Wednesday, 18 March 2020

"2020: The Year that God forgot"

On ABC news on Monday night, the 16th of March, the reporter finished his report with the phrase “2020: The Year that God Forgot!”  It is always unusual to find God making the press these days and it seems often only to be when we believe God might be somehow to blame for something.  The inference in the reporter’s comment is underpinned by an idea that God is generally in control and micromanaging everything that is occurring.  This reminds me of the conundrum that Nick Cave sung about in his song, “I don't believe in an interventionist God, but I know, darling, that you do.” 

Within the Christians faith there have been long standing questions about the concept of divine and human agency.  How much control does God have over the world and how much freedom do we have?  These questions of freedom and determinism have not disappeared with the growth of preferences for many in our community to reject faith in God.  Determinism is still an issue for us as we consider issues of cause and effect in areas such as neuroscience, economic modelling, physics, climate change, and health.  Whether we reject God completely, or blame God, we are still confronted by questions around how much control any of us have over our own lives.

Yet, believing in God is not necessarily wondering about how much control we do or don’t have in our predicament.  Rather it involves leaning in on God for courage and hope as we face the mysteries of life and the of the unknown.  The promise of the Christian story is that God remembers.  In fact, the majority of the Old Testament follows a pattern of humans forgetting God and God’s ways, and thus turning away, whilst God constantly remembers.  God shows mercy, forgiveness, and healing, and draws people close again. 

The rhythm and pattern of Christian worship is grounded in remembering God as God has remembered us, especially in sharing the bread and wine of communion.  The technical jargon often used to describe the act of remembering is anamnesis which is kind of the opposite of amnesia.  Tapping into our communal memory, that God is with us and that God is for us not against us, especially when the chips are down can serve to strengthen us and give us hope.  In the presence and power of the Holy Spirit remembering God, anamnesis, can transform us as we face the unknown.

For so many people it may feel as if God has forgotten us, but our faith draws us beyond our individual and momentary existence, and into the mystery of the eternal story and promise God’s love.  It is a promise of love that is unending and as each new day dawns we can be reminded that God’s mercies are new every morning.  Regardless of how bleak the world may seem God is with us the light of Christ "shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:1-3)

“God remembers the covenant forever, the promises God had made, for a thousand generations.”
(Psalm 105:8)

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

4 Witness to the Healing at Bethsaida

Based on Mark 8:22-26
The Villager
I don’t know about you but where we live it’s boring, nothing much happens here ever… boring!
Welcome to no where’s ville, here in the middle of nothing – Bethsaida.  There’s the desert dust and then just over that way to the West of us is the Jordan River.  That’s about it.
What happens here you ask.  You look at the desert and you go fishing and then for something different you go fishing and then you look at the desert. You think it’s boring here in this school with all your smart phones and laptops and entertainment and information on tap. You don’t know anything about boring, try fishing and the desert and the dust and the nothing ever happening.
Of course, like everyone else, we are under the Romans but even that is boring.  Everyone is too afraid to do anything about them – I mean they rule everywhere, everyone… everything!  So we keep our heads low and we fish and watch the dusty desert as the days pass by.
It’s so boring, nothing ever happens in Bethsaida… well not until today… today… today we had a visitor.
We had heard about this man, a man travelling the countryside with his ragtag bunch of followers. This man was telling people that God is good and that God is close.  This man named Jesus.  But it wasn’t just that he was teaching – he was doing miracles. 
We had heard he had fed a crowd – a crowd of 5000 people they said.  With just 5 loaves and 2 fish, they said.  I don’t know what sort of charlatan chef this Jesus is, but people said it was a miracle.  And people say it’s fantastic and that only someone connected to God could do anything like this.
So here we are in boring Bethsaida, where nothing ever happens, and Jesus, Jesus turns up.  Anyway old Fred who lives just down the way, old Fred who’s blind as a bat, his friends go and get him.  They get him and they take him to Jesus.
Nothing ever happens here, I’m telling you it’s so boring. 
But this day they take old Fred out to the edge of the town.  They take him out because they’ve heard that Jesus is coming.  And we followed them.  This is the most exciting thing to happen here since the Romans showed up a few decades back.  We wanted to see what was going on.
And we get out to where Jesus was just in time to see the most disgusting thing.  Jesus spat on his eyes, how gross is that.  Then he put his hands on old Fred’s eyes and he seemed to rub his eyes a bit before taking them away. The Jesus asked, ‘can ya see?’
Old Fred’s eyes still seemed a bit misty as he look around and he said ‘nuh, nope, not really… I mean I think I can people but they like a bunch of walking trees.’
A bunch of walking trees?  That’s what he said, that’s what called us.
And so Jesus put his hands on Fred’s eyes again and took them away.  Nothing ever happens here, I’m telling you that this place is so boring, but this day, this day Fred could see.
I saw it with my own eyes… it was a miracle.
I mean I did wonder for a moment whether old Fred had been tricking all these years.  I mean think about it one moment blind, the next not.  I mean that’s the stuff of the old prophets.
I don’t know who this Jesus bloke really is.  But I can tell you no one could do what he did without a direct line to upstairs… to the one who made us and everything… you know to the Lord… to Adonai
The Friend
Ok, I admit it. I was the one.  I took old Fred to see Jesus.  Well we did.  But, it was my idea.
I want you to think about this for a moment.  Have you ever known any of your friends to be in trouble or to have a problem?  Maybe they were feeling stressed about an assignment.  Maybe they had fallen out with another friend.  Maybe they were sick.  Maybe it was something serious… maybe like Old Fred, they were blind.
Being blind is pretty serious you know, well I think it is.  I had been helping Fred out for years. We all had.  And Fred seemed happy enough… but, well, you know… it was hard for us as well.
Anyway, we had heard that this Jesus guy was coming our way.  We had heard he could do anything.  So what do you do?  What would you do? You’ve got a mate who’s in trouble, you see an opportunity to help him out – what do you?
Do you sit back and do nothin’? Do you not care? Do you not engage? Do you not show any character?
Well that’s not me.  So I got my friends and we formed a team went to get Fred and we helped him to head out and see Jesus.  It was great teamwork.
And we got out to Jesus and we said to Jesus, ‘This is our mate Fred, his blind… What can you do?’
Now as soon as his saw Fred Jesus just went about his business.  He spat on his eyes and rubbed them with his hands, you know I’m talking about.  You’ve heard the rumours.
And old Fred was healed.  Now I don’t know but I think Fred was happy, he was really happy.  He seemed to really appreciate what had happened.
That was all that we had wanted for Fred to be able to see – and he could.  A miracle for sure.
But then again since then I’ve been wondering what does this all mean for me? I mean Jesus healed a blind bloke. 
So who is Jesus for me? What difference will it make to who I am?  I went there expecting to happen, hoping for it to happen, but when it actually happened… what does that mean for me?  What will it mean for you?
I don’t know about but if you’ve got a friend whose got some sort of problem.  Well you can sit back and do nothing… Or you can show a bit of character and engage with them, show them you care.  If you can’t do it alone get some friends to help out, show a bit of teamwork, and see what you can do, ask yourself who can help us.
That’s all we did.  We trusted that Jesus could help out, and he did.  It leaves you wondering doesn’t it, who is this Jesus, and what is God really like?  It has change my view of the world for sure.
The Disciple Peter
You should know who I am.
I am Peter, Simon Peter, the fisherman. And I follow Jesus.
I don’t just follow him I am one of the twelve, one of the disciples, one of the inner circle.
One of the in crowd… we’re like this (crossed fingers) with Jesus…
But I got to admit we might be like this but sometimes we just don’t get it…
Been with him a few years now.  It was back then I was there on the beach minding my own business when Jesus comes along and says the weirdest thing, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
I had no idea what he was talking about.  I thought the man was bonkers – kangaroo loose in the top paddock.
But… at the same time… there was something about the way that he asked it that was irresistible.  There was something in the way he looked at me, so I just up and left my nets, right there and then.
And I said “Ok, let’s do this” and he said “I’ll make you fish for people.”
And ever since then I’ve been seeing things and hearing things that you simply would not believe.
He keeps saying to us things about who he is.  Just today, I saw him heal a blind man.  That’s real Torah stuff, that’s Moses and Aaron stuff, and Ezekiel and Isaiah stuff.  The stuff of the miracles and the old ways and the old legends! It’s that stuff becoming real again.
And it’s got me thinking. It’s got me thinking. Maybe, Jesus is more than I think he is.  More than just a teacher, more than a friend, more even than a healer and a miracle maker! Maybe more than all those things put together…
Maybe, just maybe… this guy, this guy who can heal blind men is the Messiah!

The Healed Blind Man
No one really asked me whether I wanted to see again.  My friends just took me to Jesus, they took me to Jesus just outside Bethsaida.  They took me to Jesus because they had heard that he could do amazing things… miracles.
And so Jesus spat on my eyes and put his hands on my eyes and asked, ‘Can ya see?’
But I couldn’t, not properly.  I can remember what it was like to see. Sure I could see shapes and people all blurry and all out of focus walking around like lumbering trees.
So I told Jesus, “I can see people but they like funny, like trees walking.”  I didn’t understand what was happening.
But I felt his hands reach out and cover my eyes again and then he took them away and everything was clear again. I can see clearly now…
You don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone but, crikey, when you get something back you sit up and take notice.
I could see my friends, they seemed to look so much older… different… but they were there and they looked so fine and beautiful…
I could see the pristine snow white clouds hanging against the bright blue sky and the town, my town, Bethsaida set off to the distance in the desert and dust, with the Jordan snaking its way off to the south in the background.  It was stunning, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
It was truly a miracle, I knew it was going to change my life.  So there I was just starring at everything, letting my eyes drink it all in when Jesus caught my attention.
He looked at me intently, with dark piercing eyes.  Full of wisdom, dripping with love and he said to me the strangest thing. 
“Go to your home.  Don’t even go to the village.  Just go to your home.”
It was as though he wanted to hide me away, hide the evidence of his miracle. 
I just wanted to go and share my news, to tell everyone, “Hey world, Jesus has made me well.  I once was blind but now I see!”
But he said go home. I think my friends were just as surprised, I think they expected more too.
So here I am.  Here in my dim home… not much to see inside here.  And I’m left wondering ‘what comes next?’
Encountering Jesus has changed my life.  I don’t know how it has changed my life yet, but it has changed my life.  I’m not sure what it means.  I don’t know who he was.  I just know that he did this thing for me that I don’t quite understand.
How will I live my life now that I can see again?  How can I say thank you? What does it all mean?

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Love one another

It seems simple enough, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love... love one another as I have loved you.”   

Seems simple enough to love one another, but what do we think love is.  When I shared about singing a new song one of the things that can become evident very quickly is how we have different tastes and preferences in our music choices.  Churches have split apart on what kind of music they should play.

Just as there is a great diversity of ideas on music so too when it comes to loving one another we have different ideas on what it means to love each other and how we define love seems to change through time.

So to love one another appears simple enough but love is complex in its simplicity.

If you will indulge me I would like to share a short video entitled “What is love?” from one of my favourite websites Soulpancake.


So what does love mean to you.  What does it mean for us to love one another?

Right at the beginning of the video a young boy says that “Love is a complicated thing” and I would agree with that.  And maybe you picked up on some of its complexity in listening to all the different answers.

So when it comes to Jesus commandment to love one another as I have loved you we already have our own ideas and biases about what love is.  I want to pick up on what one of the women in the video said in her answer.

“It is something you do on a day to day basis. Love is active.”

Now many of you would have heard that the word we translate into love from Greek has 4 different forms.  The ancient Greek language had 4 different ways of categorising love.

The word being used in this passage is the word agape.  This is generally understood to mean unconditional love – love that does not expect anything in return.  But I want us to push a little deeper into that idea.

How does God love us?  By sending Jesus into the world.  By Jesus proclaiming the good news of God’s love to us.  By Jesus dying for us.  By Jesus rising for us. By Jesus ascending for us to pray for us forever.  God loves us by doing something.

Love is not a feeling or an emotion love is what God does.  Or as John put in his letter “God is love.”  Love is what God does – so if we are to love one another it cannot stop at an emotion, an interior feeling or thought that I keep to myself.  No, love involves us acting, doing something.

Now in loving like God loves us we cannot make the same sacrifice that Jesus makes on the cross for us – that was a once and for all moment.  But we can act in love towards one another as a sign of this love.

Quite a few years ago a friend recommended a book to me that some of you may have also read.  It was written by a guy called Gary Chapman and was called The Five Languages of Love.  Have any of you read this book?

In the book Chapman outlines these 5 ways we express our love in action and as we think about loving one another in all its simple complexity these 5 ideas can be helpful.  Words of affirmation. Gifts. Physical touch.  Quality time. Acts of service.  I want to go through each of these and give some examples, or maybe more accurately some homework to you because as you listen to them I want you to be thinking about how you might express love to someone this week.

Words of Affirmation

  • Write a letter or card to someone to express your thanks or congratulations.
  • Ring an old friend and reminisce together
  • Be grateful to someone who serves you in a shop 

  • Take your gift of flowers from the church today to someone special
  • Give an extra gift of money to a charity
  • Make a gift or card for a member of your family

 Physical touch

  • Remember to hug a member of your family every day!
  • Embrace a friend when you meet them this week
  • Hold the hand of someone you love more often

 Quality time

  • Put a person you love in your diary this week, listen to them and enjoy their company
  • Take some extra time with God: express gratitude and pray for others
  • Have a technology ‘fast’ and spend more face to face time with friends

 Acts of service

  • Take on an extra chore around the house
  • Commit yourself to do something for the church or a charity
  • Ask a family member, friend or even a stranger what you can do to help them out
Now what is very interesting is that what Chapman emphasises is that each one of respond more strongly to a different expression of the giving and receiving of love.  A good example of this is that for some people a hug is important and for us well it is more like an invasion of their personal space.  We are all unique in what our preferred expression of love is and how we interpret loving actions towards us.  This is why I think we miss the mark so often in trying to love one another – because we are complex and unique individuals.

To jump back then into the passage and think about how Jesus loves his disciples.  His actions towards them which include his choice to call them friends, his choice to teacher them, his choice to entrust them to bear fruit on his behalf is all done in the context of knowing that these men are far from perfect people.  Jesus actions of love towards his disciples is not reliant on them getting everything right or understanding it but on the choice Jesus makes to go on loving them.

For me this is the hardest aspect of love.  To love another person whom we may find difficult to get along with.  To love another person who is not loving us back or not acknowledging our acts of love towards them.  To love others when are not feeling loved ourselves.
For me this is where God steps into the gap between our call to love one another and our ability to love another.  There are days I do not feel loved and also days I do not feel very loving – more often than not these days coincide!

It is in these moments that God’s ultimate action of love in Jesus’ death and resurrection transcends who we are not able to be for ourselves and joins us through God’s grace to Jesus’ very life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today we will celebrate that in remembering the great act of God’ love as we take bread and wine and receive again through word and action the presence of God into our life.  We share in communion in the faith and hope that as we act so to God will act within us.

So, we return to where we began: It seems simple enough, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you, abide in my love... love one another as I have loved you.” 

Today, we will share in that love of God in bread and wine.  God’s grace.  The fruit that we are given to share from our encounter God this day is to go from this table to act as loving people: through Words of affirmation. Gifts. Physical touch.  Quality time. Or, acts of service. 

Take a few moments of silence.  Consider what is God saying to you this day?  Who are you being called to love and what will you do about it?

Friday, 1 September 2017

Moses, the burning bush & Holy Ground

The story of Moses turning aside to meet God in the burning bush is one that is both well known and well loved by many people.  It is also a story which has great depth of meaning and can challenge us on many levels.

This morning I want to explore with you a number of aspects of the story and how they relate to us today.

First, I want us to consider the concept of Holy Ground.

Second, to think about, where it is that we might meet God.

Third, will be to consider what happens when meet God and how we will most likely respond.

Lastly, we will be looking at the concept of God’s presence through the lens of Jesus.

So, to the concept of Holy Ground!  When Moses turns aside to see the burning bush God instructs him to take off his shoes because he is standing on Holy Ground.  I took off my shoes this morning at the beginning of the worship to get you to think about this idea of reverence in God’s presence.

Why is this ground Holy?  I think that the holiness is not in the earth itself, the dust and grit and grime, but rather the place is made Holy at that moment because God is there in a particular way with Moses.

This is an important distinction to make because I believe that throughout the history of both Judaism and Christianity we do see a tendency towards idolatry of place.

In the story of the healing of Naaman the leper by Elisha, which occurs in the second book of Kings, it is interesting to see Naaman request 2 cartloads of the soil to take home with him so that he might worship Elisha’s God.  It is as if God is located in the soil itself.

This kind of overplaying of the importance of land or ground or Holy Space has long been with us.  It is not that I think have buildings or special places in which we believe we encounter is unimportant but I would want to challenge when we begin to hold on to the Holy Space or Ground over against the relationship with God, even unintentionally.

Think for a moment about our own church buildings and the concept of Holy Ground.  This morning I was very deliberate about the acknowledgement of the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Turbaal people.  We have built our buildings and laid claim to this as Holy Ground over the top of another people, for which this land itself may have been sacred in some way.

As an aside in this last month it was the anniversary of the  pastoral workers strike led by Vincent Lingiari.  A strike that went for 8 years and led to one of those iconic images that is etched into our Australian history of the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pouring a handful of sand from his hand into Vincent’s hand.  It was a symbolic retuning of sacred ground.

In terms of this building in which we meet whilst it may carry sentimental and historical value for us as a sacred space it should also be understood in a broader history of who we are as Australian people and that we have set this space aside for us to meet with God.  I wonder this morning did you have that sense of taking of your shoes, did you come expecting that God would speak to you and call you to ministry or are you simply here going through the motions?  The space only retains its value if we are expectant and responsive to the God who will send us from here.

As I thought about this taking off our shoes to enter God’s presence on Holy ground I was struck by me memories of the times I have been into Mosques to observe Islamic worship.  There are rows of racks where the worshippers place their shoes before entering the worship space.  They take off their shoes as they meet with God.

Yet I am also aware that in their daily prayer, which they are to engage in 5 times each and every day, people cannot always come to the mosque.  So they take off their shoes wherever they are and facing Mecca pray.

The point seems to be that it is not the venue itself that is Holy but God’s presence whenever we enter into it.  A concept which I believe we could learn from.

This leads me from these thoughts about Holy Ground to what it is that Moses was doing when saw the burning bush.  Moses hadn’t gone to church; he wasn’t at daily prayer or listening to a sermon.  Moses was at work.

He had fled Egypt and was accepted into the Midianite family that he had come into contact with, marrying one of Jethro’s daughters.  Such was his place that he was trusted with the flock the family’s wealth.

Moses had not gone seeking God, no God had come to him in the midst of his mundane and probably quite difficult task of tending the flock.

When Moses saw the burning bush he turned aside; he stopped to be with God.

This is a reminder for all of us that Holy ground is not somewhere we construct like this building but somewhere, anywhere that God comes to us.

In the midst of our daily labour whether we are at home or in the community we should be looking out for the burning bush of God’s presence and we should like Moses be prepared to turn aside and listen for what God might have to say.

Too often I believe we want to restrict the possibilities of God speaking to us to church on a Sunday, or our daily devotionals, or when we are gathered in some holy huddle.  But God speaks to us and meet with us anywhere and when he does God calls us.

This brings me to the third point about Moses response to God’s call.  Moses response is to question his value, his gifts, his very existence: who am I?

This existential crisis for Moses is a denial and dodging of God’s call – I’m not good enough, why me, I’m not holy enough, can’t someone else do it.

I want to share my favourite story about the burning bush, it is a story told by Timothy Radcliffe, the former head of the world Dominican order.

"In May 2004 I was taken to the monastery of St Catherine's, at the foot of Mt Sinai. At 3:30 pm in the afternoon, when all sensible people are asleep and 'only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun', we walked past the shrine of the burning bush and climbed the mountain of the Lord... As I walked past the shrine of the burning bush, I was delighted to notice beside it a large red fire extinguisher. It looked so old it might have been there since Moses. It seemed to symbolise our ambivalent relationship to the word that comes from the burning bush, and the perpetual temptation to quench it."

Timothy Radcliffe "Do Not Put Out The Burning Bush" in Don't Put out the Burning Bush ed. Vivian Boland, ATF Press 2008.

I wonder at times whether too many of us in our ambivalence are carrying a fire extinguisher in fear that the burning bush of God’s presence might come to us and God might call us to follow and serve.

Yet for those of us who are Christians is this not meant to be what we do.  Listen for God and respond obediently to God’s call on our lives – even when we don’t think we have the capacity to do what God is asking of us.

Every one of us who is baptised is called into the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ – in our work place, in our relationships, in our families, in our community, the places where we can and do meet God.

This brings me to the promise of God and the conclusion of this sermon.  God’s response to Moses existential crisis and doubt is the promise that God will be with him.  It is a promise which gives Moses the courage to respond to God’s call.

As Christians reading this story the idea that God is with us is powerfully altered by the advent of Jesus Christ who is called Emmanuel – which literally means God is with us.

In Jesus God walks among us and the promise of the Holy Spirit is that our lives our drawn into Christ’s life, that he is with us and we are with him.  But more than that, Jesus indicates that we will meet him in poor and prisoner and the hungry and the sick.  God is with us in each other and in the people in the world around us.

This too is Holy Ground: people’s lives and their stories.  I met a man in the coffee shop the other day and he shared with me some of his story.  In that moment I knew I was on Holy Ground, the Holy Ground of his life, and that in our conversation I believe God was speaking to me.

The story of Moses and the burning bush takes us deep into our faith and what it means to meet with God, to listen to God, to respond God and to serve God’s purposes.

We are on Holy Ground now not because of these walls around us but because here God speaks the good news of Jesus Christ to us and calls us to go out into the world to meet God again and again in the moments of our days and our weeks and to respond in faith.

Now in the silence I invite you to remember God’s presence and listen for what God is calling you to do this day.  Amen.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Elevating others into our family!

Matthew 10: 24-39

I have been involved in teaching Religious education or instruction in schools for just over 20 years and each year as I begin with a new class I hand out a get to know you sheet.  I have provide one each for you this morning.

As you can see on the sheet students are asked to finish the sentence, “The most important thing in my life is...”

Through 20 years of teaching classes from Grade 3 through Grade 7 one answer dominates this sentence.  It comes up again and again.

The most important thing in my life is... Family!

The idea that family is the most important thing in life constantly comes through in pastoral conversations in congregations as well.

Family is important to us, really important.  It is, no doubt, important to you, just as it is important to me.

Despite its importance another lesson I have learnt over 20 years of teaching in schools and working with congregations is that how we define what a family is varies a great deal.  When I ask students to draw a picture of the people they live with this reality is often emphasized.

Some families have one parent.  Some families have half brothers or sisters.  Some families have a step dad or step mum.  Some families now have 2 dads or 2 mums.  Some families include grandparents and some include the whole wider family. Family is important but families are also defined by culture and the experience of life. 

It is amongst all this importance that we place on families as well as alongside the ambiguous definition of what family means that we come and hear Jesus words from Matthew’s gospel:

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me!

Taken at face value we could assume that Jesus is attacking the idea and place of family and elevating individuals and their choices. 

We could make sense of this by reflecting on the concept of family from Jesus time, which is quite different to how modern Western people understand family.  Family meant the household, it could include slaves and servants, the father was the head, and women had a particular place.  If one member of the family did something wrong it would bring shame to the whole family.  Honour would have to be restored.

Jesus could be challenging this idea of the binding ties of family but such a reading of Jesus words put us in direct conflict with other parts of the scriptures, let me share just a few:

1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her

Wife Proverbs 31:31 Honour her [your wife] for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Exodus 20:12 Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord, your God is giving you.

Psalm 127:3-5 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

So which is it and what can we do with this complicated issue. Are our biological ties to one another important or not?

If we return to the passage from Matthew and consider the words that Jesus first speaks I believe we might find some help here:

“‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.’”

The question that might be raised by this comment then is what was Jesus relationship with his own family, how did he view them. 

If we read on in Matthew’s gospel to Matthew 12 we get an interesting insight. 

In Matthew 12 verse 47 and 48 is says, “Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48But Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49Pointing to His disciples, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.”

Jesus view of the idea of family here is not to diminish it but to augment it.  Family is not defined by biological ties but is defined by the growing relationship he had with those outside his own family – his disciples.

The restriction of who could be part of the family changed, the goal post was shifted.  The fact that he defines the disciples as mother and brothers reminds us of how important Jesus views family to be, yet at the same through his words Jesus time elevates others into his family.

When we combine this with his sayings in Chapter 10 about putting God above family then maybe we could summarise Jesus’ teaching about family like this.

We should not elevate our family above God. Rather we should elevate others into our family to honour God.

Let me repeat that:

We should not elevate our family above God. Rather we should elevate others into our family to honour God.

Years ago I can remember reading the influential book Being as Communion by the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas.  In the book he speaks of our baptism drawing us beyond our biological ties and into the family of God with God. 

Another way of recognising this is to speak of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  The exclusive biological boundaries of family are broken down and we are reminded of our common humanity.

From my perspective Jesus is not encouraging family division but is about elevating others into our family, which ultimately is the family of God.

Earlier in the week I was preaching about this issue in another setting and I made the comment that in our contemporary world many parents create idols of their children.  Sacrificing themselves so that the children can have everything that they want.  Our hands are always open providing more and more to them.

One of the older men there agreed with me about parents who seem to give the children whatever they wanted.  And we spoke about the sense of entitlement many people within our culture seem to have.  But almost in the same breath he said that it was luck the passage didn’t mention grandchildren!

The notion of elevating others into our family is not an easy one.  For me to think of other people as being equal value as Tim and Lucy is hard for me to wrap my head around.  Yet this is the challenge that Jesus lays before us – not to make idols of our families but to keep God at the centre of our lives and to honour all people as members of our family.

This is important for us to grapple with as a congregation – how do you elevate each other into being family members of one another?  And, how do you elevate our Christians into your family?  I can remember saying to another congregation that if every child that came into their midst, every family, had been treated as mine had then I could not see why that family would ever leave.  The day I turned up at my new manse there was a fresh meal provided and others frozen.  When my children were born they were showered with gifts.  At times I was embarrassed of the privilege treatment my family received when I could see that this was not extended to everyone. 

More than that how does this love for others extend outwards into the community?  In the reading from Genesis were reminded that God’s concern extends even to those who appear to be cast out.  The story of Hagar and Ishmael is another uncomfortable one for us, a difficult passage, but one which drives us to contemplate how God views those beyond the family of God as still part of God’s family.

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me!

This is a difficult teaching but I would place it in the context of the words of grace that God cares as deeply for us as any sparrow, that God counts the hairs on our head.  Jesus presence with us is precisely because we live with these tensions and so often fail.  Paul’s letter to the Romans from which we read struggled with these very issues of sin and works and grace.

I believe Jesus teaching acknowledges the messiness of our human existence.  Family is important and the idea of family is important to Jesus but it is easy for us to elevate our family above God and distort and disrupt our relationship with God and with others when we do this.  Jesus words remind us not to elevate our family above God, but rather, that we should elevate others into our family to honour God.  To honour the God who has freely, lovingly and graciously drawn us into his own.