God puts the lonely in family
This week we’re starting a new series, following the lectionary readings through some of the early stories in the Gospel of Mark. In case you don’t know, the lectionary that we, and other Churches of many, many denominations across the world, follow, does a three year cycle, each year focussing on one of the first three gospels (with John’s gospel being spread out across the years, especially around the major festivals).
This year, then, is the year of Mark. Mark’s gospel, it is now pretty universally accepted, was the first of the four to be written, probably between 25 and 35 years after the death of Jesus – so essentially around the time that the first hand witnesses of the events of Jesus’ life were getting old, the author felt the need to record the stories in order to preserve them for the generations who had never met Jesus, had never had the opportunity to experience his teaching and ministry in person, but had to rely on the stories told by those who were there.
So Mark (actually, we don’t know who the author was, I’ll just use ‘Mark’ because “the author of the gospel” gets a bit wordy) was the first to write the story, and seems to either have been a witness to the events himself, or at very least to have spoken at length to those who were there. It shows through the Gospel, often in the odd little details – in the story of the calming of the storm, for instance, Mark tells us not just the Jesus was asleep when the storm rose, but that he was asleep “on a pillow”.
I mention this sense of nearness to the events that we find in Mark’s gospel because it means that Mark is particularly well suited to the series we are starting today. For while Matthew, Luke and John each wrote with a clear theological perspective, Mark’s gospel is in a way rawer, more willing to include oddities or inconsistencies, more willing, perhaps, to paint a picture of Jesus the man rather than of Jesus the meaning.
And that’s where we want to go, as we look for “Good News Worth Sharing”.
The premise of this series, then, is the radical idea that we have good news to share. In particular the idea that if Jesus is Good News for us, in our lives, in our experiences, then he himself is news worth sharing. That is to say, the good news we have is not just the promise of love, grace, forgiveness, but ultimately the good news worth sharing is Jesus himself.
Some years ago I was chatting at a Church with another member I didn’t know – I forget the exact context, but we was talking about things we did outside of Church, and it turned out that he was rally active in Amnesty International. But what struck me was that he mentioned that he was always encouraging people to get involved in Amnesty, and then, in passing, added, “In fact, I’m much more evangelistic for Amnesty International than I am for Jesus”.
That stuck with me, because I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s true for almost every one of us. Not necessarily Amnesty International, but that there are things in our lives that we are really enthusiastic to tell other people about, that we are evangelistic about. It might be an author or a band we’re really into, or a choir we sing with, or volunteering for Bush regeneration, or promoting energy efficiency, or indigenous reconciliation – all good things, things which are often aligned with the values of the Reign of God – in creativity, in community, in care for creation, or for justice – but I guess we have to wonder what it means that we are more willing to enthusiastically promote all these other things than we are to tell people about our faith.
And part of the reason, I’m certain, is that we often aren’t very clear in our own minds just what it is that is ‘good’ about the good news, what it is that is worth sharing. We know it is good – but it feels like it’s the vibe of the thing, not anything specific we can name.
This really struck me a couple of days ago when in a conversation with another minister about this subject, she asked me what it was about Jesus that I found to be good news worth sharing. And I was shocked at how long it took me to put my answer into words.
For the record, my answer was that in the life of Jesus I see that the world can be different; that in the face of the relentless news of climate change, racism, pandemic, violence and the rest, there is an alternative; and that in the words and life and death and resurrection we hear that this is not just a possibility but a promise.
The aim of this series of services is to remind ourselves of some of the particular characteristics of the life of Jesus, to remind ourselves of the things in his life and ministry which are not just a vibe but specific events or teachings; to relearn just what it is about Jesus that we first fell in love with and want to share.
Because in the end, the good news worth sharing is, simply, Jesus. Not what we believe, but who we follow.
And our gospel reading today ends with one of those vignettes that points to something in the life of Jesus that might resonate as good news worth sharing. For it is one of the earliest indications of the inclusiveness that was a hallmark of Jesus, and of the welcoming, inviting nature of the family of God.
For Jesus looks at those around him and says “here are my mother and brothers and sisters” and “whoever does the will of my father is my brother or sister”.
In this simply phrase, Jesus declares that all who do the will of God are his family. Interestingly, he doesn’t say “all who follow me”; we might wonder whether this saying leaves open the door for us to name as sisters and brothers in Christ those of other faiths or no faith who nonetheless do the work of God.
But most certainly he declares that we who seek to live according to God’s will and God’s way are children of God, sisters of brothers of Jesus, and of one another.
And that promise is amazing even for those of us who are fortunate enough to have loving and supportive families already. But maybe we lucky ones might pause for a moment and imagine how those words might sound for the single parent fleeing domestic violence; or the child shunted from foster home to foster home; or the young adult disowned by their family because of their sexuality; or the older person, whose family live far away and whose grieves the death of their spouse; or the divorced or never married middle aged, who never hope to find family again.
In Psalm 68, verse 6, we read “God places the lonely in families”
The Psalmist knows that for so many people, their deepest unmet need is for the supportive, unconditionally loving relationship of family, and declares that this is a need that it is the character of God to meet.
But Jesus takes it a step further, and declares that not only does God place the lonely into family, God places them into his, Jesus’, family.
I’m guessing that many of us have had the experience of moving to, or visiting, a distant city, and connecting with a Church there, and immediately finding a community of people who welcome you with care and interest. Because God has placed us into the great family.
So here, perhaps, is one reason that might lie behind our sense that Jesus is good news, behind the vibe of the thing. For we have all known what it is to be lonely; and the life of Jesus and the reign of God give substance to the Psalmist’s promise.
God places us (lonely or not) into Jesus’ family.
Good news worth sharing. Amen.