When I was a little girl, I remember being asked at school to draw my family tree. I sat and thought for a moment, then put up my hand and said “I think I need a bigger piece of paper!”
Families are complicated. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Not many of us measure up to the picture-book ideal of Mummy, Daddy, 2.4 children and a dog. Or the perfect family on a Mother’s Day card. And is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so. Better to be ourselves, our own imperfect families, in all our glorious mess, than to try to squeeze ourselves into a mould that doesn’t fit.
Yesterday with the introduction of equal marriage for same sex couples we moved a bit closer to acknowledging that God makes families in all sorts of ways. And we can never judge from the outside. What looks like the perfect family might be concealing all sorts of pain. What looks like a chaotic, broken family might be full of love and strength.
So families are not neat, not always easy. And the families in today’s bible stories certainly aren’t what we’d expect from a “conventional” family. Moses, abandoned by the river and brought up by his own mother as if she was a hired nursemaid. Jesus, as his own life ends, giving the people he most loves to each other, creating a new family.
A definition of family which I love, though I’ve long since forgotten where I came across it, is this: “family is the people God gives us to look after.” That’s what we see in today’s gospel. Jesus, in his final moments on the cross, gives these two people he loves, his mother and his dearest friend, to each other, to look after each other, console each other and nurture each other when he is no longer there to take care of them.
God gives us people to nurture too. Not always the people we were expecting. Not always in the ways we were expecting. But all of us need looking after, and all of us are called to take part in that looking after too.
Let’s look at some of the things we need in order to be nurtured, looked after.
First, food and drink. [volunteers to hold plate and cup] We need to eat and drink. Too many people in our town find they need help from organisations like the One Can Trust to be able to meet this basic need. When we drop off a tin or packet in the collection bin at the back of church, we are reaching out to those people, looking after them, saying “you’re part of our family, and we care.”
We pray in the Lord’s prayer “give us today our daily bread”, but we’re really asking for much more than just bread. We’re asking God to give us everything we need to live life in all its fullness. And he does. When he meets us in the bread and wine of communion, he feeds us in ways beyond what we could imagine.
Now, what else do we need to be nurtured? I know, a home. [volunteers to make roof shape with arms] Too many people in our town don’t have a safe place to live. When we volunteer for or donate to Wycombe Homeless Connection, when we sign petitions to demand better, fairer social housing, we say to those people “you matter, we care, you’re part of the human family.”
And God gives us a home too. Not a physical building to live in, but a home with him in his kingdom. And he promises that one day we will live with him forever, truly at home.
And there’s something else we need in order to feel cared for, something harder to see. [volunteers to hold up heart] It’s love. We all need to know that we’re loved. And to make that happen, we all need to show each other that we are loved. God’s love is so huge that we can’t properly understand it, although we can and do experience it. God’s love is for everyone, but how will people know that unless we show them? We need to nurture and care for and love the people God gives us.
And who does God give us to look after? Who is in our family? I’m not just talking about the people we’re related to, our mums and dads and brothers and sisters. Who are the people in our lives God wants us to nurture, look after, help to grow? Friends, acquaintances, strangers… How far does our family extend?
As far as you can imagine. Further. Because we are all part of God’s family. Brothers and sisters of Jesus. Children of a God who loves us and nurtures us and mothers us beyond what we could hope for. And so everyone is part of our family, because each person is a child of God, just like us.
Remember my 8 year old self with the piece of paper too small for my rather complicated family tree? Imagine trying to fit this family onto a piece of paper, God’s family, our family. You couldn’t do it. Because we are part of a family too huge and complicated and beautiful to fit onto any piece of paper. But every name is written on God’s heart.
God loves and nurtures us in so many ways. And we are called to be the human face of that love to each other, as we nurture and care for each other. It’s not easy. It’s complicated. Sometimes it hurts. But we keep loving and caring because we are fed and nurtured and mothered by the deep well of love that is God.