“Families”

The sermon, the service feels a bit like a crazy quilt, so I brought one made by some ancestor of mine—the date on it is 1912—105 years ago. I hope all will make sense at some point. The music we started out with may have seemed a crazy way to start. It felt appropriate given last week’s weather. For those who weren’t here, about an hour or more before church started there was a bang and it went completely dark. It was almost like night outside, so inside, in the sanctuary, it was total dark. Brad, the organist, was a bit concerned about getting home. 30 folks showed up. As they arrived we discovered the outage was quite sporadic. Close neighbors had electricity while some who came from south Minneapolis didn’t. Everybody pitched in. Lisa Hubinger set up a lovely candle display on the altar and Greg did the head usher thing with class. All felt welcomed even in the dark. As I started to deliver my sermon by candlelight, Gary Burns pulled a flashlight from his pocket and handed it to me. All in all it was quite an adventure and no damage, no one hurt. So, to play “Mr. Blue Skies” seems appropriate.

Adding to the crazy quilt I selected the song for another reason. Today is Father’s Day—a day some celebrate their good dads, the loving relationships with their fathers or someone who was like a father to them. I have been fortunate. I had a great dad—a great husband. I was always safe. However, I know there are others trying to live with their pain—pain of loss, of abuse, neglect, of never being a father. Because it’s about families and about relationships. Because it’s complicated.

Here’s another crazy quilt piece. How many of you have seen the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. From the series published by Marvel Comics. Yes, there’s theology in comic books and movies. The Guardian movies are about a guy, Peter Quill, who lives out in the galaxies. He always ends up being a hero, but not your typical hero. He has a strange cadre for a team that he’s picked up on the way. Rocket, a raccoon: belligerent, cocky, often mean spirited, great with motors and electronics. Drax is a strange guy. He is called “The Destroyer,” and is still grieving from the loss of his family. Gamora—she’s a green woman and a fighter. Her dad is evil. Groot is a sequoia tree. He was huge and sprawling in the last movie but he died to save his friends. Rocket planted a leftover twig and now Groot is this adorable little tree. There are several other folks they pick up along the way. When Peter was a grade-schooler living on earth, his mother died from cancer and a guy named Ego sent Yondu to bring him back except he kept the kid because, as Peter explained, he could fit into smaller places than the rest of the gang of thieves and thus help the business of the Ravagers. As a gift Peter’s mom left him a couple of cassettes and a recorder—all of it 70’s music—thus “Mr. Blue Skies,” also “Brandy,” George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” and many others. In the second movie, Peter and his real dad find each other. His dad is Ego and he is immortal. He is creating a perfect world for himself, but he needs the power his son has. Ego had created many other children throughout the universe but Peter is the only one with the power. It’s a beautiful planet and Ego is the perfect father—at first. Peter will be immortal if he does as his father says. He can live on this planet, actually be the planet. At first Peter is excited about meeting his dad and seeing this beautiful planet and excited that he will have a father/son relationship with this delightful man. But Ego is actually greedy and destructive. Peter discovers that Ego gave Peter’s mother cancer to get rid of her because she was a distraction to Peter. He discovers that Ego has no love, no compassion, no empathy for anyone—that it really is all about his ego. Ego killed the other children when they proved not to be immortal. And so Peter turns him down. Ego says, but then you won’t be immortal, you’ll be like everyone else. And Peter says, would that be so bad? And he fights Ego so the rest of the team can escape, all except Yondu. Now Yondu and Peter had an acrimonious relationship at times. But when it’s crunch time they are always there for each other, even to death. Peter discovers that Yondu didn’t deliver Peter to Ego as a child because by then he’d learned how evil Ego was. In the end Yondu admits he loves Peter as a son. He says he may be your father, but he’s not your daddy. He dies to save Peter. They were a team. They learned to love each other. At one point the Gamora and her sister Nebula are arguing and Nebula asks Gamora, why not just come away with me, why stay with this crazy bunch. Gamora says we’re friends. All you do is fight, argue. Gamora says, yeah I guess we’re family. None are related by blood. They’re not even the same species. But they watch out for each other. They have each other’s backs. They challenge each other for their own good. They have grown to love each other. They are family of choice. We are Groot.

Another crazy quilt piece comes from our scripture reading. Abraham married Sarah and they could have no children. Now back in the day infertility was the woman’s fault. Way back in the day it was God who opened and closed the womb. Thus, infertile women were thought to be on the outs with God. So it was Sarah’s fault that she didn’t have a child. Isaac’s wife Rebekkah couldn’t have children, but then finally had twins Esau and Jacob. We’ll get into their complicated stories another time. Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, couldn’t have children either and it was her fault. Back in the day husbands could have children with other women and count them as theirs.

In today’s text Sarah overhears God telling Abraham that Sarah will have a child and she laughs. She laughs. She knows that it is too late for her. But nine months later, Isaac is born—Abraham’s second child. Abraham had already had a son with Sarah’s maid Hagar, for if a woman’s maid had a son with her husband, with the wife’s permission (not the maid’s) the child would be considered belonging to the wife. Ishmael is Abraham’s oldest son, the one through which Islam traces its history to Abraham. Later, after Isaac is born, Sarah becomes jealous of the attention Ishmael receives and convinces Abraham to kick Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert—where they almost die. Again God intervenes and they find water. Actually Ishmael isn’t written out of the story—he’s at Abraham’s funeral, though the four sons with his second wife, Keturah, are not mentioned as being there. Oh, and Jacob’s son Esau marries one of Ishmael’s daughters.

One of the worst texts in Genesis, it is actually next week’s lectionary reading—we’ll use a different text—I won’t put you through this story twice. In it the writer puts words in God’s mouth telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. Note the only. God is testing Abraham. Of course God saves Isaac after Abraham passes the test—there’s a ram stuck in the brushes. Ugh. I can’t worship a God who would put someone through that. I can’t respect someone who would do that. And this story is often found in Sunday school curricula. I wonder how many children have been sacrificed throughout history because of this story. I don’t think Abraham gets very high dad marks and I doubt (at least I hope) that no one was acquitted for child abuse because their defense was “God made me do it.” So Abraham—as a dad, not the best. Genesis—a good summer read.

So, families. Moms, dads, sons, daughters, grandmas and grandpas. Pretty straightforward right? Nope. We get into steps, halves, adopted, fostered, families of choice, church families, neighborhood families, extended families. None of these identifiers matter except that the children are loved and safe. Families are complicated. Families are what we make them to be. Families are where everyone should be safe. Families should be safe, not living with the threat of a family member being deported. Families should be safe, not living with the threat of a member killed by police, or gangs, or family members, or fires that engulf a multi-storied building because it isn’t safe. Families should be safe; a family should be a safe place.

Another crazy quilt piece. 35 years ago when our daughters were in grade school we went on a trip to the Boundary Waters with our pastor and his wife—Walt and Rachel Scott. We decided that we would use all female images of God. For example, God is like a mother loon, keeping her children close, and providing rides until they are on their own. I came away from that trip unable to ever use mother or father as names for God. Because I knew my limitations as a mom. Overall pretty good, but I had my days. I didn’t want God being like me as a mom. I can’t speak for others, but I imagine there are both men and women who feel the same way. And I know there are those who can’t worship where God is father because of the abuse they suffered at the hands of their fathers.

So, let’s see if we can put this crazy quilt together. Here’s what I believe. God is not like a mother or a father. God is more. God’s love is perfect. God doesn’t need us to sacrifice our children. God doesn’t want us to sacrifice our children—not in war, not in our homes, not in our neighborhoods, not for all the money and power in the world, not as a test. God didn’t need to sacrifice his son. God didn’t sacrifice Jesus to pay for our sins. We don’t need to be atoned for. God doesn’t need that from us. Sin is what hurts relationships—ours with God and with others. God needs us to seek forgiveness, to mend our mistakes, to seek healing in our relationships. God isn’t about punishment, or judgment. Rather, God is about all the children of the world growing up loved, safe, and able to reach their highest potential, able to pass on valued traits like compassion, care, and love. God needs us to help keep the children of the world safe and provided for.

Life and families are more like a crazy quilt than organized quilt blocks. Out of whack, a little bit crazy, designs that don’t seem to fit, and yet often lovely and providing warmth. Through your efforts here at First Church you are working to keep the children safe. Thank you for that. Please remain faithful to God’s calling for the sake of the children. Search for new ways—you as individuals and as a community of faith, a church family can keep even more children safe. Amen