What came to mind? The family you grew up with, the family you began with a spouse, your colleagues at work or circle of friends that form a family unit and support system for you when you need it most? We often use the word family to describe what we have here when we are at our best: a church family. Or did you picture an idealized family? The whole picket fence and 2.3 children so-called life. Jesus himself also asked a similar question: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?"
As we have gone about our daily lives here, enjoying this beautiful time of the year in New England, millions and millions of people have been on the move around the world. Refugees. Migrants. Running through the Chunnel linking France and England. Languishing in refugee camps. Crossing the sea in over-crowded boats. This year over 2,000 souls have perished in the Mediterranean. The humanitarian disaster in Syria continuing to unfold with millions of people displaced. They come from South Sudan, Myanmar, Iraq and Afghanistan.
To me, one of the ways our faith impacts the way we live in the world is considering what goes through our minds when we see or read stories of these humanitarian crises around the world. Do we go numb or turn away? Do we analyze, rationalize, and politicize? Are we moved: moved to prayer, concern, generosity, action?
We should care about the plight of refugees and migrants because the God of the Bible cares about them. Men, women and children pick up with few positions and flee. Half the world’s refugees and children. Children help grandparents. No one is left behind if at all possible.
What I’m getting at is this: What do some birth parents say to their children and grown children say to parents, siblings tell other siblings of the reason their bond is so visceral, complicated, deep and tight? “You are my flesh and blood.” You are family.
After four Sunday in a row talking about the Bread of Life, Jesus offends and confusing many by saying: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
The lectionary seems stuck these weeks: who would not want a break from John’s mystical and confounding words of Jesus.
Four Sundays ago it started with the feeding of the 5,000. That’s how it began… “There is a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”
Out of scarcity… abundance. What began with little, ended up with much. All present where fed, no one went without. A foretaste of the ‘all you can eat’ heavenly banquet. There was enough. It is the best of the gospel. It is a message and image that confront our world, where millions go hungry each day. Those blessed with more than enough should share with those without.
One the church groups that we saw on one our recent mission trips to Cuba, who also were delivering much needed water purification systems to this repressed country, puts a sign over each system that says “Agua viva… Living water.” Clean water as sacrament: out outward sign of inner life, health and goodness.
For years I lived just north of St. Augustine, Florida. Known as America’s first city, it was settled by the Spanish in the 1500’s, it is known today for its beaches, and typical Florida tourist attractions. There is also a park that pays homage to the legend of the Fountain of Youth. The story is that explorer Ponce de Leon came to the Florida searching for the mythical spring that if one would drink from it or bathe in its waters that one youth would be restored and perhaps they might never die.
But when does searching for fountains of youth become both an obsession and distraction? Each day there is at least one truth: we are a day older.
When Jesus said: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day,” he certainly was not saying that his followers would never grow old and die.
God has a very different take on the Fountain of Youth and the makeup of family.
In an encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus learned that to be born again or born from above does not require us to return to our mother’s womb. We don’t have to rewind the clock of our lives and start all over to make things right. We don’t need anti-aging creams, supplements, plastic surgery and Botox to make us feel alive.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17) Christ makes everything new, not young again.
As we think about the eternal life Jesus promised, a beginning place is not to hope and pray that time stands still. A better way is seeing how eternal life is already present and unfolding before us. Jesus spoke of eternity as opposed to immortality, and there is a big difference.
As I remind each youth confirmation class, Christians believe in resurrection and not reincarnation. We do not believe that we return to this earth and live another life. We believe in something more – harder to imagine. We believe that as Christ lived, died and was resurrected, so too will we. We believe in the communion of saints, that those who have gone before are still a part of our lives.
Eternity. Forever. Beyond time.
And the place to begin to understanding that mind-bending promise of an idea, will be for Christians, to take some bread and some wine, do as Jesus did: take, bless, break and share, and become one with Christ.
A saint of the church once said, (Augustine) when he held up the bread and the cup before the gathered – in the same way we do at the altar today -- behold who you are; may we become what we receive.
Behold who you are. You and I are God’s family. Flesh and blood. God’s own. Flawed and sinful. Blessed and forgiven.