April 29, 2018
Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
The Great Family
I have a goddaughter in Honduras. Her mother is a priest and her father is a lay pastor. I’ve got to know them quite well, and I count them as close friends. The girl asked me to be her sponsor at Confirmation. In Latin America that makes me “padrino,” godparent, with social, economic and spiritual implications. For her, I am family. Her daughters call me “abuelo,”and our sons are her brothers. Her mother and father call me “compadre,” which in Spanish is a great word. “Com” is derived from “con” meaning “with, and “padre” makes me father. I am a father to her along with her biological father and mother. And when she got in trouble in High School we had talks that she could not have with her biological parents, just because—well, she was a teenager, and all of us who have raised teenagers know what that’s all about. At the end of the yearly mission we usually have a “play day,” where we relax and do whatever we want to do. I usually spend it with her and her family. We often go swimming at the hot springs near their home. The spiritual relationship of sponsor at confirmation has enlarged my spiritual family in delightful ways.
The expanding of my spiritual family shares in what God is doing in the world. The readings today all speak to it. In the first reading we hear about the evangelistic efforts of one of the first deacons. This is not Philip the Apostle, one of the first disciples. This is one of the first deacons of the Church. In the seven first deacons named in Acts chapter 6, he follows immediately in the list after the most famous one, Stephen. He is known as “Philip the Evangelist,” because in the two stories we have about him he’s preaching the Gospel.
You could say he’s the first “foreign missionary” because both stories take place outside of Jerusalem and with “foreigners.” In that light, it is interesting to note that he preaches to an Ethiopian. He is probably a convert, a proselyte, but because he is a eunuch, he is not allowed in the Temple precincts. The fact that he journeyed so far in spite of his “outcast” status shows that he is an outsider with a hungry heart. In the other story about Philip he preaches in Samaria. Samaritans were heretical half-breeds to the Jews, and definitely to be avoided, yet Philip engages in a very successful mission there that ends up with Peter and John paying a visit there as well. Philip doesn’t seem to see the normal dividing lines in society. His vision of the Gospel family is broad and inclusive, even of those who the mainstays of the Church might consider outcasts.
In the second reading, the writer of the Epistle of John argues that loving God and loving one’s brothers and sisters are flip sides of the same coin. Like the “Great Commandment,” that Jesus quotes, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself,” these two things go together. In fact, he argues that love of God REQUIRES love of neighbor, and if you fail in loving your neighbor you fail in loving God. In other words, you can’t just decide to love God and ignore everyone else. Loving God places you in a community of love. Love is not the kind of thing the world out there is known for. Within the Church however, it is to be the basis of our community—and not just within the Church, for the Church exists partly for those who are not yet in it. We are to extend that love out into the world.
The Vestry watched an interesting video the other night about Christ Church, Philadelphia. This is the church where George Washington, Ben Franklin and the other fathers of the nation worshipped, and where many of them also gathered to draft the first constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. It has a long and significant history, but the video starts out with a different kind of message. Right off the bat, the narrator says, “People ask how to become a member of Christ Church, and we tell them they already are.” “We will treat you as if you are already a member.” We are to extend the boundaries of our spiritual family.
The Gospel Lesson is no less poignant. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. The Father tends the vine with one goal—to produce fruit. If Christ is the vine and we are the branches, we all share the same life, we all share the same purpose. Without the branches, the vine is but a single stick. It is the branches that reach beyond the vine itself. This is why Jesus said, “Greater works than these shall you do because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12) We are extensions of Jesus into the world. The “fruit” we are to produce is faith. The whole book of John is written with one goal in mind, that we come to faith in Jesus. It is a great proclamation of the Gospel. This is the good work of faith, the fruit of being a branch in the vine.
We don’t choose the other branches. We grow where we grow, and we are pruned according to the Father’s wishes, and we grow next to other branches that did not choose us. That’s the way it is. It is not ours to say, “I don’t want to grow next to this or that branch,” and it is not ours to say, “You should have pruned him or her back more and me less!” It is God who creates the community of the branches in which we are a part. The end goal is that the whole world share in the life of the vine. Our whole work is to extend the vine.
How about your spiritual family? Today we hold one combined service. We focus on the life of the community. At the end of our service today we will be putting the cremains of one of our members in the Columbarium. Albin Chalk had a long history in this parish. His wife is already inured in our columbarium and he will join her. The Columbarium reminds us always of the Saints in Light—those who have gone before, who are not with us in body any longer but who still share with us the journey of faith. They are our history and our foundation.
- What is our foundation?
- Where are we coming from?
- Whose shoulders are we standing on?
- We always start out in this life standing somewhere. Where is that “somewhere?”
- How does the foundation we have equip us or not equip us to extend the borders of our family?
After the service we will eat together and talk about our common life. Today we are going to talk about our vision.
Given our foundation, what does it mean to be a part of Good Shepherd Church?
- What does our Mission Statement mean to us.
- How are we equipped, or not equipped, to live into the fulness of this statement?
- What new dimensions might there be into which we might extend a tendril?
- We are called to expand the borders of our family. What might that look like?
It begs the question for each of us as well.
- How about your spiritual family?
- Who is in your inner circle?
- Who is in the circle of people you include but don’t deal with that much?
- Who might you reach out to, to get to know better?
- Who in your spiritual family is like you and who is different? (You absolutely need both—don’t favor those who are like you or those who are different. Each has their richness to share with you.)
- And who is not part of it that might find a home here among us? (There is no shame in sharing your life journey of faith with someone. Let it come up naturally as part of the conversations you have. It will open your heart to them and invite them to open their heart to you. Who knows, God might call them to join us, and if not, then maybe you have raised a question for them that needs answering in its own way. Either way, you have been a good friend.)
How big is God’s family, after all? It includes you. It includes Good Shepherd. It includes the Diocese and the rest of the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion world-wide, the Christian Faith around the world, and, I believe as well, every true believer who ever lived, no matter what their tradition or path is, including, I believe, all of Creation itself, and perhaps it is even broader than that.
If it is that wide, then we, too, should be about expanding the borders of our family.