A sermon preached on May 15, 2016, based on Romans 8:14-17.
Have you seen some of the Awkward Family Photos running around out there? They are exceptional. I can get on awkwardfamilyphotos.com and waste an entire afternoon. Which, of course, I would only do on my off days. There are some gems out there! There’s one where the whole family has their faces painted like members of the band Kiss, and the younger brother’s makeup is all smudged and he’s got a lollipop just chilling in his mouth. In another one, the whole family is wearing shirts that say, “The Bean Machine” with a can of pork and beans in the middle. And I really like the one where Dad has three of his four kids on his lap, and the fourth one is just back there away from the rest of them a bit, just bawling.
Maybe you’ve got some awkward family photos of your own. I really like the one from my parent’s wedding with everyone looking their best and then one of my uncles, who evidently thought a tuxedo t-shirt was the appropriate formal wear.
What I like most about these awkward family photos is that they are snapshots of real families. I’m sure the one family doesn’t wear Kiss makeup all the time, but it shows their personality. It shows that families can be beautiful and wonderful, and really weird. They’re there, doing these odd, goofy things. Some of them are annoyed, some of them are awkward, but they’re all in the photo.
I look around this great big thing we call the Church Universal, and it makes me think of one awkward family photo. Perhaps we are all made children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, but even so, there are some oddballs in the group. We have some in our group who believe they’re the only ones with true membership. We have some who think that baptism and communion are merely symbols, we have others who believe they are more. We have folks in our awkward family photo who think completely different from one another.
I don’t know if you’ve been following the United Methodist’s global gathering in Portland. I have been watching it like an addict whose next fix is another plenary session or another worship service. I wake up, thank God for the day, and check my Twitter feed for #UMCGC, which stands for United Methodist Church General Conference and brings all that people are saying about General Conference right to my fingertips. But, I have to say, following General Conference has been difficult. Because even there, in a room full of over 800 United Methodists…people don’t hold all the same opinions as I do. As it would turn out, we disagree on some things.
You guys would not believe some of the things that I have read this week! Then again, some of you wouldn’t believe some of the things I have written this week. This may come as a shock to some of you, others of you already know this all too well, you and I do not agree on everything. And the people who you are sitting next to in your pew/chair don’t agree with you on everything. We know this on an intellectual level. Intellectually we can say, “yeah, we don’t agree on everything, but we love each other.” But we rarely have to deal with that. Because we don’t talk about the awkwardness. Oh, we disagree? Well, we just won’t talk about the things we disagree about. We all know that Uncle Joe is wearing his kilt for the family photo, we just don’t talk about it. We know Aunt Gladys is going to wear that hat with a bird on it. Just keep quiet about the topic and try not to get stuck behind her in the photo.
We’ll have conversations about things we disagree with that don’t matter. But the things that matter—we know we disagree, but it’s too painful to talk about. 14 All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. 15 You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.”
It’s always been a conundrum to me that we are all in the same family, we’re all adopted by the same Spirit, but we see things so very differently. Of course, folks who know a set of twins can tell you that kids can be born at the same time into the exact same environment and still turn out to be completely different kids. It seems though, that in this awkward family photo that we call the church, we really care about which one of us is right. In fact, we care so much, that we tend to not even acknowledge the difference. When we do acknowledge the difference though, it is with an air of superiority. If we mention Great Uncle Milton’s insistence that everyone get a mineral collection like his, we mention it as the butt of our joke or with an air of dismissal.
But, I mean, is anyone really taking Great Uncle Milton seriously? Well, yeah. Great Uncle Milton is. And you never know—maybe your buddy has a mineral collection but they just never talk about it because they’ve heard you make so many jokes about Uncle Milton.
Today is Pentecost. On this day we remember the great story in Acts chapter 2:
When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages.
On this day of Pentecost, perhaps the Holy Spirit will once again move and help us to hear one another. Do you think that the Holy Spirit has that power? Do you think the Holy Spirit can help us to listen to one another in our disagreements? Is the Holy Spirit big enough to move amongst us so that we can hear?
Because, I'll be honest, I’m not big enough to hear my second cousin twice removed talk about why frozen yogurt is better than ice cream. She’s just wrong. I’m right and she’s wrong… Well, at least I think I’m right. I mean, I believe in ultimate truth, but I also don’t think any one person or one group receives exclusive access to truth.
But, maybe the Holy Spirit can help me to really hear her when she talks. And maybe in the hearing we can find real and true understanding. And I know I’m using some general, silly, unrealistic examples. Because, for real, no one has a second cousin twice removed who thinks frozen yogurt is better than ice cream. That’s ridiculous. But I’m sure you’ve got things you can think of, both big and small, that people in our awkward photo disagree with you on. We can keep making it the butt of our jokes. We can keep ignoring it. But here’s what God’s doing:
God is gathering us all together, lining us up, and adopting each and every one of us. God, with hands on each of your shoulders looks you in the eye and says, “You are my child. Welcome to the family.” And then God turns to your neighbor, with hands on each of her shoulders and says, “You are my child. Welcome to the family.” And then to that person that you don’t really care for, with hands on each of his shoulders, God says, “You are my child. Welcome to the family.”
And God gathers us in for the family photos. And things are awkward. And the Holy Spirit moves among us and says, “By my power you are all made family. Brothers and sisters. Adopted into my family. Made one with one another. Say cheese.”
And the photo is snapped, and there’s no other way to put it—that is one awkward family photo. And God pulls up the photo, smiles at the Holy Spirit and says, “beautiful.”