Family is an amazing thing. I’ve met my Canadian cousin only a couple of times in my life, and not since the year Charles and Diana got engaged, whenever that was. But recently we have "met up" through Facebook and can chat away over the internet as if we’d never been apart.
Family is not the same as the group of random people that you rub alongside in your daily life. What makes family connection so real is the shared heritage. It is such a very special thing.
It’s the family who are called to the hospital bedside at the end, after all, not the boss, or the milkman, or the nodding acquaintance from the bus, or even the best friend. It’s the family. And, on a happier note, unless there are problems in your family, most of us enjoy a family gathering. (I even enjoy other peoples' family gatherings which is maybe a little weird). The hilarity can be great, because of the shared heritage. Funny stories get re-told for the umpteenth time and teens and young adults have to endure teasing about embarrassing things they did when they were wee and how all the cousins were once put in the bath together, etc..
Of course, not everybody’s family is perfect. Well, nobody’s family is perfect. But many families have major issues and problems and the family analogy may be a difficult one for some of us here to get our head round this morning, if our own experience of family isn’t good. A lot of the prisoners who tell me their stories have really terrible family situations. Complicated and messy and bitter and broken and sinful and criminal and generally dysfunctional. Think Jeremy Kyle. Think it, but don’t watch it, for goodness sake.
But I believe that all of us, no matter how screwed up our own family is, and how much hurt we have suffered, are created with an innate understanding of what a good family would be, and not only that, with a desire to be part of such a family.
The opportunity to belong to the Church (with a capital C) is an opportunity to have one of the deepest of our heart-cries met. The need to belong to a good family. Of course, just as our own biological families have an odd assortment of characters in them – odd aunts and eccentric uncles and the black sheep and the family sage and the family clown and so on, so also the church is made up of a random assortment of people.
My own local church family is made up of a huge age range of people, male and female, working class and middle class (if you can still say that), able bodied and disabled, ill and well, happy and sad, highly educated and barely educated, different nationalities. All sorts. And that randomness, I reckon, is what makes it so cool to be a part of. It’s so interesting.
I believe that God’s kingdom on earth, the true church (discounting the fake church, which also exists, but I haven’t got time to talk about it - but the true and the fake are all mixed up together, like wheat and weeds in a field…)is a powerful demonstration of the fact that God made all kinds of different people, ON PURPOSE, because He saw that as good, and that He loves all of them, and that under Him as Father, we are FAMILY, as random in our make-up as your family and mine, but we are still FAMILY. Dysfunctional, yes, but still FAMILY, and now that I've paused to think about it I think that's fab.
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