Saturday, February 26, 2022

How big is my family 3)

It will be no surprise that Mark 3:31-35 was the text I chose.  It's easy to visualize the story.  This house is packed out. Jesus is teaching, as only he could, with those closest (probably disciples) seated like him.  Most people are standing, packed together, spilling out through the doorway into a dense crowd outside.  All leaning forward intently. They don't want to miss a word.  I am sure Jesus had a voice that could carry far to everyone.

A small group arrives outside.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, with his brothers. Earlier in the chapter we are told they have set out to do an intervention.  Maybe they thought he neared burn-out, or they could help prevent trouble with the authorities.  Elsewhere (Mark 6) we learn of his brothers: James, Joseph, Judas, Simon as well as some sisters.  The crowd is too dense so they tell someone to pass the message on Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.  It's carried through the crowd until it reaches Jesus.

What happens next is extraordinary.  Interrupted, he questions: Who are my mother and my brothers?  How long does uncomfortable silence hang in that room?  Then, looking at those seated in a circle around him (what an intense look that would have been) he says: Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.'

A few years ago I told this story and when the service was over, the first person out the door looked furious. 'I don't like what he said.  It was really cruel, a terribly unkind put-down of his mother. How could he?  While I replied that he was teaching us something important about family she turned on her heels and said loudly: ' Well, I wish he hadn't'. 

She supposed that Jesus was diminishing his own family. Putting them down. But the truth is bewilderingly inclusive. He's not excluding his Nazareth family.  Read on as you see his love for Mary and her part in the story, with James who probably wrote the NT letter and Jude who also has a NT letter....who belong with him in an entirely new family. Where God comes first, bonding them in his love, forgiveness and new purpose together.  New creation said Paul. Chosen people, royal priesthood, royal nation, said Peter.  Born again into belonging together as brothers and sisters.  

When you trust Jesus and place God first you belong to two families!

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

How big is my family 2)

After all the congregational interaction I mentioned a visit to a primary school where a board was covered with many little figures clustered according to family size underneath the question HOW BIG IS MY FAMILY?   The children counted their immediate family groups at home - an obvious place to start.  But easily this number grows as grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. are added in.  And if you plot a family tree you have a bigger dimension still.

I made a couple of general points. 

1.  Families can be great to belong to.  After all we belong naturally, sharing the last name with relationships and memories grown through belonging together. Old photographs show past Christmases under the tree, holidays with ice cream on our faces and milestone birthdays. With smiles all round.  At its best, families mean that we can relax and be real, for no one knows us better and is so closely related. We are blood relations.

2. Families can be complicated to belong to.  Because we didn't choose the others in our family. Your parents, brothers, sisters are givens - whether you like it or not.  And relationships can be difficult and fragile. A woman said to me: 'I have a sister but I fell out with her years ago. We don't speak.'  Parents can divorce and siblings fall out with each other.  Badly. Sometimes family life can be wonderful.  But at other times it can be horrendous.

We needed to hold these two things in mind as we turned to Scripture.

Monday, February 21, 2022

How big is my family? (1)

Yesterday, I was preaching at Oundle Baptist Church on the theme Belonging Together.  Meeting in a school hall, the congregation was seated around tables (cafe style) for an all-age service. But, alas, there was no heating and no food or drinks!  We sat in buttoned up coats, hats, scarves.  Some had brought blankets and even hot water bottles.  Not quite God's frozen people...but nearly.

My friend had planned the service imaginatively with songs and exercises.  He talked about family trees and showed us his work with his grandson tracing his own. (Apparently, he's researched back to the seventeenth century but we were spared too much detail).  Unusually, he then asked everyone to write down on large pieces of paper all the churches and Christian organizations we had ever belonged to.  Sitting opposite us was a young American mother whose husband is serving in the forces over here.  We discovered that she came from the very same small (and I mean really small!) town of Hillsborough in Kansas as our daughter-in-law, Lori.  Of all the places in the USA!  We are cross-referencing her family details with Lori. Her list obviously included many US churches, as did ours.  We were asked to reflect on the church families we had belonged to  and give thanks for their influences.  Hearing lists of the many different churches was stunning.  And, as our leader put it, all these past influences had now been blended in the DNA of Oundle Baptist Church. 

Yet another exercise involved us reading out to each other three stories from parts of the national Baptist family. The work of the Baptist Union was vividly described by a series of slides and then each table had a different set of three prayer topics: a Baptist college, a Baptist association of churches, and one particular local church.  For me, that was a first.  To focus on belonging together (which is the Baptist logo) with a focus on Baptists took some chutzpah.  Rarely, do we focus on the Baptist family - partly because often, many in our congregations come from other denominations and frankly it is hard enough praying for the local family needs.  So, it was a really different engaging time!   And, I'll mention something else too....... 

Friday, February 11, 2022

O.C S 9) The touch that reveals Mark 1:41 Jesus.... stretched out his hand and touched him

Covid has changed much behaviour.  Especially our not touching things.  But this meditation from Morrison emphasizes 'in the touch of Jesus, instinctive and spontaneous, what a deal of his glory we discover.

his touch revealed his brotherhood - as in this story of the leper who hoped for a cure but never dreamed he was going to find a friend. When Jesus touched him - him the outcast...loathed and shunned - it was something he never would forget.  He would tell his wife,.. gather his friends and say "He touched me'.  In all his loneliness that he was face to face with One who understood.

- his touch revealed His large authority - it was quietly commanding, healing. As in the story of the widow of Nain when he touched the bier immediately the whole procession halted.  Just his touch.

- his touch revealed His restfulness"Come unto me and I will give you rest'   The infinite restfulness of Jesus flowed out through the very act of touching.

- his touch revealed his uplifting power - as with Jairus daughter. They called it death, but Jesus called it sleep.  Then he touched her - took her by the hand- and the gospel tells us that the maid aroseHis touch had power.  He touched water became wine, and the wine became the symbol of his blood. He touched language. He touched Simon, and Simon became Peter. What the devil touches he degrades. Everything that Jesus touched is lifted up to higher, nobler levels.

I am reminded of the old evening hymn I used to sing:

At even when the sun was set,

The sick O Lord, around Thee lay,

O in what divers pain they met,

O with what joy they went away!

Thy touch has still its ancient power,

No word from Thee can fruitless fall:

Here in this solemn evening hour,

And in Thy mercy heal us all




Friday, February 4, 2022

O-C S 8) The gracious ministry of helpfulness Isa 41:6

Morrison loved this verse: 'Each helps the other and says to his brother, "Be strong!" (Isa 41:6).  He admires a tombstone with this epitaph: 'George Philip Tyson, Died October 7th 1871. He was a helpful man'. Just that  

1. This is a universal ministry...each helps the other.  This sweet ministry of helpfulness is one that is possible for everyone links with everyone. Everyone.  A minister said to a little girl: You will be a great help to your mother some day, and she said 'I'm a great help now!'

2. It calls for quiet discipline. It does not come by nature. You have to be thoughtful to be kind.  If you are always saying 'I can't be bothered', you will never be a helpful person. People who never look out for what is good, like blow-flies, always settle on some little festering spot...My dear friend, don't you be like that. Life's a hard business for the best of us, those who keep a smile upon their faces. It is a poor ambition to belong to the society of critics. 

3. It is a very undistinguished lowly ministryGreat services reveal your possibility, small services reveal your consecration, and it is consecration that the Lord wants.  He quotes Wordsworth (a sure sign of an older preacher!) 'The best part of a good man's life, His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love'.

4, It is always an unconscious ministry.  Every battle that you bravely fight, every temptation that you meet, every burden that you quietly carry, every sorrow you come smiling through is helping others when you never dream of it. 'Character' said Mr. Moody,' is what you are in the dark'.  I do not know anything in life that has got such powerful reactions on yourself.  If you want to be happy....the one great secret is to be a helpful man.