THIS MESSAGE WAS BROUGHT BY RUSS TO newLife ON MOTHER’S DAY 2014.
Mark 3:31-35 NIV
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Church. It’s a funny old thing. It’s been around for two thousand years. It started with a Galilean Builder asking a few northern fishermen to follow him. Three years later after leading them around the length and breadth of the country, he was asking them and a few others to be willing to die for him. If that’s all we knew, then already we can tell that church is both a journey and a challenge. For many of us, it’s also something else. Something far more important.
Today is Mother’s day. Some will celebrate this weekend with their mothers, biological or adoptive. Others will be welcomed into homes of friends. Still others will sadly spend it alone with their own memories of mothers who loved them, or in far too many instances, mothers who weren’t able to express love in the way they should have.
But for now we find ourselves together in this place. Look at us. People from different backgrounds, with different aspirations, different opinions, different qualities of living, different stories to tell. Thrust together not because we would naturally find each other, but because, despite all our differences, we have one thing in common; we are fascinated by Jesus. Some are trying to fathom Him out; the rest are following Him, but always falteringly. The bible leads me to believe that we should all call God, “Father”; the source of all life. It also clearly tells those of us who follow Jesus that we have been adopted by him. Adopted! Sons and daughters! Family!
So this is church then. A journey. A challenge. A family. Jesus looks at you, whispers your name and then with a sweeping gesture of his hand and a glint in his eye he says “behold … your family”.
You and me are bound together as family by the transforming power of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. His birth, his blood and his breath. He breathes on us even today.
My new sister TD here is being baptised soon. On the same day her daughter will be dedicated. I’m proud of you. Welcome to this big family. We’ll try not to let you down, but like any family we don’t have an unblemished track record. Bare with us. Stick with it. We have our faults. It’s family.
My brother KH over here turned 93 this week. He nearly lost his dentures excitedly telling us his story recently. What a pleasure it is to have such an experienced brother; worldy wise yet so young in the faith. We’re glad you’re part of the family K.
Over here are A & R. So valuable in so many areas of newLife’s ministry. They’ll be moving to the big city in Summer. We’ll miss them. They’re family; probably always will be. But the kids have grown up and as every parent knows – you’ve got to let them go. But we’re glad you’re in the family.
Over here is JB. He seems to have always been around. Big voice, kind heart, great storyteller, loves Jesus so much he can hardly talk about him without weeping. In the days when society was less cynical and far less fearful, unchurched parents would gladly send their kids to Sunday School in their droves. When I was a young boy, J led one of our 4 sunday schools across the town. Here he is today; still worshipping, still learning. Faithfulness to the cause is underrated. J, I’m glad you’ve stayed part of the family.
Speaking of Sunday School. I remember weeping when Fred B died. Uncle Fred. He features in my first memory of newLife. I remember the terror of being the new boy in Sunday School. Six years old. 1970. Trembling. Comforted only by the presence of Fred the kindly old man who made Sunday afternoons so enjoyable and set in place the church journey that allows me to be here today.
Growing up, I remember the excitement of being picked up for church by Uncle J and Auntie B in their Sunbeam Rapier. It had wings. At least thats what I was told they were. Either way I was the envy of other kids in the street as I whistled past them in the coolmobile. I remember the rather quaint post-service singalongs led by various arm-waving or accordian playing men with forgettable voices but loads of charisma. I remember along with other boys of my age being bewitched by the beauty of Doreen D; she was 20 years older than us; but still. Then there was the fear of upsetting Uncle Johnny B, who once reprimanded me so strongly for storing my trumpet case under the communion table that I thought I was going to hell there and then. Who else do I remember? Ted B, Uncle Ted, who I thought looked like an owl. The fact that his surname sounded rather like “barnyard” also seemed to suit an owl. The harmless yet magnificent Frank H who would stand holding his damaged hand strangely & nervously and say “Lovely Lord” over and over again. I can imagine the Lord looking back in return and saying, “lovely Frank”.
Then there were the 5 W’s. There were Walter and Wally who I would get mixed up. They weren’t related but I pretended they were. Another Walter who wasn’t as good on the violin as he thought he was, but noone dare tell him. He made up for it with his zealousness for serving God and church. There was Wilf who could pray forever in a voice that sounded like he was speaking from underneath a blanket; and Wilson who sang so loudly it was scary; but only ever from one side of his mouth. A fascinating sight.
What a bunch of characters. What a family. There were hundreds more.
I wonder how the young children of today will remember you in a few decades? With laughter and joy? Perhaps, but not always, because any family also has its fair share of sorrow and shame.
Sorrow? Some moments rocked this church to the core. The popular young man in his prime who went swimming with friends in the sea, only on one occasion when he surfaced he was unable to move his limbs. Why God? My best friend, another young man in his prime whose life was taken by some devillish microscopic bacteria in one weekend. Hanging out with friends on Friday; gone by Sunday. Why God? The young couple who had to try and make sense of their little girl, the bravest of young girls, being taken by cancer. Oh God why? The beautiful and talented teenager who didn’t wear her bike helmet on one occasion, one occasion .. That was the first funeral service I conducted. I still don’t understand God sometimes.
Family. It’s emotional. Sorrowful. Jesus was called a “man of sorrows”. You can’t escape sorrow when you’re part of a family.
As for shame. Well, we at newLife as with every other church and every other family have both marched and stumbled our way through the decades. Running then crawling. Climbing and falling. Far too many talents wasted, gifts squandered and opportunities missed. Far too many marriages broken, children left unnurtured and elderly forgotten. As for our relationship with our community, we’ve shone far too dimly, remained far too silent over injustice, too unresponsive to the poor and too antagonistic to certain sectors of humanity. Like every family, we’ve squabbled, fought and occasionally separated. It’s not nice. It’s not pretty. It’s not helpful. I wish it were not so – but I guess, it’s family.
Also I have had occasions to laugh so much it hurt. I’ve been on a relaxing break with David M after his major heart bypass surgery only to get him lost in a forest as the sun set, slowly walking ourselves into more and more panic. Believe me one person who you do not want to be with as the ground becomes harder, the skies darker and the sense of hopelessness closer; is a man who has recently had heart surgery. I’ve seen a famously rotund gentleman sit on a chair at a party and sink slowly and gracefully to the ground as the chair legs splayed. I know it’s terrible but I did laugh. I’ve seen the famously bald John L leading a meeting on a sunny day and just as the sun shone on his shiny head he said, “Lets spend some time reflecting”. I don’t care who you are – that’s funny. ‘ve heard my predecessor Paul W speak both at home and abroad from Genesis 1 verse 2 where he kept repeating that whatever our circumstance, “God always has a big but”. That too – is funny. I’ve watched Elders fall asleep on the platform waking occasionaly to mutter a barely intelligable “Amen”. I’ve heard the voice of taxi service controllers emerge through our P.A speakers whilst we were waiting to hear God’s voice; surely God can’t be saying “Woman waiting for pickup at 10 Buckingham Avenue” – or could He? I’ve seen Robbie H become so overcome and focused in a time of prayer he forgot to breathe and seized up in a feotal position and needed to be carried out to reception and massaged straight again. I’ve had to baptise people who took such a large breath that I couldn’t get them under due to the amount of air in them. I’ve seen wigs wobble, teachers trump and communion stewards stumble. And I’ve had to grow up with you lot.
Family. It’s a laugh.
And yet. Unlike any other family we can look to a father who is perfect. One who always acts like a mother. Who gathers us together and rather than leaving us to drown in sorrow and shame, he heals us with a kiss. Everyday he picks us up, brushes us down, kisses us better and urges us on.
That’s why I look at you now newLife, you beautiful bunch of fantastic misfits. My brothers and sisters, young and old, rich and poor, married, divorced, single, widowed, gay, straight, black, white, shy person or showman the confused and the committed and I say, “Hey, its good to have you in the family.”
Because this is family, because this is not just church, not just charity, and certainly not just religion; we can be proud of each other and celebrate every step toward Father. It’s because of this family that people in our County who would normally be in despair are now rejoicing, people who would be simply surviving are now living, people who would be intoxicated by drink are revelling in recovery, people who would be drowning in guilt are swimming in grace. It’s where people – people like you with all your unseen and often secret faults can be accepted and loved and kissed better by a very motherly father.
So welcome to church. Its a journey. Its challenging. But its family. And I love it. And together we’ll continue to make each other proud and for the sake of our divine Dad we’ll continue to do our best to transform people and transform places.
Now on this Mother’s Day. I want to make two toasts.
First. To our loving mothers.
And finally, only because of the grace of God; to our family, to newLife.