My Grandpa loved life, loved his family, and loved making others laugh. I remember sitting with him in the kitchen: he’d smile a big broad smile, and then let his upper denture drop – “Clunk.” We kids would respond with peals of delighted laughter. Grandma, sitting across the table, would inevitably say: “O, Earl!” – Which only provoked more laughter. They were both lovely people, and were both quite strong and wonderful characters.
We all have such “characters” in our families: some eccentric, some difficult, some amusing or endearing, sometimes a combination of all three! They are people who don’t mind living life a bit off from the norm. In fact, at least in my own experience, these same relatives are often seen as embodying a set of qualities – or oddities – that “run in the family” – traits that are usually good (I hope), but sometimes not. They might include patterns of behavior; health issues; physical traits and gifts; ties to a particular place, time or nationality, or a particular legacy, among other things. But, they identify us as “us”: they help us see how and why our family came to be what it is, what it stands for, and why we are who we are.
We are simultaneously part of many different families: our family of origin, the family we marry into, the family we create with our spouse, our church family, our work and school families. Some of these families endure for generations, others exist only for a particular moment in time. But, they all provide us with an identity, and a reason for being who and what we are. At their best, they give our lives shape, meaning and purpose; at their worst, they drag us down into a pit of despair.
My own grandfather’s joy and impish humor masked a deeper truth. He loved people, really loved them – intensely. He cared, and it showed, and people responded to the compassionate love that was so much a part of who he was. I suspect this love was born of the horrors he saw as a soldier in WWI; and although his parents were loving, wonderful people, his father was a hard drinking man; and his mother was rigidly Victorian. Because of his life experiences, he well understood the fragility and tenderness of human existence.
The video shown at the start of today’s service helped us reflect upon Jesus’ time in the Wilderness: 40 Days, the same number of days as are in Lent. This is not a coincidence.
Lent is our own time in the Wilderness, when all the stuff that clutters our lives is set aside, when we confront who we really are; with all of our bumps, warts, and insecurities; and ask what meaning and purpose we wish our lives to have. It is a time when see that we are no different than anyone else here this morning: we all have fears; we all have faults; we all have talents; we are all very human, human beings; and we will all die, just like every human being that has ever lived, or ever will. Lent is a time when we seek to let go of distractions and concentrate on what is really important.
This “letting go” aspect of Lent is not just about getting rid of the tangible or intangible clutter and distractions in our lives; but, as we physically demonstrated in our Message for All Ages, Lent is also about letting God help us let go of the stuff within us that we can’t get rid of on our own.
This is because we can’t fix ourselves, we can’t make ourselves perfect on our own, and we can’t overcome death on our own. We’re stuck here in the world, enduring an existence that will inevitably end in darkness; and an existence we are sure to make a mess of unless we allow God’s Family to help.
Lent helps us see this, and so helps us understand why we need God, and each other.
Christianity is not a faith practiced in solitude. Yes, we wander into the wilderness, alone, to find ourselves, to see how our lives must change, and to find God. But, ultimately we must return to the world; because if we don’t, we will die out there: unmourned and forgotten.
Jesus’ time in the wilderness in Luke is the model for Lent – Jesus goes forth, removes all distractions from his life, and confronts his demons: all in the name of finding himself; finding God; and learning what he will need to cling to, if he is to succeed in his ministry.
He accomplishes this; but once he does, will he minister and preach out there, alone, in the desert? No, he returns to his people. Confronting his own weaknesses, fears and failures, as we all must do. His wilderness experience is a temporary situation, as is ours. He, and we, cannot be what we are called to be, alone: out there in our wilderness.
So, ultimately, we need community. We cannot be who we are without others alongside us being who they are, as quirky or as irritating as they might be. They must be, and are, part of who we are. We need family: we need our eccentric relatives, our supportive co-workers and friends, and our neighbors. They help us to be who we are called to be, and we know that many of them will stand with us when we need them, and we know they need us, too. They are family.
This morning we welcome new members into our church family. They are children of God, just like we are; and will be are physically with us for however long or short of a time God calls them to be, but no matter where their journey through life leads them, they will never be separated from us in spirit. They need us, and we need them; and together we are all united with our God, whom we need, and who needs us; because without us, God would be a lonely God.
And we will always remember that it is God’s will that has made us who we are, here and now, and called all of us to become part of the Divine family.
Welcome to our family!
Presented at ARK Community Church, February 14, 2016 (First Sunday of Lent / Valentines Day / New Member Sunday).
Copyright (c) 2016, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved. I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)