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IN CELEBRATION OF FAMILY VALUES

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					                          IN CELEBRATION OF FAMILY VALUES


        A pastor‟s task is to see where God is at work in the world and to point it out. We as
preachers are called to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and
the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. As a result, I think
this morning my sermon can be reduced to three words:
Legal. Gay. Marriage.
        You and I have witnessed the dawn of a new day. What began four years ago with Mayor
Gavin Newsome‟s bold, extraordinary act of courage, who simply shrugged it off as the right
thing to do, and culminating in hours and hours and hours of both legislative and judicial efforts,
the California Supreme Court has overturned the gay marriage ban.
        Get those wedding invitations in the mail! Reserve those halls. Decide on a caterer. Don,
I think you and I ought to keep our appointment books open this June…I have a feeling we‟re
going to be officiating at a couple of weddings that aren‟t on the schedule yet!
        Every once in a while history gets made and you become privileged to be a part of it.
Today, we are all participants in this joyous occasion, when the State of California takes a giant
step in the unending march towards equality and justice. This City, which was home to the
Summer of Love in 68 and the Winter of Love in 2004, is now helping the rest of California live
into the State of Love. From this day forward, I pronounce that we are going to be enjoying one
big love fest.
        Of course, there are always folks who want to rain on our parade. The Alliance Defense
Fund and other right wing conservative groups are already figuring out ways to derail this. They
keep imploring that this will spell the downfall of marriage. You have to wonder about their
logic: when half of all heterosexual marriages end in divorce, I don‟t think its queer people who
are the problem here.
        When will they learn: “defending” marriage from love only weakens the institution of
marriage. The love which gay men and lesbians bring to marriage can serve to strengthen all
marriages, gay and straight. Love affirmed any where strengthens love every where. Love
breaks down that which weakens the fabric of our inter-relatedness: hate and fear. It is ironic
that the very things that lesbian and gay couples seek through legal marriage--a public
commitment to love each other for life, a desire to deepen their love for each other, and a
strengthening of family--are the exact same values held by those who espouse traditional family
values.
        And don‟t you just love how the right further defines family values: they keeping talking
about a return to the biblical norm of family. Well, I have only one thing to offer in response:
Open your bible! See what the bible has to say about marriage and family, and then ask if that is
really what you want to return to.
       This kind of rhetoric is going to be a part of our public discourse in the weeks and months
to come. I wouldn‟t be doing my job as your pastor if I didn‟t provide you with some
information, some theological grounding, that might help you enter into the debate.
      Pat Robertson, not high on my list as far as theologians go, once said that “To me and
most Republicans traditional family values start with faith in Almighty God.”


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       When I heard him say that I must admit my curiosity got the better of me, so I did some
research to see what the relationship was between family values and faith in God. I wanted to
find out what the biblical view of family was exactly.
        I began by delving into the Hebrew scriptures and the Hebraic culture. A family at that
time was in fact a clan or small tribe, consisting of several hundred people, headed by one man
who was the clan sheik. His family consisted of several wives as well as concubines, their
children, his slaves and their children, and relatives such as his mother, friends, and other
hangers-on. Could this polygamous, slave-holding clan family be the biblical family so many
are calling us to return to?
       I don‟t think so.
        So I dug into more of the Hebrew scriptures. In the book of Proverbs (31), we find the
good wife is praised not for her good looks or mothering qualities, not even for her apple pies,
but for her efficiency as a business manager. She bought fields from her own earnings, planted
vineyards, as well as managed a large household of servants who made the family‟s clothes. She
herself is clothed in fine linen. Her arms are strong and she is filled with dignity and strength so
that she can laugh at the days ahead. She is the primary income producer, whose work frees her
husband for political activity. Could this be the biblical view of family so many are calling for?
       I don‟t think so.
        So then I turned to the Christian scriptures, to Paul, who had a lot to say about a lot of
things. Here we see a big tension developing between family and faith, the two were playing a
tug-of-war on people‟s lives who were torn between the old traditions and ways of being family
and the claims of faith in the lives of the new Christians. Paul urged but didn‟t require all
Christians to remain as he did, unmarried. For Paul, the End time was fast approaching. For him,
concern about marriage and family draws one‟s primary attention away from one‟s relationship
with God, which should be central at such a time. In the coming realm, all family relations will
be dissolved anyways, Paul felt, why waste your time putting any energy into it at all?
         Ah, but there is such sweet temptation in the world, and Paul saw that the early Christian
believers couldn‟t follow Paul as perfectly and purely as he had hoped, so he rather reluctantly
offered some compromises: it would be better for married Christians to abstain from sex, but he
realized that this might lead the non-believing partner into adultery, so one should concede to the
demands of sex, allowing for periods of abstinence, for still, celibacy for all believers is the ideal.
Is this the kind of biblical view of family so many are calling for?
       I don‟t think so.
        By this time I was getting worried: what is the biblical norm of family? Where in the
bible can I find the idea which affirms the form of family we are being called to return to? Ah-
surely the gospels will shed some light in this direction!
        What I discovered in the Gospels was surprising. You see, the faith Jesus was offering
contradicted the Jewish faith which was dominant. Christianity claimed the primary commitment
of its members, moving that commitment away from the Jewish family. In order to follow Jesus,
one must “hate” or put aside one‟s commitment to one‟s family. “If anyone comes to me and
does not hate his or her own father, mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters, then that
person cannot be my disciple.” Certainly this can‟t be the biblical view of family so many are
calling for??!!


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         It is written in Mark, “And his mother and his brothers came and called for him. And the
crowd said to him, „Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.‟ And he said,
„who are my mother and my brothers?‟ And looking around on those who sat around him, he
said, „here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and
sister, and mother and father.”
       “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister, and mother and father.”
Whoever does the will of God. It‟s not, „whoever goes to work is my father.‟ Jesus doesn‟t say,
„whoever is stays home and raises the children is my mother.‟ Jesus doesn‟t say, „whoever is
dependent and quiet is my brother or sister.‟ Jesus says simply, “whoever does the will of God.”
Jesus keeps pushing the circle of family wider and wider in order to unleash loves power in the
world. Doesn‟t that put a new twist on the structure of family?
        I believe that the theological understanding of marriage which has evolved—that of a
covenant of love between two persons and God—is the model which brings the deepest joy for
the couple and the greatest good for the community. To have love as the basic building block of
a society extends out into the rest of culture, creating a community that is not only committed to
strengthening this basic unit of family, but holding up love, in all its forms and expressions, as
the highest of human values.
       At nearly every wedding, these words from the bible are spoken to the couple, to remind
them of the depth of the covenant they are entering into:
       Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people,
and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus
and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!
       The irony never fails to escape me. These words, this model for marriage, was originally
spoken between two women: Ruth and Naomi. I have finally found the biblical norm for
marriage!
       Today, we celebrate a marriage milestone, knowing that we will all be blessed whenever
loving couples in our community choose to enter into marriage.
       However, before we get too drunk on the new wine of gay marriage, let us not forget that
our voices, our votes, our commitments are still needed to ensure that equal rights and justice
extend to all persons:
        The commitment we offer our beloved must propel us not inward but outward. The love
that draws us to another should also spill out into the world. Together, we extend our family
beyond blood lines, even beyond our own choosing, as we recognize our brother and sister in the
faces of those around us, some whose names we know and some whom we may never know.
        As we enjoy the victory of these days, let us not forget that there are still those who live
on the margins, who continue to be weighed down by oppression, who still yearn for dignity and
respect.
        Let us be a faithful partner with all of God‟s beloved children, offering our solemn vow
to have and to hold, in great tenderness and compassion, for better or for worse, the rich and the
poor, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, from this day forward.
      It is this covenant we make that moves us to act to alleviate the suffering of this world,
whether found in China or at the corner of Taylor and Ellis.


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        It is this covenant we make that inspires us to place the needs of children at the forefront
of our common life.
       It is this covenant we make that enables us to stand in solidarity with those who have
been imprisoned, those who live with disabilities, those who have been overlooked, those who
are aged, those who are broken hearted, those who are poor, those who are addicted.
      When we make a covenant with one person, when we commit ourselves to love, this
love-making turns into justice-making, and the world can never be the same again.


Rev. Dr. Karen P. Oliveto
Pastor
Glide Memorial United Methodist Church
San Francisco, CA




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