An increasingly common theme in pop culture can best be summed up as friends are the family that you choose. The old line of thinking, embodied by classic films such as The Godfather, is that family is everything. The themes today still hold to that, but they are quick to redefine family. In today’s thinking, it seems, blood is not necessarily thicker than water. Our family, the one's we are closest to, are the ones we choose. In an almost heavy handed way, this was the message of the most recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie. It was also one of the major messages to emerge from the Lego Batman movie. There is still a huge longing and desire to be part of a tight-knit, supportive family. However, the cultural message is that this family does not necessarily needed to be related by blood. This concept may be gaining a lot of traction today, but it is not new. In fact it is downright biblical.
The book of Acts records how the fellowship of believers showed a remarkable level of care and concern for each other. The bible says they held everything in common, and if one had a need then someone else might sell property to meet that need. That kind of communal living and support is practically the definition of a family. Paul’s writing takes this a bit further. Multiple times in the epistles, Paul writes about the spirit of adoption that believers receive. This is more than a metaphor in Paul’s writings. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are literally adopted into and become part of the family of God. That is why as believer we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Church is not supposed to be a building that we go to on Sunday morning, church is meant to be a community that radically cares for one another. Our faith in God through Christ is meant to be something that we experience with others. We are members of one household with everyone else who calls on the name of Christ to be saved. This means that we should be above the tribalism, the infighting, the us-vs-them mentality that plagues humanity. Sadly we are not. We are supposed to be united as the very family of God but instead we have divided ourselves into ever smaller tribes, all claiming that our understanding is the most correct one- or in some truly terrible instances, the only correct one. It saddens me deeply that for some branches of the Christian tree, they truly see other branches as irredeemable. Sadly even though all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior belong together as one people, we far too often fail to recognize that.
We have a bunch of good church words. These are words with deep, symbolic meaning. Words like grace, mercy, hope, righteousness, and salvation. I think we should add a new one, one that defines who we are as a congregation of God’s people. To our list of good church words we should add Ohana. If you are a Disney fan, then this word immediately has meaning for you as it comes from Lilo and Stitch:
Ohana means family. It means no one gets left behind or forgotten. What a beautiful definition, and what a perfect description of what we are supposed to be. When we look at how the church functioned in the scripture from Acts, they loved one another as family. They ensured that everyone is cared for. Essentially, the church is family of God. We are Ohana. It means the way that we treat one another, the way that we talk to one another, the way that we love one another is to be done in a way so that one gets left behind or forgotten. Look around this room, these people, this is your family. These are your brothers and sisters in Christ. When it comes to what social media you prefer there might be differences. When it comes to political opinions there might be some sharp disagreements. When it comes to how you understand and interpret some parts of the bible, things might not line up. That is all OK, because Ohana means family. It means we care for another in spite of our differences. It means we claim that as is written in the bible “now in Christ Jesus we who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” We support each other through the best and worst has to offer. We make sure that no one gets left behind and we make sure no feels like they are being forgotten. We do this because it is who we are supposed to be as God’s people, we do this because Ohana is a word that should be synonymous with church.
The word from the bible that we translate as church is ecclesia. It is a Greek world that at its most basic definition just means a gathering of people. However, when the bible uses the world eccleisa it confers that word with special meaning. The ecclesia is not just a gathering of people. It is a gathering of believers. Truly the slogan of the church should be like Olive Garden: “When you’re here you’re family.” Whenever we gather together with other people who follow Jesus we should recognize that we are with family.
It is important when we gather together that we draw the circle wide. We have to remember that our denomination, our local church, even our small group is not really ours. It is God’s family. We are part of the household of God, and through the blood, sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ the invitation to join this family has been offered to the whole world. It is not up to use to pick and choose who gets to be in. We need to ensure that we are open to accepting and loving every single person. It does not matter how different they are, it does not matter how much they do not look or talk like you, it does not matter period. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Ohana is the kind of family we should be, a family where no one is left behind and no one is forgotten. Because a family like that is a family where the lost get found.
The cultural emphasis on defining friends as family show that there is a deep longing to belong and know deep relationships that is not being met. As Christians, we should live like the family of God. The depth of care and love we have for one another is should invite people in. Churches truly should embody Ohana, and message that we communicate to the world should be you are welcome here. You are welcome to the family.