In a departure from the Lectionary, I am preaching on Matthew 12.46-50.
When I was in Year 5, we learned about family trees. We were each given a piece of A4 paper, and told to draw our own family tree. I looked at my blank paper. I tried to visualise my family tree. And then I put up my hand: “Please, Miss, I think I need a bigger piece of paper!”
Families are complicated, messy things. I know mine is. I think most are, in their own way. The reality of our beautiful, flawed, complex, imperfect, glorious, human relationships is not easy to pin down on paper.
I wonder who is in your family?
I wonder if everyone you just thought of is actually related to you? Or does your family include people who aren’t related at all? Mine does. It used to be common for children to call adults not related to us “aunty” and “uncle”. Now more and more people, especially those who have been rejected by their birth families, talk about their “family of choice” – those friends who are as close as any family.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus challenges his disciples’ assumptions about what a family is. The disciples assume they know who Jesus’ family is – his mother and brothers – but Jesus speaks about a much bigger idea of what and who his family is. Jesus’ family includes everyone who follows him, and does God’s will.
That’s a pretty broad definition of “family”! All of us, all of the people who follow Jesus, throughout the world and throughout history, are part of his family. When we choose to live God’s way, we become part of God’s “family of choice”.
And just as Jesus expands his disciples’ idea of what his family is like, so the Holy Spirit is continuing to expand our idea of what God’s family is like, and who is included.
So who is included in God’s family? Everyone. It’s a simple answer, and a challenging one. Everyone is included in God’s family, because everyone is loved by God. Love is what families, relationships, in all their complexity, are all about.
You are loved by God, and so you are part of God’s family. And so am I. And so are the people you like. And so are the people you don’t like (this is where it gets challenging!). All of us, together, in God’s messy, beautiful, unconventional family.
And it is challenging sometimes, isn’t it? Like any family, we disagree, we fall out, we upset each other. But there’s always something that holds us all together. And that something is love. God is love, the most powerful force in the world.
We are called to share that love, in whatever ways we can, with whoever we can. And we are also called to look for that love. Sometimes it’s easy to see – in happy families, loving mothers, supportive friendships. And sometimes it’s very difficult to see indeed – in broken relationships, abusive families, conflict.
But always, always, that love of God is there. It is there in the Junior Doctor running across Westminster Bridge into an unknown danger, in order to hep people. It is there in the child who invites their classmate who doesn’t have a friend to sit with them at lunch. It is there wherever people treat each other as precious, unique individuals made in the image of God.
Today we celebrate the love which has nurtured us. The motherly love of God. The love of the people who have guided and cared for us. For some of us, that will be our mothers, and we celebrate them today. For others of us it will not, and we celebrate instead (or as well) the other relationships which have shown us something of the vast love of God.
Whoever you can think of who has nurtured you – whether they’re related to you or not – I invite you to write their name or draw a picture of them on the paper flower you were given when you arrived, and bring them to the front.
Let us thank God for the many, diverse, beautiful expressions of love we have known, each of them showing us something of the awesome, mysterious love of God.