Announcements

Another of Father Ron’s Ramblings

                                                                           February, 2019

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

In recent weeks I have addressed in my sermons the question, ‘What is the Church?’ and, ‘What is its mission and purpose of the Church?’ Another aspect of the Church’s identity is that it is indeed a family, a family in Christ. Jesus called his disciples ‘brothers and sisters.’ That sounds like a family to me. My eyes continue to be more and more opened to what ‘church as family’ truly can be.

If we look at scripture, the Church is so much more than a Sunday morning ‘event.’ When we begin to look at the church as ‘family’ and all that entails, it has huge implications for our personal spiritual development as well as our church’s understanding of mission, evangelism, worship, hospitality and discipleship.

Unfortunately, a lot of the language we use presents and reinforces the idea that church is an ‘event’ where religious goods and services are dispensed. We celebrate the Eucharist, we baptize, marry, and conduct funerals. We come to Bible studies and spaghetti dinners. These are all wonderful things and essentials of being the church, but they are also ‘events.’ We talk about “going to church” more often then we talk about “being the church.’ People say they are “shopping around“ for a church. That sounds more like a business or secular organization than a family. ‘Being the church’ is much more than attending the events of the church.

I recently read a story of a man from a Muslim background living in the US who had not long ago become a Christian. As a result of his decision he had been thrown out of his family, which is quite common among Muslim families, and was ultimately forced to flee for his life. He sought sanctuary in a church that welcomed him with open arms. They gave him a corner of the building to live in, with the mattress on the floor and food generously delivered on a daily basis.

The man was extremely grateful for their hospitality, but he said  the hardest part of his week was on Sunday morning after the church service when everyone went home to their families and their Sunday lunches, leaving him alone. Although he was welcome to make his home inside the church building, he did not actually feel welcome inside the homes of the church family. He was a welcome visitor but not really part of the family.

This church was so near and yet so far from Christ-like hospitality. The church building provided shelter, the church members provided sustenance, and the church event provided sacraments and spiritual teaching, but none of these were a substitute for the lifelong intimate commitment of being part of a family.

Yes, we are called to attend Sunday worship, study the Bible, pray regularly and be in fellowship with our fellow church members, but we are also clearly called in scripture to have a family responsibility. Church members are called to ‘love one another,’ ‘carry each other’s burdens,’ ‘encourage one another,’ and ‘spur one another on’ toward love and good deeds. Those things happen more often between Sunday mornings than on Sunday mornings.

Here’s the challenge for us in the Western world. In our country families tend to be closed groups. We build individual homes on lots the size of small villages in some parts of the world. We like our space. I visit my neighbors but I would never call them ‘family.’ So, when we think of the church as a family, it calls to mind a small, cozy huddle with strong boundaries between those who are welcome and those who are not, members vs. visitors, those who are ‘inside’ and those who are ‘outside.’ But that isn’t the Bible’s model of family at all!

In New Testament times there was a width and depth to families that crossed many generations that included slaves, in-laws, and house guests. For example, when there was a wedding to be held, it wasn’t just family and close friends that were invited, it was the entire town or village. With the call for God’s people to show compassion to the most vulnerable people through protection, provision and care, for the widows and the orphans, it changes our Western understanding of family.

Understanding the church as family transforms our preconceptions and expectations of church, but also all preconceptions and expectations of what a family is. The church is to be a non-nuclear, welcoming, diverse family that can make a difference to all sorts of people and give an increasingly divided and isolated world a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Church families welcome new members to the family, they don’t have a filter at the door screening out some, allowing in others; but rather a wide welcome mat and an open door.  Families look out for one another. Families are committed to each other for the long haul. They support one another through triumph and tragedy. They are committed to one another for better or worse, richer or poor.

Here at St. Thomas we often use the term “our St. Thomas family,” and we really mean what we’re saying. We are a church blessed with the gift of hospitality and a sincerely welcoming attitude to all who come through our doors. As we go forward this new year, almost one month already gone, let’s together strive to be more like the family God intends, not just for those of us here but also for those we will be meeting for the very first time. 

Praying all God’s blessings for you and your family,

Ron+  

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