I love it when I get to preach about Christian family values. Because sometimes when I hear Christians talk about family values, I wonder just what Christ they’re referring to.
So are you ready for family values according to Jesus? Here it is: if you’re going to be serious about following Jesus, if you’re going to enter so fully into the love of God that you want to do God’s will, then you have to be ready to renounce your family of origin.
Oof, that hits hard. That hits right in the biology, the loyalty to blood relatives. That hits right in the patriarchy, because how are you supposed to control your lineage if your biological offspring are running every which way?
In this story in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has begun his ministry in the same region where he grew up, where people know who he is and they know his family. Jesus is teaching and healing, so people are coming to him for help. And Jesus doesn’t seem like the kind of deity who dispenses healings in an impersonal way, like waving a magic wand. He’s hearing their stories, feeling their pain—their physical pain and the emotional pain of rejection, the pain of their family and friends turning away because they got sick, blaming them for their injury, asking what they did to deserve this.
Sometimes family members turn on their own family because they’re afraid—they don’t know how to cope with someone who is ill, they’re afraid they can’t provide for the sick person’s needs, or they need support for themselves and can’t possibly find a way to support someone else. Other times, family members do evil and hateful things to each other.
In caring for these people who have been cast out from their own families, Jesus is upsetting the dynamic that what happens inside a household stays inside that household. Jesus is healing the ones who dare to shine a light on the truth, who bring their illnesses and who bring their brokenness before God and who begin to tell the truth about their pain. That’s a bold statement of faith, and it’s a bold response by Jesus to make it clear that the one who is healing is God, not some mysterious or magical power.
This is a threat to the people who claim to speak for God—they want to control the narrative, so they start rumors about Jesus. People who are scared can say a lot of nonsensical things, like “by the ruler of demons, he casts out demons.” Jesus summons the power of logic to respond: if that were true, wouldn’t that be great, that Satan is destroying his own power? But now that Jesus has ventured into public battles with local clergy, Jesus’s family are worried about him—come back home, they say. Let’s live our quiet life where no one gets mad.
I want to believe that Jesus’s family really did care about him. Maybe they really were loving and not abusive at all. But people can be loving and still be wrong, and that’s the part Jesus can’t go along with. So he reorients the system of family: whoever does the will of God is my sibling and my parent.
That’s a radical change: whoever does the will of God. So family values according to Jesus are not primarily about blood or family ties, not even about a household and who holds the power over the people inside it. Family values are about doing the will of God.
Well, what’s the will of God? Is it just about following the law? Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, doesn’t just follow the law but makes you consider what’s the purpose of the law. Just a chapter earlier, Jesus is out walking with his disciples on the Sabbath, and his disciples pick and eat grain as they walk past a field—well, the Pharisees, aren’t they breaking the law? This is when Jesus responds, the Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. People gotta eat.
Then later he heals a man with a shriveled hand, and this also happened during a Sabbath. The same outrage arises: aren’t you breaking the law? And this is when Jesus says, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” Jesus isn’t disagreeing with the law but inviting his followers to question what’s the point of these laws? The answer isn’t to get rid of the law, but to consider the God who gave the law in the first place. Is the law really about controlling people, or is it about setting us free to love one another within some reasonable boundaries?
If the will of God is about setting people free to love, then love is what makes a family. Maybe your family has adopted some family members who aren’t blood-related but whose friendship is too precious to ignore.
Maybe you’ve immigrated here from somewhere else and the love shared between people who know the same language and culture has set you free to be who you are, and these strangers have become family.
Maybe your family of origin was abusive and you had to remove yourself from their grip or otherwise lose your life, and you had to create a whole new family made up of friends and neighbors. Love makes a family.
This is the start of our understanding about the kind of family Jesus is creating, to which some scholars refer as the kin-dom of God. Maybe you’ve heard this phrase too—any and all of us who do the will of God are made family, we are kin, we belong to one another, and we belong to God. We seek the restoration of all of God’s creation, the kin-dom of God.
And this kin-dom is held together not by blood but by baptismal water. In the baptismal liturgy, when someone comes forward to be baptized, the first thing is to surround them with community, with guidance in the faith and support. No one goes to baptism alone.
And before the individual speaks what they believe, the sponsors make promises to support the person being baptized. And then the whole worshipping assembly makes a promise to support and pray for their new sibling in Christ. And then before you even confess the faith and say the Apostles’ Creed, you first confess what you DON’T believe in.
Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?
I renounce them.
Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?
I renounce them.
Sometimes I wish we could put these words back into our usual Sunday worship, before saying the creed, just to remind ourselves that evil must be publicly and communally and regularly renounced. Sometimes the evil seems too great, but the more we call it out and the more we show up for each other, the more we are reminded of our own power and our presence inside of God’s power. Evil doesn’t actually stand a chance.
This is why it matters that we specify in our congregation’s welcome statement just who is included, specifically those who are cast out of their own families or other places of worship. This isn’t just an idea, it’s a commitment to safety for people who are vulnerable, for people whose queer identity puts them at risk or whose immigration status limits their options or whose economic situation threatens their lives. We don’t just say “you are welcome here” and leave it at that—we show up as a church for Pride events, we organize and connect with our elected representatives for immigration reform, we collect items and money for people in need and we advocate for them.
All this in addition to showing up for our high school graduates, even if they’re not blood relatives, and showing up to celebrate the life and death of a beloved church member. This is life in the kin-dom of God, and look around—this is your family.
God’s will is the healing and restoration of creation, repairing what is broken and setting people free. Free to be who we are created by God to be, and free to be a family. Love makes a family, and you belong in this kin-dom of God.