Counted into the family of Christ

IMG_7048Family relationships popped up in the church calendar on Friday. For some reason not in the Church in Wales calendar but the Church of England one. On Friday we remembered Petroc, Abbot of Padstow in Cornwall and also with a connection with Bodmin. The earliest accounts say that he was the younger son of a South Wales tribal chieftain. It’s not until a 12th century life of him, written at Bodmin, that the chieftain is identified as Glywys of Glywsysing and his elder brother was our Gwynllyw. So we have spiritual connections with North Cornwall. Quite a family with Cadoc Gwynllyw’s son and Petroc’s nephew, who gets a bigger billing than his dad.

Spiritually we are brothers and sisters with all who worship God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are united in Christ and share a family identity. Those connections pop up in surprising ways, sometimes with literal bloodlines in the mix.

There are several ways we can read the gospel passage this morning, with Jesus responding to the message from his mother and brothers. It can be taken as a rude rebuttal of them. My real family are those who do the will of God and by implication the others don’t and he has no time for mere bloodlines. Alternatively it can be taken as an expansion of his hospitality and generous embrace. We are brought into his family by his grace and so no one is left outside. He is widening the inclusion, not excluding. Some people have a knack of doing this and their household takes in all sorts of people in love and nurturing. They transform lives through this.

Family ties had a deep significance, beyond just the nuclear and it brought with it care and protection. So the expanding also extends the scope of our caring and looking out for one another. Cain’s response to God in Genesis when being quizzed after he’s killed his brother Abel, “Am I my brother’s keeper”, gets a resounding answer, “yes you are” and what is more your brother includes quite a lot of people, answered also in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Family meals are moments when our belonging is reinforced and nurtured. We gather round a table and all have a place, probably their usual place. We get used to sitting in certain places and many do the same in churches when not juggling Covid restrictions and measures. So it should not surprise us that the family shaping, forming and nurturing moment for church life, for the family of Christ, is to gather round a table. This Eucharist is at its heart a simple meal where bread and wine are shared. And although we can’t share the wine at the moment, we usually do and we feel its absence.

We gather round this table as the family of Christ. We gather with a strange mixture of people, some like us and some very different. Some we know well and some may be unfamiliar. The arrival of a new dean is a moment when the family has to adjust to who this new person is and their ways, as I of course have to get used to yours. But the warmth of the welcome has been one of a generous, hospitable family.

Jesus’ family have gone to find him because they think he’s lost the plot and they want to protect him. They know that standing out, seeming different and confronting the leaders is dangerous. So “your family are here”, could be a patronising push of ‘run along little boy, your family have come to take you away. Go with them and stop being a nuisance.’ Well, Jesus is having none of it. He pushes back with my family are those who hear what I am saying and take it seriously. You can be part of my family if you do that or you can show yourselves to be against the ways of God if you don’t. So it’s a counting in and a counting out with equal measure. The counting out, though, is a self counting out by rejecting the Christ who bids us welcome and  deciding not to do his will. That’s potentially a trap for all of us at times, so having a go counts us in.

Today Jesus bids us gather round his table and as he does shows the expanding scope of his loving embrace. However odd we are, there is a place for us, we are counted in and become part of his growing family. There is abundant grace enough for all.

Sermon for Trinity 1, Newport Cathedral, Sunday 6th June 2021

About Ian Black

Ian is an Anglican priest and Dean of Newport Cathedral in the Church in Wales. He was previously Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough. He served as Rural Dean of Peterborough for 5 years. Prior to moving to Peterborough, Ian was in Leeds for 10 years, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes in Faversham. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury in partnership with the Diocese of Rochester. Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE Auditor and a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Tax Accountant. Ian was born and grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and is a former head chorister at Shakespeare’s Church – Holy Trinity. He studied in Canterbury, Lincoln Theological College and has a Master of Divinity degree from Nottingham University. He is married with two sons. Publications include three books of prayers: Prayers for all occasions (SPCK 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK 2009) and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK 2005). His most recent book, Follow me: living the sayings of Jesus, was published by Sacristy Press on 1st July 2017. There is also a hymn based on this – Christ the Saviour. Other online writings can be found under the Books & Publications tab above. He has been writing online since the mid 1990s and was a contributing blogger to the ReJesus website. Ian is a keen photographer and these frequently appear in his Facebook and Twitter posts.
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