Readings: Psalm 138, Mark 3:20-35
Let us pray. May my words, our thoughts and understandings bring us into closer relationship with you and with each other O God. Amen.
And he replied: ‘who are my mother and my brothers.’ ’And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!
Whenever I read this passage of scripture I wonder how the family of Jesus would have felt at this moment of seeming rejection. It seems a bit of a low blow, a less than grateful response to their concern for him in the face of what they see as extreme happenings. No doubt the families’ reaction is influenced by the voices of the Scribes who suggested he was possessed by the devil, and by their wanting to protect their son, brother, cousin from the wrath and power of the authorities whom he seemed to have got on the wrong side of. I mean that is what you do as family. Look out for each other isn’t it? Jesus’ reaction must have hurt – for he responds to their call of care by redefining the boundaries of family. He looks to the people seated around him, who have come to hear him speak and heal, people of all walks of life - and calls them family. Is he rejecting his family for others – I don’t believe so. Rather isn’t he suggesting that family can be more, more than those with whom you have grown up, know well, and have a duty of care to, to keep safe. He continues by defining this larger family as those who do the will of God. This has some interesting implications: both for the people of Jesus time and for us now - it means you will have family you don’t know, family who think and look and live differently; family you have never heard of and will go through life not even being aware they exist.
I was reminded of this concept of family during the week as we listened to Archbishop Rowan Williams preaching at the Diamond Jubilee service of thanksgiving for Queen Elizabeth. He talked of the wider family that is the commonwealth, and of the Queen’s role in caring and supporting each other. While we know that this Commonwealth family has had some seriously tricky and somewhat abusive relationship periods, we are still to a degree united by common history and by relationships that continue to grow and develop in new ways. Actually do you know the picture of coming together that is imbedded in my brain from the celebrations – that of the waka from Aotearoa travelling side by side with a gondola from Venice.
That stretches the headspace a bit doesn’t it, seeing loving family as something that goes across all boundaries of culture and ethnicity - even in something as embedded in our history as the Commonwealth of Nations? And if it challenges in this global, communication savvy world of today, how much more so it would have challenged the people of biblical times with their understandings of nation and tribe, enemies and allies and invasions?
Yet Jesus requires us to lift the bar much higher still, he requires family to be defined not by birth or community, politics or common history, culture or geography or race but by love. Those who do the will of God, he says, are my brother and sister and mother – those who love God and each other are part of the one body, the one family of God. And that, surely, is a raised bar that perversely is within reach of all people – we are all capable of choosing to live in the love of God and each other, no matter who we are, where we come from or where we are going.
But there is another side – a reality check so to speak – and that is where the choice made is not of that of love but of the opposite. We know that family, however big or small we define family to be, can be a place of enormous destruction and pain. From holocausts to random acts of violence, from wars to slow death by hunger, from emotional, physical, sexual abuse to manipulative, exploitative acts of power, all these things are a choice made by people in this world to not love one another. Simplistically put maybe but true none-the-less. I couldn’t help but during the week contrast the Royal celebration in the UK with the stories of horrendous atrocities coming out of Syria – where entire families and villages are slaughtered, where bodies of children are lined up in death, where nothing the international community says or does seems to have any impact. Where are the brothers and sisters and mothers in that place I wonder?
So where does our hope lie? How can we be better at being family in the presence of God and each other? I want to share with you just two stories of hope.
I have been reading about the Taize community in France, currently made up of just over 100 brothers, of its founder Brother Roger and the hope it expresses for the reconciliation of the world. For over sixty years this small community of brothers, along with several associated communities of sisters have been living a life focussed on coming alongside some of the worst poverty in the world, ministering a message of love and belonging to masses of young people from all over the world, and – just in case that wasn’t enough - leading dialogue and acts of reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches without officially being an affiliate of anyone of the groups. Why have they been so impactful, so able to make a difference in peoples’ lives and understandings? Let me see if I can put into words what I have discerned from my reading – there is a sense that they hold in delicate balance the desire to be obedient to God, to live out the Gospel message in and through their lives, with the understanding that doing this faithfully will take them into places they could never have imagined or predicted or have control of. Instead of turning in upon themselves and shutting out the world, they have embraced the intrusive, challenging and unexpected needs that have presented themselves and said ‘What do we do now God?’ In order to love you and each other and the world, to be as mother and sister and brother: ‘What do we do now God?’
The second story of hope is to be found around this table – as we come together as the family of God in the presence of the risen Christ, to celebrate and make new who we are in the name of Christ. This sacrament of Holy Communion reminds us that we are part of the family of God, for us made known in Christ Jesus, and that by participating in the sharing of the bread and the wine, we are re-membering the body of Christ across time and space and saints – together with all people saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy. We are renewed and healed at this table, strengthened and made whole, made one in the body of Christ. And when we go from this table today we are going with this question on our lips ‘What would you have us do Jesus Christ that will make this world we live in a place of love for you and each other, a place of healing and wholeness for all people?
Who are my mother and my brothers? And the answer, in maybe hurtful, sometimes difficult, but always truthful stinging words of love: you all are my brothers and sisters and mothers. This is Christ’s prayer for us. Thanks be to God. Amen.