Text: Acts 2:42-47 (sharing everything in common)
Today we mark Mother’s Day 2014. Some in the church also call this Christian Family Sunday. But the latter name might have negative connotations, as the following joke that a friend sent to me last week might illustrate.
“After the baptism of his baby brother, Jason sobbed in the back seat of the car all the way home from church. Three times, his father asked him ‘What’s wrong, Jason?’ Finally, Jason replied, ‘That minister, he said that he wanted us to be brought up in a Christian family, but I want to stay with you guys!'”
I don’t know if this was true for Jason, but “Christian family” can also evoke images of moralism, judgement, and narrowness. At “The Big Question” group on Wednesday, several of us said we are reluctant to tell our friends that we are Christian since the word seems to have been hijacked by conservative churches who discriminate against women and queer people, who attack science, and who focus on spreading ridiculous beliefs instead of on loving our neighbours as ourselves.
I like the 1960s song “They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love.” But I fear that many people in Canada know Christians instead by holier-than-thou attitudes and attempts to get the state to legislate repressive morality.
But if we leave fire and brimstone churches to one side, what might a Christian family look like?
Well, today’s reading from Acts shows how the first Christians lived. It describes the life of the first 3,000 people in Jerusalem who were baptized by Peter after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
“They lived together, sharing all things in common; they sold their property and goods and gave the proceeds to one another as each had need . . . they broke bread together in their homes every day. With joyful and sincere hearts they took their meals in common.”
Christian life as portrayed here is communal and egalitarian. The passage reminds me of hippie communes in the 1960s and 70s, and of the Jesus People of that time who were inspired by this passage from Acts and by the Gospel stories of Jesus and his followers living together in Galilee and on the road to Jerusalem.
Last Sunday’s episode of the TV series “Mad Men” had a scene set in a hippie commune. It is 1969, and the 25-year old daughter of a rich ad man in New York City has abandoned her husband and four-year old son to join a commune in upstate New York. When her middle-aged parents confront her at a farm house where drugs and free love flourish and electricity is shunned, she rages against her upbringing in their so-called normal family. She accuses her mother of being an alcoholic and her father of handing his parenting responsibilities over to his secretary.
Her complaints about a dysfunctional upbringing explain part of the appeal of the counterculture for her. But just as the communal life shown in Acts didn’t last long in the early church, so the hippie communes of the late 60s and early 70s in North America soon withered away.
In the church, sharing is a big part of our culture. Next Sunday, when a large group of us go the Bissell Centre to worship with the Inner City Pastoral Ministry and to provide lunch, I am sure it will be an experience that will feed spirits and souls as well as bodies. Our participation in the work of the ICPM is part of our outreach, a part of our joy-filled sharing.
In church, we share our talents, money and hearts. When we gather in small groups or as friends and listen to each other’s sacred stories, we help heal one another with empathy and caring.
But even before we take any actions that reflect God’s call to love our neighbours as ourselves, we have much in common. Whether rich or poor, we share the legacy of cosmic and biological history that has brought us to this moment and which supports our every breath. We share the collective knowledge of 10,000 years of civilization and the language that effortlessly brings us this knowledge.
We share the human condition — fragility and mortality as well as hearts that are moved by mystery and love. We share the social condition — both the weapons of mass destruction that threaten annihilation and the incredible productivity of a global market that enforces innovation across borders.
All of the above could be captured by the statement that we are all children of God, all blessed by God’s Grace, all humble sinners caught in vast nets of oppression we can’t escape, all thirsty for the love of family and neighbour, and all capable — if only imperfectly — of giving love.
When we hear God call us to love one another, it reminds us of what we already know. We need to be loved; and we need opportunities to love others. And so we create families But we don’t do so in perfect conditions. We create families in the conditions in which we find ourselves.
One of the pleasures I derive from a TV series like “Mad Men” is the depth at which one gets to know the characters. The 25-year-old who runs off to the commune has legitimate complaints about her childhood and society.
But having now watched these characters over seven seasons, I know that her middle-aged parents come by their addictions and selfish behaviour quite honestly. Like their daughter, they too struggle to give and receive love in tough conditions. If one knows a family in depth, it is often easier to have compassion and empathy for all members of the family.
Given what we know about the communes of the 1960s and 1970s, it seems likely that the character in Mad Men who has run away from her husband and four-year-old son will not long remain a hippie. Like so many of that generation, she will probably return to a more conventional life and reunite with her son. But neither her escape to a commune nor her return to family can be seen as a perfect choice. In this world, there is no such thing as a perfect choice.
Today, we celebrate Christian families of all kinds — conventional ones, single-parent families, queer families led by people who don’t follow traditional sex- and gender-roles, families with lots of kids, families with no kids, and so on.
All of us feel the call of God to give and receive love. All of us stumble forward in this crazy world of wonders and with a family background that has both blessed and cursed us. All of us build our families, careers, and churches in less than ideal circumstances. All of us do this knowing that sometimes we will be pleased and sometimes we will be disappointed by the results.
We may even find ourselves living in communes in which everything is shared in common. You know, I have long wondered what the retirement lives of the former hippies of the 1970s will look like. Perhaps co-housing will flourish in the years ahead. Perhaps churches like Mill Woods United will soon be filled with post-hippy grandparents who revive some of the culture of our youth for a new day. Who knows?
What we do know is that our companion in all of the ups and downs of our family life is God in Christ. This good news means that any Mother’s Day can be one in which we share love together with joyful and sincere hearts.
Happy Mother’s Day!