Church as Family (Mark 3:31-35)

Who are your people? Some people have a “crew,” others an “entourage,” while some might call it a “clique.” Your people may be your family, they may be your close group of friends. You may be linked to your people by blood, by similar interests or work. Whatever the case is, we all have “our people,” those we trust, confide in, lean on and have each other’s backs. Introverted or extroverted, rural or urban, male or female, we all need a people to be a part of for an emotionally healthy life.

Jesus Christ turns who “our people” are on its head. This shouldn’t surprise us because Jesus basically turns all our basic assumptions upside-down. In Mark 3:31-32, Jesus’ people are trying to calm him down. “His mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.”

Back in Jesus’ time, your family was your people. Nothing was more important that family. In many cultures today, this remains true (Fast and the Furious, anybody?). Loyalty to family, obedience to family and keeping the family name unstained were pillars of ancient culture. But of course Jesus has to go and mess all of that up… “and he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”

What is Jesus getting at? First of all nobody can tell him what to do (except the Father). In v. 21, many were trying to restrain him thinking he had lost his mind. Here his family is calling him away from the crowd and his disciples, probably thinking they were helping him. Obviously Jesus needed to stop being so controversial and combative with the religious authorities! (See Mark 2:1-3:6) Jesus is saying, nobody gets to “restrain,” him.

Second, the Christian must look at family in a whole new way. When we choose to follow Christ, we should be entering into a whole new family. We should be loved, befriended by and loyal to our new brothers and sisters, “whoever does the will of God.” Sadly, this isn’t what the Church in the United States looks like. Baptism is too often a “one and done,” moment. The pastor and writer Francis Chan tells a sad story from his days as a pastor of a mega-church in California:

“At [my] old church in southern California, [I] baptized a gang member. The young man said he must have misunderstood church because he was expecting the baptism to usher him into another family where people are in your life “24/7”—like the gang had been. Instead, he came to realize it was more about attending a service every Sunday.”

 

When gangs do a better job of demonstrating care and devotion to their own than the Church does, we know we have a serious problem.

The church can not be a “building,” rather it must become a “people.” When the bible speaks of the church, it speaks of people, not buildings. A Christian needs other believers who are in their lives on a day-to-day basis, not a Sunday-to-Sunday basis. We need relationships with other believers where we can laugh together, mourn together, work together and even be rebuked together in order to grow spiritual and really follow Christ.

What steps can we make to do this, to truly become each others brothers and sisters instead of mere acquaintances? Briefly, I would say our obstacles are 1)geography, 2) inconvenience and 3) fear.

We are too spread out geographically within churches to really be invested daily in each others lives. Solving this will require radical change. Solutions include attending church based on being in your neighborhood instead of what is most comfortable; moving into the neighborhood of your close, Christian friends; starting a house church for those in your neighborhood (I am biased towards this one).

I believe the idea of deep Christian relationships is avoided because it is honestly inconvenient. We, especially as Americans, want control to do whatever we want, when we want, if we want. Committing to pray weekly with a brother or sister keeps us from doing something else, getting together to share a meal consistently can be burdensome. Serving others, having our schedule filled with the idea of building Kingdom of God limits our ability to do our things. Which is exactly the point; less us, more Jesus. When we insist on our own autonomy, we are saying, “I will follow Jesus when it is convenient for me.”

Finally, a huge obstacle is fear. We are scared for people to know us this intimately because we are all super messed up. I’d rather people not know that my wife and I fight on Sunday’s getting ready for house church. I don’t want people to know that I am far from a perfect husband or dad.

Which is why the church is so beautiful. We are to be like Christ, and love the unlovable, which when we get close to others, we realize is everyone! In relationships with our brothers and sisters, we learn God’s love for us through their love for us, unconditionally. Henri Nouwen writes,

 

“Community arises where the sharing of pain takes place, not as a stifling form of self complaint, but as a recognition of God’s saving promises.”

 

So, who are your people? For the Christian, that answer must include fellow followers of Christ. We need to embrace the challenging call of Jesus, to see that those who do God’s will are our new family, the ones we are called to surround ourselves with and embrace.

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