“We Belong to God’s Family”
It often happens when I am preparing to conduct a funeral. I am thinking about what I should say in order to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the life of one individual follower of Jesus. I am reflecting on what I know about that person’s life, and the stories I have heard from the family, and the stories that will be shared as part of the eulogy or tribute.
I sometimes begin to wonder about what stories might be told and shared at the end of my life. And if there was only one story, what would it be? And what would it reveal about the meaning and purpose of my life?
We are blessed to be able to share more than one story to remember and celebrate the complexity of our lives in this world, and we are blessed to have many, many stories passed on to us about the life of Jesus – the One whose way we seek to follow with our lives.
But we only have one story about Jesus as a child. One story, carefully chosen… that reveals a great deal about who he was and the person he was becoming as he moved into adulthood. One story that can teach us a great deal about the way of Christ that we are called to follow.
Both at funerals and at Christmas, we hear very often that “family” is the most important thing. Our families are very often precious to us, as the small communities in which we live and love and journey through life. As Christians, we are called to love unconditionally, and we often learn to do that in our families. We strive to be faithful spouses, good parents, and loving aunts, uncles, or grandparents.
Although the Bible does contain some instructions for Christian families, especially in some of the letters of the New Testament, it was not a big theme for Jesus. Perhaps you remember a Gospel passage where Jesus’ family shows up outside a house where he is preaching and teaching the crowds. People tell him that his mother and his brothers and sisters are looking for him (a bit of an echo of today’s story about Jesus as a twelve year old).
And Jesus replies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
It’s not that Jesus has rejected his family. We know that he remained close to his mother, Mary, who was still there when Jesus was dying on the cross. And there are indications that at least one of his brothers became a leader in the movement of his followers after his death.
But even when he was twelve years old, there were already hints that family was not going to be AS important for Jesus. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that for Jesus, family was going to be bigger and wider, and defined differently than simply by genetic or marital relationships.
Mary and Joseph were worried and anxious when they didn’t find their son Jesus among the group of relatives and friends that were travelling home together from the Passover Festival in Jerusalem. But their concern was baffling to him. “Why were you searching for me?” he asked, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus was still very young, but he was already becoming very wise. He was already sitting with the religious teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. He was already amazing people with his understanding and his own answers to the great questions of life.
And more than that, Jesus already knew that he belonged to more than just an individual family. He belonged to the whole human family, to the community of the People of God. And although Joseph and Mary had raised him, and he would be respectful and obedient and loving to them, he knew that his true parent was really God.
Christians sometimes wonder and debate about when Jesus knew and understood that he was to be the Messiah and Saviour for his people and for the whole world. Did he know it right from the start? Did it all become clear at his baptism when he heard God’s voice calling him the beloved Son? Or did he figure it out as he went along teaching and preaching about God’s coming Kingdom?
This morning’s Gospel passage makes me think that Jesus knew, at a young age, the most important thing about himself. He knew that – first and foremost – he belonged to God – that God was his Father. The rest of his mission and purpose, I think, became clearer as he continued through his life.
As the final verse of today’s reading said, in the years following this incident, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.” And my guess is that he did that by spending time with God, in God’s house, by pondering the great questions of life, by asking questions, and looking for wisdom and understanding.
The Christian community can be a lot of things. It can be a place to discover friendship, a place to find purpose in serving others, a place to be inspired and encouraged, a place to rest and find comfort when life is difficult. I hope that it is a place where every person can know that they belong… because we are all children of the One God who is our loving parent.
But it should also be a place where we can think and discuss, question and ponder the meaning of life in general, and the meaning and purpose of OUR lives in particular. For what purposes has God made us? What gifts has God given us to use for God’s good purposes? When our families or friends one day tell the stories of our lives, what will those stories be? What unique difference will our lives have made?
Most of us are long past twelve years old when Jesus was beginning to discover what God had in mind for him. And perhaps many of us can already articulate our purpose and live day-by-day with that purpose in mind. But it’s never too late. And this community is to be a place where we can learn, and discuss, and grow in wisdom and faith, and help one another to discover our purpose and what God made us to do and be.
We have a big responsibility to do that for the young people in our church family… to make sure they know that they are loved and that they belong, and then to create an environment in which they can talk and discuss, question and explore as they discover their calling to follow Jesus with their lives. Not just in a general sense, but specifically, what is God’s purpose for their lives?
It is too easy for us to stop at talking about the weather, or what we had for Christmas dinner, or what we thought of the latest Star Wars movie. Not that those are bad things to talk about, but we have to go deeper.
As I mentioned, the New Testament does include some instructions for families and how they should live together in love. But it includes way more advice for church families – for Christian communities that are called to travel together through life, caring for one another, and helping each other to discern and live according to the will of God.
Today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians is a great example. Interestingly, although it was directed at a church family it is often applied to nuclear families as well. It is a favourite passage to be read at Christian weddings, encouraging wives and husbands to live together in loving kindness, forgiving each other when they have disagreements, and nurturing humility, gentleness, and patience in their relationships.
But it is, first of all, a piece of advice for the Christian community. We are to be for one another, not only a community of love and care, but a community of discernment and direction. We are to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in [our] hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
Our Christian community is blessed with a great diversity of age, experience, background, and gifts. The stories that will be told of our lives will be just as rich and varied as the diversity we see around us today.
My prayer is that, like Jesus, we may know our place in the wider community of God’s family, and that we may discover our vocation as we discern God’s will and purpose together. And whatever we do, in word or deed, may we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Amen.