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What Makes a Family? / Third Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 3:31-35

Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.

It was shocking and hard to believe when one of Hollywood’s most handsome and athletic stars, Christopher Reeve, suffered an accident that paralyzed him from the neck down. In one tragic moment, he was left a quadriplegic. Ironically, when he was living in a wheelchair, most of us still associated him with his most famous role, that of Superman. In an interview years after the accident, Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana, talked about the ordeal and the love that kept them together with columnist Liz Smith.

Smith asked Reeve a painful question, “During those times in the night when you woke up and faced reality, did you go through a major depression? Did you ever want to die or pull the plug?

He answered, no. Four days after the injury, I came to, and first realized my situation. Dana and I were alone in the hospital room. This was before the operation, and the doctors said I might not pull through. I remember saying to Dana that maybe it wasn’t worth the trouble, maybe we should just let me go. If Dana had looked at the floor or taken a pause, it would have been difficult because I would have thought, She’s just being noble. Without missing a beat, she looked me right in the eye and said, you’re still you and I love you. And that saved my life right there. That put an end to any thought of giving up. Then my three kids came in, and I asked myself, How can I possibly leave them? Of course I’ve had moments of feeling sorry for myself. I look at pictures of our boat and at people who can walk upstairs, and I think I’ve been dealt a lousy hand. But through it all, I never had any thoughts of suicide. Where does Superman draw his strength? From his wife and children.

What does it take to make a family?

Mark tells us about a most unusual event in Jesus’ life. Jesus was not very far into His ministry. Already crowds were starting to gather wherever He taught. He was in a house teaching one day when members of His family showed up. They had come to take Him back home because, Mark says, they had concluded that He was out of His mind. We know Jesus’ devotion to His mother, Mary, and her devotion to Him, but evidently Jesus’ fame was taking a toll on His relationship with His brothers.

Jesus’ family was standing outside the house. Someone told Jesus, your mother and brothers are outside looking for you. Jesus said, who are my mother and my brothers? Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Interesting. That sounds a little cold. We’re accustomed to coming upon family strife in the Old Testament. Cain and Able. Noah and his family. Jacob and Esau. But Jesus?

All families have problems. That’s the first thing that’s obvious in our lesson. If Jesus and His family experienced tensions, it ought to take the rest of us off the hook just a little bit. All families have their headaches and their heartaches. Having a family is a challenge.

A father, fearing an earthquake in the region of his home, sent his two boys to stay with a distant friend until it was past. A few weeks later, the father received this letter from his friend: please take your boys home and send me the earthquake.

Some of us can sympathize. Children can be challenging children of any age. Some of you may remember a “For Better or for Worse” comic strip from a couple of years ago. The first three segments show the mother tossing and turning in her bed, worrying about their son, Michael. She says, “Are we too tough on Michael? Are we not tough enough? Do we give in too often? Too seldom? Do we listen? Do we understand? Maybe I nag too much. Am I a good parent? Where are the answers? How does one know what to do?” In the last box we see Michael lying awake in his bed saying, “The trouble with grown-ups is they think they know everything.”

Surprise, young people. Parents don’t know everything, especially about raising children. That’s what makes it so difficult. That’s why so much of family life is trial-and error. Most parents do the best they can and then pray that it’s enough.

It’s particularly difficult being a family in today’s world. Potentially the most sociologically significant change in our society ever may be that of the working Mom. Keeping families afloat financially has put new pressures on most families.

A poll asked fifty mothers what they would do differently if given another opportunity to raise their children. Here is what three of the women revealed.

One mother of a three-year-old would have chosen only one child care book to follow, rather than be confused by advice given in the dozens she now owned.

Another young mother would have switched her pediatrician more quickly, having endured his disapproval for too many years. Her present doctor thinks she is a good mother.

Finally, a working mother of two would have made herself immune to the guilt feelings she developed when others criticized how she raised her children.

Having a family is not easy. All families have problems. If Jesus had problems in
His family, I guess you and I can expect to have some problems in ours.

Jesus redefined what it means to be a family. A family is not so much defined by its bloodlines but by the love and respect members have for one another. Mutual commitment is more important than shared genes. Jesus asked, who are my mother and brothers? Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, Here are my mother and my brothers! Jesus was expanding the concept of family beyond the concept of blood kin. Biology is such a small part of parenting.

One of the major worries in adoptive families today is, what happens when our child starts asking about their biological parents? Many adopted children spend years tracking down their so-called natural parents. Only someone who has been adopted can probably appreciate that strong urge.

Still, it must be said that biology is the least important part of a family relationship. Almost anyone can produce a child; it takes a person of deep commitment to truly parent a child. Your family consists of those people who have committed themselves to be there for you. Maybe these are people who were responsible for bringing you into the world, maybe not. Adoptive parents can be your true parents in every sense of the word.

A major financial magazine recently published interviews with the “100 most successful executives” in the country. Most of these successful executives are devoted to their families. However, listen to a comment from one man who has made the “top 10.” “Reaching the level of business success that I have requires total commitment,” he says. “If your family is too demanding,” he continues, GET A NEW FAMILY. That’s what I did . . .” Amazing ” but not all that rare. There are many walkaway parents in this world. And some who do not walk away physically do so psychologically. That is why it is so refreshing to read about parents who are committed to their kids.

A woman said, when I was growing up, my dad worked long hours and missed most of my school activities. But when I joined the high school band, he said he’d be there for every game. He was true to his word until one Friday night during my senior year. His flight home from a business trip was landing fifty miles away at game time. I knew my mom would be alone in the stands. Yet, as the band marched onto the muddy field in the pouring rain, I happened to look outside the fence and noticed a figure in a wet trench coat holding a dripping umbrella over his head. I knew it was my dad. He’d arrived at the stadium just before half-time. It was too late to buy a ticket, but that didn’t prevent him from keeping his promise. He was there, just like he said he’d be. And it’s still that way with my dad. He’s always true to his word.

Wow! Does anyone doubt that her Dad is committed to her? Do you think it would have mattered if he had been her biological father or not? He always kept his promises to her. That brings us to a final observation from our text. It concerns the role of character in the family. “Whoever does God’s will,” says Jesus, “is my brother and sister and mother.” GOOD PEOPLE MAKE GOOD PARENTS. People of questionable character make questionable parents.

A boy found his father’s prayer journal. On every page was his own name. That proof of his father’s integrity, that he was as he appeared, really affected him.

I suspect that this is where many parents fail, it’s at the level of their personal character. Their implicit message to their children is do what I say, not what I do.

Good people make good parents. All families have problems, but if your family is built on commitment and character, your chances of success are strong indeed.

In his best-selling book STRAIGHT TALK, Lee Iacocca put it this way: My father told me that the best way to teach is by example. He certainly showed me what it took to be a good person and a good citizen. As the old joke has it, No one ever said on his deathbed, and said I should have spent more time on my business. Throughout my life, the bottom line I’ve worried about most was that my kids will turn out all right.

The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family. I was brought up to believe in it and I do. Because I think a civilized world can’t remain civilized for long if its foundation is built on anything but the family. A city, state or country can’t be any more than the sum of its vital parts millions of family units. You can’t have a country or a city or a state that’s worth [anything] unless you govern within yourself in your day-to-day life.

It all starts at home. It all starts at home. Even Superman will tell you that.