I was recently asked to contribute to the Bible column for the Mennonite World Review, which is a newspaper published bi-weekly with the intent of “Putting the Mennonite world together”.
It’s an intimidating task, to write a column about the Bible, primarily for people I’ve never met. My Anabaptist heritage and my pastoral vocation place the interpretation of scripture within a committed community of faith, where grace can be given, questions asked, and counsel received.
Nonetheless, I considered it an honor, a privilege, and a challenge to push myself a bit beyond my comfort zone. When it’s all said and done, I am committed to writing 7 columns for the Spring quarter, basing my reflections on the uniform Sunday School series published by Mennonite Church USA.
If you don’t get the paper, but would like to read my thoughts…you’re in the right place! I’ll post them here after they’ve been published, and I’ll include the scriptures I’m basing it on.
I hope you enjoy! Leave a comment if you’d like (I do have to approve your comment, so it won’t show up right away after you leave it)
Column #1 published in the February 17, 2014 issue
2 Sam 7:4-16
We use words like suitcases, don’t we?
We pack each one carefully depending on where we intend to take it. We fold, tuck and cram bits and pieces of meaning into our words until sometimes they get stretched beyond the point of usefulness. They get worn out. The zipper breaks or a seam tears, and we find ourselves in need of a new piece of luggage.
One good example is the word “family”. It’s been used so heavily in recent years that I think its days of heavy lifting are over. Yet we continue trying to fill it with different meaning depending on where it is we want to go. We are the family of God. We vote on family values. We focus on the family. We might play happy families. Grandparents love to show off their families, and my favorite example is the picture frame with the deceptively scripture-like words of inspiration revolving around the edge: “Faith, Hope, Love, Family”.
Here I thought the greatest of these was love.
Apparently not in our time.
This passage from 2 Samuel troubles me because it lends itself so well to perpetuating the myth that biological offspring are the keys to God’s kingdom; that our hope is in preserving the ‘family line’ at any cost; that blood is indeed thicker than water…even the waters of baptism.
Friends, this ought not be. Not even when verses like this one are so plentiful in our Bible: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Sam. 7:12).
We don’t need any more help in elevating the task of procreation, so let me offer an alternative understanding.
What’s going on in 2 Samuel is a magnificent reversal.
David plans to build God a glorious house; a temple. The prophet Nathan encourages him to do this, but then God speaks. He not only refuses to accept the gift David has planned, but he goes on to turn the tables, promising to establish David’s ‘house’ instead.
How often are our own best laid plans turned on their heads in the service of God?
David was a blood-stained warrior. He was an adulterer. He was a murderer. Further, Solomon who was David’s legitimate successor and the one to eventually build the temple, was not a legitimate son.
He was born from an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba.
All that to say David’s family line was far from the idyllic picture many of us have when we think and talk about our precious ‘family’.
David’s family line was a mess-not unlike our own family lines. Thank God there’s room for the mess within the boundaries of the kingdom.
I write this as my wife and I are preparing space in our family for children born of another mother. Our journey with infertility has opened our eyes to new, creative, and refreshing understandings of what family means in the kingdom of God. Our expectations and hopes for the future have changed. We’ve come to embrace adoption as a deeply symbolic theological statement.
The truth of the matter is, none of us were born into God’s family.
Adoption is our story, not bloodlines or pedigrees.
For Christian people, when we think “family”, we should think first of church.
We should remember our brothers and sisters in Christ and the comittments we’ve made to each other in baptism. Enough throwing stones from the outside. Enough criticism.
Let us instead embrace the great reversal: the waters of baptism are thicker than blood.
Let us imagine a place where misfits are welcome and false starts expected. Let us unpack the meaning of our luggage together with respect, with faith, with hope, with love, as a family united under the Lordship of Christ.