Mark 3:33 (NRSV)
And he replied, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?'
At the beginning of Lent, one of our deacons was in the church kitchen, dutifully cubing the white bread before Communion, when he shared with a few of us that his daughter in California was getting married.
Amid the congratulations and the happy questions, it took us all a minute to notice that father of the bride wasn't smiling.
"What's the matter," someone asked, "don't you like her fiancee?"
"Oh sure," the deacon said. "They've been together for years. It's great - I'm very happy for them. But I'm realizing that now I'll really be on my own."
We all knew his story, and how he had raised his daughter solo after the death of his wife - how much of his life he had devoted to fatherhood, how much delight he had found in seeing his daughter flourish, and how hard it had been when she moved to California for school and then stayed out there.
Finally one of the other deacons spoke up: "Richard, we'll be your family now."
"That would be nice," he replied. "I like having a family." Then he smiled. "But I'm telling you now: when there are grandchildren in my old family, all bets are off."
Sometimes, it can seem as if describing a church as a family is just a nice thing we say. Or as something that's true, but really only on Sundays between early choir practice and cleaning up after Coffee Hour. Then there are times when it's clear that we mean it: an early ride to the airport, a visit in the hospital, a seat at the table for a holiday meal - those personal things that are so important and often so very hard to ask for, but that a family tries to work out together.
When we talk about the church as a family, Jesus invites us to mean it - to look at each other and see our mothers, our brothers...and our dotty but wonderful aunts, our dependable sisters, hilarious nephews, our dads who can fix a car almost just by looking at it. In a world where our families aren't always able to give us the love we need and hope for, the family of faith reminds us of the presence of a love that has no beginning, no end, and no limit.
O God, source of our life, teach us to love one another as people of one blood, one story, and one hope - one family, in all its diversity, joy, and affirmation. Amen.