Who would you like to attend a party with, I wonder? Parties are more fun when you are with people you know, people you have things in common with. The banquet in heaven, the biggest party ever to be held, will have guests at the table with whom we have little in common at first glance and yet they will all be family, the family of Jesus. They won’t be family members due to their birth but due to a choice they have made. Jesus said that his family comprises those who hear the word of God and do it. Will you be at that party?
The readings at the Tuesday 2pm SLT service were Ezra 6:7,8, 12, 14-20, Psalm 124, Luke 8:19-21.
The gospel is certainly short today but even in those few verses there is treasure buried, I would say.
Jesus addresses the issue of the family of God, who will be a member of that family, the equivalent of a mother or brother to him. When you think about the idea of a family it is probably so much closer connected than a group of friends. Members of a family may squabble but as often as not, when one faces a problem the others work to help them out. This is not always so, sadly, but often it is. ‘Blood is thicker than water’ as the saying goes. With the family of God the other common saying about family – ‘You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family’ – really comes into its own. If you think about the people with whom you associate as a result of being a Christian, you may find that many of those people would not be ones whom you would choose to be with. They may do many things in a totally different way from you; they may have different views on politics and many topics; they may come from a different culture, certainly that’s likely with the people you meet online. Yet we have faith in Jesus as a common bond. It doesn’t always work of course and the Church has had a lot of fights between members over the centuries. The current time is no exception. I wonder though, if a fellow Christian were to be in some kind of difficulty, if we would check their belief in various doctrines before reaching out to help them. I think it’s unlikely, and if we did that, we would hardly bear the family likeness. Jesus’ blood which was spilt for us all, is surely thicker than water.
Now, I’ve made an assumption that those who call themselves Christian will be the members of the family Jesus is talking about. I have no doubt that many Christians are in this family but it’s interesting to note how Jesus defines the members. There are two conditions.
First of all family members must hear the word of God. The Muslims take hearing the word of God as written in the Koran very seriously indeed. The local mullah comes and uses a tube of paper to whisper the words into the newborn baby’s ear so that the baby starts life hearing the word of God. There are many ways to hear the word of God of course. We can hear it read out as in a service such as this. We can listen to podcasts and other recordings. We can read it for ourselves in many different translations of the Bible. Not everyone has that privilege. Some may not possess a Bible due to the restrictions in their country. Some cannot access a Bible in their own language or cannot afford one in any language.
Even without the Bible, God still speaks his word. He may speak to us through someone else. Passing on a message to someone takes a lot of courage and a lot of sensitivity but it can have a huge effect. That happened to me today and the message I received has made such a difference to me today. I give thanks for the courage of one of my acquaintances in SL who listened to God’s prompting and spoke to me. I would say that Darius, who is written about in the book of Ezra, also heard the word of God. Ironically it was carried to him by people who wanted to stop the Jews rebuilding their Temple. Instead, the message they brought caused Darius to go and look up a decree from his predecessor Cyrus which allowed the rebuilding to go ahead unhindered. It seems that even people who would not call themselves believers, either in Yahweh in the Old Testament, or as Christians today, can still hear the word of God.
Of course, not only did Darius hear the word of God, he made sure that the words he had read in Cyrus’ decree were carried out. He heard the word and did it. Doing the word of God is the second condition Jesus places on those who want to be family members. In the parable of the sower, Jesus pictures the word of God as the seed which the farmer scatters. As the wheat grows, some finds itself strangled by thorns, some springs up but then withers, some gets eaten by birds. In these cases the word does not get acted upon.
The letter of James looks at this same issue. Here’s what he says in the Living Translation:
So get rid of all that is wrong in your life, both inside and outside, and humbly be glad for the wonderful message we have received, for it is able to save our souls as it takes hold of our hearts. And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. So don’t fool yourselves. For if a person just listens and doesn’t obey, he is like a man looking at his face in a mirror; as soon as he walks away, he can’t see himself any more or remember what he looks like. But if anyone keeps looking steadily into God’s law for free men, he will not only remember it but he will do what it says.
The answer James gives us to doing what God’s word says is to keep looking at it, keep exposing ourselves to it until it ‘takes hold of our hearts’. That’s one of the reasons I am so glad that we are now adding more services where the word of God can be heard. In the Meditation Chapel, at midnight and midday, which is morning and evening for Europe, I am saying Morning and Evening Prayer which is full of God’s word. I’m often joined by others, not just from Europe. I hope that gradually, as God leads us, more of these services or offices, will be said on Epiphany so that those in other time zones can benefit.
The day will come when all the members of Jesus’ family will sit down to a banquet together in heaven. I wonder, as we look around the table, if we will be surprised by who is there (and who is not). Whoever is there, we know from what Jesus has said, that each member of that family will have heard the word of God and acted upon it. Race, sex, status, age and so on will have nothing to do with the matter.
“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor