About Those ‘Biblical Family Values’

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Preached at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church – Tifton, Georgia

Genesis 3:8-15    Mark 3:20-35

A friend of mine always used to say,
“If it’s ‘family values’ you’re looking for,
do not go looking in the Bible!”

I know that sounds odd.
It’s definitely incongruous
with everything you hear
in the modern-day culture wars
about “Biblical family values.”

But think about it.
Think about the families
you’ve encountered in the Bible.

There’s Noah,
who saves his family from the flood,
but later gets stumbling-down, stark-naked drunk,
and ends up putting an eternal curse of slavery
on one of his sons
just for mocking him. [1]

There’s Abraham—
the father of three of the world’s
most predominant religions—
who couldn’t wait for his wife to get pregnant
so impregnated his wife’s servant instead.
Years later, he up and told her and their kid to hit the road
after his wife finally bore her own son and became jealous. [2]

There’s King David—
still considered by many to be
the greatest king in the history of Israel—
who had an affair with the lady next door,
then had her husband sent into battle
to kill him off and cover it up. [3]

There’s Isaac, Jacob, Esau,
Laban, Rachel, Leah,
Tamar, Judah,
Joseph and his brothers,
and don’t even get me started on
Lot and his daughters.
The list goes on and on and on.

The families in the Bible
are messed up,
and—news flash—
so   are   ours.

No matter how much ‘fun’
your family puts in the word ‘dysfunctional,’
the folks in the Bible almost always have you beat.

*    *    *

Of course, all this began
“in the beginning,”
in the story we heard
just moments ago.

Adam and Eve:
the first family,
the perfect people,
the crown of creation.

They had one job . . . one job!
“Do not eat of
the fruit of the tree
in the middle of the garden.” [4]

One job.

But then along comes that crafty serpent,
and the rest is history.

So when we pick up the story today,
God has entered into the garden
only to find Adam and Eve
hiding in shame.

“Adaammm?” says God.
“Have you done what I told you not to do?”

You know what that’s like.
We’ve all gotten caught at something before.
We’ve all felt our hearts pounding in our chests
as we’ve had to make the split-second decision,
“Do I tell the truth? Or do I blame and deny?”

This is the moment
when it all fell apart.

“It wasn’t me, Lord!
It was that woman you gave to me!
Really Lord, she better have come with a warranty
because you gave me a defective model!”

To which God says, “Eeeeevve?”
“Have you done what I told you not to do?”

And again, blame is name of the game.
“It wasn’t me, Lord!
It was that snake you put in the garden!
Now really, Lord, you should have known better!”

As a friend of mine recently said,
just imagine how different things would be
if Adam had confessed his sin, and
if Eve had owned up from the start.
“Yes, Lord, we did it.
We love you.
We’re sorry.
We need your help.”

But instead,
they blamed God,
they blamed one another,
they hurt one another,
and a pattern was set for all eternity. [5]

Under the weight of all this,
we’ve somehow gotten it into our heads
that our families have to be perfect,
that our relationships have to be perfect,
or else we’ll never measure up
and be acceptable to society.

But the truth we all deny is that
no family is perfect,
no relationships are perfect,
and that’s been the case
for a very, very long time.

*    *    *

So, where is the grace for us
when it comes to this hot mess?

Enter Jesus.

Throughout the Gospels,
Jesus takes the things
we have warped and destroyed the most
and brings them into new order.
That even includes family and relationships.

In today’s Gospel,
he’s teaching and preaching,
and the crowds are getting pretty big.
People are watching him cast out demons,
and some folks are even beginning to wonder
if the reason Jesus is able to exorcise these spirits
is because he’s in league with the devil himself.

Into all of this comes his family.
They see what’s going on;
they become concerned;
and they try to step in,
restrain him,
and convince him to give it all up.
It’s just too dangerous.

“Hey Jesus,” someone says,
“Your mother and your brothers and sisters
are outside, asking for you.”

And here comes the million-dollar line
that throws everything upside down:
“Who are my mother and brothers?” Jesus asks.
Here are my mother and brothers.
Whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.” [6]

This may sound like Jesus is doing away
with the idea of family altogether,
but I don’t think that’s true.

Jesus isn’t dismantling family.
Jesus is expanding family.

For once upon a time in a garden,
we didn’t want to take responsibility for ourselves,
so we used each other, and blamed each other,
and threw one another under the bus.

But here Jesus is,
taking responsibility
not only for himself,
but for all of us,
and instead of barreling the bus
right over us like we deserve,
he’s saying,
“If you want to be part of my family —
if you want to come along—
get on board.”

*    *    *

This may all sound a little crazy,
but it’s exactly what we say we believe
every time we baptize someone.

When we gather around the waters
and welcome someone into the Body of Christ,
we believe the family is being reordered.
Mothers becomes sisters to their daughters.
Fathers become brothers to their sons.
We become brothers and sisters to one another,
not because of anything that is our doing,
but because of everything that God is doing.

Despite the fact that we—like Adam & Eve—
never really got around to saying “we need help,”
God has provided the help anyway
and is restoring us, through Jesus,
to the grand family we were supposed to be
ever since the very beginning.

Recently I sat in someone’s hospital room,
and although they do have a biological family,
they looked at me through tear-stained eyes and said,
“You know, St. Anne’s is really the only family I’ve got.”

I tell you that
not to over-sentimentalize all of this
(for that would be manipulative);
not to claim that we have it all figured out
(for that would be a lie);
not to pat you on the back for being extraordinary saints
(for we’re not the ones who deserve the credit);
but simply to point to the action of God.

Just as he has done for you,
God has given that person a people to call “family”
even when family doesn’t feel like family,
and a place to call “home”
even when home doesn’t feel like home.

*    *    *

So . . .
if you’re looking for family values—
the kind that make you think that
you’ve got to keep up with the Joneses, or
you’ve always got to fit the right mold, or
you’ve got to be perfect all the time—
don’t go looking in the Bible.

But if you’re looking for grace;
if you’re looking for forgiveness;
if you’re looking for a place
where you and your dysfunctional family
will be loved by a perfect God
in the midst of some very imperfect people,
well then, have I got good news for you:

You’re already home.




[1] Gen. 9:20–27
[2] Gen. 16 & 21
[3] 2 Sam. 11-12
[4] Gen. 3:3
[5] Gen. 3:1-13
[6] Mark 3:31-35