On Being Family

Scripture - Mark 3:31-35

Scott, our youngest son, called this week. There was no important news; he just called to touch base & tell us he & his family were all well. Scott is very thoughtful & calls us nearly every week just to say Hi

. Sheryl & I are beginning to get used to having various holidays, even Memorial Day, without the boys & their families. It is harder at Easter, Christmas & Thanksgiving, of course.

But those are about the only times, apart from family weddings & funerals, that one expects a growing family to come back home. They have their own lives to live, they have to be where their jobs, or their studies, or their new love relationships, take them. Families in the Western world do not imagine that they will all live in the same neighborhood. Sometimes when I talk to friends you would think the family had deliberately decided to live as far apart as possible; one son in FL, a daughter in WA, another son in Boston, etc.

For Americans, then, Jesus’ words, though perhaps mildly shocking, do not mean that much. As we grow up, we develop a circle of friends who know us much better, who spend much more time with us, than our parents & siblings. We regard that as normal. There are exceptions in the room today, I know, but not many.

In Jesus’ world this was scandalous – & it still is in some places. The family bond was tight & long-lasting. As with many non-Western cultures today, it was normal for children to live close to their parents, maybe even in the same house. The family unit would often be a business unit as well, sharing everything in common. What is more, for Jews the close family bond was part of the God-given fabric of thinking & living. Loyalty to the family was the local & specific out-working of loyalty to Israel as the people of God. Break the link, & you have undermined a major pillar in the way Jews in the 1st century (& in the 21st for that matter) think & feel about the world & themselves.

But as Mark had already shown Jesus was quite capable of challenging the symbols that lay at the heart of the Jewish sense of identity. Family solidarity was right up there with sabbath worship, the food laws, & other signs of Jewish identity. It meant one was being loyal to the ancestral heritage, & thereby to the God of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob.

Despite what pious traditions of Christians have sometimes said about Mary, Jesus’ mother, at this stage at least she clearly did not have any idea what Jesus was up to. She had brought the rest of the family down to Capernaum from Nazareth to find Jesus & take him away, to stop him from behaving in such an outrageous manner, bringing dishonor to the family name. They thought he was mad – v. 21: They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!”

Yet Jesus just makes matter worse. He slices through the whole traditional structure in one clean cut. He has a different vocation, a different mission, & it involves breaking hallowed family ties. God is doing the unthinkable: he is starting a new family, a new holy people, & is doing so without regard for ordinary human family bonds. Unless you read verses 34 & 35 as deeply shocking, you have not gotten the message. Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, Jesus said, “Look, here are my mother & my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, & mother.”

We in the church like to think that we are all brothers & sisters of Christ but notice what he does not say. He does not say, “Whoever accepts that I really do exist.” He does not say, “Whoever calls out to me in times of trouble.” He does not say, “Whoever professes faith in me.” He does not say, “All who are baptized in my name.” He does not say, “Whoever has their name on a church roll somewhere.”

No, it seems the primary requirement for being a sister or brother – a member of the family – is doing God’s will. Friends, I think that should cause many of us, myself included, to tremble!

So, the challenge for us today is: How can we know & do God’s will?

First, we must pray. In order to develop a close friendship, & maintain a close friendship, you must communicate with your friend. The more often you talk, the more intimate the conversation, the closer the friendship, right? The same is true of God. We must talk with God. We must talk with God often (Paul admonishes us to pray without ceasing!). And we need to go deep in our conversations with God. These conversations are called prayer.

Rote prayers are okay, God does not turn them aside. But the most effective prayers are deeply personal. You are free & safe to tell God of your deepest needs, your deepest hurts, & your deepest desires. You can pray anytime, anywhere.

How is it possible to be a child of God without communicating with God? It isn’t!

Next, we must read the Bible. The Bible is a record of God’s will for His creation. That includes us, so we must be avid readers of God’s Word. 2 Timothy 3:16-17: Every scripture is inspired by God & is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, & for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.

So, beginning today, read your Bible! Use the Upper Room or another devotional to get you started. Or read through the Gospel of Mark. But begin reading.

And take a risk for Jesus. For far too long the church has been playing it safe. We do not want to get embroiled in controversy with those outside the church. Oh, we are willing to fight & argue among ourselves. And we can get pretty nasty too. Our witness to those outside the church has a lot of folk thinking: If that is the way they treat the members of their family, I think I will just stay an outsider!

We need to move beyond our walls & into the issues of our society & be willing to take risks to bring about transformation into God’s kingdom. And there is no end to the list of problems Christians should be addressing. Poverty, racism, addiction, abortion, health care, & more. Friends, Christians have got to become more involved in guiding our world to justice, love & peace.

How do we think our world will ever reflect God’s kingdom when our world continues to turn its back on the values of God? Godly values are not taught in our schools or most homes. Godly values are not applied in business or government. It is up to us, the few (& getting fewer) who know & live by godly values to work to change our society.

And this involves taking risks. We will be at risk of name calling. We will be at risk of being made outcasts. We may even be at risk of arrest and/or lawsuits. And I know none of us want that. I know none of us invite risk into our lives. I know risk is not what any of us signed up for when we became believers. But it is what our world has come to.

And oh, how easy it is to slide back again into a sense of belonging, of group identity, that comes from something other than loyalty to Jesus. We substitute longstanding friendship, membership in some group, tribe, family, club, political party, social class, or whatever it may be. But the call to be around Jesus, to listen to him, even if those outside think us crazy, is what matters. The church in every generation, & in every place, needs to remember this & act on it.

Mark has set up a picture of those inside & those outside. The gospel, & allegiance to Jesus, produce a division, often an unexpected & unwelcome one, in every group or society where true Christian faith is found. Mark’s call to his readers & to us is to stick with Jesus whatever the cost.

Our hearts have been broken open to receive the grace of God. We hear Christ calling us to follow & to be faithful. People of God, will you renew your lives in the word of God?