Far From the Tree 1-12-14 sermon

January 12, 2014            Far From the Tree            St. Luke

Of the four brothers in my family, my brother John always claimed that my mother loved him the best. Maybe you remember the Smothers Brothers, where Tommy Smothers always said, “Mom always loved you best!” My brother always reversed that claim with the same ornery humor, “Mom always loved me best!” Everybody in the family could laugh because no one had any doubt – Mom loved me the best. (We could all claim favored status in my family, because we all felt loved with a special love.)
God shows no partiality, says Peter in Acts. All people are children of the Living God. We all believe that to be true. We also act like some people are more God’s children than others, do we not?  You don’t believe God plays favorites, do you?
Liberation theologians claim that God has a special love for poor and oppressed people – that God reaches out to poor people especially to even the playing field. Some TV evangelists claim that God loves rich people the best, that God rewards faithful people with prosperity and wealth – so it someone is wealthy you can tell God loves them.
Anyway, for the next month or so, I am going to do a sermon series about God’s special love for special people. And we’ll be thinking about some of the complicated issues in our families about loving and caring for people who have particular challenges. I’ve been reading a book called Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon.
Though he doesn’t talk about church or religion, Solomon raises some interesting issues for society and for the church. His book talks about people born “far from the tree,” significantly different from their parents. It’s a long book and he gives lots of examples of people who are deaf, people who have Downs Syndrome, autism, or schizophrenia, people who are geniuses, gay, or dwarfs.
Solomon’s point is that parents pass many traits on to their children. Many parts of their identity come from their parents. He calls this vertical identity – ethnic or racial heritage, genetic heritage, language and nationality, religion to some extent- all tend to be the same from generation to generation.
The identities that Solomon examines are horizontal identities, traits that children have which are significantly different than their parents. These identities encourage people who have them to identify more with people of their own generation than with their parents. Solomon is interested in the similarities and differences among these types of identities.
Parents and community members sometimes feel like people with these kind of identities are broken or defective or sick. Some people take drastic measures to try to fix or “heal” their children.
People with the identities, and often their parents, regularly come to appreciate the identity to the extent that they wouldn’t change if they could. Sometimes it just depends on your perspective whether a condition is an illness or an identity.
We all can learn something from these kinds of situations. In fact, almost all parents feel amazed and entranced by their children, and also feel startled by them, by how different they are. As a father of an adopted son, I am particularly intrigued by how different my son is and what it takes to love him well. It makes me think about how different I was from my father, who wanted me to follow him and my grandfather by becoming a lawyer. It makes me take in his love and appreciation all the more.
We’ll be talking a fair amount about disabilities during this series. Disabilities are the larger minority group in our society. About 15% of the people in our country are significantly disabled. The variety of groups within that broad category has become a significant identity group, and a real concern for our society.
Preindustrial societies were cruel to those who were different, but did not segregate them; their care was the responsibility of their families. Postindustrial societies created benevolent institutions for the disabled, who were often whisked away at the first sign of disability. This created its own set of problems, not least of which was the eugenics movement and Hitler’s attempt to exterminate anyone who was different and seen as defective.
Today people from some of the groups we will be thinking about worry about abortion as a modern, problematic way to try to get rid of people from their group. We’ll talk about a friend of mine who’s daughter has Downs Syndrome for instance, and his feelings about people who choose abortion rather than bring a child like Kate into the world.
Our congregation has made a commitment to make our church and sanctuary more accessible. If that works the way we want it to, we may have to deal with some of our feelings about welcoming people with physical differences. We will think over the next few weeks about the church’s attitudes toward groups with horizontal identities.

We will think about how the church has focused on vertical identities – being an institution that passes on the values and attitudes of parents and grandparents. Can we maintain the important role we play in society of passing on those values even as we learn to welcome and provide a home for people who celebrate their differences rather than their sameness.

God loves all God’s children with a special love. God has a special love for poor people, for oppressed people, for people in need. God has a special love for each child of God. You are God’s favored one! You can count on it. When you were baptized, God claimed you as a favored child.  Baptism is a sacrament that through the baptism of Jesus showed that God would love every child as a favorite.

Responsive Hymn: 3045  Down by the Jordan