Saturday, June 09, 2012

Trinity 1: a new kind of family

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”

Picture the scene.
Jesus surrounded by a crowd so huge that nobody is even THINKING about feeding them...and he's not telling them gentle stories about lost sheep or prodigal sons either...
Instead he is, not to put too fine a point on it, having a bit of a rant.
“How can Satan cast out Satan? …..Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven...”
It's not comfortable listening, even at the beginning.
Nobody much is enjoying themselves...
Small wonder that the Scribes, present perhaps to ensure that orthodoxy is attended to, set out to discredit Jesus – to divert his hearers in mid flow...
“Don't listen to HIM. He's not well...He's raving...Might even be possessed...Ignore him”.
And, in their task of persuading Jesus to shut up, to stop his incendiary diatribe, they recruit some rather unlikely allies...Mary and her sons.
Jesus's Mum and his brothers.

Happy families!

I remember reading this passage while my children were small and thinking
“If my children are ever that rude to me in public – I'll have them across my knee before they know what's hit them”
Nobody likes to hear family tensions being aired in a public space....and certainly the way in which Jesus seems to reject his own flesh and blood is an affront to those “family values” which were as powerful a force in 1st century Palestine as they are, in a rather different way, in 21st century Britain.
So, what's going on as Jesus asks his outrageous, offensive question, one that must surely have stung mother Mary like a slap on the cheek?
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
What IS going on?
Is it possible that Jesus looks at them without really seeing?
That in the flood tide of his preaching he has actually lost sight of reality, forgotten who he is and where he comes from?
I don't think so.

As they appear, intent on leading him away, calming him down, winning his silence, Mary and her sons are allied with the voice of law and order, concerned to keep up appearances, anxious that Jesus should stop making ways – lest they should all be washed away and perish.
For the moment, they've sided with his opponents in the cause of a quiet life.
But Jesus?
He will have none of this
He rejects both his family and their agenda of status quo, peace and stability, and casts about instead for a new family, a core community more truly able to offer support and encouragement, to share his vision and the task he has embraced as his own calling.
He casts about, and lights on those sitting listening – hungry for his words, for all their tendency to baffle and to challenge.
A disparate group, brought together solely because they are drawn there by Jesus.
A disparate group with but one single calling
To do the will of God.

“Here are my mother and brothers...”
And so the Church is born – as surely as it is at the foot of the cross when Jesus gives Mary and John to one another, as surprisingly as when the Spirit came on the disciples at Pentecost.

The Church – the family of Jesus in truth and in deed...drawn by him and existing to do God's will.
It's as simple – and as difficult – as that!

Bur through the centuries it has proved so very hard for us to keep our grip on that central calling.
It's so much easier to be God's family in name than in truth.
But to live do God's will...that hasn't got any easier.

To do God's will continues to set us against contemporary values
It forces us to speak out against injustice – even the sort of injustice that is such an habitual part of life that we are barely aware of it.
It means that instead of being the voice of stability and tranquility, we find ourselves needing to make waves again and again and again.
It involves us in letting go of much that we treasure and long to cling to.

I'm very fond of Mary Byrne's great hymn “Be thou my vision”....and we often sing it in both our churches.
But think what we're singing
“Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art”
Nothing – not our families, not our friends, not our position in the community, not our much prized quiet lives.......NOTHING is to be more important to us than our focus on God and on doing God's will.

It's hard to think of a less comfortable calling.

It sounds so straightforward
“What does the Lord require of you? To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” says the prophet...
or, if you prefer, there is the great Commandment of love for God and for neighbour.
Except, of course, that it isn't.

Doing God's will means, again and again, upsetting other people...and that's hard.
We all like to be liked, enjoy being in good standing in our communities – but as C.S.Lewis pointed out in the final chapter of “Mere Christianity” the choice is between “nice people or new men”.
Too often, in the Church, we've opted for niceness – it might even be our besetting sin – so that tv vicars, for example, when they're not sinister to the core are damply ineffectual – their call to ministry revolving around being kind to children, cats and little old ladies.
Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being kind...but it's not what the church is for!
We are here, purely and simply, to do God's live as signs of God's kingdom of love and justice and joy.
That won't often win us friends or allies...for the kingdom is founded on challenge not complacency.
It won't give us an easy ride, at home or abroad – indeed, an easy ride is almost in itself a guarantee that we've lost the plot.
It has been truly said that if we really preached the gospel, we would empty the churches – for the cost of obedience to God is higher than most of us are willing or able to pay.

But – and of this I'm certain – though doing God's will will not guarantee peace and prosperity it will full us with the kind of joy that stems from knowing that all our security, all our identity, is found in God as we seek to do God's will.

We will stumble, fall and fail a thousand times – our human nature pretty much guarantees that.
But still and all, we ARE God's family – drawn by Jesus, called to do God's will.
So let us pause for a moment, reflect, and confess in our hearts our failure as individuals and as community to BE the Church, the family of Christ...our tendency to settle for an easy compromise, our longing for approval from our family and friends...
and having paused, let us turn our faces to the Son and begin our journey again.
If we do so, I know that God's grace will meet us, raise us from death to life and bring us, through Christ our brother, to an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.

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