Sunday, 7 June 2015

It's All About Family

We all have guilty pleasures. One of mine, until recently, was a tv show on Channel 4 called ‘The Island.’ It centres, for the uninitiated, around a group of British men and a group of British women left to fend for themselves on desert islands for a number if weeks.  on their return they really appreciated the creature comforts that we all take for granted - a shower, a bed, regular food etc

We like our homes to be comfortable and have things like the decor that mark them out as ours. Yet we live in the Ikea generation. What that means is ironically that our homes are more and more alike as Ikea’s success has swept the UK. 8 million Billy bookcases have been sold since their launch in 1987. One in five of us sleep on an Ikea mattress; 468 million items of Ikea cookware have been sold in the UK alone along with some 11.6 million meatballs in it’s restaurants. We like our individuality to enable us to blend into the crowd.

In these first few chapters of Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, with Him we have whirled through Galilee -- He has been baptised at the Jordan, the Spirit alights on him and God pronounces Him as His beloved; Jesus’ opening words announce the presence of God’s kingdom and call for a response to this good news; he walks by the sea and summons fishermen to follow, and they leap from their boats in obedient response; in a synagogue he teaches with an astounding authority, but a kind of secrecy enshrouds him which only the demonic seems to recognise; yet a secret power breathes from him that will not be contained, as witnessed by the numerous events of healing that mark his route. After all that Jesus returns home.

When Jesus comes home a crowd gathers - so big and eager for the things of God - that Jesus is so tied up that he cannot eat. His family then come out of the house and try to physically restrain him from ministering. After this comes some parables about the nature of the coming kingdom Jesus proclaims.

Whether his family acted the way they did that day out of love and concern for Jesus or out of embarrassment because he’s being called a devil, we’ll never know. What we do know is that Jesus clearly has a bigger vision of what it means to be family than something simply nuclear.

I’m not a fan of TV soaps, but it does entertain me at how many characters on EasterEnders can be parodied by remembering that no matter what happens to any of them - the only thing that matter is family ties. But our families can be awkward and tricky - relationships that need to be negotiated like an obstacle course - rather than settled into and enjoyed. But as the sayings say - ‘You can chose your friends but you can’t chose your family’ and ‘blood is thicker than water’ - when it comes to it we are bound to these people out of more than shred interests and choice.

Towards the end of this melee of activity and some teaching on the authority under which Jesus acts, Jesus doesn’t just respond to the over-protection or even controlling of his own biological family, but broadens the definition of and opens up God’s family wide to all people.  ‘Your mother and brothers are outside asking for you’ ‘Who are they?’, asks Jesus but those who do the will of God.

Talk of will, in a week infused with allegations of power, bribes, and winning at all costs in athletics and football on the world stage, takes our minds to thoughts of power and how it’s exercised. Jesus talks of the subjugation of the powerful in the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading and in so doing inverts how power is used and exercised in the Kingdom of God.  In the same way so Jesus redefines who’s in and who's out - women, Samaritans, centurions, lepers, the blind and lame are all in. So to our ears at least, to hear Jesus talk of His family not just being those bound to him by blood should come as no surprise.

What might be surprising is how that makes me feel. To now be invited to become Jesus’ brother or His mother welcomes me and you into a very intimate and familial relationship with the Messiah. To be invited into a relationship that invokes of other such relationship memories that centre on time together, shared memories and stories, upon mutual care no questions asked, ultimately upon something that can only be put into one word - love. And for those of us who only dream of a family like that, as ever with Jesus, we’re included.

To be Jesus’ mother or brother’s is not to do with membership - it’s not about surnames or even of Baptism in which we talk of the newly baptised being a new member of the family of the church.  Familial ties here are about doing the will of God.  His will is not about exercising power over someone for you own gain, but for theirs - it’s about rising the lowly, it’s about doing justice and acting mercifully - in Jesus’ words elsewhere - it’s about loving God with every once of our being and loving our neighbour.

What is Jesus saying to us this morning? I guess for me at least, it’s simple - if you Simon, are in my family, how do people know? We’re not bound to Him by a name or a place, so how does how I live demonstrate my desire to follow God’s will - loving Him and others before myself.

What of you? How will what you say or do today and tomorrow demonstrate your family ties with Jesus? How does being invited to be Jesus’ mother or brother make you feel? How will it change your relationship with Him? Will you let it?