Rev. Dr. Ruth Shaver is the Interim Pastor and Teacher of The Congregational Church of Mansfield (MA), UCC, and the Moderator of the Old Colony Association.
Scripture: Romans 8:9-17 (CEB)
But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.
So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. 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.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him.
Reflection: Family of God
My father and I have been singing duets in church since I was six. We’ve sung probably 20 different titles over the years, but the one we come back to time and again is “The Family of God” by Bill and Gloria Gaither*. We surprised my mother at my ordination by singing it as a benediction. We’ve sung it on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Thanksgiving. This song has imbued me with the deeply held ideal of churches being communities where people really are families because we are “joint heirs with Jesus”.
“Church family” is often not a metaphor, but a perceived reality with both joys and many, many headaches. Paul’s relational language about followers of Christ as children of God and joint heirs with Jesus describes a family; we inherited this from our earliest days. Paul knew at the time that families, whether biological, adoptive, or by choice, can be insular, resistant to change, hierarchical, and secretive. He also knew that families can also be sources of great community resilience, personal strength, inclusive hope, and welcoming love.
Paul’s language in Romans 8:9-17, at least as translated in the NRSV and the CEB, shows that the family of God is created because people have encountered and been changed by the Trinity: If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness… Paul’s family of God is created by the Family of God: Abba, Son, and Spirit, the Trinity. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is but one formulation for something none of us, no matter how deeply educated in the nuances of theology we may be, can actually understand. It’s a familial image, isn’t it? Father and Son with the Spirit doing their things in the world. It’s useful to an extent in the same way that “Creator, Christ, and Spirit” is useful. Neither is all-encompassing and one is relational while the other is modal, but then human language cannot by definition encompass all the mysteries of the Trinity, despite all the creedal attempts over 2000 years.
If we can expand our metaphors for the Trinity that creates these congregations of people who belong to the family of God, perhaps we can work in our own congregations to strengthen and uphold the idea and the ideal of “church family”. What if, on this Trinity Sunday, we tried out new versions of the Trinity as a family? What about “Mother, Son, and Daughter” or “Parent, Christ Child, and Spirit Child”? “Mother-Father, Beloved One Made Flesh, and Beloved One of Spirit”? There are as many possibilities as there are kinds of families, aren’t there?
At a time when society around us is fracturing into ever-smaller segments, perhaps the greatest strength a healthy church has is its sense of family: a space, whether in-person or virtual, where people can come as they are, be seen and loved for who they are, and be seen and loved into who God is calling them to be. Our life journeys to become who God is calling us to be are never smooth, never straight and flat, never unimpeded; my guess is that the people who have cheered you on and wept with you are your family, however you define them. As the Gaithers wrote, “When one has a heartache, we all share the tears, and rejoice in victory, in the family of God.”
*“The Family of God” © 1970 William J. Gaither
Mother-Father-Parent/Daughter-Son-Child/Spirit, you know that our human language is inadequate to naming you. Bless our attempts to live into the mystery of relationship that is the Trinity as you bless our endeavor to be family one with another. May we see each other as we are and as you are calling us to become as your love changes us from day to day. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for more than 586,000 dead due to the Covid-19 disease
- For the victims and their families of the 230 mass shootings already carried out in 2021
- For the family and friends of Rev. Cynthia E. Shoemaker, UCC pastor in the Metropolitan Association. Rev. Shoemaker died on April 21
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the many college graduates who celebrate their accomplishments
- For words of kindness and compassion offered in tense times
This Week in History:
May 26, 1637 (384 years ago) An alliance of English Puritans and Mohegan Native Americans attack a Pequot village near Mystic in the early morning, killing nearly 500 men, women, and children. The attack was lead by Captain John Mason. The war ended in 1638, after several other attacks by the Puritans and their allies along the Connecticut coastline. Many of the remaining Pequot tribe were sold into slavery or escaped to join other nearby tribes.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
The Rev. Dr. Ruth Shaver is a General Synod delegate Old Colony Association Moderator, Interim Pastor at The Congregational Church of Mansfield, MA, and a member of Second Congregational Church UCC in Attleboro, MA