In some of the high church traditions of Christianity, this Sunday is known as the Feast of the Holy Family: a quiet and gentle time offered to us for the consideration of family life from the perspective of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
· I like that idea – a lot – so while I revere and treasure our Reformed wisdom, I also think something of value was lost when we discarded so much of the oral tradition back in the 1500s.
· Time and again I have come to realize that like theological adolescents who are dead certain of our own integrity and convinced beyond reason that everyone else is corrupt, we Prods threw a lot of the baby out with the bathwater back in the day – and we’re suffering for it now.
· We lost mystery and so many of the practices of contemplation – we gave up using our bodies in prayer – and most of our senses in worship. We lost touch with the wisdom of Mary and the list goes on and on…
So I would like to retrieve a little bit of the Feast of the Holy Family with you this morning because, you see, in the year that is to come – 2013 – we’re going to be spending a LOT of time reclaiming some of the forgotten, lost or even discarded practices of authentic Christianity. Not only will they help us grow closer to God as both individuals and a congregation, but they will give us something important to share with those who aren’t here every week.
Throughout Advent, for example, remember that we vowed together to take one minute in every day – with our loved ones if possible – and rest quietly in the loving grace of the Lord? That simple practice of taking one minute every day and setting it apart as holy is part of the ancient contemplative tradition. It not only brings us inner refreshment, but also teaches us to wait in a culture that is already too self-absorbed and busy.
· In the poetry of Isaiah – chapter 40: 31 – there is a beautiful verse that someone put to music. It goes: They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as the eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faith: teach me, Lord, teach me, Lord, to wait.
· Do you know that one? When you sing it – and spiritual masters have known this for a long time – the music helps you remember it, right? Would you try that with me? And you have a copy of the music so don’t let that be an excuse – we handed them out at the start of worship – so take a listen to the tune and then give it a try…
Integrating music and the wisdom of Scripture – beauty and prayer – is one of the ancient but too often forgotten practices – or spiritual disciplines, if you will – that we’ll be playing with over the course of the new year. And let me share with you why I have come to believe the time is right for us to do this:
· All throughout Advent – and into the season of Christmas feasting – I received a variety of emails and notes from you about how important taking that minute had become. Some of you sent me poems you had written born of that silence. Others told me that you had quietly encouraged your wider family members to join in the practice, too.
· And I even found out that people well-beyond our walls were joining us in this simple, daily practice – they were gathered with us in silent thanksgiving in places all around the world – because they realized that they needed to slow down and be still.
· How does the Psalm put it: fret not… be still and know that I am God?
And if I’ve learned nothing in the past year, I have discovered just how important slowing down and letting the unforced rhythms of God’s grace nourish us are for our families – older folk, too – but especially our families.
So let me tease out a few insights for you from today’s Scripture about practices that healthy and holy families might learn to share with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, ok? These are important for those without families, too – and those whose families have moved away – so it is ok for you to listen in, too.
First, there is the fact that the Holy Family regularly worshipped together. It wasn’t just Jesus being sent off to Hebrew school – or Mary going to prayers – it was the whole family making pilgrimage to Jerusalem: Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.
· Why do you think worshipping as a family is important?
· If dad - or mom or one partner - doesn’t go, what does that teach our children? If the parents just ship the kids off to Sunday School what does that communicate?
Children model the behavior, values and ethics they see reinforced everyday; it doesn’t work to tell them: do as I say, not as I do. If intimacy with God is really important for you – if you want your children to have values deeper than the market place – if you believe there is more to life than rugged individualism and grabbing all you can get for yourself: you will make worshipping with your family a priority.
Second, you will also do this on a regular basis – not just on Christmas and Easter – but with enough regularity that your children will grasp how much you value worshipping together as a family. The Scripture tells us that Jesus, Mary and Joseph went up to the temple as was usual for the festival.
· Earlier in Luke’s gospel we read that Christ’s parents presented him to the priests in the Temple, had him circumcised as was their tradition and then regularly attended to honoring the feasts and fasts of Judaism.
· Preacher Kate Matthews Huey puts it like this: for Jesus and his family the Temple had become a home to them – a resting place of wisdom and renewal – a center for quiet prayer and deeper conversation about the things in life that really matter. Is that true for us when it comes to this church?
How much do we see the church as our home? Is church a place where we can… "talk together about things that matter"? And are we paying enough attention to the young people in our midst who may have gifts and thoughts to share with us, and who need the church to recognize what their parents might miss in an everyday, close-up relationship? Are we helping our young people to discern God's gifts in them, and God's call to use them for the sake of the reign of God? Barbara Brown Taylor says that "Jesus grows sturdily from his religious roots, not in spite of them," and comes to understand himself as "Sophia's child – that is a child of spiritual wisdom – as well as Mary's, whose first awareness of his parentage comes to him in his Father's house." What sense of identity does the church give to our children? What roots do they have in the church?
What do you think about that? What does that say to you about how we care for and nourish the spiritual lives of our own children and families?
And here’s another thought: the church in our day, like the Temple in the days of the Hoy Family, is an inter-generational, inter-cultural place unlike most of the rest of the world. Most of our children spend their days in schools – and lessons – surrounded by other children and young adults. But in the Temple, Jesus encountered both Simeon and Anna – two ancient prophets filled with wisdom but close to death in their old age – who shared blessings and insights with the Holy Family in ways that helped them both and gave them hope. Same is true here – if we take the time and nourish the relationships – and do it together intentionally, yes?
Let me cut to the chase: I believe we live in a time when in spite of all the blessings of our free market and democracy, our souls have become sick – in some cases sick and tired – and in many cases sick and filled with fear and despair. I also believe that neither the market place nor our politics or educational system have an antidote for this sickness.
But we do… if we take it to heart – as do some of our cousins in the other spiritual traditions. Only the way of the Lord brings healing to the heart and hope to souls filled with fear. St. Paul made it clear when he told his small congregation back in the 1st century that those who follow the way of Jesus are to live:
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, (people who know how to) clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body… be thankful and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Our world – our era – needs women and men and children – families and congregations of all shapes and varieties – gay and straight, blended and traditional - who know how to live as a holy and beloved alternative to the status quo: you see, we have been called by God not only to bring comfort and joy to the walking wounded, but also to offer them another way – a better way – the way of Christ’s peace.
· I do not believe that the massacre in Newtown is what it looks like to be created in the image of God.
· I refuse to believe that the cynical posturing of our politicians is what the Lord had in mind when we were invited to love one another as Christ loves us.
· And having tasted something of God’s grace I cannot believe that the status quo of fear and greed is either inevitable or in any way connected to the kingdom of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.
We are to live – and embody – and share what it means to be God’s holy and beloved. Just as Jesus increased in wisdom and grace as he matured, so must we; for this is where the good news will be found for those who have ears to hear.