Modern Family

What makes a family?

Read John 3:1-17 This sermon was preached on May 30, 2021. Watch the worship service on Facebook.

What makes a family?

The ones who love you the most. The ones who drive you insane.

Families are like fudge .. mostly sweet with a few nuts.[1]

There are the people to whom we are connected by blood, and then there are the people to whom we are connected by love and by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the people who become part of our Holy Spirit family are surprising.

We see this happen in the movie Places in the Heart (1984).[2]  In this film, set in 1935 in Waxahachie, Texas, Sally Field plays Edna, a widow with two children struggling to hold on to the family farm.  The price of cotton has dropped, and the bank loan is coming due.  The bank manager tells her to sell the farm, but Edna is determined to find a way to keep it.

One night a drifter named Moses (played by Danny Glover) shows up on her doorstep looking for work.  She sends him away, but he ends up back on her doorstep in the hands of the police because Moses had stolen some of her silverware.  In an amazing act of grace, Edna forgives Moses and hires him to plant and harvest the cotton. 

Another day the bank manager shows up with his blind brother Will (played by John Malkovich) who needs a place to stay, offering to pay Edna to take him in as a boarder.  Neither Edna nor Will are happy about it, but she takes him in.

So now the household consists of Edna and her two children, and Moses and Will.  As they spend time together, dealing with the ups and downs of life, their connection to one another grows.  We see the depth of that commitment when a tornado comes through and they have to help each other to survive.  Through that unexpected wind, they find that they have become a family.[3]

Jesus talks about the wind in our reading today from John 3.  Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”  (John 3:8) Jesus is telling the Pharisee Nicodemus about the way the Holy Spirit works, explaining how the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to see the world differently, to see the presence and work of God in the world.

Nicodemus has come to talk to Jesus because he has seen that Jesus is able to do things that no one can do apart from the presence of God (John 3:2).  Jesus enigmatically responds, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Some translations say “born again” and some say “born from above” because the Greek word there, anothen, can mean both.  Nicodemus responds with apparent confusion.  “How can an old man be born again?  I can’t go back into my mother’s womb.”

Maybe it’s the punster in me, but I think the double entendre Jesus uses is intentional, and Nicodemus is playing along with the pun. Of course Jesus doesn’t mean to literally go back into a mother’s womb.  Jesus is talking about being reborn or renewed by faith and the Holy Spirit.  And the double entendre continues in the description of the wind using the Greek word pnuema which also means “spirit.”  

Just last week, on Pentecost, we read about the Holy Spirit being poured out on the disciples.  Acts 2 says it sounded like a mighty wind.  (Rob says his grandpa Collins made a mighty wind.)

Jesus says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (v8).

And Nicodemus, wanting to understand this wind better, went outside to see what color the wind was, and he found it blew (blue).[4]

Is this Spirit wind blowing around randomly?  No.  The purposes of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are explained at the end of today’s reading:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This is one of the appointed scriptures for Trinity Sunday because in it we see the Son explaining how the Spirit helps us see the work of the God.  All three of the persons of the Trinity are here, working together to bring Nicodemus into the family of God.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  (Romans 8:14)

After this conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus seems to disappear into the background, but later on in John 7, Nicodemus makes another appearance. Jesus is teaching in the temple and the Pharisees are alarmed because the crowds are saying that Jesus might be the Messiah.  So they send temple guards to arrest Jesus, but the guards come back empty handed.

The Pharisees demanded, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “We have never heard anyone speak like this!” the guards responded.

47 “Have you been led astray, too?” the Pharisees mocked. 48 “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him? 49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.

52 They replied [mocking him], “Are you from Galilee, too? Search the Scriptures and see for yourself—no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”

Nicodemus takes a risk by defending Jesus and in return gets mocked by the other Pharisees.  But this is what family does. 

Family stands up for one another and comes to each other’s defense.

We see Nicodemus again at the end of John’s gospel, in John 19.  After Jesus has died. 

38 . . . Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. 39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. 40 Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth.

The implication here is that Nicodemus has also been a secret disciple and is here doing what the family and friends of someone who has died would do. 

Family helps out.  Family comes to each other’s rescue.

Family comes together in good times and bad.

Romans 12:15 calls us to “Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep.”

We do this when we get together for weddings and funerals.  Often we will hear people say that these are the only times they see some members of their family.  Sometimes we will be surprised at the people who will show up who are not family by blood, but who are family in Spirit and in love.

When Rob and I got married, we were surprised. We had a big wedding, over 400 people, because we were involved in two churches, and were connected to people through jobs and school. We were amazed how many people felt connected with us and came to celebrate our new life!

People are not as eager to celebrate the end of life, but even at funerals we can be surprised at who comes.  When our church member Billy Wise passed away, there were family and friends at the service, and there were people from the church as well, the family of faith, and there were also several rows full of people who were part of the family of bikers.  Shirley and Billy had been active in the Christian Motorcycle Association, and so that group of people came to help honor and celebrate the life of Billy.

We sometimes have the idea that a family needs to be a mom and a dad and 2.5 children, but the reality is that a family can be whoever it needs to be to take care of each other.  We saw this in the movie Places in the Heart that I talked about earlier. We see this in the TV sitcom Modern Family. We see this in our families that are fostering or adopting children. We see this in the stories about Jesus in the gospels as well.

Matthew 12 says, “One day when Jesus was teaching at someone’s house, his mother and brothers stood outside . . . 47 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.”

48 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. 50 Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” (Matthew 12:46-50)

When we do the will of God, we are the family of God.

At the end of Jesus’ life, the only member of his family that stood by as he died on the cross was his mother Mary.  She was a widow, and since Jesus was the oldest, she was in his care because a woman was not able to live on her own in that time.  When Jesus died, that responsibility would pass to the next oldest brother, but none of his brothers believed in him until much later.  So Jesus gave her a new family to take care of her.

26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)

The family connections we have by blood can be strong, but the connections we have through love and faith and sacrifice can be even stronger.  God loved us all so much that he gave us Jesus so that we could all be a part of God’s family.

Ephesians 1:5 says, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

Ephesians 2:19 – “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.”

Through faith, we are all members of God’s family.

But not everyone sees it that way.  Years ago, there were two churches not far from each other.  Because this was in the era of Jim Crow, one church was for the white people and had a white preacher, and the other was for the black people and had a black preacher.  One day the black preacher had a heart attack and died.  The white preacher went to help and comfort the black church.  The people in the white church were so angry about that they threatened to fire him, and some even wanted to kill him.

There was a young man in that white church, a teenager, who couldn’t understand why everyone was so angry about their preacher going to help out that other church. 

Isn’t this what people in the family of faith are supposed to do for one another? He thought. 

He left that church and never went to church again.

But years later, in Galveston, he did come to a discussion group I helped lead in which people of various faiths and people of no faith gathered to talk about their different beliefs and understandings.  He didn’t believe in God, but he did believe in the Spirit.  He didn’t believe in the church, but he did believe in community. 

I believe God brought him to that group, even though he wouldn’t have said so.

I hope he and everyone else who came felt accepted regardless of their beliefs.

I don’t know whether anything in that group changed the way he or anyone else thought, but it sure made an impact on me.

Jesus said, “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Matthew 5:9 MSG (Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.)

We’re blessed when we accept one another, and work together, and help one another to cooperate instead of competing or fighting.

We’re all part of the family of God.  We’re not meant to be living our lives alone.  Not even God is doing things alone.  God is himself a family.  The first family. God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  The Trinity. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 

A pastor, teaching a youth group, asked, “What is the Trinity?” A boy answered somewhat quietly, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” Straining to hear, the pastor said, “I can’t quite understand you.” …To which the young lad replied, “You’re not supposed to — it’s a mystery.”[5]

Each of the person of the Trinity are God but they’re each at work in our lives in different ways.

  • God loves the world and everyone in it.
  • Jesus came to Earth to save us.
  • The Holy Spirit brings us new life.

Through that new life we are made part of the family.[6]

Through that new life, anyone and everyone is welcome to be a part of the family, not based on blood, not based on race or gender or sexual orientation or social status, not based on whether we think we are worthy or someone else is worthy, but simply because God loves us and sent Jesus to bring us all into the family, and the Holy Spirit to draw us all together, sometimes in new and surprising ways.  We become a family who cares for one another.  We become a family of care.

In Places in the Heart, Edna’s family included her children, a drifter who showed up looking for work, and a blind man who needed a place to stay.  She didn’t know she needed those people to be her family, but God did.  They became a family of care.

Who has God put on your doorsteps . . . our doorsteps? 

Let’s welcome and care for all the children of God.

Welcome to the family.


[1] https://www.considerable.com/entertainment/trivia/family-jokes/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Places_in_the_Heart

[3] https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/reviews/view/5024

[4] Bramer, Stephen. The Bible Reader’s Joke Book

[5] Bramer, Stephen. The Bible Reader’s Joke Book: This book contains a collection of over 2,000 jokes, puns, humorous stories and funny sayings related to the Bible: Arranged from Genesis to Revelation. (p. 440). Unknown. Kindle Edition.

[6] This summary of John 3:1-17 comes from Carolyn Brown at https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/2822/worship-for-kids-may-30-2021

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