All God's Relations
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, May 11, 2003
Mother's Day


Psalm 68:1-6 God sets the lonely in families

May God arise, may his enemies be scattered;
     may his foes flee before him.
As smoke is blown away by the wind,
     may you blow them away;
As wax melts before the fire,
     may the wicked perish before God.
But may the righteous be glad
     and rejoice before God;
     may they be happy and joyful.

Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
     extol him who rides on the clouds--
His name is the Lord--
     and rejoice before him.
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
     is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
     he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
     but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Mark 3:20, 21, 31-35 Jesus' mother and brothers

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind." . . .

Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Marital Love #120 All God's relations

The children of the Lord as husband and father and the church as wife and mother are all spiritual. In the Bible's spiritual sense, this is the meaning of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, and other family relationships.

Our rational mind can see without any explanation that no children but these are born of the Lord through the church--so no explanation is necessary. After all, everything good and true comes from the Lord; and the church is what receives them and puts them into action. And everything spiritual that has to do with heaven and the church relates to goodness and truth. That is why in the spiritual meaning of the Bible, sons and daughters stand for different kinds of truth and goodness. . . .

The Lord also calls people who are part of his church brothers and sisters.



Picture the scene. Jesus, who has recently come out of his quiet years and started his public ministry, has had yet another crowd gather around him. The people are eager to see one of the miraculous healings they have heard about, and to hear his strange teaching--so unlike the pedantic teachings of their religious leaders. People crowd around him, press in upon him, pushing their way into the house where he and his disciples have gone. The mass of people is so tightly packed around Jesus and his disciples that they cannot even eat their meal. From the looks of it, Jesus' ministry is really taking off!

But his family has a different view of things. For them, Jesus is not some new phenomenon on the scene--the latest wonder to appear in Israel. Rather, he is their son and their brother, whom they have known for years. But did they really know him? He is too familiar to them. They can't see him as a charismatic spiritual leader. Instead, they think he has gone off his rocker. So they come to take charge of him, figuring that since he is a member of their family, they are responsible for him.

His mother and brothers don't go into the house. Instead, they stand outside and send someone in to call him out. And Jesus calmly and pointedly disowns them:

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

In many ways, this was a shocking statement for Jesus to make. Then, even more than now, the members of a person's family were the most important people in his or her life. Family stuck together. Family was the bulwark against an often hostile and usually uncaring world. And here was Jesus, publicly disowning his family. How could he do such a thing? How could he turn his back on those who had cared for him all his life, who had grown up with him, who had shared all his earlier years with him?

The fact is, it was not Jesus who turned his back on his family, but his family who turned their back on him. Apparently they had not known him all that well after all. Despite the incident at the temple when he was twelve years old--probably just a bit of family lore by now--they simply couldn't picture the oldest son and brother in their family as a popular and powerful spiritual leader. And knowing the rigid religious hierarchy of their day, they were probably a bit frightened that Jesus' fame might bring down persecution on his family--namely, on themselves. So they came, not to hear what he had to say, but to take charge of him and put a stop to all this nonsense.

Jesus knew very well why they were there. He knew that his family had rejected him and did not believe in what he was doing. Later on, some of them, including Mary, his birth mother, became his followers. But at this time they were fulfilling a statement Jesus would soon make in his home town of Nazareth. We read a few chapters later in Mark:

Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What is this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, "Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." (Mark 6:1-4)

Jesus knew why his family had come. He knew they had rejected him.

Perhaps some of you have had the same experience. Perhaps some of you have had your family, the people you grew up with all your lives, turn their backs on you when you went in a direction that they did not approve of. If so, then you know the pain that Jesus must have been feeling when his family members arrived that day. You know the feeling of deep pain that David expressed in the Psalms: "Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, with whom I shared bread, has lifted the heel against me" (Psalm 41:9).

For many of us, rejection by our families is--or would be--a crushing blow. Some people never quite recover from the experience. Many give up on the new life course they had set for themselves, and run back to their families with their tails between their legs. Others continue on their unapproved paths, but carry the raw and painful wound of family rejection with them throughout their lives.

For those of us whose life decisions carry us away from our families, Jesus presents another, more emotionally healthful course. Perhaps we must leave our family of origin behind. But that does not mean we must be forever without a family.

Even as the members of his biological family were turning their backs on him, Jesus was building a new, spiritual family. The members of his new family were gathered close around him--not standing outside, safely at a distance, sending a messenger to make the contact for them. The physical distance from his former, biological family showed through body language the emotional and spiritual distance that now stood between them. Meanwhile, the members of his new family showed their emotional and spiritual closeness to him through their physical closeness. These were the people with whom Jesus would spend the rest of his life. These were his true family.

If we have found ourselves in the painful position of having to leave our biological family behind, we, too, can build a new and deeper family around ourselves. If our family does not share our values, we can find others who do, and build ourselves a new, spiritual family with them. For many of you, I know that this church is a second family. These are people with whom we can share our beliefs and our values, people who understand us and support us in the course of life we have taken. And if we can share our church with some of our biological family, that is so much the better.

Now, perhaps I shouldn't be saying this on Mother's Day, but as strong as our family bonds are here on earth, in the wider scope of human life our biological relationships are not primary, but secondary relationships. Our biological family relationships are like a womb in which we spend our early, formative years. Their influence on us is critical and profound. We will always have the mark of our family of origin on us. Our earthly, biological mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers will always be within us, however deeply buried in our consciousness, affecting the course of our lives.

Yet we are not primarily biological beings. We inhabit this physical body for a few decades, and maybe even for a century if we are of particularly hardy stock. Sooner or later, though, we will leave this physical body behind, and never return to it. Then our true life--the life that we were designed for from the beginning--will begin. That life does not last just a few decades or even a century, but throughout all the ages of eternity.

In that life, we do not live in the physical body that developed in our mother's womb, but in the spiritual body that developed in the womb of our life here on earth. When we enter the next life, we are born into the spiritual world from the womb of the material world. There we live as spiritual beings with spiritual bodies, freed from the confines of this material world and our physical body. And our families there will not be determined by blood relationships, but by spiritual relationships.

Jesus was speaking of these spiritual relationships when he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." And this gives us the key to how we can become the brother and sister and mother of the Lord--and become true family to one another as well.

If we have had to leave our family of origin behind emotionally, it is because we do not share their values, and have chosen a different life for ourselves. If we have been able to stay close to our family emotionally and spiritually, it is because we continue to share basic life values with them--especially spiritual values. And the Lord is pointing out that it is not only sharing spiritual values, but acting on them that makes us family to one another.

How do we become part of the family of the Lord? Jesus tells us very plainly. We become the Lord's family by doing God's will. If, like Jesus' biological family, we turn our backs on the wonderful work of preaching and teaching and healing that the Lord wishes to do in our lives, then we stand spiritually outside the household where the Lord dwells with his true family. But if we are willing to accept the teachings of the Lord and put them into practice in our lives, then we have moved into the Lord's house, and have become his mother and sister and brother.

As we celebrate our family relationships today, let us also keep in mind our spiritual family. We are all children of the Lord. And we become the Lord's true children when we "hear the word of God, and keep it" (Luke 11:28). Amen.




The painting is "The Bouquet" Tom Sierak
and used with his permission by Moon and Back Graphics to construct this set.

Music: Heart and Soul Bruce De Boer