A sermon preached at the Coventry Pride Service, Sunday 10 June, at Coventry Central Hall:
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘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.’ Mark 3:31-35
Christianity and ‘family values’ are sometimes seen as synonymous. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic often claim that their respect for the institution of family is borne of their deep Christian faith. By family, of course they mean the nuclear family – mother, father, 2.4 children. It doesn’t occur to them that this notion of family is really quite new and very culturally specific. The term itself was unheard of 100 years ago and yet many of these politicians claim a Biblical origin.
For too many the Church is seen as the Institute for Family Values, and the recent decision by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland does nothing to dispel that rumour. Like me, I assume you have friends who might be well disposed towards Christianity, if it weren’t for the Church. I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with people who have been made to feel afraid or, worse, ashamed by the Church because they do not fit the prescribed pattern of ‘family’.
How difficult must this story from Mark’s gospel be for the ‘traditional family values‘ crew?! Not only does the Church have to contend with an unmarried Saviour, but one who refuses to conform to the cultural norms about families and relationships of his day.
For Jesus to ignore his mother and siblings wasn’t just a bit rude, it broke the 5th Commandment – you shall honour your father and your mother. To break any of the ten commandments was punishable by death and Jesus knew it. For the family in his day wasn’t just something you grew out of – it was your welfare state, old age pension, health service and place of worship. Still today, the tradition of the Jewish home as the MAIN place of worship and faith remains.