Mt 12:48 “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”
1. My Birth Family
Today is Mothers’ Day
And for many today it is a day to think about our birth family -
a time to give or receive flowers, Sunday lunch or breakfast in bed.
Or perhaps for some of us, it is a time to say a prayer of thanks
or lay a flower in memory of a mother or child who has died -
whom we love and yet see no longer.
If you have present joys or precious memories, I hope today will be a
good day for you as you give thanks to God for your immediate family.
But I know that it is not that simple for everyone.
There are those who are single or bereaved, as well as
couples who are gay or for other reasons cannot have children,
for whom Mothers’ Day can be very challenging.
I remember particularly a lady in one of my previous Churches,
who said to me once
“I won’t be at Church this Sunday because its Mothering Sunday -
and I can’t cope with the flowers and the sentiment”
She said, “I was a mistake, my mother never wanted me,
and made that very clear. I never knew my biological father,
or who he was.
My stepfather abused me and my mother did nothing to stop him
and ignored my pleas for help.
Since I grew up, I’ve never managed to maintain a proper relationship,
and I know now that I’ll never get the chance to be a mum.
I put it down to the mess of a family I grew up in.”
I am deeply aware that some of you here today could tell similar stories.
And if that is you, let me suggest that we broaden Mothers’ Day
into a day when we reflect on our immediate family.
That reflection may include elements of thanksgiving
But for some there will also be elements of sorrow.
And for some Mothers Day will need to be
not so much about thanksgiving as about forgiveness -
offering it to others or seeking it for ourselves.
Just a footnote here. We need to be clear what we mean by forgiveness.
Telling the victims of domestic violence and abuse to forgive and forget
may become little more than condemning them to more of the same.
We need to be clear that the Bible tells us to forgive
(however hard and long the road to forgiveness may be) -
but to forgive is not to forget, certainly not to condone,
& absolutely not to sanction or risk the possibility of repetition in the future.
Is anyone watching the new TV serial White Heat?
If like me you grew up in a student flat in the 60s, you’ve got to see it.
At one point in the first episode one of the students discovers
that her father has had a series of affairs
and has been unfaithful to her mother for years.
She confronts him and gives him a mouthful of abuse.
He turns on her and tells her to shut up -
“I’m still your father”, he says, “I deserve some respect.”
To which might want to say that respect has to be earned.
Yet Scripture does say “Honour your father and your mother”
- its up on the ten commandments behind the screen there.
We are called to honour our parents - there is that of God in everyone,
however scarred and corrupted that may sometimes be -
even if for some the honouring has to include forgiving as well.
2. My Church Family
But lets go back to Jesus’ question -
Who is my mother, who are my brothers?
The answer Jesus gives is that his followers are now his family.
So we have another family - and its right here.
That may have special resonance for those who have been
hurt or rejected by their immediate family
But its also important for all of us -
As members of the Church, it is both our privilege and our responsibility
to be a family.
And I might add - in a week when we have heard the heartbreaking news
that Julia’s young grandson Alex has now died in Australia -
we recall that our Church family includes loved ones on earth and in heaven.
When the Israelites returned from exile,
the prophet told them that Jerusalem was their mother -
and over the centuries the Church has been seen in the same way
as our spiritual mother.
Though in an age when we are seeking to get away
from patriarchal modes of thought,
you may prefer to speak of the Church as a family of brothers and sisters
whose Mother and Father is God.
Either way, those alongside us in the community of faith -
those sat around us at this moment - are sisters and brothers.
The question we then need to ask is this -
Does our Christian community live and act as a family?
There is only time to flag up a couple of issues which arise fro that:
Can you imagine sitting down to a family meal each week
and not knowing the names of your brothers and sisters
sharing the Sunday lunch with you?
Yet when we share the Lord’s Supper, how many names do we know?
Unfair, you say - the nuclear family is a small stable unit -
the Mint congregation is large and changes every week.
True - but let’s not use that excuse more than necessary.
If we are indeed the family of God,
can we at least learn one new name every time we come to Church?
Try it over coffee - “Hello, I’ve seen you here before,
but I’m afraid I don’t know your name…”
Only a start, but you’ve got to walk before you run,
and how are we going to share each other’s deepest joys and sorrows
if we don’t even know other folks’ names?
It’s a start, turning a congregation into a family.
(b) Inclusivity and Acceptance.
Families are not normally just made up of “people like us” -
a family is not a self selecting clique of people
who seek each other out because of common interests and lifestyles.
You know the old saying - you can choose your friends
but you can’t choose your family.
The question is - can we act as a family
even when we come from very different places, socially, politically, spiritually…
The issue of the moment regarding inclusivity in the Church
is of course this week’s debate on gay marriage.
A big topic with only five minutes of sermon to go.
As many of you know I personally strongly support the idea
of blessing gay partnerships in Church -
and I might add, if gay couples felt that a marriage service
helped them celebrate their commitment and receive God’s blessing,
I personally would be fine with that too.
I don’t actually conduct any such ceremonies
simply because the Methodist Church right now
(by a series of majority votes) won’t allow me to -
and I am under the authority of the Methodist Conference.
Now many of you here I know agree with me - Others I know disagree.
There are complex issues about the definition of marriage -
maybe an issue for a Wednesday evening discussion -
but whatever we say about the definition of marriage,
we can I hope agree on this:
In a family people often make different lifestyle choices,
political and spiritual choices, and there is often no common mind.
But it is a family - and a strong and loving family is able to say:
“You will always be my brother, my sister,
and whatever you do and whatever I think about it,
I will still love you, accept you, try to understand you,
and always be there for you.”
We’ve all seen the Hollywood movies
where the father dramatically throws his child out onto the street
and says “Never darken the door again -
I have no son, I have no daughter”
In that situation, it doesn’t actually matter
whether the father or the child is in the right -
honouring parents and honouring children
means accepting and loving even when
our choices and our understanding of life differ.
Prodigal sons and prodigal daughters and prodigal parents
all need the welcoming arms of their family.
And if as a Church we are a family, that means
that we welcome all and seek to love and share with all -
high Church, low Church, conservative, liberal, straight gay, black white….
3. The Family of the Human Race
Birth Family, Church Family - There is also another family -
the human race - what we used to call “The Family of Man”
It is God’s will that our worldwide human family,
should be bound together in bonds of love, peace and reconciliation.
Come tonight to hear Inderjit Bhogal of the Corrymeela Community
talk about world peace and reconciliation.
Meanwhile I leave you with this thought.
If we want to preach peace, reconciliation and harmony across the world,
we need first to live it in our homes and in our Church.
There is a Mothers’ Day Challenge -
If we can rise to that, we will gladden the heart of our God,
as, with infinite love, he looks down
like an ever caring mother,
on every one of his earthly children.