In the state of Illinois, there is a town named Normal.
Really. I’m not making this up.
In downtown Normal, there is a sculpture.
The sculpture is of a man and a woman gazing into each others eyes.
On the woman’s lap is a little boy.
Lying down, with her head resting on the woman’s leg, is a young girl.
A plaque on the base of the sculpture displays its name.
It says, “The Normal Family.” Again- not making this stuff up.
Certain characteristics of this “normal family” stand out.
They are Caucasian.
They look healthy, there are no signs of sickness or disability.
Most obvious of all is the palpable sense of security, affection and ease between them.
I don’t know if the artist’s message is that a “normal” family is one that looks like this statue.
If so, what does that say about single parent families, same gender couple families, interracial families, adoptive families that blend children of differing ethnicities and races? Families with members who have disabilities?
Are all of those families other than normal?
A lot of people will tell you that they look to the Bible for their definition of a normal family.
And what they claim the Bible calls normal looks very much like the sculpture in Normal, Illinois.
One thing’s for certain, family plays an important role in the Bible.
But not many of the families you find there resemble that sculpture in Illinois.
At the heart of the Bible is a story about one particular family.
This family tree starts way back at the beginning of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis.
And it runs right through to the last book of the Bible – Revelation.
This Biblical family saga originates with a couple named Abraham and Sarah.
One night God speaks to Abraham, telling him to look up into the sky.
God promises Abraham and Sarah descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky above him.
Which was a little ridiculous because Sarah had not been able to conceive a single child up until then, never mind enough descendants to fill the nighttime sky.
So, Sarah came up with her own plan to have children.
She insisted that Abraham have a child with one of their slaves – a foreigner and Egyptian girl named Hagar.
After Hagar bears Abraham a son named Ishmael – lo and behold – God’s promise comes true.
Sarah has a son named Isaac.
Which made having Hagar and Ishmael hanging around … suddenly a little awkward.
So, with pressure from Sarah, Abraham sends his son Ishmael and the boy’s mother out into the wilderness with nothing but a little water for them to survive on.
They would have died, except that their plight does not go unnoticed by God,
who rescues them.
Even though Abraham and Sarah are the family of origin for what would become the Jewish people, they were not exactly Ozzie and Harriet.
Their son Isaac grows up to have two sons, Jacob and Esau.
They were twins, but because Esau was born first, he was entitled to the family inheritance.
But Jacob tricks Esau into transferring his birthright to Jacob.
Then, Jacob, with some coaching from his mother, disguises himself as Esau to fool his blind father into giving him the blessing that Isaac intended to give to Esau.
When Jacob is an adult he has 12 sons of his own.
One son, Joseph, was Jacob’s favorite.
Joseph knew he was his father’s favorite, and he never let his brothers forget it.
His brothers got fed up with Joseph.
So much so that they beat him up, kept him in a hole in the ground for a while, until they sold him to some slave traders.
Then they faked his death to fool old Jacob.
This generation turns out to be no Brady Bunch either.
Farther up the family tree was King David.
The greatest ruler Israel ever saw.
But not so great at ruling his own household.
David’s own son Absalom led an armed rebellion against him.
And David’s top General, killed Absalom.
These are just a few examples, but they are enough to demonstrate that the “normal families” of the Bible were pretty good candidates for the Jerry Springer show.
Somehow, this family lineage produced Jesus.
If you’d expect anyone to have a normal family life, it would be Jesus, right?
But think again.
The circumstances around his conception created such a scandal in Nazareth, that his mother nearly got stoned to death
before she ever had the chance to give birth.
His first bed was a trough for feeding animals and much of his childhood was spent living like a refugee.
One time, when Jesus was an adult and going around preaching and healing,
and generally making himself unpopular with the sort of people you don’t want
to be on the bad side of, his family came looking for him.
They wanted to bring him back home before he got into serious trouble.
When someone told Jesus that his family was there for him, he pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
Whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
This is Jesus’ definition of family.
And it did not conform precisely to the traditional concept of family in his day.
It wasn’t that Jesus was disowning his blood family.
He was saying is that there was more than one way to define family.
He had a family whose bond was in their shared genes.
He also had a family that shared a passion to see the Kingdom of God fulfilled.
And sometimes life forces you to choose between one and the other.
Jesus also said that choosing to follow him would mean risking the rejection of your neighbors.
And maybe even being rejected by your own family.
That the choice of whether or not to join him would sometimes tear families apart.
Among a people who revered the Ten Commandments, including a Commandment to honor you father and mother, these were difficult words to hear.
They were words without malice towards families, but filled with honesty, because parents were not always happy with their children’s decision to follow Jesus.
Not everyone could accept such a radical redefinition of this new normal for God’s family.
Just as many people today continue to insist that the only “normal” family is one that resembles that sculpture in Normal, Illinois.
It has been suggested that there will be no return to “normal” when this pandemic is finally over.
In fact, this pandemic may redefine a new normal for the ways we will do business, a new normal for how we do education and, most significantly, a new normal for how we relate to one another.
Achieving a new normal means letting go of some of our old normal.
Jesus said that unless you are willing to risk losing the comfortable and secure life you are used to living, you can never find the blessed life God provides.
But, that those who are willing to lose their “normal” for his sake will find a new life.
They will be welcomed into a new family where acceptance does not depend on successfully concealing your true self beneath a veneer of “normal,” but where God knows you thoroughly – right down to the number of hairs on your head – and loves you just as you are.
A God who is so in love with all that He has made, that not even the falling to earth of a simple sparrow is beneath His notice.
The Normal Family, according to the Jesus, isn’t defined by external appearances, or family traditions.
Not by race or political party or gender.
The Normal Family of the Bible is more often than not made up of what some people today would consider outside the bounds of normal.
But the qualifier for normalcy among Biblical families, is that they are made up of people who, for all their sins, failures and dysfunctional behaviors, for all their non-conformity to our expectations about what God recognizes as normal, are welcome in God’s household.
Because they put striving to be faithful to God before all other kinds of loyalty.
Jesus said that only those who are ready to lose their life – will be able to find the better life that only Jesus can give.
Whatever anyone else may call us, Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters if we are not afraid to lose what the world defines as normal, so that we can find the truest life of all, that only Jesus can provide.
This new normal family doesn’t look like us or the biological families we grew up in.
It is a family of different skin tones and languages and gender expressions.
A family where it is possible for differences to unite rather than divide.
We are kin because our place in this family is not based on anyone’s definition of normal, except God’s.
We are family because we are one in Christ Jesus.
The new “normal family” is not really all that new.
It is the normal family that God intended for us to belong to, from the very beginning.
The broken family that Jesus gave his life to bring back together.
Preached FCCW, June 21, 2020 Virtual Service
Copyright 2020 Raymond Medeiros