Baptismal Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Sr. Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, 5/9/04, Easter 5, Festival of the Christian Home, dedicated to the Schumacher Award winners, Luke Stephen Knueve, on his baptismal day & always to the glory of God!

"Good News for Today's Families"

(Part II of VI in a series "Good News for Today")

Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6

In this continuing sermon series, "Good News for Today," I would like to lift-up and celebrate the Christian home and the Family.

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Let us pray: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.

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I have been thinking and praying a lot about family in recent days. I have been reflecting on the amazing qualities and good news I see in the families of First Church, families in Columbus, and on out into the American family and the whole human family. There is Good News for today's families in all its variations, shapes and types. If you want to find a foundation of good news in a multiplicity of family situations and configurations, look no further than the Holy Bible. In the Bible there are healthy families and dysfunctional families, married families and divorced families, single-parent families and blended families, interracial families, cross-cultural families, and interfaith families. There are wonderful stories of single persons who create and make families of one plus (see Ruth and the Apostle Paul). Family stories abound. Within these stories you will find good mothers, fathers, and children and bad mothers, fathers and children. Although there are many who have yet to come to this realization, you will also find good news for straight people and good news for gay people in the Bible. The Bible is alive with good news for families!

The good news for families is shaped by five "c's." Choices, Chances, Crises, Character, and Christ shape our families and the good news we come to know there!

The Choices we make our shape the good news for our families. The most important choice to make is how you will relate to God. You choose to place God at the center of your life or you choose not to. Each one of us makes this choice differently. Nevertheless, I want to make the case that a good mother and good father make the choice to put God first. Put God ahead of your children. Ahead of your spouse or partner. Put God ahead of your job and your hobbies. A model for this is Joseph - Jacob's son. When he was young, he put God first. When his brothers turned him over to slavery - God was first. When he was setup by his boss' wife and was thrown into prison - God was first. In dream interpreting - God was first. As Pharaoh's right-hand man - God was first. When he named his children - Mannaseh (God made me forget my sufferings) and Ephraim (God has given me children in the land of my trouble) - he put God in the naming of his sons. God is in the creation of his deliverance. God is in the center of his salvation. He keeps God central to keep his sanity. Still, putting God first is a choice.

Other choices shape our families. On "A Prairie Home Companion" years ago, I heard a marvelous story told by Garrison Keilor. He told the story of a professor who was facing a mid-life crisis. His life had become boring and unmanageable. He had gained weight, lost hair, and had not had a meaningful conversation and truly intimate moment with his wife in a long time. In recent months, he had begun to form an emotionally meaningful relationship with a young co-ed. Now, this young woman and he were riding to a conference together. She found him funny, cute, interesting, and who knows what else.

As he waited for her to pick him up and drive off to the conference, his imagination began to move into high gear. He began to fantasize about the great things that might happen on this "business trip." As he was sitting out front waiting for her to arrive, a kickball hit him in the head and woke him from his daydreaming. As the ball rolled into the street, he grabbed it and helped avert the death by automobile of his little next-door-neighbor, his mind shifted gears. He wondered, "What would have happened if I were not here?" He thought back to many occasions when he had been there to help his children and other people's kids. He was, after all, the "neighborhood dad." He was the one that played basketball and kickball with the kids. He was the one who coached their teams. He was the one . . . as the co-ed's car pulled-up, he smiled and jumped in. He would enjoy her laughter at his inane jokes. However, he also knew he would never make a choice to damage his relationship with his wife, his children, and the fabric of his community. 99% of the choices we make, the ethical judgements we make are internal - between us and God. If we have chosen well in our relationship with God, we most often choose well in relation to everyone else. Even then, the choice we make next matters. Good news for families starts in the choices we make - to walk toward something, to walk away from something else. With God at the center, like in Joseph's life - the choices appear more clearly and come more easily.

The Chances we take shape the good news for our families. Good news in families is sometimes risky business. When we take chances for our family, we often see the fruits of these decisions born out. Most of us think of taking chances as going somewhere, doing something, stepping up and stepping out - and this can be true. You can also take a chance by staying put. Staying put can be risky business. I have seen many people take the pioneer approach to chance-taking in life. They hitch their wagon to a corporation or business and pull out. Sometimes this works. Sometimes this does not work. Following an opportunity make bring good news for your family. It may not. That is the chance you take.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is an expression for moving when "the going gets rough." They call it "doing a geographic." If things are not good in one place, you move. The claim in the program is that this may be seem to be a solution to a problem, but (in this case) moving cannot solve your problems. Sometimes, getting sober right where you are is a tougher choice and tougher chance to take. My point is that the chances we take as families come in all different varieties and flavors.

Some of us take a chance on marriage, even after growing up in difficult homes. "Thanks be to God!" Some of us take a chance on staying single, but choose to adopt and raise a family. I say, "Thanks be to God!" Some us cross cultural and religious lines to blend our families in new and beautiful ways. "Thanks be to God!" Some of us take a chance on stepping out of closeted lives and come out and tell the truth about the beautiful man or woman that God has wonderfully and beautifully created us to be! "Thanks be to God!" Some of us take a chance on turning down the job promotions that would have made us much richer, but most likely would have negatively affected our children and spouses. "Thanks be to God!" Others of us have taken a chance and hitched our wagons to the stars and left the familiar territory of our childhood and early adulthood and headed out and have shared our gifts with communities far from our place of origin and greatly influenced the city or region because we took a chance! "Thanks be to God!" The choices we make and the chances we take shape the good news of our families. With God at the center our decision-making, I believe the chances we take will come around right!

The Crises we break shape the good news for our families. When crises come to our families, we too often brush them aside or walk through them like nothing is happening. Many of us don't like conflict. We don't like crises. When our children and youth are faced with crises in their lives, we can't treat them lightly. They are struggling to make tough decisions. They often don't have the tools of experience, the wisdom of years, and the rock of salvation to cling to their trying times. We need to go with them through the valley of the shadow of death!

Can you remember the crisis moments in your life? They might have come in relation to sexuality, nationality, or what to do ethically and morally. Families that live good news go all the way through the crises with each other. Believe me, it is often painful. It is always difficult. Yet when one parent does not participate, when one parent simply dissociates, the crisis will reappear. It may pass for the time, but it will return with another face at another time. When we face the hard times of crisis in our lives, we need to break them together. If you are a single parent faced with crisis, call upon God, your extended family (if possible), your friends and this community of faith to walk all the way through it with you! Paul reminds us in Romans, "neither death nor life, nor principalities, nor powers, no height no depth . . . nothing else in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Good news for our families comes when we break through crises and turn them into our new opportunities for good news.

The Character we build shapes the good news of our families. The sons of Zebedee and Salome were well known biblical boys. We know them as James and John - disciples of Christ. Zebedee and Salome raised these boys and shaped and molded their character. Their parents had taught them the value of hard work, an honest days labor. When Jesus walks up to them by the Sea of Galilee, they are working with their dad. They are unashamed. They are assertive because of the way they were raised. Jesus sees this is their character and calls them to follow him. They had good character shaped by good parents.

Not all of us are blessed with good parents. But, all of us are given the opportunity to have our character shaped for good. We have teachers, neighbors, pastors, church friends, and often older siblings who seek to shape our character for good. This past week, God introduced me to one of the 1962 Schumacher Award winners. Her name is Enola Joyner Harding. Enola is one of the care-givers for Celestine Clark. Enola received $300 on Mother's Day in 1962. As a young teenager, Enola loved the Lord and she already had the heart to help others. When she came home with her award 22 years ago today, her father told Enola that if she helped him buy a car, he would make sure she got to church each week. (As she laughingly told it, "he didn't mention that I would have to pay for the gas"). She gave him the money. She went on to raise her gas money and get to church in the car that her award money bought. With the few quarters she had left over from working, Enola would buy her siblings ice cream on Sunday afternoons. Here is a woman with character! She was shaped and molded by the her love of the Lord! She is a pastor's wife today. She is a proud mother of six. She raises her children and grandchildren to love the Lord! She is a wonderful woman of faith and character. The Character we build shapes the good news of our families.

Finally, the Christ we worship and adore shapes the good news of our families. However, you come to know Christ in your life, trust this - that he is at the heart of the good news in our lives and our families. What do your children hear at home? Do they hear you praying? Do they hear you speaking of kindness and love? If you are single, engaged, empty-nesters, or partnered or married without children, what do you do in your life to lift-up Christ, to worship and adore him? How do you glorify God? I encourage you to make good choices, take chances, break through crises, grow in character through the role-modeling of others, and worship and adore Christ Jesus! We are all shaped by choices, chances, crises, character and Christ. Let us live good news for our families today! Amen.

Copyright 2004, The First Congregational Church

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