Sunday, October 28, 2001

Family Ties

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke 17:5-10

Chancing an encounter with the Divine, as you have by coming to worship, you also step toward the threshold of help for family trouble. Solutions start with reverence, prayer. It is my experience, observation, and personal confession that our troubles continue often out of our own desire to see them continue. Said one distraught husband, “I enjoy fighting with her”. Said another angry daughter, “I’ll teach him a lesson”. Said a grandparent, reacting out of the deep pain of loneliness, “This needs to go on a little longer, if only to who is right”. In other words, we aren’t always genuinely seeking peace. Warfare breaks the monotony. Squabbling has its entertainment value. And, fortunately, we are always right. I know I am. You see, its one thing to seek peace if you recognize you might be wrong. But we’re right, you and I. We would rather be right than happy. We would rather be right than happy.

Christian homes are not immune to this general disease of relational strife. Baptism and belief do not magically eliminate trouble on the home front. Nor does piety abroad discount our calling for love at home. In Luke 17 Jesus tells about a worker who has been 12 hours in the wheat fields, pouring out his life and sweat. The worker comes home. What word is given when he come home? Rest, thou weary and languid disciple? No. Come and eat, thou hungry and needy pilgrim? No. Take thine ease, thou faithful servant? No. Says the Lord, “Up, serve, work again, love, strive, your field work does not exempt you from your domestic duties.” Our religious faith does not exempt us from domestic duty. Rather we are more intensely involved and concerned.

The Bible and our experience teach together three sturdy and reliable lessons about family ties.

  • The child has the opportunity to initiate peace and love.
  • The parent has the opportunity to humble himself.
  • The church has the opportunity to practice forgiveness.

One word for the child, and one for the parent, and one for the church.

1.First. The child has the opportunity to initiate peace and love. This is, you probably recognize, a modern paraphrase of the fifth commandment. “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long upon the earth” (Ex. 20:12). Notice as ever that humans do not break the commandments. We may be broken by them, over a lifetime. They are themselves, unbreakable. We may abide in them, be broken by them and so be open to real forgiveness, or try to live apart from them. They are, like the rest of the Bible, more real than anything else in life. More real than The Today Show, or chinese food, or Doug Flutie, or music. Here, the Bible indicates for us a path toward peace. The child, son or daughter, has the initiative. What an opportunity! The parent does not have the same freedom to initiate. Here is the wisdom of the Scripture, life down deep. The child has the chance to set things right! With the child, you as a child, lies the initiative. You can do it without losing face, without false pretense, without seeming disingenuous. The parent is caught in the parental role, bound by history and tradition and the approach of death. The child is free to dance and recover what is lost. The ball is in your court. You have power, opportunity that your seemingly omnipotent parent lacks. Make that phone call.

For three years one daughter, call her Prudence, fought the necessary and good fight for family peace. This involved setting limits, telling the truth, rejecting past manipulation, becoming a child not of man but of God. This is unbearably hard work. Avoiding it though is even harder work. When the dust had settled, and they saw what had occurred, it became clear that any further relationship would need the child’s initiative. This is the daughter’s opportunity, to be at hand as God breathes new life into old relations. She hated to make that extra, gratuitous, phone call, because, she was in the right. And she was. But any peace would only come because right and wrong were displaced by love and forgiveness. This is not to deny the place of honesty. There is absolutely no reconciliation without confrontation. The child has the freedom to set a new course. Prudence made her call on a Sunday afternoon. A lunch date was set, the air was cleared, the future again lies open. Make that phone call. Honor your father and mother. You have the upper hand, the initiative, the opportunity.

A warning: It happens that some relationships die. The Bible recognizes this and enshrines this eternal truth in the wisdom saying in Matthew 10:14, “If any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

2.Second. The parent has the opportunity to humble himself. The radical freedom of the Christian faith falls here at the doorstep of father and mother. You may not have the initiative with the children, you may have to wait for them to come around, but throughout life you do have the initiative with the heavenly Father. You have the opportunity to live humbly with God. Authority in the father/son and mother/daughter relationships is not at the center. Not authority but authenticity is the key. A parent who reveres the Divine love is an authentically loving parent. You are free, dear parent, to humble yourself before God.

This opportunity is taught in Ephesians 6. “Parents, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” How does one teach discipline and instruction, especially to grown children who are now themselves parents? By humble example.

Parents do a lot of waiting. Waiting for the school bus to arrive. Waiting for Jill to finish her lesson. Waiting for Jack to come home. Waiting for the car to come home with Jack in it. Waiting and hoping that Jack and said car are in one piece.

I didn’t notice right off just how hard that waiting can be. I worked late nights in High School, flipping burgers at an old Red Barn in Syracuse. “You want fries with that?” is the vocabulary of that work, and I know it well. We would close by 1 A. M. and then clean up. I would head home, walking up hill toward Allen Street, and rest. One winter night, it must have been a Friday because it was payday, I took a shortcut over a wire fence. It was a beautiful cold night, about 3 A. M. I was in a dream world, walking along, flakes of snow dropping quiet like love. It’s fun to be young, off of work, with a paycheck in your pocket. Paycheck. Crossing E. Genesee I checked my pocket. It was gone! $89.00! Gone! In the dark I retraced my steps back down hill and over that same fence and there, just against the wire fence was the check. I headed up home happy. The clock was striking 3:30 as I came in and padded down the hall. “Glad you’re home” came a voice, not clearly male or female, but distinctly parental. “I’m never asleep until I hear you come in.” Parents wait and watch.

In the waiting is the chance to display a humble walk with God. This is the power of example, the parent’s opportunity.

3.Third. The church has the opportunity to practice forgiveness. The word of scripture which confirms this for us is found in Luke 6: 32ff. Just as parents and children have words of command for family troubles, so the church has a distinct role to play, an avuncular, serendipitous, creative role to play in bringing peace to families. It takes women and men of heart and courage to bring it off.

Don is such a man. Deep in the heart of Texas, this Yankee turned Texan runs a school district in a medium size prairie town. He is a Christian hero in my book because he went out of his way to practice forgiveness. Two years ago Marie came to work for him. She is a graduate of a teacher’s college in Upstate New York. She left the Empire State hoping to leave parts of her background behind. Marie is a stellar elementary school teacher. She loves kids. She hugs and laughs with and cries with her kids. She is a born teacher. Thank the Lord there are some left. Quickly she became a favorite in her little Texas town, where “damnyankee” is one word. She is a plump and happy young woman. In February she came to Don in tears, bearing with her her resignation effective immediately. Marie was with child. In this Texas town, she knew from her opening interview, this is grounds for immediate dismissal. She had no other intention and no other desire than to bear her child and place it for adoption. To do that she had to sacrifice her job and her dream of escaping her Empire State past. She quietly explained her situation and left.

Don saw a chance to save a vocation and a person by enacting a route to forgiveness. He intervened. He prayerfully telephoned and cajoled and politicked a solution to her problem. Don found a way to place Marie in another town and another job for four months until her delivery. He found a way to preserve her original position, even her original classroom. He found a way to keep her from panicking at the first sign of family trouble. He found a way to love, do good, and lend to someone who could give him nothing but some trouble in return. He restored her life and some of her soul. And all this from a back-sliding Episcopalian. Luke 6:32 says it all.

  • The child has the opportunity to initiate peace and love.
  • The parent has the opportunity to humble himself.
  • The church has the opportunity to practice forgiveness.

Let us live our faith this week.

“We cannot do more than we owe to God. Can we ever do as much? If we fail to see this, it is because of our inveterate habit of taking for granted things that might well serve to remind us what utterly dependent creatures we are.

We take for granted the cosmic setting of our lives, seldom or never stopping to reflect upon the fact that the sky does not cave in on us; or the fact that “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night (do) not cease.” (Gen. 8:22) We take for granted our daily bread, especially those of us who live in cities, unmindful of the fact that we are dependent not only on the farmer, the miller, the baker, and the grocer but also on cosmic forces-soil and rain and sunshine, the whole order of nature.

We take for granted a beauty of earth and sea and sky whereby our spirits once and again are calmed and healed and uplifted. Natural beauty, so far as we can see, is not a necessary condition of bodily existence. Only our souls would be impoverished if it were denied to us, but how very great that impoverishment!

We take for granted the lighting and heating of our houses, the delivery of our mail, the working of our telephones, the policing of our cities, the teaching of our children-unmindful of our dependence on fidelities, devotions, and co-operative undertakings that are themselves dependent on a sense of duty whose source and secret is God!

We take for granted a tradition of service that derives from the love of God made manifest in Christ, a tradition of mercy and compassion and unfailing ministry to others without which the world of today would seem hardly endurable and the future most dreadfully dark.

We may even take for granted a divine mercy that does not abandon us but gives us another chance when we have played the fool and brought disaster upon ourselves and others.”

(E. F. Tittle)

No comments: