Preached Aug. 1, 2010, Family reunion
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. This tells us the direction we should be moving in every action we take—toward love, toward family.
I grew up in a missionary family in a dangerous part of the world—central Africa. My parents brought me up to know Jesus, and they set a great example of following God’s call wherever it leads. And yet, my experiences as a child left me unsure of the stability of God’s love for me and unsure if God had good things in store for me, and the gradual recovery from that is taking a lifetime. These ae some things I’ve learned over that lifetime about God and people.
1) People run from God when they fear God is angry about their sin. They think, “I don’t belong in God’s family.” But it’s really 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 looks for people to show them love, just 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).
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; whoever gives us a cup of water in Jesus’s name is for us; whoever makes it hard for us to trust in Jesus is against us. Whoever gathers others toward Jesus is for Jesus; whoever drives others away, scatters them, is against Jesus. In families, we need to consider how we make it easier for others to trust in Jesus, and we need to consider how we make it harder for others to trust in Jesus.
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 a member of Jesus’s family
1) trust in the character of God as revealed by Jesus Christ, God’s Son
2) obey Jesus’s commandment to love one another
3) do what you can to to meet people’s needs and set them free—including family members—representing Jesus to them
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.