Jesus’s mother and brothers come to get him
Families are not always easy. My brother and I had a reasonably big age gap – as a result we didn’t fight that much, but I knew how to be the annoying little brother. I knew when to turn up when he had friends over, I knew how to wind him up and then play the victim and whine to my mother that he was being unfair, and embarrass him even more in front of his friends. Families always have their difficulties.
One of the privileges of being a priest is to be there with families at important and often emotional moments in their lives. Births, Baptisms, Weddings and Deaths. Occasionally, because of the heightened emotions at these times, the issues of family relationships become significant and where there is hurt or discomfort or shame that can become a real issue.
In the light of the Presbyterian Church having voted to loosen it’s ties with the Church in Scotland due to it’s more liberal attitude to same sex relationships, The BBC in Northern Ireland interviewed a Presbyterian Priest who was contacted by a woman whose daughter, being in a same sex relationship, had a child which needed to be baptised. The daughter was Presbyterian but the partner Catholic and the grandmother wanted to know if there was anything the Priest could do. The Grandmother’s own husband was clearly completely uncomfortable with the entire thing. The Presbyterian Priest goes on to explain that he and the Catholic Priest arranged the baptism together at the Catholic Church and he was later contacted by the Grandmother again to say how during the baptism they as a family had been made to feel so welcome they no longer felt stigmatised or ostracised but were valued as members of the church.
In today’s readings we are reminded of ‘the fall.’ This acquiring of knowledge by eating of the tree. Of course the real fall is not the seeking of knowledge, but the attempt to replace the need for God by idolatry of what we can know ourselves. An attempt to usurp God’s infinite knowledge. As soon as Adam and Eve have a little knowledge, shame kicks in. Shame that they are naked. Shame that they have made a mistake, broken the rules. And with shame comes blame. She made me do it – he made me do it. The story of the fall is an attempt to understand our behaviour. It’s not a historical story. But an attempt to understand why we do the things we do, why we need God’s grace to reconcile us.
And it’s shame that seems to drive Jesus’ family in our Gospel, to go and restrain him, because he’s making a scene – perhaps he’s embarrassing them going on about healing people and forgiving sins and casting out demons. The Gospel reading we had today comes immediately after Jesus has chosen his twelve apostles. Those who were to be with him, his inner circle, but also those who were to be sent out, to proclaim the message and to cast out demons. The ones who would be his family, and who would be the beginning of the Church. Jesus is being accused of casting out demons, and perhaps like an embarrassed teenage daughter when their father is telling somebody to stop littering, his family just want him to shut up and come away with them – life will be easier then.
Of course Jesus goes into his mildly ironic rhetoric, pointing out that a divided house will fall, as if to highlight the difficulty any family has, whatever sort of family it is, when it’s divided – when it’s being torn apart. And his family come to take him away and Jesus points to those listening to him and says: ‘Here are my mother, and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ In this we are reminded of Jesus’ last words to John and to his mother – offering them to each other as mother. We are all adopted as Jesus’ own family. We are the family of God, the Body of Christ. We are one another’s sisters and brothers. So that makes it easy then – we can choose our family rather than having to put up with the brother or parents we got originally.
Well, not exactly, we are all family in Christ, but we don’t really have much choice about who we share these pews with. We have even less choice about who is in our family up the road at St Albans, or at Hampstead Parish Church, or at St Luke’s or Emmanuel or the Baptist church. As the Presbyterian minister put it on the BBC Northern Ireland video, ‘if God so loved the world, then if I can’t love the world I’m not being very Godly.’ But it ain’t easy!
One of the great challenges of the Gospel, of this message of reconciliation, is that it’s not comfortable or easy. And families have notoriously thick walls. They can be very welcoming and offer great hospitality, but they can be very difficult to become a part of. Families can be very close, but in fear of rocking the boat, people can leave things unsaid for long periods of time, things which, not properly discussed and processed, can become poisonous and damaging. One of the important things one can tell a new couple when they are getting ready to be married, or when they have a new life coming into the family. Is to communicate and to work at it – because being a family isn’t always easy. It’s wonderful, it’s life-giving, a family is supportive in times of need and there to celebrate in times of joy. But it takes work.
Being God’s church, being God’s family is the same. We need to work at helping people find their place in the family – being welcoming but not overwhelming – being concerned for them – not what they can do for us. Being willing to speak and able to truly listen. And if we do that, if we love each other like a family, but with porous boundaries, then those watching truly will know us by our Love.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
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