ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MARCH 23, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
FORMED FOR GOD’S FAMILY
Ephesians 4: 1 – 6; Matthew 12: 46 – 50

As you recall, we’ve been thinking about God’s purpose for our lives. Two weeks ago, we discovered we’re created to be loved by God and to love him in return. Last week, we talked about how we’re planned by God for his pleasure – to love him with our mind, heart, soul and strength which is our fullest act of worship. Today I want you to know that you’re made to be part of God’s family.

A girl asked her Mom, “Where do humans come from?” Her mom answered, “You remember the story of Adam and Eve from Sunday School, right?” The girl nodded. “Well, that’s where we come from – God made us!” Later the girl asked her dad the same question. Her dad answered, “People evolved from monkeys.” The girl returned to her mother and said, “Mom, you told me the people were created by God, and Dad said people evolved from monkeys. I’m confused.” Her mom answered, “Well, dear, it’s very simple: I told you about my side of the family, and your father told you about his.”

Regardless of how dysfunctional families can be, family is one God’s most elemental creations. Whatever it looks like, we’re created to be part of a family. We’re created to be part of a nuclear family, an extended family and God’s family. Does it surprise you to know God wants a family? He wants children who are going to love him, and who grow to be faithful and attentive to him. The Bible tells that story. It starts in Genesis 12 when God called a man named Abram (Abraham) to follow Him. God told him he’d be the human progenitor of a chosen people. God was so intent on this, He made a covenant with Abraham; a covenant is an iron clad promise to which God chooses to bind himself. Once God creates a covenant, he’s totally committed to it. But a covenant isn’t a one-way street; it’s made between two parties, and both are to be loyal. Because people were less than faithful, God fulfilled his side of the covenant not by human linage alone, but by grace and faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus sealed the covenant between God and humanity. There was an incident in Jesus’ life when he was talking to a crowd of people, his mom and siblings showed up and wanted to take him away because they thought he was mentally ill. Jesus responded, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Pointing to the crowd he continued, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt 12:49-50). Did you hear that? Jesus says everyone who seeks to fulfill God’s purpose is his family; a family closer to his heart than even his “blood relatives”. That family includes not only the descendants of Abraham, but you and me and everyone who believes or has or will believe in Christ.

God’s third purpose is for you to belong to God’s eternal family. The Bible uses other names when speaking of this family. It’s known as the Body of Christ, the Church and “the family of believers” whom Peter tells us we are to love (1 Peter 2:17) and we’re to love them before our relatives. Because this is the family with whom we’ll spend eternity, God wants us to start loving them right now. Isn’t that a sobering thought? There are Christians with whom I disagree; Christians with whom I’ve fallen out and haven’t reconciled; Christians who have hurt me and I won’t forgive; churches I’ve left because I didn’t want to be with those people. The fact is, those are the very people with whom I’ll be in heaven. How big has heaven got to be for me to avoid them? Knowing God’s sense of humour, I’ll likely meet them first! Besides, God wants his children to be unified and to have harmonious relationships on earth and in heaven, so, we might as well learn to love one another here and now. That’s not always an easy task, but it is a way of being together that makes God smile.

So how can we grow in our love for our Christian brothers and sisters? Well, we start by making a conscious
choice to really belong. It’s easy to join a group, and it can also be meaningless. Belonging goes way beyond having your name on the membership roll. I’m a “member” of Costco, but my relationship with the company or other members is remote at best. Every year, in accord with the law of the PCC, the Session reviews our membership roll. We need to make some tough calls about removing “members” who haven’t participated in the life of our church family. Most Elders find this difficult. The reason we do it is because belonging is important. To belong to the body of Christ is to be an active, living part of it. It means you’re choosing to associate with a group of Christ followers. You’re committing to love them and serve them and give them the space to love and serve you. It means participating in what’s happening. Belonging requires us to “show up”. You can’t say you’re a Christian and not be actively involved with the family of God. It’s like being a hockey player who doesn’t want to play on a team, or a bee who doesn’t want to be a part of a hive, or a soldier without a platoon. If we don’t belong, we can’t fulfill our purpose. Paul said, “In this way we’re like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body.” (Romans 12:4, 5). We often hear people saying they can be a Christian without being part of a church. We can’t. A body part cut off from the body, dies. The Church is a matter of life and death. You’re either part of the body or not. God created us to be a part of his family. Without a church family, Christians are orphans. Not only does God desire a family, Christians require a family. So, the first level is choosing to belong. And only you can make that choice.

What then are some of the ways we can grow into this purpose of belonging to God’s family? Well one of the ways we try to prime the pump is with “fellowship” time. This happens on many occasions, including coffee time after worship. It may come as a surprise, but coffee time really isn’t about coffee. It’s a way of creating a space and time when we can get to know our visitors and meet sisters and brothers we don’t know well or deepen our relationship with those we do know. To do that conversations need to go a little deeper than “how about those Leafs” or “Nice hairdo! Okay, see ya next week. Good talkin’.” It’s not that those things aren’t good ice breakers but there needs to be more personal disclosure if we’re really to know and love one another.

Relationships are built on depth; we need to learn to share. This is something parents know their children need to learn at an early age, both in our homes and in the playground. Sharing doesn’t come naturally, but with practice it can become a lifestyle. Sharing doesn’t end when we hit our teens. Adults need to share, and that’s especially true in the Church. In the early Church, “All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had” (Acts 2:44). They met often, and they shared everything. Those who had resources sold them to make sure all Church members had a place to sleep and enough to eat. Sharing is important and we can share on many levels. Yes, we can help those in financial need, and many of you do. And there are other ways of sharing. How many of you are blessed to have a close friend? I don’t mean an acquaintance, I mean a friend with history. Some might say you’re lucky. The truth is: mutual sharing and trustworthiness over many years is what friendships are built on. To build real friendship takes an investment of time, as well as openness and vulnerability. Friends share their experiences, their stories, and the things they’ve learned from life. It’s wonderful to hear another person’s story and to discover what makes them who they are. People can be wonderful mentors, helping us to grow in our faith as they share what God has done and not done and what they’ve learned about God through those experiences.

Friendship develops when we share our homes. 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Welcome people into your homes and don’t grumble about it.” Easier said than done. We worry. We worry that our home isn’t impressive, or the furniture is frumpy, or the wall colour is outdated, or it isn’t exactly clean. After a long day, who wants to clean the house so company can come by? But we’re family. We don’t need to wow each other. Besides the Bible doesn’t say only open your home if it’s big and clean. The point it, inviting someone into our personal space is a way of sharing your truest self and valuing the other.

We can also share our successes, joys and burdens with each other. The Bible says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). When life goes well, and we’re excited, we want to share with someone. I just got accepted into the school I hoped for! We have a new grandchild! I got a new job! Look at my new car! The same is true when we get unwelcome news: The tests came back positive. I’m being laid off. My car broke down, again. And we need to share our problems and struggles: My teen has left home. I’m battling addiction. I’m unhappy in my marriage. We all have struggles and faults. We need to be real and transparent with one another. We need each other. Sharing makes life brighter.

Finally, sharing has a “doing my part” component. Being in a family, a community of Christians, means we all have something to contribute. Did you know this congregation needs you? Remember a body part has a particular function. A healthy body needs all its parts doing what they’re meant to do and working together. You can’t do another person’s part. Being a part of a church family isn’t being pampered at a spiritual spa. Yes, God renews and refreshes us because God loves us. God also works by using every one of us (cf Eph 4:6). God has brought each of us to this place at this time to contribute to his Kingdom. What’s your role?

Belonging has to do with loving other believers as Christ loves them. Jesus said the way people will know we’re his followers is by our love for each other (John 13:35). Not by what we believe, or are called, or how we’re organized, or by our style of worship. They’ll know it by our love for each other. You were made for God’s family.