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Sunday 6th June 2021

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The Inside Out Family: Mark 3.20-35

Please forgive me, but I have decided not to preach today on one of the thorny issues in our gospel reading, such as who or what is Beelzebub – or what might or might not be the ‘unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit’! Instead, I will focus on a theme that is probably much more on our thoughts and can be as equally challenging: our families.

I wonder what words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word ‘family’?
It might be words like supportive, loving, caring – or words like demanding, distant, or abusive. We each have such unique experiences of family life that it can be difficult to imagine ourselves in a very different family situation, particularly one of many hundreds of years ago. But today I would like us to both look back at the family in Jesus’ time and look forward to our church family and community in the future.

I have had the privilege over the last few years of working with several hundred people from our global family of United Bible Societies on how we communicate effectively across cultures. As in any family, we find that misunderstandings can quickly break apart healthy relationships. We use a tool called ‘the colours of worldview’ to explore how we each have different perspectives on life that colour everything from decision making to how we view relationships and family. One of these worldviews has been in existence for hundreds of years and was particularly strong amongst families in Jesus’ time: the worldview of honour and shame.

Let’s look at the first few verses of the Bible reading to see how this comes into play.
‘Then Jesus went home. Again, such a large crowd gathered that Jesus and his disciples had no time to eat. When his family heard about it, they set out to take charge of him, because people were saying, “He’s gone mad!”’
What has driven Jesus’ family to travel thirty miles from Nazareth to Capernaum to stop Jesus? And the phrase ‘taking charge of him’ is vastly underplaying it. It’s the same word used here as when Jesus and John the Baptist were arrested. So why travel so far to restrain and arrest Jesus?

To understand this better, we need to imagine ourselves into the worldview or mindset of these first century people. In those days, family was everything. A person’s identity was valued by their standing within their family, and whether they had brought honour or shame to it. And it wasn’t the nuclear family we think of today, but an extended one with cousins and uncles and aunts. Often nowadays people define us by what job we do, our salary or even what football team we support. In Jesus’ time the answer to the question ‘Who are you?’ would be ‘I’m the third son of …in the lineage of …’ Some of you may have experienced this worldview in your own family or in other cultures.
There was also a clear distinction between who was inside and who was outside the family. This is one reason why there is such a strong urging in the Bible of the need to support orphans and widows, as they had no family support to rely on.

In this Bible passage, Jesus’ family is worried that he will bring dishonour to them by being called mad, or even worse, possessed by spirits. By association, his loss of honour will do lasting damage not only to him but to his whole family.  And if Joseph is no longer alive, which seems likely from his absence in Jesus’ later years, then Jesus would be the head of this family unit. His actions will bring honour or dishonour on the whole family.

At the end of the passage we hear that Jesus’ closer family of his mother and brothers have arrived too. They don’t go in and confront him, because they don’t want to shame the family in front of others, but they want to call him outside to take him away.

Jesus’ response is remarkable:  A crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, and they want you.”
Jesus answered, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”  He looked at the people sitting around him and said, “Look! Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does what God wants is my brother, my sister, my mother.”

From Jesus’ subsequent actions, particularly his care for his mother even as he lay dying on the cross, it’s evident he wasn’t disassociating himself from his blood family. But Jesus’ words are radical in the way that they are breaking apart the old way of being family and reshaping it anew. It’s no longer what family you are born into that matters. Your status isn’t built on your blood relatives, but on doing what God wants, the will of God. Being part of God’s family is not limited any longer. It is open to all, to everyone to be part of it.

Recently, Claire asked us what words best describe the kind of church family we are and the kind of church family we wish to be. Some of the people in our church Facebook group responded by using words and phrases like: ‘your loving church family’, ‘embracing, connecting, accepting’, ‘love, warmth, caring for each other and for the environment’
These are all great descriptions of how we view our church family and what we want it to be. But I want to look at this from a different angle and ask instead, how can we enable these all to develop within our church and how can we welcome people into our family?

I’d like to return if I may to the intercultural programme I mentioned earlier and share one of the tools we use. It’s a simple way to help us reflect on how we communicate with people who might have a different worldview and background to our own. It’s called the ‘triple A’.

Where it all needs to start is with the word: Awareness. In our programme we talk about how we are all intercultural learners. It all begins by being aware of the different worldviews people have and valuing this diversity. It’s also an awareness that people might be looking for something very different from our church family. In our Bible reading, we heard about those who had a narrow worldview and mindset. They found Jesus’ message disturbing and uncomfortable. It challenged their worldview of what family meant. How can we develop this awareness, to learn and value the difference of others as we encounter them in our community and in our church family?
The second word is Acceptance – an acceptance of the other person as they are and not expect them to have the same worldview as ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we have to agree with them. It’s about understanding and accepting this difference. Churches over the centuries have tried so hard to be welcoming of others, but at the same time so often shoot themselves in the foot in the process. They often use rules that exclude many people, in an attempt to define who is inside and who is outside our church family. You may be able to think of a number you’ve encountered yourselves in churches. Here are a few quick examples of recent church bylaws, which illustrate this, (but thankfully I don’t think are in our own rules and regulations!):

‘An active church member is defined as one who gives at least one penny a year.’

‘Men serving communion are required to wear a coat and tie.’

‘No church member can drink alcohol except during the Lord’s Supper.’

But it’s often the unwritten rules or habits we create that can prevent people feeling accepted and part of God’s family. What might these be in our own church, or in our own attitudes to what we expect of people, if they are to be part of our family?

In our Bible reading, Jesus says that whoever does God’s will is his brother and sister and mother. And what this ‘doing the will of God’ is, remains a little mysterious. Jesus perhaps deliberately does not go into great details here. If we are to take its broadest meaning, of doing what pleases God, then it’s something we frequently encounter in the people around us, in their care for each other and our environment. We can celebrate and learn so much from how God is already at work in our community in ways that might surprise us.
The third word is a more unusual one and perhaps may be the most challenging. It’s the word Adaptability. When we encounter people who are different to us, they can often challenge our assumptions, our beliefs, our opinions and so much more. It can be uncomfortable to reflect on how we might need to adapt and change too.
Claire recently wrote a reflection for Pentecost for us in our church newsletter, referring to a book called ‘Being interrupted: reimagining the church’s mission from the outside, in.
It’s a challenging read to say the least! It looks at how it’s often through interruptions to our usual routines that we encounter God at work in our church and community.

Jesus’ own life was one of constantly being interrupted by people demanding to be fed, to be healed, or in today’s reading to be challenged about what it means to be part of God’s family. And the amazing thing is that it’s often through these interruptions that we discover so much about God at work. In today’s case the interruptions lead Jesus to challenge the idea of who is inside or outside God’s family.

It made me stop and think about how willing I would be to see this happen in our church, and I found that a very challenging thought. How much should we allow our own church routines and life to be interrupted by others? How adaptable are we to allowing the gifts and hospitality of those outside the church family to shape us in the future?

As we pray and consider our next steps as a church, what we stand for, what our mission and our life might be, I pray that we might continue to develop this sense of awareness, acceptance and adaptability so our church family would be a place of open welcome. In the words of the first hymn that we sang or heard today:

You are welcome here, come as you are.
You are welcome here, with open arms.
Bring your burdens, bring your pain,
Bring your sorrow and shame,
You are welcome here, come as you are.

 

 

Hamish Bruce                                                                                                             06/06/21