The Puzzle of Family

January 8, 2012

It was Tolstoy who said “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Have you ever stopped to think that both the Old Testament and the New Testament start with the story of a family?  And the bible itself is a collection of family stories.  There are happy families in the bible and there are unhappy families in the bible but there are no perfect families in the bible.  Why?  Because they are the stories of real families struggling with the same issues that families have always struggled with and will always struggle with.  Over the next few weeks we are looking at “Families: finding your place in the Puzzle”  Because the secret is not knowing what your husband should do, or what your wife should do or what your kids or parents should do, the secret is to know what your role is. 
We all play different roles in the family and even the same role will change as time moves on and the family changes.  Spouses have different responsibilities before and after children, parents have different responsibilities as they kids grow up and children have different responsibilities at different times in their lives.  And over the next few weeks we are going to look at how those pieces are supposed to fit, and notice I said “Supposed to”.
The secret of a really good puzzle is that there are no identical pieces.  In a jigsaw puzzle you might try to force a piece to fit, but that’s not what you are supposed to do.  And it’s the same way with crossword puzzles there may be other words that will fit the squares but they don’t fit the clue, or a word that fits the clue but not the square.  And you might try to fudge the spelling or the definition but that’s not the way it is supposed to work. 
Today I think most of us define family by the media, whether it be the Waltons and Little House on the Prairie, Leave it to Beaver or Rob and Laura Petrie.  The Huxtables or Dan and Roseanne, the Simpsons or Family Guy we are barraged with what family is and what family isn’t. 
But every family is different in its own way but I think Tolstoy was right “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
This morning we are going to try to figure out what those happy families have in common.
What is a family?  Our definition of Family would probably be different than it was a generation ago.  I know I’m old but when I was a kid I knew exactly one child who had a different last name than his mother’s husband.  And probably there were more than that out there but within my limited understanding they were the only divorced people that I knew.  And the concept of people living together who weren’t married, I knew it happened because the family whispered about one of my father’s uncles and the lady he lived with, but it was a scandal. 
Back then a family was a mother and a father, and their 2.3 children.  And when the media wanted to blend a family it happened because of death not divorce.  So Mike Brady was a widower and they never mentioned what happened to Carol’s husband. 
They weren’t sure what to do with the Mary Tyler Moore, the show’s producers originally wanted Mary Richards to be divorced but were afraid of the back lash from the public and that people would think that she had divorced Rob Petrie.  Do you remember when the television character Murphy Brown was pregnant and not married?  Even the White House stepped in and expressed an opinion.  then Vice President Dan Quayle said “It doesn’t help matters when primetime TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice,’”
But that has changed, at least in popular culture.  We are told that marriage can no longer be defined the way it had been defined in the past.  So now kids grow up in homes with only one biological parent, maybe.  People talk about starter marriages like they used to talk about starter homes.  And while you might be able to have 1 mom and no dad or 1 dad and no mom or 2 moms or 2 dads or 2 moms and 2 dads apparently the last taboo is that you can’t have 1 dad and 5 moms.  At least for now.
So what is family?  The dictionary I keep on my desk, a dictionary is a book with lots of pages that is arranged alphabetically, is the Collins Pocket English Dictionary from 1981 and it defines family this way. fam•i•ly [fam-uh-lee, fam-lee] noun, plural -lies, adjective 1) a) a social unit consisting of parents and their children. b) the children of the same parents.  I went on line to dictionary.com and it defined family this way  1. a. a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not: the traditional family.  b. a social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the children they care for: a single-parent family. 
And I suppose there are as many definitions of family as there are people defining family, it was Ogden Nash who stated “A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.” 
Without reading too much into it Abraham Lincoln said “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”  
If the old adage is true “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Why do we need families? Why can’t we be content with villages?  Well apparently families have always been a part of the plan. I mentioned earlier that both the Old Testament and the New Testament begin with stories of families.  The Book of Genesis begins with the story of Adam and Eve and their children.  The first family.  And the New Testament begins in the book of Matthew with the story of Mary and Joseph and their first born son, Jesus. 
I suppose I could have started with Adam and Eve but I’m not sure there is a lot of good to be said about that family.  They were disobedient to God, they got turfed out of the Garden and I’m sure that there were a lot of bitter angry words spoken in that family.  Recriminations over whose fault it was that they had eaten the forbidden fruit.  Their story culminates with their first born killing his brother is a fit of jealous rage.  Maybe my father was right when he said “Everybody is good for something, even if it’s only being a bad example.”   
But then I thought, hey we are still close to Christmas and tonite we are showing “The Nativity Story” in our study so let’s start this series off by discovering what Mary and Joseph can tell us about a successful family.
It was Charles Caleb Colton  who wrote  “The family is the most basic unit of government. As the first community to which a person is attached and the first authority under which a person learns to live, the family establishes society’s most basic values.”  Our society will be shaped by our families and so we need to be very careful with our families   2500 years ago Confucius said “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.”
So what should our families look like? What should they act like?  Perhaps if we look at the family that Jesus was raised in we can find some answers.  Because Jesus wasn’t raised in a bubble, he may have been the Son of God but he was raised in an ordinary home, with ordinary parents and ordinary siblings. 
I think one of the things that I marvel at here was the trust that was displayed in this family This was a Trusting Family.  You know the story I preached on it all though December, you heard it sung about in the malls and on the radio and you read about it in Christmas cards.  The story is summed up in Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And here we are two thousand years down the road going; yep that’s how it happened.  But that’s not how it happens, virgins don’t become pregnant without help.  Mary knew that and Joseph knew that and yet if their marriage was going to work, if their family was going to be the family that God intended his son to be raised in then there would have to be trust. Mary trusted God and ultimately Joseph had to trust Mary.
And really Mary got the easy part.  God said that he would become pregnant, Mary declared that was impossible because she had never been with a man and the angel told her not to worry that with God nothing was impossible.  So for Mary, as long as she knew what she had done and what she hadn’t done if she ended up pregnant there was only one answer, and that was that God had done the impossible.  But Joseph had to take Mary’s word for it.  I know that there was the entire angel thing going on as well but ultimately Joseph had to take the high ground and believe that his fiancé did not and would not betray him.  The bible tells us Matthew 1:24-25 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
A family will never be successful and happy without an element of trust.  And that means we take the high road and until we are proved wrong that we always think the best of our family members and that we always trust them to do what is right.    
I love the quote by Elsa Einstein, Albert Einstein’s wife who said “No, I don’t understand my husband’s theory of relativity, but I know my husband, and I know he can be trusted.”  And you know that if Elsa trusted her husband with the key to the universe that she trusted him with the little things as well.
And if trust is broken it can be rebuilt but it takes time and evidence.  I have sat across from a man who was unfaithful in his marriage and he looked at me and said “My wife doesn’t trust me.”  And I felt like saying “Why should she?”  but I didn’t instead I spoke about time being a healer and how he would have to earn back her trust.
And here is the secret if it is going to work, even if you have been disappointed you will eventually have to trust that person again or your life and relationship will be miserable.  That is what Jesus was talking about concerning forgiveness.  If the pattern continues then they have proved themselves to untrustworthy and that is a different issue.
I think we should trust our spouse and I think that we should trust our kids and I think that kids should trust their parents.  And yes perhaps you will be disappointed but I would like to think that your trust will prove itself.  
This Was a Godly Family  We don’t read a lot about the time while Jesus was a child but there are two statements that reveal a lot.  In Luke’s account we read: Luke 2:39 When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. What were the requirements of the law of the Lord that Luke talked about?  It was basically when Mary and Joseph had Jesus dedicated.  That wasn’t what it was called but that’s what it was.  They presented their child to God, gave thanks for him and committed themselves to raising their child in a godly home. 
And that commitment was shown later in the story.  In the scripture that was read earlier we discovered this: Luke 2:41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. We’ve mentioned before how important it was and still is for those of the Jewish faith to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.  And I would suspect that for many it was just a dream or a “if only” thing.  You know if only we had the money, if only we had the time, if only Jerusalem was closer.  But the scriptures said that every year Jesus parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover.  And it wasn’t a short journey they tell us that it is about 65 miles or a little over 100 kms as the crow flies but they weren’t travelling by crow they were travelling by foot so it was probably a four day trip.  But it was a priority for them, there were probably other things they could have done with their time and with their money but it was a priority for them to do the right thing and to expose their children to the things of God.  And every family here will have to decide what will be a priority for them.  Is it God and the church and if so how does that work out in everyday life?
Do you remember the last part of the scripture that was read this morning? Sure you do, Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple listening to the teachers and asking questions and then it says in Luke 2:47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Time and time again it the scriptures tell us that people were amazed at his teaching.  But that didn’t just happen, that was the result of being raised in a home where God’s word was taught and respected.  And that’s where Proverbs 22:6 comes in Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. We all know the truth of “More is caught then taught”, so the question is when it comes to God what is being caught in your home?
This was a Protecting Family.  Families are supposed to be a safe place to go.  In the news lately we’ve been hearing about children being killed by their parents but that’s not what a family is supposed to be like.  Families are where we are to be protected, there is not a lot written about Jesus childhood but it is very telling what is written, we are told in Luke 2:40 There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was on him.
He grew up healthy and strong, so his physical needs were being met, he was filled with wisdom so his educational and emotional needs were being met and God’s favour was on him, so his spiritual needs were being met. 
In our scripture reading this morning we ended with Joseph and Mary finding Jesus, but listen to the next verse Luke 2:48. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”   That’s what families do they worry over one another and do what it takes to protect each other.  And realize that we don’t always get it right, we can’t protect our kids and our family from everything.  Think about it, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus.  They lost the Son of God, how do you explain that?  Have you ever lost or broke something that was loaned to you? 
But they did everything they could to find him.
There should be no abuse or harm in a family, not physically and not emotionally.  As part of a family you should be safe from physical harm, and from emotional harm.  And not to minimize physical abuse but sometimes the most hurtful things that are done in a family are done with the tongue and not with the fists. 

And we will always try to protect our kids, sometimes it’s frustrating as kids grow up and parents keep trying to protect them but that’s all part of it.  I was talking to my dad awhile back about a decision I had to make and he started in as if I was 15 years old ago, have you thought about this have you thought about that?  Hey Dad I’m 51 not 15.  But he was just concerned and that is because children grow out of childhood but parents never grow out of parenthood. 

It Wasn’t a Perfect Family Maybe you’ve heard the old adage “If you find the perfect church don’t go, you’ll ruin it.” And if you find a perfect family stay away so you don’t ruin it.   As long as families are made up of people there will be issues.  Can’t get around that.  Every one of us has the potential to ruin the perfect family.  I remember years ago spending the night at a couple who were about the same age as us and their public persona was that of the perfect family, with perfect kids and nothing ever went wrong they had it all under control.  That morning they couldn’t find the keys to the car, someone had misplaced them and the facade began to crack.  It was mildly amusing from my perspective, probably less so from theirs.  Someone said “Families are like fudge, mostly sweet with some nuts.” 
I mentioned earlier that Mary and Joseph lost Jesus.  But there had to be some responsibility there from Jesus.  Even if he wasn’t functioning in God mode he must have known that it wasn’t a good idea to just disappear like that, that maybe just maybe his parents would be upset.  I wonder if he got grounded?  I hope so.
There is a very telling part of our story in Mark’s gospel, Mark 3:20-21 One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. Jesus family didn’t get it, his siblings thought he had lost it.  But ultimately they came around.
If there is one word that sums up successful families it is commitment.  They are committed to one another for the long haul.  And that is what marriage is about, and we are going to cover that more next week as we look at “The Puzzle of Marriage”. 
If a family is going to succeed there needs to be a commitment. And that is why marriage has been so important throughout human history because it is a couple publically saying “We are committed to each other, forever.”  Whether it was an elaborate ceremony or a simple ceremony. 
If you are old enough to have seen the Mini-series “Roots” back in the last century you might recall a scene were a couple jumped the broom. It was a ritual to signify that they were starting a new life together.  And in most cases that is what is missing when a couple is simply living together, they have not publically stated “this is forever” and everyone knows that it could end tomorrow if one or the other just walks away.
And simply reproducing together does not make you a family.  It simply means all the plumbing works.   
I think it’s interesting that the family we talked about wouldn’t have fallen into the first definition of family, you remember the one from 1) a) a social unit consisting of parents and their children. b) the children of the same parents.  Because Jesus’ mother was Mary but his father wasn’t Joseph and they made it work because they were committed to making it work.  And if we are going to figure out the puzzle of our families it will only be when we are committed to making it happen.