Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments”
Today is special day in many ways. It is Mother’s Day here in Switzerland, it is the baptism of one of our community, and it is also the beginning of Christian Aid Week. All these are important, and all are linked to our Gospel reading today because they are to do with family. Our own families, and the important part each of us have in them; the global family, the way all humans are interconnected; and the Christian family which Jesus’ life, death and resurrection create. As Desmond Tutu writes:
“The world saw a veritable miracle unfolding before its very eyes as all sorts and conditions of women and men, rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile—all these came to belong in one fellowship, one communion” (1) when the Church started its first steps in following Christ.
Family is something we cannot escape from – we are all part of a family, somehow, somewhere. As humans, we are part of the “Family of Man”, of humanity, and again, that is not something we can escape from. And of course, we are also part of God’s family, as it says in our reading from Acts, God’s offspring, God’s children, and again, that is something we cannot escape from. Family.
And Mother’s Day is about family. I am sure many of you will be visiting family, sharing time together as a family, sharing food together as a family today. It is wonderful to be able to meet each other and celebrate being your family. Because family is important. It is where we should be able to share our thoughts, fears, doubts in safety and without fear of ridicule. It is where we can come when we are sad or scared. They are the people we should be able to trust, the ones we can turn to and know we will find home, a welcome. And I realise that this is not always so for many, but that is what family should be, when it works well. After all, again using Tutu’s words,
“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”(2)
But we are human, and humans are not faultless, they are fallible, so human families are not always perfect, which causes sadness and deep emotional distress. They should be places of safety, but sometimes they are places to escape from. And then there is the need to find another form of family, others who can be your safety net, your sanctuary and support.
But the ideal of family is not something that should be ignored, just because sometimes it goes wrong. The ideal is there to be strived for. And used to help us understand wider issues. Such as the ones charities like Partner sein and Christian Aid Week bring to our attention. Why should we be bothered about women, in places like Malawi, struggling to feed their families following Cyclone Freddy, or those facing starvation due to drought because of climate change. They’re miles away, surely nothing to do with us? And I turn to Tutu again:
“If we realized that we are family, we would not let this happen to our brothers and sisters.”(3)
We are family with all humanity across the world. It matters what happens to those in Canton Vaud, in France, in Morocco, in New Zealand, South America, Africa, Asia. Because we are family, they are our brothers and sisters, children of the same heavenly Father, children of God. And because if we love Jesus we will keep his commandments, the commandment to love our neighbour as ourself. And by keeping Jesus’ commandments, we show we love him and remain in his love. Brothers, sisters held in the love of God: “those who love (Jesus)will be loved by (his) Father”, our Father, who art in heaven. As Tutu puts it:
“If we could but recognize our common humanity, that we do belong together, that our destinies are bound up in one another’s, that we can be free only together, that we can survive only together, that we can be human only together, then a glorious world would come into being where all of us lived harmoniously together as members of one family, the human family, God’s family. In truth a transfiguration would take place. God’s dream would become a reality.”(4)
And this is as important for us in our church family. To love and support and welcome each other, and newcomers, into our fellowship. To sit down with them at God’s table and share communion. To listen, support and care – to love each other as God loves us. Because to not do so is to turn away from God. Granny Weatherwax, in one of Terry Pratchett’s novels, puts it most succinctly: “Sin, young man, is when you treat other people as things including yourself. That’s what sin is.” (5) When we don’t treat others as ourselves, when we don’t love them as ourself, then we cannot love God, love Jesus. “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me” are Jesus’ words in the Gospel. If we recognise others as fellow children of God, as our brothers and sisters in Christ, in God, then we should treat them as our brother, sister, family. We should not be able to treat others in ways that hurt them, to ignore their needs, to watch them suffer because of inaction, climate change, violence or natural disaster. Because we are brothers and sisters, children of our Father who art in heaven.
“If you love me you will keep my commandments” says Jesus, and by keeping them, we show we love Jesus, and that we are loved by God. But keeping these commandments, loving Jesus, means loving all God’s people, all God’s children. Tutu describes this as God’s dream for us: “that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, My family.” (6) So, today let us pray for all families, for our own families, for families where there is sorrow, families that are dysfunctional. Let us pray that those whose families reject or harm them might find a community to be their family. Let us pray for our worldwide family, for peace, love, hope amongst and between them. And let us pray that we do not forget our brothers and sisters in God, and that they do not forget us. After all, we are children of the same heavenly Father, welcomed and welcoming.
Revd Jackie Sellin
1)Tutu, Desmond. God Has A Dream (p. 21). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
2)Tutu, Desmond. God Has A Dream (p. 22). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
3)Tutu, Desmond. God Has A Dream (p. 23). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
4)Tutu, Desmond. God Has A Dream (pp. 23-24). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
5) Pratchett, T (1999) “Carpe Jugulum” Corgi Books, London. P.314
6)Tutu, Desmond. God Has A Dream (p. 20). Ebury Publishing. Kindle Edition.