Sermons

Sun, May 03, 2020

What our world needs

Series:Sermons
Duration:13 mins 17 secs

It’s a shame that you can’t choose your family!

Have you ever thought that?

 

At some time or other, most of us probably have.

I certainly have…

and more than occasionally, too.

For most of my early years, my parents argued incessantly––

with scarcely any display of affection between them.

Then, when I was thirteen, my mother left suddenly while the rest of us were away camping…

taking everything in the house with her.

The divorce proceedings that followed were extremely bitter and belligerent.

As we struggled through that, money became tight…

and second-hand clothes became the norm.

Dad was sad and very, very angry.

He was also desperately alone––

not having any other relatives in Australia… 

and with none of our former “family” friends at all sympathetic or supportive.

It was like they didn’t want to know us anymore.

Any semblance of a social life just vanished.

Saturday nights were reduced to a drive to a deli for a newspaper…

then a wander down the deserted street…

stopping at the window of a closed hardware store…

so that Dad could admire all of the things that he couldn’t afford…

before returning home.

And there was many a time when Dad would go somewhere––

the bank…

the post-office…

or a shop––

and just explode.

A minor complaint became a major issue.

It was so embarrassing––

all I wanted to do was to find somewhere to hide.

I envied all of my classmates at school…

and I wished that I had the sort of family life that they seemed to have:

loving relatives…

pleasant family outings…

birthday parties and dinners with family friends…

a home filled with smiles and laughter…

instead of yelling and crying.

I used to try to imagine what it would be like if I had a “normal” family…

if I could choose my family.

 

In the world of the New Testament, family was everything––

much more than it is for us… 

today…

in our culture.

Back then, family defined you as a person.

Without family, you had no identity and no meaning.

It was only through your family that you related to the wider community…

and that you accessed resources.

And, in a world without social security, family was your safety net.

Without it, you would be marginalised;

you would end up homeless…

starving…

sick…

and, eventually, dead.

In the world of the New Testament, people were utterly dependant on their families.

Socio-culturally…

and psychologically…

they had a strong sense of shared destiny…

and a strong sense of mutual obligation.

Within their extended family, no one claimed an exclusive right to their property:

what was mine was yours and what was yours was mine––

no ifs or buts.

As relatives, we would help each other out, without question.

I would simply ask for something and you would give it––

and vice versa––

because we were family.

If I were in trouble, you would help me out…

whether I asked for it or not––

because we were family.

Because that’s what it meant to be family.

 

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

In our reading from Acts, the author portrays the earliest Christians as a family.

That was crucial.

Because, for many of them, deciding to follow Christ meant leaving their families––

or being ostracised by them.

The early church, in a sense, became a substitute family;

but to treat non-relatives like family was extraordinary.

Ancient philosophers dreamed of a world where friends treated each other as brothers––

where they shared all things in common––

but it never actually happened.

The author claims that, among the earliest Christians, it did.

Perhaps, even more significantly, the author claims that they regularly ate together.

That was almost unheard of.

In antiquity, you didn’t normally eat with just anybody.

Meals reinforced social boundaries.

Class and social distinctions were strictly maintained.

Peasants ate with peasants. 

The well-to-do ate with each other.

In acting like a family, the earliest Christians ignored all of that.

By eating together, they ignored social boundaries––

they ignored race, occupation, upbringing, and social status and class.

They treated like family, people with whom they wouldn’t normally socialise:

pillars of society and slaves…

businessmen and beggars––

there were no distinctions.

All were welcome.

All were cared for.

All belonged.

 

Now, in reality, we don’t know that that actually happened, as the author claims; 

or, if it did, how long it lasted.

But he’s trying to make a significant point. 

He’s holding before his readers a vision––

a vision of who, in Christ, they’re meant to be…

and what they might become:

a true community of welcome and care…

a family.

That, he claims, is what church ought to be.

And, at this point in our world, that’s a critical vision.

Over recent decades we have become an increasingly individualistic… 

fragmented…

and polarised society.

Too many of us have led lonely and isolated lives––

working longer and longer hours…

devoting little time or energy to our social connections and our relationships. 

Changes in work patterns and availability––

combined with increased mobility––

have meant that we have travelled long distances…

and relocated frequently…

leaving behind our social networks and our support structures.

Our families have become dotted around the country––

or around the globe––

with many children growing up barely knowing their grandparents…

and with more and more elderly people isolated and alone.

We have been so busy doing that we have had little time for being.

All of which was being labelled a mental health crisis––

long before social distancing was implemented…

and our world changed.

 

Maybe, as we emerge from all of this…

we’ll try to do things differently––

and we’ll try to do things better––

because the reality that life is fragile and fleeting has been brought home to us.

Maybe, we’ll not take life and the people around us for granted so much;

we’ll work harder at intimacy;

we’ll make more of an effort to surround ourselves with people who will support us––

people with whom we can share our hopes, dreams, and disappointments…

people with whom we can laugh and cry, learn and grow, relax and be honest with…

people who will love us without distinction…

prejudice…

judgment…

or pretence.

 

And yet…

more than that…

according to the author of Acts, that’s who we’re called to be, as church––

the family of God.

But, too often, we settle for less than that.

Too often, church isn’t a place where we can be open or honest…

because we’re too busy pretending to be “nice”…

or simply playing games;

too often we’re only concerned with property…

numbers…

and survival.

But maybe…

just maybe…

if we dropped all of our pretences…

stopped playing games…

stopped trying to be “nice”… 

and took the risk of being open, honest, vulnerable, and compassionate;

if we dared to share who we really are… 

and what we have…

then, maybe, we would tangibly discover the risen Christ among us––

loving… 

healing…

forgiving…

offering new life.

And then, maybe… 

as Church…

we would really have something to offer our re-emerging society.

 

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