Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
It’s always a privilege to welcome new members into our congregation, and to celebrate baptisms. Not only because we know that each new person will add so much to our life together over the years. But because every time we hear new members make their promises, and every time we baptize either a child or an adult, the rest of us have an opportunity to be reminded what being part of the Church is all about.
Today’s Scripture texts both use family imagery for the Church. In Ephesians, we are reminded that those who choose to follow Christ are “no longer strangers… but …members of the household of God.” And in 1 John, those beautiful words we hear at every baptism, about all of us being “children of God” our heavenly parent.
One of the most obvious ways this congregation demonstrates that it is a household or a family is by caring for its children. I can’t tell you how often I’ve witnessed an adult unrelated by any other family ties, showing a child of this church that he or she is your kid. Whether with a well-timed hug or a welcoming smile, a commitment to teaching Sunday School or serving as a confirmation mentor, or simply by offering your rapt attention as the child shares an exciting story from their week at school. And, I might add, it’s equally evident around here in the opposite direction. What a beautiful thing it is to watch kids of all ages – from 2 year olds to teens – so confident in the knowledge that you are their grown-ups.
So much of what we’re doing when we baptize a child is about this dynamic precisely – welcoming a new daughter or son into our family of faith. The parents must promise to nurture their child in faith at home too, not leaving it up to the church to do alone. But all of us in the church need to do our part. We made promises this morning too, promises that Kristen and Tim and Nordika can recall for years to come, reminding them that they have a whole household of God here to help them grow as disciples of Jesus.
Not long ago I heard a couple of colleagues caution against the use of the term “family” for the church, which surprised me, since it’s always been such a meaningful metaphor for me. I realized, though, that they were most likely operating with a very different understanding of family than the one I’d grown up with. If family is understood to be a closed system, an insulated or isolated group, resisting newcomers, resisting change, focused primarily on itself, then of course we’d want to be careful about calling the church a family. But for many of us, that just isn’t what family is all about.
For instance I was privileged to grow up in a household that was welcoming, hospitable, and generous to those outside our immediate family unit. The way my parents saw it, there was always room for one or two more when we grabbed a bite of lunch after church. From the way they spent their time to the way they spent their money, there was a great deal of energy devoted to looking outward rather than simply focusing on themselves. Like many families these days, ours has also been quite diverse, racially and culturally. We enjoy saying that the Taiwanese Americans and Guatemalan Americans are on the Scottish side of our family, and the Mexican Americans are on the Korean side. I have cousins who are related biologically and cousins who are adopted, too. So the word family also doesn’t just mean people who look (or sound) like me.
Likewise, the church functions best as a family when we reach out in hospitality and welcome to everyone who comes through our doors. It matters that we take an interest in the lives of our fellow worshippers, rejoicing when they rejoice and weeping when they weep, and it’s critical that we aim to involve everyone of all ages in our mission and ministry. We are at our best when we not only care for one another, gravitating toward those who might look or sound most like us, but when we continue to look around and outside of ourselves, paying attention to where else God might be calling us to build relationships or to extend a hand in friendship. And of course we want to be a family that can’t wait to welcome one more to our table, whether that be our communion table, our coffee hour table, or the table upstairs at which our boards and committees sit to do the business of the church.
It’s been said that our Christian faith is personal, but not private. That Christians are best formed and nurtured in congregations. I’ve certainly found this to be the case in my own life.
Simply by turning up on a Sunday morning, think of all the wonderful reminders we receive here together, to reset our priorities. We are called to worship, remembering in humility that God is God and we are not. We are reminded of our flaws, as we confess our sins, and then assured of God’s forgiveness, because God’s grace is sufficient for our every weakness. We read the Scriptures together, so that we will have words of God’s truth ringing in our ears, and lodging in our hearts, as we head out the doors to a world that follows a very different script.
As each week’s service continues, we then pray to the God who meets us where we are, and knows our every need. We pray for others, too, remembering that we are beloved children of God, but by no means God’s only beloved children. We offer money, time, and talent as gifts of gratitude to the God who has given us so much. And throughout the service we sing songs of praise, again remembering that God and God alone is worthy of our worship.
“See what love [God] has for us, that we might be called children of God, and so we are.” There’s much to be said for being part of a family of faith, with God as our loving parent. Tim and Kristen, I give thanks today that you and your girls have found yourselves “no longer strangers… but members of the household of God” here at Magnolia Presbyterian Church. And I pray that all of us might appreciate the gifts that come from celebrating God’s love, and growing as God’s children, together.