A surprise blessing this last Sunday morning at church was an infant baptism. This baptism was for a very young baby boy. Infant baptisms are a time when I think about both the future and the past. I love thinking about the future that God has planned for this little boy. How will he experience life? What will his personality be like? Who will he grow up to be? He will never know that I witnessed his baptism, or that I now have a connection to him.
I wonder who were the witnesses at my baptism when I was a baby boy? I was baptized at First Methodist Church in Midland, Michigan. This was before the United Methodist Church existed. At every infant baptism that I witness, I take a brief moment to picture my parents presenting me. My sister was five, and my brother was eight at the time. No one has ever told me, but I’m sure that at my baptism I was one of those delightful little babies who just grinned at everyone. How many people had a connection with me, and I never knew it?
When I became the pastor of Sierra Vista United Methodist Church, I received a surprise letter. Two of my members had been our neighbors when I was born and attended First Methodist Church. To be honest, they really didn’t remember me but did remember my brother and sister. They moved shortly after I was born. It is a real possibility that they were two of the witnesses on the day of my baptism. Who would have ever guessed that this baby boy would grow up to be the pastor officiating at the wife’s funeral? A new connection with the family was made.
How often do we have connections with people, and we don’t even know it. When discovered, do these connections matter? One of my favorite stories to tell happened while we lived in Texas, and my Grandpa was still alive (it is possible that I have told you this story before). My Grandpa lived in the small town of Austonio, Texas. There wasn’t much in Austonio. The biggest commerce was a gas station/store that was almost within sight of my Grandpa’s house. A highway ran right past the store, with very few people making Austonio their destination. The owner, who lived on site, gave me a suspicious look when I went inside to pay for my gas (this was before the days of being able to pay at the pump). He asked me where I was from, and where I was going. He looked both surprised and dubious when I told him that I was coming to Austonio to see my Grandpa. He asked: “Who is your Grandpa?” When I told him, his whole demeanor changed. It was my turn to be surprised when he said: “Are you hungry? We just put dinner on the table.” Who would have guessed that reaction? I explained that I was having supper with my Grandpa. A few minutes later when I arrived at my Grandpa’s house, I told him what happened. He said: “Oh, the owner is a cousin”. How were things changed when we found out that we were family?
It is common for me to say that I come from a small family. Technically, though, this is not true. My family tree is very large, and I come from an ancient line of people. This statement is true for each of us. I expect that it is common for us to meet a relative, and to never know that we are related. Would it change anything for us if we knew that a person was our relative?
As Christians, Jesus made our family even bigger. I expect that Jesus left some people mystified when this story happened in Matthew 12:46-50: “While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” Is Jesus’ definition of family different from our definition? How are things changed when we find out that we are family?
Let’s go even bigger. If we believe that God created every single human being, then what does that say about our relationships with each other? Are we family? It’s time that we give more value to other people, and to realize that we have deep connections with one another. It’s time to increase respect, and to pull back hostilities. It’s time for us to love people, even if they don’t love us. Other people might not accept us as family, but how can the world be changed if we see them as family?
Your brother on the journey, Mark