watch a little soccer. But I don’t think that’s the central message. It is, for me, summarized in Ephesians 1: 13-14.
In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14
All those conditions and definitions of our relationship with God are for the purpose of cementing in our adoption. Our inclusion in the family of God. Our place in the plan of God from the beginning of time. Not because of anything we do or are. Not because of where we grew up, or who are grandparents are, or where we went to church. But because of grace. We are loved because of grace.
These words applied to the members of a church in the region of Ephesus in the first Century. And they are true for us today. It is because we are chosen, because we are forgiven, because we are redeemed, because we are loved that we are all adopted into the family of God. We are God’s own people. We are all known and loved and covered by God’s grace. Gentiles? Welcomed into the kindom. Jews? No more privileged than the Gentiles. All are part of the beloved!
The problem is, we struggle with what being “the family of God” looks like, acts like, talks like, worships like, eat like, loves like, smells like, and serves like. We have opinions. Definite opinions! “That’s what Church should be!”
Even in a progressive, Christian community.
Even with people who want to be in a church!
Even with a congregation who has deep roots in love, fellowship and service.
Even in an area where we have county, state and federal officials with a progressive bend.
I don’t have to tell you that in our country, the divisiveness and incivility is at epic proportions. Not just on the internet. The highway road rage. The office shootings. The gun violence in schools. The rise in domestic violence. The “bully pulpit” of some politicians who seem bent on dividing any coalitions that threaten his or her own power, and suggest if you don’t do things their way, you’re not really a “Christian.” From County politics to Congress, there’s a whole lot of hating going on!
In all of these situations, grown up people forget what was drummed into their heads in elementary school. You remember some of those truths from the book by Robert Fulghum, All I really needed to know I learned in kindergarten. You know… basic human decency? “Take turns. Say please and thank you. Clean up your own mess. Say that you’re sorry when you hurt someone.” And so on…
We forget we are all the same — flawed, forgiven humans. From the outside, we are so radically different. We are fractured by our individual needs and interests. We experience life from such radically different perspectives that it’s hard to have peace in a household, let along in a church. Yet Ephesians brings back to mind our mutual inheritance and redemption. As they say in the South, “we are kinfolk!”
How can we see and celebrate this family resemblance? This kin-dom?
First, by seeing that we are all brought in to this fold by God.
Not a one of us came up with the idea on our own. We were invited, enticed, engrained, enfolded into the fabric of the community by the Holy Spirit. That’s God’s job! We came into the family under difficult circumstances, or privileged ones. We were nurtured by Godself. We were known, loved and wanted before we knew we were known, loved, and wanted. We are a holy, blended family. Our identity is not because we know how we came into our spiritual heritage, but that we were, indeed adopted in. Just like there are many kinds of family (biological, blended, adopted, foster) there are many ways to come to a knowledge of God’s personal love for each one of us. And there is no “one correct way” to come into the family — just like there are many ways to create a human family! Our identity in God is exactly the same.
This should bring forward in us a sense of deep humility. In every way, we are each forgiven much, and blessed with much more. But far too often, it comes out as entitlement. It’s as if our little selfish inner selves are saying, ‘God always DID like me best!’ or churches say, “God likes the way WE worship best!”
I have to tell you that churches and even whole denominations have split over this entitlement. Congregations “bleed out” and die because there are power struggles and cliques! Common goals and dreams are set aside for personal wishes. But God invites us to lay our sense of “earned favor” and accept that it is unmerited, unearned, and unending. The grace of God.
What’s another way to demonstrate that family resemblance? Because it’s not just understanding that we are brought in on equal theological footing. It is to acknowledge that this kin-dom is not built on the expense or punishment or exclusion of others.
To offer a more modern perspective, I’d like to return to the views of the late Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz. She proposes a view of the church and society that is based on Mujerista Liberation theology. She believes that life, in its fullest expression, results in the freeing of families and communities that are not oppressed by others. The Latina culture’s high value of family and community is a result of honoring and promoting the mutual hopes and dreams of everyone. This is the foundation for all societal and spiritual experience. This is how people thrive! She declares that this is multi-generational and in it there is room for all!
How many of us have had living situations where the mutual concerns and benefits of every member of the community were part of the decision-making process? Maybe it was your first apartment or rental house with friends from college. Maybe you lived in an intentional community, or were part of a dorm or rooming house where you shared in the rent, the rules and the chores.
Theoretically, this is the same way that the Church could be. I say, “could be” because we all know that there is a difference between being an “organization” and an “organism.” The Body of Christ is an “organism.” But the practical governing and life of the Church is most definitely an “organization.” We have committees and commissions, pastors and church councils. And sometimes we take our eyes off of our common ground, and we forget our family resemblance in our “organism” as the Body of Christ!
Humor me this morning… because I believe that one metaphor we can visualize is to think of ourselves… is a quilt!
We are stitched together. All of us unique parts are brought together with the whole design in mind. Each quilt, each local Body of believers, are unique and beautiful, and each part of the pattern repeats in a way that brings harmony, beauty, and warmth. The quilt is pieced in patterns of shapes and colors, (like this one, made with squares and diamonds, or like this quilt, made up entirely of hexagons.)
Creating quilts in my grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ day created community. Women gathered around frames a “quilting bees.” Their shared efforts provided a piece of practical household furnishing. Quilts take what’s left of scarce resources and make something new.
There is an unproven legend that quilts pointed the way on the Underground Railroad. Maybe it’s true! As Anna Lopez, an education coordinator at the Plymouth Historical Museum in Michigan said to Time magazine, “What I tell kids is, who writes history? Men do. Mostly white men. Then I ask, who made quilts? Women did, and a lot of black women made quilts and passed on their oral history. No one wrote down their history, so who knows?” Maybe those quilts were used to guide people to freedom.
Quilts memorialize events or people. How many of you saw the NAMES Project, the quilt which remembers AIDS victims? Families and friends created a 3×6’ panel and they were stitched together into huge blocks. In 1995, the quilt covered the entire National Mall. Now it would blanket it many times over.
Perhaps when you think of a quilt as an image of the Body of Christ, you think of this lovely one made by my grandmother. And you think to yourself, “Yes! The Church! Decency, order, variety and diversity! Blended together by God and stitched together in unity and love!” God is that comforting presence, that warmth that welcomes us.
As the poem in our bulletin this morning suggests:
I think God is a quilter
Who takes His needle and thread
To piece our world from nothingness
And give it form instead.
First, I think if God is a quilter, then God should be represented as a “She.” I think I have met one male quilter in my life… No offense to the anonymous writer on the internet. Just sayin… it should say she takes HER needle and thread…
I actually think the kin-dom of God is a little more wild and rambling and creative, and a little less controlled and boxed-in. I think the work of the Spirit is freeing, not confining. I think the actions of the Church are passionate and varied and beautiful. I think there are times for the kin-dom of God to be beautiful and decent and well-ordered enough to make any introvert happy.
And then… the Bapticostal side of me says… No… the Holy Spirit is a crazy quilt!
Here’s the real picture of each of us being grafted in, adopted, changed and molded into a whole. Here there are threadbare places and misshapen pieces. There is imperfection! There is chaos. Wildness. There is random order. It is unified, but unique. They are all stitched together in this crazy quilt called a “church.” Apart by ourselves, there is no sense. Put together, it is a beautiful thing. It is a legacy, a promise, a dream of what is to come. It’s a dream of God might do, if we could get along. Like the “hope chests” of old, there is the possibility of what is “not yet.”
The Body of Christ, the kin-dom of God that is represented by this crazy quilt, is a church that knows there is hard work ahead. Its a church that says, I will do everything I can in this process of loving and caring for one another and our world will take everything we have. It will only be as successful as our least-attached piece, as our least committed member.
In the writing of Ephesians, Paul (or pseudo-Paul), was attempting to bring unity to a deeply divided people. A people who had other gods and religions practicing right on their doorstep. A culture which denied women the rights of full citizenship, and allowed slavery. (And even told slaves how they should act!) Ephesus, though a modern seaport in its day, was not so good at showing love and compassion to one another. The writer’s words were full of encouragement, of unity, of love, and of understanding.
And in these words, may we see and know for ourselves that we are each a piece of God’s divine plan in the world. We are each chosen, beloved, adopted and blessed. We are each stitched into the kin-dom of God. May our lives be a response to God who loves us, and may we together bring the praise of God’s glory.
Thanks be to God!
We who are comfortable, forget those who feel discomfort. We who are healed, forget those who are wounded. We who need you, forget that your Holy Spirit would change us and mold us and meld us and loves us in ways that we cannot even fathom. May the words that have been spoken be like arrows to our hearts, for you are a Great God who can do all things… in Christ, we pray. Amen.
From Kingdom to Kin-dom and Beyond. Christian Feminism Today, https://eewc.com/kingdom-kindom-beyond/Accessed 6/29/2018.
Chapter 9, “Kin-dom of God: A Mujerista Proposal,” by Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz (p 171-190). Valentín, Benjamín. In our own voices: Latino/a renditions of theology.Maryknoll, N.Y. : Orbis Books, © 2010. Accessed: June 29, 2018. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/heb.31279.0001.001.
Stacie Stukin (2007-04-03). “Unravelling the Myth of Quilts and the Underground Railroad”. TIME. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1606271,00.html Retrieved June 27, 2018.
Ten years ago, I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel in a nondenominational church. For many years before that, I was serving in pastoral roles, but was not given the recognition of the title, “pastor.”
Some of us, like yours truly, take a long and winding road to get to ordination, partly because we don’t believe we really are supposed to be in the ministry. Or we believe the people who tell us that we “can’t do that” because of our identity.
What took me so long to become ordained?
I had to believe deep down to my toes that, yes indeed, God Called me. And then I had to speak up and say, “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”
My ordination day was shared with my friend Glenn. It was a party! A luau. A day with friends and family that is still, ten years later, very precious to me. Some of the friends have moved to other churches (or I have) and we don’t see much of each other any more. But their affirmation launched me and their prayers and commissioning spurred me onward.
I’m grateful for every opportunity offered to me over the years. Since the 1980s I’ve been active in ministry in many capacities. Directing choirs. Teaching classes. Writing courses, devotional guides, seminars and workshops. Administration. Leading worship. Marrying, baptizing, and burying ’em. Committees and council meetings. Mentoring and commissioning others. Going to seminary. Preaching. Protesting. Praying. Studying. Being an advocate. Standing up for the rights of the under-served and the disenfranchised. Working with like-minded Christian feminists. An ally, mom, wife, sister, and friend. Being a chaplain, counselor and midwife to the close-to-dying.
Each task has been something that, at the time, I did my best work possible. I was up late at night, or working through dinner. It meant a lot of driving, listening, and praying. Many times I messed up, teared up, or wanted to give up. But every time, the Call of the Spirit was louder than my whines.
Funny how that works…
I’ve served in churches, hospitals, out-patient clinics, sidewalks, long-term care facilities and homes. I have handed out tissues, made hard phone calls, and stood up for someone’s rights. Many times, I was the one who could hear the questions behind the words. Other times, I was afraid to be bold and confront the heartache that was as yet unnamed.
Then there’s the unexpected tasks of ministry… Unclogging toilets, sinks and floor drains. Photocopying, collating and stapling. Buying helium balloons. Calling caterers. Dealing with vandalism. Standing up to church bullies. And an infamous run to the thrift store with donated items.
God called. I answered. Sometimes with tears. Sometimes with laughter. Always with this sense of “Who me? WOW! Yes! Me!”
Other times, God said “no… this Call is not for you.” And there have been tears and questions and a struggle to trust that a “no” from the Holy is a good thing. (I’m still working on that.)
So it’s been ten years… already? And I’m up for whatever God has in store for ten more.
If you’ve read this far, you get a medal. Or maybe a cookie. Thank you for persevering with me in life (and in blogging!)
A montage of ministry pictures from the last ten years:
Here I am, Lord.
At times I’m bruised, confused and little deflated,
Or curious, enchanted and invigorated.
But most of all,
Lord of all,
My heart sings with a song of Alleluia’s
And my clumsy feet still dance with praise!
I can’t imagine doing anything else.
But Holy One,
That’s why we do it.
Soli Deo gloria!
The King will reply,
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did
for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.’
Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
For the least of these, Lord,
You taught compassion and inclusion.
But the least of these, Lord,
are forgotten, mistreated, dehumanized, and jailed.
For the least of these, Lord,
You gave your life.
For the least of these, Lord,
You expect that we will follow your example.
For the least of these, Lord,
we speak out in protest and amplify their voices.
For the least of these, Lord,
we go boldly into places of Power and demand change.
For the least of these, Lord,
we proclaim our Nation’s myopia and stigmatization
of the least of these…
…but have we done enough?
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
As an ally, pastor, mom, woman, and advocate, here’s my birthday wish for all those who are abused, ignored, and abandoned, and are still fighting for justice:
with all my love,
… sing along if you know it
Behold. A rock pile.
Not just any rock pile. Oh, no! It’s taken years to get this pile of rocks.
There was a decent start to the pile when we moved in 22 years ago. As I dug new garden beds, I’d find rocks and add them. When we added a retaining wall, the landscape crew added to the rock pile. When we did a major remodeling of our home, the builder found even more. And when I installed a simple spiral labyrinth in the back yard, there were incredible amounts of rocks to toss on there, too.
Everyone was glad to have a place to discard the rocks. It was a lot easier than taking them to the landfill. Each contractor looked at me askance (at first) when I said, “if you find large rocks, I want them.” But since it was cheaper to reuse rather than remove them, there were no arguments!
I learned a lot along the way because of these rocks. Patience. Perseverance. Techniques of rock removal (yep! there are some!) Reality checks. And seeing progress and naming it for the hard work it takes.
Some of these rocks made my new landscaping projects very frustrating. At the start of building the labyrinth, I bent every single hand tool I owned because they were not up to the task of chiseling large rocks out of clay!
So now… those rocks are no longer discards!
It was with a bit of irony that I had to haul loads of these rocks back down the hill to grace the edges of a water feature we just installed this spring. Three wheelbarrows of rocks. (Yes. I counted.) And as I heaved and hauled and placed them, I had to laugh. Here they are. Being put to good use. Finally in their right place.
It made me ponder a perverse truth about Calling and ministry…
For any of us who battle ourselves, our environments, our churches, our relationships to be finally FINALLY brought to just that right moment of ministry… it’s seems like it will never work. We interview. We candidate. We preach. We study. We try to do our best, battling the odds like rocks in hard clay. We set things aside for another day, making a muddy hillside into a landscaping feature of a retaining wall of cast-off rocks. We try to see the beauty in what we do. We keep adding to the pile. And then… and then!!!!
Those rock piles of ministry are put to use. Those mossy, ignored, strengths that we have set aside in obedience, or sometimes, out of necessity and not by choice, they suddenly become relevant. And they are beautiful, in their right setting, at the right time.
I hear you, friends. I know your sense of relief. And a bit of wonder, too, that though we felt like we were forever gathering moss, perhaps even feeling useless, we will one day see a change! For now… NOW is the appointed place and time God has for us. There’s stuff to do – even on a rock pile. And greater things are ahead.
And if you are still waiting, like me, marking time on the rock pile with a prayer of fatigue and longing, know this…
You are not a cast-off.
You are not a mistake.
You are not in the way.
You are called… press on!
…for such a time as this…
Cross-posted from RevGals.
This week’s prayer flows from the tending of my own heart to combat the discouragement that seems to brew inside me with the least provocation. I return again and again to the promises Christ made and the challenge to wait with anticipation at what God might do next. I am reminded of Christ’s encouragement to the disciples:
25“There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.” (from Luke 21, Common English Bible)
O Holy One
Sometimes the clamor and the smell of humanity’s stubbornness overwhelms me.
I forget that you are walking ahead of me,
that your grace surrounds me,
that your Presence holds me close.
I forget to look up and see…
…the beauty in an early spring evening,
…the promise of summer’s greenery and fall’s harvest
…the gentle safekeeping of my heart
…the comrades of the Faith who share burdens and hold up mine
I forget that what I fear
is but a whisper on the wind,
a temporary battle,
a shifting of wills.
I look up and see
grace upon grace,
hope upon hope,
and life, abundant life.
You are there!
P.S. Here’s a song to inspire and encourage you: Darlingside’s Hold Your Head Up High
A recent lament by another RevGal about finding TRULY “Pentecost Red” shoes caused me to peruse a local discount store. One of my PKs was shopping for a special outfit and I had time to kill.
So (with apologies to store security who probably wondered wtf I was doing,) I present my (very tongue-in-cheek)…
1. The Pantsuit-Meets-Ankle-Surgery Flashback
When I see velour, I think bell bottoms and pantsuits. When I see shoes like this, I think my friends who are post-surgery (knees or ankles) would smile. My achy-breaky knees hear your hearts go pitter-pat!
2. Nancy Sinatra would agree: These Boots are made for Praisin’
I’ll confess I don’t see these with my robes or a cassock and surplice… but I know some of my sister clergy would rock the church in their Sunday best suits! DO. IT.
3. Liturgical Dance Shoes
I can walk and chew gum (with practice). A dancer I am not! I think I’d spend most of Sunday morning just trying to tie these on… but you Sister Dancer, you do you! I will rejoice that God gave someone else the gift of gracefulness!
4. Post-Baptistery Quick Change Pumps
For my beloved Baptist clergy sisters, these are fancier than plain pumps and have no buckles or straps! Slip on, zip up and GO! The choir will still be singing the end of the opening hymn, and you’ll be out of your waders, and robed and rocking these beauties! (Please remember to get your pedicure!)
5. Kum-ba-yah Campfire Shoes
So your church takes “Shall We GatherAt the River” seriously and has a camp-out Pentecost weekend? Never fear! Your river-friendly shoes are here!
6. Practically Cute
You know who you are… Four services in heels would kill you and your sanctuary’s A/C is busted. These summer flats will do the trick!
7. Be still, my heart!
They’re cute! They’re not too high a heel! They’re that happy candy apple red that just screams “PENTECOST!” Success!!!
I took these pictures yesterday during various stages of our surprise “Spring” snowstorm. Just little signs of Creation and beauty everywhere.
Today was a snow day. It was not a “day off” for me — I still had phone calls to make, emails to read and answer, and charting to finish. And then other minutia that I never get around to for work, until I have free time. And I did shovel the driveway and the front walk (and my arms will hurt tomorrow, I’m sure.)
But I had a huge list of things I wanted to do around the house, and none of them got done. Zero. No laundry. No real baking or cooking (a favorite snow day activity). No reading. No writing projects. (There’s a quite a few.) No clean-up in my study, which is a disaster area, after doing the tax prep. UGH.
It reminded me that so much of blogging and social media is about perfection, or lack thereof. A whole crew of comedians make their money by showing typos and embarrassing photos of other people. There’s even a show about “FAILS” which rewards someone who fails the least with $10,000.
So here’s some random photos from my day. And if you feel a little behind-the-curve on life, take heart. We’re all in this together. It’s just that we don’t put it up on Pinterest. Or blog about it. (Oh… wait…)
See? This imperfect human is doing a fine job. OK… adequate. I didn’t burn dinner, and no one was hit by a runaway snow blower! (It was close, though.) I held a cat, watched the snow fall outside my window and even shot a few pictures with my “real” camera! (I’ll upload those eventually.)
My plea to you: Give yourself space. And grace. And tackle a little something tomorrow, once you dig out the car and feed the cat and make coffee and figure out if you have clean clothes for work and… (you get the picture!)
Just in front of my parking space yesterday was this mossy trunk of a stately oak tree. The grass wasn’t sprouting yet. The branches were bare, and last year’s leaves blew around on the ground beneath her. No sign of spring anywhere…
I had a moment of familiarity. The cold, dark, and windy days we’re having, one after the other, are getting to me. I don’t mind the cold so much. It’s that grey and gloomy sky that seems to be stuck behind a blanket of clouds forever. I’m feeling tired and mossy. It’s true.
Ok, Ok. That’s a bit melodramatic. But that’s March in the MidAtlantic. The weather flip-flops between cold and grey, and has just enough peeks of sunshine to remind us that winter will, eventually, go away. But what seems to predominate are the gloomy, rainy, sleety days. It’s… tiresome.
I drove around, a little grumpy, a lot discouraged. I had received news lately (for myself and people I care about) which have not exactly been something to celebrate. Then there’s the general muck-and-mudslinging of our political mess here in the US. It was all getting to me.
At just the right moment, God seemed to weigh in, just to remind me that I was not traveling alone. I spotted these beauties later in the day while waiting at a stoplight. (It’s a little off-kilter, but I only had one shot before the light turned green!)
Just a bit of color. A patchy blue sky. A reminder that, yes, I can get through this day/season/struggle. And you can, too.
Yes, you will go out with celebration,
and you will be brought back in peace.
Even the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you;
all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12 Common English Bible