Church is Jesus's Family
Romans 8:14-21 (NRSV, throughout, except where I paraphrase)
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba, Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God . . . the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
1) People are on the run from God because they fear God is angry about their sin. It’s like when kids get their good clothes and themselves dirty when their parents have clearly said, “Stay out of the mud.” They want to run and hide the evidence they have disobeyed.
2) God is seeking people to show them love. In this illustration, it’s like how parents want to clean the kids up.
3) People need to stop running, turn around, and see who God really is and how God really feels about them. If the kids stop running and come out of hiding, the worst they face is a bath and different clothes, particularly from parents with a sense of proportion.
4) Jesus came to make this clear: God wants to love us and to do us good. “Bring the kids to me,” says Jesus. “Don’t make it hard for them to trust in God’s love. Sure, God’s going to give them a bath and new clothes, but those are the signs God loves them and won’t leave them dirty and afraid.”
5) Turning around and looking into God’s eyes will give us confidence in God’s love; we can persist in talking with God about what worries us, and we can be generous to others. “What food do you have,” Jesus asks, and the disciples answer, “We’ve got a kid here willing to share two fish and five little biscuits.”
6) All this good news is true even if our world is ending personally or globally.
This is the good news: God is here, God loves you, God has forgiven you. Trust God, talk to God, and be generous. This is what God wants us to tell everyone who is on the run: God wants us to “go home to our friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for us and what mercy he has shown us” (Mark 5:19).
Introduction to Church
I want to talk in this context about what it means to be the “church”: we’ll start with what Jesus tells disciples to do in the book of Mark, which tells us what Jesus expected of his followers, who went on to be the “church” in their times.
The church is Jesus’s family
Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). If I get to be Jesus’s sister by doing God’s will, I need to know: What is God’s will? Jesus says that the law and prophets are summed up in loving God wholly and loving my neighbor as I love myself.
The framing passage from Romans also uses the picture of family. We know how complicated families can be by having come from some sort of family ourselves. Disagreements within a family are often harder to work through than disagreements with acquaintances or friends—in my own family I was not sure it was ok to disagree until I was in my 30s—after a loud family fight in which my father shook his finger at me and said, “you aren’t going to change my mind on this,” and I said, “I don’t know whether I even belong in this family,” we found a way back to each other and learned we could disagree and express that and still honor and respect each other. When my dad was dying, his last words to me were, “Thank you for being you.” That’s redemptive family talk.
The first “church”—the disciples—worried about who was a real follower, a real insider, a member of God’s family—who is doing God’s will?
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:38-42).
Whoever is not against us is for us
This is a framework we rarely think about when evaluating who is in God’s family.
To be sure, Jesus says this differently in Matthew 12:30—Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters—a passage that is easy to misunderstand and use to dismiss others who aren’t part of our kind of church. But I think they say the same thing: when someone does a deed of power or gives a cup of water in Jesus’s name, that person is “with Jesus” and is “gathering with” Jesus, not against Jesus and not scattering the harvest. St. John writes in 1 John 3 and 4: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. . . . The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters . . . We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another . . . We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action . . . this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another . . . Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
How to be an insider, a member of Jesus’s family
1) To be an insider: trust in the character of God as revealed by Jesus Christ, God’s Son
2) To be an insider: obey Jesus’s commandment to love one another
3) To be an insider: do what you can to set people free and to meet their needs, representing Jesus to them
In Mark 8:34-38, Jesus describes how “the church” will make a difference: “If any want to become my followers, they need to quit thinking about themselves and how to get ahead or be significant or get their way or about how they will set up God’s kingdom on earth. They need to do my work my way—and that involves allowing God to do with their lives what God wants, just as I do.”
Lay it down
Don’t fight to protect your ideas, your rights, yourselves—that’s how you end up losing everything. Instead, lay it down, pour it out, sell what you depend on, throw yourself on the mercy and provision of God, and spread the good news about how God reaches out in love to everyone. That’s where the real profit and protection are. Don’t be embarrassed to tell people what God is doing for you, how God has shown you mercy, and let them know God loves them too.
Practice love on each other in the “organized” church; practice being a redemptive family that can look each other in the eye and say, “Thank you for being you.”
But don’t stop there: get out where people are dying to know that God loves them, and tell them what you know of God’s love.