Thursday, June 14, 2018

Courtesy photo
            Rev. Tracy Heilman

Journeys in Faith

In my church and denomination, we hold dearly to this principle: in essentials - unity, in non-essentials - diversity, in all things - charity. We work to build consensus around primary values. We work to build respect in disagreements. We work to build love in all things.

As for me, I’m a Matthew 25 kind of Christian: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Jesus isn’t referring to his biological brother and sisters. In Mark 3:34-35, Jesus redefined family: “Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, ‘Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.’ ”

This was a radically reorganizing challenge for followers of Jesus. In that time, family organized one’s existence. Success consisted in having the right connections and in being related to the right people. Your work and your marriage were determined by your birth family. In spite of this, Jesus broadened the definition, to draw the circle wider, to claim as family people outside his tribe. He disrupted the status quo.

Jesus did not define family by blood, race, or citizenship but by (a) relationship to God and (b) ties that bind all who seek to do the will of God.

Just as our struggle to figure out WHO WE ARE is an ancient one, so also is our struggle to figure out WHOSE WE ARE. Even though our sacred stories tell us over and over that we belong to God, we put our loyalty and commitment with those people and institutions that will not save and will not last. Despite God’s warnings, ancient peoples chose to place their faith and trust in the hands of human rulers. Oh, if only this were just an ancient story.

If we are honest, our primary allegiance isn’t really to God. Just look at the state of our world. I am not so naïve as to think that we can solve all the world’s problems simply by loudly and proudly proclaiming our faith. But I am disheartened by the unwillingness to bring our faith into the discussions of the world’s problems.

This is not politics; it’s from the Bible. Are we willing to accept and follow Jesus’ claim that we are no longer defined by blood or race, i.e. through him we become each other’s brothers and sisters? If we accept our new identity, how wide a circle of family will you draw? Bigger than citizenship? Will it include immigrant families who come here looking to work and raise children?

Friends, I hope my column might be unsettling. I would like it to cause many to renew the commitment to be people of God. Let us be united in the essential witness that we will live, move, and have our being as sisters and brothers to all others. Let us be unified in giving our allegiance to God who calls us to abundant love for all others.