Best and worst

*an opening prayer inspired by the story of David and his son, Absalom,
in 2 Samuel 13-18 and Ephesians 5:1-2*

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2, The Message

Praise to You O Suffering God.
You know the wounding of skin that was made to love,
the piercing of flesh with nail and thorn,
and the far greater rending of heart and of hope
through deception,
denial,
and desertion.

By humbling yourself in human form,
You have seen us at our best –
and at our worst.

You understand that love can lead to light and life
as easily as it can to death and destruction;
that a word spoken in anger can be an instrument of justice
or a wrecking ball of devastation;
that one day our family is a sanctuary, a source of strength and support,
the next, the people who we have given the most power
to drive us crazy or do us harm.

As we gather, this day, in Your holy presence
– our whole being hoping for Your faithful love
and great redemption –
we pray that You will gather together
both our beauty and our brokenness,
with Your infinite tenderness …

Graham Kendrick “O Lord, Your tenderness”

Day Twenty Seven: Extending Family

Psalm 148
Isaiah 49:5-15
Matthew 12:46-50

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy
in each other’s life.
Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
Richard Bach

Maybe it was simply because it was our first Christmas away from home, but this year I found myself particularly aware of distance (both geographical and emotional) in relationships.

As I was talking on the phone to my youngest brother in the United Kingdom, even he remarked, “Well, now you know how it felt for me – that first Christmas in a strange country. Except, you cheated – your whole family moved with you.” 

As I ponder those words “your whole family” in light of today’s texts, I am amazed at how God has enlarged my capacity for love and my experience of joy through the blessing of an extended family accumulated over the years:
a family born not of blood;
but of shared belief and service,
of stories offered and received – some light with laughter,
some heavy yet somehow lightened by the telling;
of conflicts worked through and forgiveness offered;
of – as Richard Bach puts it – respect and joy in each other’s life,
no matter how far away we may be or when last we talked.

What were your thoughts, your feelings about “family” over this sacred season?

Who did you reach out to?
Who reached out to you?
Who did you long to hear from, but didn’t?
Who are you missing?
Who do you feel physically or emotionally distant from at the moment? 

At the height of Jesus‘ ministry, his mother and brothers try to visit him, but the room in which he is teaching is packed with people and there is no easy way for them to gain access to him.

So they send in a messenger with the news that they are waiting to see him; confident that when he hears about their arrival, he will wrap things up quickly to spend time with them.

Instead, what follows is a radical act of inclusion as Jesus stretches his hand out towards his disciples and commands,
“Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother”
Matthew 12:49-50 (The Message).

His declaration may well have hurt or offended the members of his “blood” family as they waited outside for him, yet it is a truly authentic statement for the Son of God-who-nurses-Her-people (Isaiah 49:15).

As we enter into a shared life with God, we enter also into a life shared with people who we may not know very well or (as sometimes sadly happens) who we may not even like very much but to whom we are bound by obedience to the God who has formed us and who uses us to “tell the prisoners, ‘Come out of your prison’” and  “tell those in darkness, ‘Come into the light’” (Isaiah 49:9) …

… and those newly liberated,
new to life in the light,
in turn, become brothers and sisters along life’s journey
for the extension of Christ’s kingdom is not a campaign aimed at conquest
but a grace-filled invitation into an ever extending family
formed by the Father’s own hand,
liberated by the love of the Son,
and held together by the Spirit of Truth who testifies to our belonging.

In looking towards the new year, who are the people that God is calling you …
… to love?
… to forgive?
… to journey more closely alongside?
… to invite into the family?