‘Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’. Mark 3:35
To be as brother, sister or mother to Jesus, to be as family members, asks that we be as a community; that we have a sense of love toward the people around us, but also a sense of obligation, a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone whom we meet.
Such a sense of community and such a sense of duty towards neighbours explains the spiritual strength of the early Church, explains how it transformed the world of its time. Living in the Irish Midlands, the remains of the ancient monasteries are a daily reminder of those who gave their lives to Jesus’ call to be as brothers and sisters to him.
Just beyond the boundary of my parish lie the ruins of the abbey of Aghaboe. The place is a reminder of how much the ancient Irish Church meant in the history of Europe in the Dark Ages. In the year 784, Feargal, a monk from Aghaboe founded the cathedral in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Stand among the stones at Aghaboe, and it is hard to imagine how someone could have ventured so far and have achieved so much, yet the dynamism of such monasteries derived from the place of community at the very heart of that ancient Celtic spirituality.
In the 21st Century, when the prospects for the church in many places seem bleak, there is an enduring strength in rural places. Perhaps that enduring strength derives from the fact that, when it is at its best, the church can offer a true sense of community, something which can be found neither in money, no matter how large one’s salary, nor in possessions, no matter how exclusive the label.
Sometimes, experiencing the strength of the rural church, there seems to be a wide gap between the reality of life in the parishes and the picture of the church presented in the media. One cannot but be driven to the conclusion at times that if the truth doesn’t correspond with the agenda of the journalists, then the truth will be ignored. In countless parishes around the country, the picture some writers draw of the church, as something about to close down, is completely wrong.
It is troubling for the church to be under constant attack from the media, but it is also encouraging because it means that we depend upon the grace of God and the faith of the people to carry on Jesus’ work, to continue in the heritage passed down by those Irish monks. Like Feargal setting out from Aghaboe, we carry on telling the story of Jesus, and we work to build the sort of communities where Jesus would find a welcome.
Reality is not what the media voices say to us, reality is the day by day experience of people. This is what Jesus is saying in the Gospel this morning, ‘Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’. People will not judge the church on what they see on television or read in the newspapers, they will judge the Church on what they see in their own neighbourhood. The people will judge the Church on what they see in their own church. They will not judge on what they hear or read, they will judge on whether they experience God’s will being done in their own community.
It has been said that the problem with Jesus’ teaching was not that it was too complicated; the problem, for most people, is that Jesus’ teaching is too simple. Jesus says in plain terms, ‘love God; love your neighbour’. It is worryingly simple, it means we cannot escape, it means we cannot hide; it means we cannot make excuses.’Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’, says Jesus. Being a Christian is that straightforward, it is loving God and loving your neighbour, and, in doing so, being someone who loves Jesus.
People will come to churches, not because someone tells them they should, not because they have read about them in the media , but because when they come they experience a sense of love for God and they experience a sense of the warmth of the welcome; community with God, community with each other. It is not complicated.
But the church is only as good as its members, ‘Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’, says Jesus. We have to be the people who do God’s will; we have to be people who are like family to him.
Like Feargal, we need to be confident to be Jesus’ brothers and sisters in uncertain times and uncertain places.
‘Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’