ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OCTOBER 2, 2016
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
ALL IN THE FAMILY
2 Timothy 1: 1 – 14; Mark 3: 31 – 35
In recent years the internet has made it easier for people to trace their roots. For many, like me, there’s a mild curiosity about their lineage. In Scotland I discovered that my Macdonald ancestors may have been called “The Lords of the Isles” but they were really a large band of marauding, murderous thieves. For some, the interest lies in a psychological need to be affirmed; I’m not important but maybe the blood of royalty, heroism, fame or brilliance is coursing through my veins. Behind all this two basic emotional needs – the desire to know who you are and a desire to belong. When you think of the original homelands of your people, you may have a vague connection to an untraceable blood line or you may have very real memories of loved ones who have shared and touched your life. Your family tree may include people who bore great fruit or it might be filled with nuts. There may be people with whom you share a deep affinity or an innate gift or there may be people who are strangers not to mention those who were just plain strange.
Another reason lineage is important has to do with faith. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day… I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (2 Timothy 1: 3f). It is within the bond of family that we often come to faith. My relatives were far from flawless yet they helped to shape my faith. My parents had me baptized in infancy which began my life in Christ. I recall my grandmother kneeling by her bed each night to say her prayers. My father’s love for Christ ensured we participated in a community of faith – worshipping God, growing in love for Christ and others and expanding our understanding. The importance he placed on his faith impacted mine. Who in your family who increased your thirst for Christ?
Our family of faith isn’t limited to blood relatives. When Jesus was told that his family was looking for him he replied, rather harshly, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12: 48 – 50) While we’re born into biological families, people come along – friends and soul friends – a hold a special position in our hearts. We “adopt” them into our inner circle. We all know that as we go through life we “adopt family members”. People come along – friends and soul friends – and take a special position in our hearts. In the same way God has adopted us in Christ, making his Church into a spiritual family. When we trace back our spiritual roots all Christians are all children of God through Christ. At St. Stephen’s we frequently refer to our Church as “a family”. Like any family we have history together. We share common roots and common spiritual ancestors. Some we knew and remember; others are known by a name, a picture, a story or someone else’s memory. Yet each one shaped our corporate identity and added to our faith. Those who envisioned and planted this church, who taught, served and fellowshipped together are foundation blocks; we are built on their worship and witness. Each of us is part of that building. We too will leave a legacy of faith influencing those who will join us in the future. Part of that identity is “Loving God, Loving People”. We’re a welcoming community giving everyone a place of belonging and helping them to find their identity in Christ. As Doug once said, “At St. Stephen’s when you come through the door, you’re part of the family”. Of course we have our dysfunctions but we seek to influence each other’s faith in positive ways.
Today being World Communion Sunday we’re reminded that our family of faith is much bigger than those Christians in our biological family or even in our congregational family. It includes our spiritual ancestors who are alive in Christ as well as every Christian throughout the world. It’s a lovely notion but how do we relate to people who are far away and faceless? How do we build up brothers and sisters around the globe and encourage their faith?
Scripture is a prime place where we hear the stories of our ancestors – how they came to faith, grew in faith, suffered for faith and shared faith. Scripture is far more thorough in revealing the history of our people than Ancestory.com. There’s more to our heritage than ‘Jotham begat Ahaz who begat Hezekiah.’ In Scripture we discover God’s interaction in the lives of our forebears – from creation to covenant to Christ – and what that means for us. Our faith is also strengthened by stories of later Christians, like St. Columba. After founding several Abbey’s in Ireland, Columba made a copy of the Psalms which the Bishop ordered him to destroy. Columba refusal led to a battle. For penance he took twelve monks and his Psalms and sailed across the Irish Sea to Scotland where he converted the Picts to Christ and founded Iona. The faith of others calls out the best in us.
As we consider the Church in the world today, being aware of the stories of other Christians is also important. In many countries – North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and Somalia – Christians suffer extreme persecution; in another 33 countries they suffer severe to limited persecution. As these people are killed and imprisoned for their faith we close our eyes to the unpleasantness of what they face. Their stories are hard to hear but in solidarity with those who are oppressed we need to know. On the internet, sites like Open doors, Voice of the Martyrs and World Watch are helpful resources. Family bonds instinctively move us to care for our own and we need to remember that our family of faith has no one else to stand up for them. We can do this by encouraging the settlement of Christian refugees through letters to governments and newspapers; not only because they’re family but because they face the greatest and most imminent danger – even in refugee camps. We can also write letters of support to the churches facing hardship. We can pray for them. We know the importance of being held in prayer when we have needs so we can imagine what it means to these people to know other Christians are praying for them. We can financially support their institutions by helping to rebuild churches destroyed by arson, support their seminaries, give them food and water. We can weep with them over loved ones brutally murdered.
We know that many countries which once claimed the Lordship of Jesus have become secular states, including our own. The changing values around us are staggering – we live in a time when lying on a resume is common place, where sex is a contact sport, where commitment is an option few take, where volunteering is in decline. We’re not in Kansas anymore – we are strangers in a strange land needing to learn how to engage a world that is complex and changing. We need to be grounded in the values of our faith and at the same time, we need to have open hearts for those around us; it’s easy to be judgmental and self-righteous but those attitudes bring no one to faith. Moreover, we need to have the conviction that Jesus is “the Life”; the hope of the world is found in him. It is through him our world can be transformed, one person at a time.
But all is not gloom for the church in the world. The good news story in all this is that the Christian faith is growing like wild fire in Africa, Asia and Latin America. By the year 2025 it is estimated there will be at least 1 billion 733 million Christians in those countries alone. Most of them will be quite poor. Again they need our prayers, our encouragement and our financial gifts to make them strong and inspire their faith and enthusiasm.
We can do none of these things unless we to look to ourselves and know who we are. As Paul said to Timothy, “Rekindle the gift that is within you… for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.” (vs. 6 & 7) Even within our own little branch of the family we can grow weary, discouraged and complacent. We can resign ourselves to the fact that many churches are dying and it’s only a matter of time. We can lose our mission zeal and want nothing more than a faith family that will love me until I’m gone. We can become “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (vs. 8). We can give up on the hope of what God, in Christ, has done and can do in us and in our world. So we need to love, encourage, pray for and inspire one another too.
The Lord invites us to come to his table, with each and every Christian around the globe to remember his sacrifice for us and who we are because of it, to be renewed in our faith and to have the gift of the Holy Spirit rekindled within us. As we eat together may our whole Family be renewed with courage, power, love and strength of character.