Tag Archives: family

Jesus’s true family

On Sunday, May 11, we in Canada will join nearly 80 other countries in celebrating Mother’s Day.  At The First Mennonite Church, we will reflect not just about mothers, but about families—our immediate family, extended family, church family—and how God’s grace comes to us through families

Jesus did not talk a lot about the human biological family.  But once he did make a very important statement about who his true kin are.

In the gospel of Mark (3:20-35), Jesus’s many opponents include his immediate family.  Jesus has become wildly popular among the crowds for his proclamation of the arrival of God’s Kingdom.  But his mother, siblings and relatives think he has gone too far.  Some people have begun to say, “He is out of his mind.”  And now the scribes are hurling the  serious charge that “he is possessed by a demon.”  So, when he returns home, Jesus’s family “went out to restrain him.” They want him to stop his teaching and healing which has generated such fierce controversy.  Probably they want to protect him from being expelled from the faith community—and perhaps also to protect their family reputation.

But Jesus rejects their protection, and distances himself from his human family.  When someone in the crowd tells him, “Your mother and sisters and brothers are asking for you,” Jesus replies, “Who are my sisters and brothers?  You who do God’s will are my mother and sisters and brothers.”

That was a shocking and radical thing to say.  In Jesus’s Palestinian culture, a person lived and breathed their extended family.  The family and clan network formed one’s identity, determined one’s vocation, and prescribed the kinds of people one would socialize with.  Outside of the natural human family, one was lost.

But Jesus breaks with the traditional family pattern.  To his immediate family and relatives, he is really saying, “If you cannot accept my vocation of bearing witness to God’s Kingdom, I cannot accept you as my ‘family.’”  And then Jesus points toward a new family, one based not on blood and kinship ties but on obedience to God alone.

This new “spiritual” family may or may not overlap with our human families.  But Jesus is clear:  trusting in and following him in life means being re-socialized into a new family, one consisting of sisters and brothers who also have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  It is now the discipleship family that has become our primary family, the place where we find our true home.




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Being and doing in church

Many of us hold to an active view of church membership.  You choose to be a member by being baptized when you reach an age where you can understand salvation.  You join the church and participate in the life of the church, attending worship, sitting on committees, helping to build community, donating to the offering, etc.  etc.  There is no end of things you can do in church.  And you think about all this; part of being a Christian is trying to make sense of God and our place in the world.

But what about being in church as opposed to doing in church?  Maybe church membership is not so much about what you accomplish or contribute or believe, but more about who you are.  You are a beloved child of God.  You are in God’s family.  When you are in a family, there isn’t anything you can do to be more of a family member.  It’s just something you are.

This week we are going to be talking about people with abilities and disabilities (that’s all of us), and how that figures into church membership.  Come prepared to not just think differently, but be differently.

 This weeks’ prayer:  Thank you God for diversity in the church among the people of God; we are not all the same, you made us that way.  We are your children. 

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On the line

Last night I watched on TV as Nik Wallenda walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope.  It was a crazy stunt, I couldn’t believe it as he put one foot over the other, with the gorge roaring just below him.  So scary!

The television coverage was very annoying, for the most part, detracting rather than adding to the intensity of the moment.   What I did find striking was the fact that Nik had an earpiece and could talk to the control room. And in the control room was his father Terry, who was in constant contact with Nik as his coach.  Terry was a tightrope walker himself for over 30 years.  He watched Nik on the cameras, and gave him advice about his rhythm and kept checking in on him and telling him that he was doing great.

As Nik edged out on the wire, balancing high above the lip of the falls below him, it seemed impossibly scary.  Such a lonely walk.  But Nik believed he could do it, and he had his dad’s voice in his ear the whole way.

What surprised me too, was that Nik was praying almost the whole way across.  Why that surprised me, I’m not sure, because if there is any dangerous place in the world where  you would feel the need to pray, surely it would be balancing over the falls on a wire!  But faith was certainly a part of Nik and his family’s life.  His earthly father and his heavenly father, with him every lonely step of the way.

It’s a powerful image for us to take into worship tomorrow.  We will be concentrating on being thankful for parents and those who have raised us.  I hope you can join us!

This week’s prayer:  Loving God; you love us more deeply and completely than any earthly parent;  help us to become aware of  your tender care for us, your voice of love with us every step of the way.  Amen.

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Christmas, in real life!

There’s even a phrase for it: “Christmas preparations”.  You don’t hear about “Pentecost preparations” or “Easter preparations”.  Everyone is busy at this time preparing for Christmas.  Whether it’s decorating the house or apartment, buying gifts, baking cookies, cleaning, buying groceries, looking at the calendar and scheduling, Christmas preparations are in full swing around about now.

And, as per usual, things will go wonky.  The toddler will pull the carefully decorated gingerbread house off the table.  The teenagers will not show up at the family gathering.  Someone will be unpleasant and cranky just when everyone is supposed to be happy.  And when everyone is sitting at the table, you will pull the turkey out of the oven and it will be cold in the middle.  Despite our best preparations, real life happens.  There are no picture perfect Christmas moments except in fond memories and Christmas movies.

That’s the way it was that first Christmas too.  Instead of having her baby at home, helped by her mother, there is Mary giving birth far from family and resources.  They had planned to return to Nazareth with the new baby, but ended up in Egypt.  And the world had not finished its Christmas preparations when Jesus was born, you can see from what happened that we weren’t ready to receive a person like Jesus.

Maybe when things go wrong this year, we can look at each other and say, “Just like the first Christmas!”  God showing up in real life, when things are going wonky, as they almost always do.

Peace to you at Christmas, in real life!

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Where did you get that nose?

Most people have some family pictures. The ones with the folks lined up looking either serious or happy, depending on whether it was taken at a funeral or a picnic. As a kid I remember staring at a beautiful young woman in an old picture…I was told it was my grandmother. I would stare at the picture and then turn and look at my grandmother sitting at the table. Could this really be the same person?

I look at the same picture now, and I’m closer in age to my grandmother than to the young girl who looked at the picture all those years ago. What I look for now is family resemblances. Whose nose is that? I’ve seen it again in my sister and her son. I look in the mirror, and wonder, do I have my great grandfather’s eyes?

We inherit lots of things from our families. Last week in my sermon I talked about how we inherit bad habits, sinful traits and dysfunction, using the story of Joseph as an example. This week we continue the theme, but on a more positive note. Joseph inherited something excellent from his family, but it was something he had to wrestle with. God was working in his family, and God was working in Joseph’s life.

This week, I invite you to come to church carrying two things. Carry a picture of yourself and your ancestors/descendents…your parents/grandparents or children/grandchildren, and put it in our historical cabinet. Just make sure you are in the picture! We’re making a display of family pictures. It will be interesting to look at, and maybe it will remind us of the way God works in families. I also want you to carry something in your mind…what is the greatest quality you have inherited from your parents or grandparents? Can you put your finger on it? What would it be?

As we go about our week, remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in Haiti whose lives have been turned inside out by the earthquake. You can make a donation for relief work in Haiti through MCC, by designating your church offering to MCC-Haiti Earthquake.

God of hope, give courage and endurance to survivors of Haiti’s earthquake, and strength and resourcefulness to rescuers and aid workers. Open the hearts of the world to reach out in support for our brothers and sisters in Haiti.

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The specialist in family drama

We all know Joseph, the guy with the coat and the big dreams. And we know about his brothers, the ones who hated their kid brother enough to throw him into a pit and then sell him as a slave to Egypt. They topped their violent act with lies and bloody fabric-ations.

It seems easy to see what went wrong in that story from Genesis 37. But as with so many stories in scripture, and in our lives, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

I invite you to come to church this Sunday with a story of your own in mind. Bring a story of a broken relationship; it doesn’t matter if that relationship has been healed or not. I can think of a number of broken relationships I’ve had, with friends or family members or ex-family members.

Part of being a Christian involves looking for God in the stories of our lives. Where is God working? Where are we turning away from God? God gives us eyes to see the grace in even the most painful of stories. Sometimes it takes a year or a decade or a lifetime to see clearly. Graceful stories are rarely simple stories, with one hero and one victim, one cause and one effect, one right and one wrong.

God can take the most messy family drama, with a cast of twelve brothers and one sister and one father and four mothers and a pharaoh, spread it over two countries and twenty years, throw in some hatred, deceit and vengeance…God can take even this story and find an ending which has some grace in it.

Maybe this Sunday we’ll find some of that in our own stories.

God, you’re a specialist in family dramas, in broken relationships of all kinds. Help us this week to be open to hearing old stories told in new ways.

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Chaos theory, Christmas and your family

Are you going to a family gathering this year? If you are, you can probably predict what is going to happen. After all, you’ve known some of those people your whole life. When we don’t like what happens, we can groan on our way to a reunion, “It’s the same people doing the same things….the same topics, the same type of jokes, the same relationships.”

And then something unpredicted happens. Your Uncle Jake, who is always argumentative and sarcastic, begins his annual tirade with, “The snow this morning was so beautiful, it actually brought tears to my eyes.” What happens next? Who knows! Or your sister Denise, who is habitually negative and critical of everyone’s children, shocks a frazzled mother by offering to read a cranky child a book, and ends up spending an hour playing one-on-one. What happens next? Who knows!

We can’t say exactly what made Uncle Jake or Denise veer off their regular trajectory. Maybe Uncle Jake’s neighbour had a heart attack last week, and Jake went to visit him in the hospital, and something the neighbour said about the snow stuck in Jake’s mind. This morning he looked out the window, and thought of his neighbour, and suddenly he saw the snow in a new way. Maybe Denise had a dream in the night about her grandmother and how she always made Denise feel loved. She had the vivid dream because she ate dill pickle chips before she went to bed. In any event, Denise may not even remember the dream in the morning but the child’s neediness hits her differently that day, and instead of a critical remark, she kneels down and looks into a little someone’s eyes.

The smallest tiniest things can change our patterns of behaviour. Uncle Jake and Denise, by doing something different may or may not change something in that family gathering…it’s hard to say what will happen. With so many people in one room, how will one small change affect the group? It seems impossible to predict, it’s chaotic. Who knows what will happen?

God has a theory. God can see how the smallest acts of love and kindness, as gentle as the breeze from a butterfly’s wings, can change the course of history in beautiful and maybe even predictable ways. One seven pound baby kicking away in his mother’s womb, waiting to be born. There are thousands, millions of babies born…but this one…this one….

God, open my eyes to see your love breaking out through the tiniest of cracks, in my family, in me. When I am with my family this Christmas, let me be the change I wish to see. You can take it from there.

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