July 16, 2023 ~ 7th Sunday after Pentecost ~ “Tending the New Creation”
Rev. Beckie Sweet
What is “kinship”? Dictionary.com defines kinship as 1) the state or fact of being related to people in your family; 2) relationship by nature, qualities, affinity; 3) (my favorite) a feeling of being close or connected to other people. So, kinship refers to many kinds of relationships: biological connection, adopted connection, chosen connection, sphere of influence, group of belonging.
Some of us consider ourselves blessed to have more than one kinship circle. We may, or may not, have continuing relationships with the family in which we were raised. We may be a part of a group that has adopted a family-type of relationship: in a musical group, on a team, sometimes with co-workers, with partners in service, in a study group, a mission team, a circle of friends, and ESPECIALLY in a community of faith!
What makes those who are otherwise unrelated to one another “kin”? When I went to college, I experienced for the first time in my life, being physically separated from my biological family for an extended period of time. During the first month, I floundered. I had no circle of care and support, and felt lost and homesick. But, as time went on, like so many others on a similar journey, I developed relationships that were meaningful, caring, shared common interests, were supportive, and tried to bring out the best in each person. For me, the choir, the men’s basketball team, student government, and the folks who worked in the administrative offices where I was engaged in work-study ~ all became families to me. When I was lonely, they sat with me, as I did with them. When I needed a creative outlet to balance my studies, they collaborated as we made something beautiful. When I wanted to experience something new in the midst of my learning, together we journeyed to far-off places ~ like Ithaca, NY, West Point, Puerto Rico, New Orleans ~ that we might experience a less familiar location and culture. When I was bored, they challenged me to expand my proverbial horizons and consider new possibilities for study, identity, calling, and service. When I was homesick, they invited me over for a spaghetti dinner and a hug!
What makes us spiritual kin? Being in a group where each one is considered sacred, where even when we disagree with one another on theology or the practice of faith, we still encourage one another to draw closer to God, discern God’s will for each one’s life, support one another through challenging times. It is where we celebrate with one another, grieve with one another, and work through conflicts because it is worth doing the hard work to mend broken relationships.
Our gospel text for today may at first seem conflicted and confusing. But in reality, Jesus taught those who were with him, and is modeling for us, EXPANDING KINSHIP. Let me set the scene for us. Mark’s gospel is very fast paced. By the time we get to this point in just the third chapter, Jesus has already been baptized, tempted, and has called disciples. He has cast out unclean spirits, healed many afflictions, preached and taught. Jesus has encountered those ornery Pharisees, faced accusations and questioning, and has been called satanic.
It is at this point that Jesus’ mother and siblings come looking for him. The gospel writer implies that Jesus’ relatives think he has gone mad. Jesus is, after all, speaking on behalf of God, and threatening those who have the power to end his life. That is when Jesus expands our image of kinship. In the midst of the crowd, he asks “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And then, looking around at those seated around him, Jesus said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”
Jesus does not reject his own family, but expands his circle of kinship. ANYONE who does the will of God are his family, including the unwanted, the unloved, the outcast, the sinners, those who have tried to get it right, but failed, those who care for, and serve one another. These are the ones we would see at Jesus’ family reunion. ‘Not the perfect, but rather those trying to make progress. ‘Those working on improving themselves and their relationships. We would see those who welcome accountability and support on this journey of faith and life. Tending the new creation in each other means extending grace to each other and seeing the sacred in one another. Tending the new creation entails paying attention to each one so that together we might give glory to God.
Getting back to my college days, it was interesting to recognize that with each new school year, my families would change a bit. Some members of each family had graduated and moved on to new adventures. And there were new students to welcome into each of the families, expanding our kinship, adding to our numbers, our group dynamics, our potential for creating something new. While welcoming new folks, we needed to pay special attention to each one’s needs and gifts, in order to give them space for discovery, learning, growth, and the building of relationships within and outside of the group. In a helpful way, this meant that each family needed to reassess their values, practices, and potential. Extending hospitality to new family members caused us to look beyond our past and to consider who we might become…together.
What does that mean for the church of Jesus Christ? What does expanding kinship mean for St. Paul’s UMC? As we endeavor to be part of God’s kin-dom here on earth, we are given the opportunity, the privilege, and the challenge of continuing to evolve based on Christ’s teachings and our desire to follow those teachings in our every changing world.
Our beautiful Reconciling statement makes this clear as it states in the third paragraph:
Because we are an inclusive, caring congregation striving to grow in faith and understanding, and in harmony with the inclusive values of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), we support the affirmation of RMN: “We celebrate God’s gift of diversity and value the wholeness made possible in community equally shared and shepherded by all. We welcome and affirm people of every gender, identity, gender expression and sexual orientation who are also of every age, race, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, level of education, family structure, and of every economic, immigration, marital, and social status, and so much more. We acknowledge that we live in a world of profound social, economic and political inequities. As followers of Jesus, we commit ourselves to the pursuit of justice and pledge to stand in solidarity with all who are marginalized and oppressed.”
And later on it concludes with these statements:
Because we are a people of faith, we believe that it is a part of our ministry and God’s plan to affirm the glorious diversity of our community, including LGBTQIA2S+ siblings. We pray that in doing so we will encourage all persons of faith as they work for God’s Glory.
Because we are a compassionate community led and transformed by the Spirit, we believe we are called to invite all Christians, including those that the Book of Discipline (BOD)  would exclude, into full ministry and membership of the Church, including communion, baptism, marriage, and ordination if so called by God. We commit to growing, learning, and changing to fully support God’s call and vision for each person.
We hereby reaffirm our commitment to the basic principles of our faith and declare St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, a Reconciling Congregation, to be a community of faith into which all are invited, welcomed, and celebrated as beloved children of God.
That, my friends, is expanding kinship! May it be so! Amen.
 BOD 2016 ceremonies for unions, ¶¶ 341.6, 2702.1b
BOD 2016 chargeable offenses involving, ¶ 2702.1b
BOD 2016 funding prohibition, ¶¶ 613.19, 806.9
BOD 2016 ordination candidacy, ¶304.3
BOD 2016 “self-avowed practicing,” ¶¶ 304.3, 2702.1b
BOD 2016 social principles, ¶ 161G