Last week we focused on the family of faith through a look at our parents–the mothers and the fathers. Today, we are going to step away from the nucleus family and consider the aunts, uncles, and even cousins in our lives.
Therefore, let’s begin getting to know our extended family. Here is what I suspect you mentally picture (shared the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving artwork). Admittedly this picture certainly does not reflect the true images most 21st Century family gatherings, in fact, a search for this picture shares some more contemporary versions. These choices may more honestly show what happens around the table today (suggest googling the Rockwell image).
We have all grown up with very different versions of family and our holiday meals are ever evolving. There is no formal definition or any way possible to provide all the variations of a huge family gathering. Our mobile society and the dramatic changes our culture has absorbed cannot define family in one image. Instead it is a myriad of images. Check out this screen shot from a google search of this painting:
Each one of us can pull out family photos and sort through them to find images of family gatherings. This time of year, the family reunions are beginning, along with summer barbecues or weekends at the lake that bring us all closer to those in our lives who have helped shape our faith journey. Sometimes it can be for the negative and sometimes it is the positive. Today, let’s consider who is our extended faith family even if it more than our aunts, uncles and cousins. Then let’s think how we, too, are the aunts, uncles, and cousins of others. Are we the extended faith family for others?
Before we begin, I suggest that you have your Bibles ready and some notetaking supplies. Who knows, you may even want to draw out a family faith tree as we share this morning:
Let us pause, clear our minds, and begin with a prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father,
When you created man and woman,
you began building faith families.
Today we know some have fond memories
and some have painful memories of families.
Guide us to see the aunts, uncles and cousins
who guide us in our faith journey.
Let us learn how to guide others
along their journey, too.
Open our hearts and minds
to forgive, to thank, and to grow. Amen.
The family who sits around our dinner tables are certainly the ones who have the most immediate influence on us. We discussed the role of the nuclear family, our mothers and fathers, last week, today we expand that dinner table to those beyond the immediate household. We consider our extended family including aunts, uncles and cousins who contributed to our faith journeys.
As I began reviewing scriptures, I was surprised to discover very few specific references to aunts, uncles, and cousins. In fact, after googling “Biblical uncles” the first entry said there are only 19 references to uncles in the Bible. Of course, I had to follow up with another google of “Biblical aunts” and learned from the same source that there are only three direct references to aunts.
The Old Testament references show how the tribal structure provided for the safety and the social welfare of families. The very structure of the nuclear family shifted when someone needed protection or there was a death of a parent. The influences of aunts, uncles, and cousins was an evolving process and not all influences were positive as the scriptures share the challenges families faced. Still these ancient stories share the lessons in faith to guide us in our faith journeys.
Certainly, Genesis sets the groundwork for the stories of faith as it explains the origins of the family, but it also shows how human conflict can upset the relationships. We recognize how temptations, greed and other sinful behaviors can disrupt one’s relationship with God. Proverbs 11:29 puts it clearly:
Those who bring trouble on their families inherit the wind.
The fool will be a servant to the wise. –NLT
The story about Jacob and his maternal uncle Laban is an example of a relationship with an uncle that began as a way to find safety and led to the creation of Jacob’s family:
12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.
13 When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14 and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” –Genesis 29:12-13, NRSV
The kinship is the framework for the story, but the faith model is that of Jacob, not the uncle. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying the oldest daughter Leah after Jacob faithfully worked for him seven years to marry Rachel. The story continues as Jacob agrees to work for Laban another seven years to have Rachel as a wife also.
The extended family of faith may have set the stage for Jacob’s journey to continue, but the key message is his faith and reliance on God sustained him as he worked to have Rachel for a wife and also serves as the bridge for the ongoing story of the Israelites as God’s chosen ones.
Other Old Testament stories develop the faith journey of the Israelites. One is the story of Joash and his uncle Jehoiada. Jehoiada was one of the Levite priests who identified Joash as the age of seven to be the anointed king of the Israelites, protected him, trained him, and even found his wives as is summarized in 2 Chronicles 24:1-3:
Joash was seven years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother was Zibiah from Beersheba. 2 Joash did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoiada the priest. 3 Jehoiada chose two wives for Joash, and he had sons and daughters. –NLT
The story of Esther also shows how the family relationship can strengthen one’s resolve to remain true to God. Her biological family was Jewish; and when her parents died, her cousin Mordecai adopted her. When it came time for the pagan king to find a queen, Mordecai positioned her to be among those from which the king would choose. The king was pagan, and when he tried to destroy the Jewish people, Esther risked her life to intercede–which she did succeed in doing.
Shifting to the New Testament, the first reference in the gospel to extended family members, other than the genealogical list from Matthew, is the relationship of Mary to her kin Elizabeth. We learn from the birth story that Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist the cousin to Jesus Christ.
The support that Elizabeth provides Mary exemplifies the unconditional love that exists among members of an extended family. There were no questions between these two women as to the peculiar nature of their pregnancies. There was love. There was trust. Their faith in God gave them the strength to manage the circumstances of their two sons.
Scripture provides us examples of how the family of faith can guide and nurture us in our own faith journey. I challenge each of you to stop for a moment and try listing those individuals in your life who guided you into your relationship with God and have influenced you to live your faith so that others witness it in your daily life.
My aunts and uncles included great-aunts and uncles and cousins who lived in close proximity: my maternal grandparents lived about six miles away and my paternal grandparents left the farm about a mile and a half away moving into town eight miles away and my aunt and her family moved onto the farm. A few other families whose farms were connected along the gravel roads between our farms became our ‘adopted’ cousins and also influenced my faith journey.
Most of these extended families were members of the Buell United Methodist Church or they attended church regularly in Montgomery or Bellflower. This extended family demonstrated their faith in God by their habits, by the table grace before each meal, by the way they tilled the land and cared for the livestock, by the way they handled droughts, Army worms, financial difficulties, and relationships. God was as much part of their daily life as the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.
As you stop and remember those in your extended family, whether blood kin or not, you realize the person you are is made up of the influences from these individuals. You are connected to the family of faith not only by their faith in God, but also by their love and their actions. You also realize that your faith journey continues and you have added in the pieces of others you value in your life. You, too, have “adopted aunts, uncles, and cousins” who make up your family of faith.
When Paul began his missionary work, he met strangers who became his extended family as they became believers in Jesus Christ. These people became the founders of the church working side by side with Paul and others who heard the good news. Two of his disciples were Timothy and Titus.
He taught them how to continue in ministry even while he sat in prison. We, too, have had teachers in our lives who guided us into the individuals we are, but Paul’s words to Titus list the very behaviors we are to learn, to practice, and to teach faith to future generations.
Today, stop and evaluate your own faith and behaviors. Ask yourself, “Am I living my life in a way that I, too, am teaching others about the value of God in my life? Am I someone else’s faith aunt, uncle or cousin?”
Hear these words from Paul as he teaches Titus:
2 As for you, Titus, promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching. 2 Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience.
3 Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. . . . 4 These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, 5 to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.
6 In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. 7 And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. 8 Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us . . .” –NLT
As summer begins, our kids get out of school, families begin to travel, and the CDC has allowed us to remove masks–if, you are fully vaccinated–especially while outside and away from crowds, we need to take some time to evaluate our faith journey. What do we need to do to strengthen our own faith, but also, what do we need to do to guide others in their own faith journey?
Summer is a time of renewal and growth. Take some time to read scripture, listen, and hear God speak to you. Which of your faith family read scripture? Which ones spoke to God? Which aunts, uncle or cousin stepped out to serve one another? Which ones, even outside your kinfolk, lived their faith openly making a difference in your life?
Use the coming season to strengthen your faith so you, too, live that others in your extended family may know Jesus Christ.
Join me in prayer:
Dear loving and guiding Father,
Thank you for the stories and words of scripture
guiding us in the best ways to live a faith-filled life.
Thank you for the aunts, uncles and cousins
who have strengthened our own faith.
Thank you for those who have touched our lives
and made us the Christians we are by their example.
Speak to us so we, too, may help others
along their faith journeys.
Push us to answer your call to be disciples
doing all we can to share the good news
that Christ died to take away our sin
and lead us into a life eternal. –Amen