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Sermon - 5 February 2006
Bible Verses: Isaiah 40: 21-31 & Mark 1: 29-39
(click the verses above to read the passages online)

Family is a Cultural word

NZ Herald Friday Feb 3, 2006
Mr Clark said he and his friends would only fish two hours each side of high tide. "At high tide there's too much water for good net fishing," he said. Mr Clark said people often scoffed at locals trying to warn them about dangers in and out of the surf. He had seen a man who was dragged out to sea and would have drowned, if it had not been for the quick actions of a strong swimmer who happened to be at the beach.
"Thanks to him the guy who got into trouble could just pick his life up where he left off, but these people don't realise that the lifesaver's life is also at risk," Mr Clark said.

Beachcomber Neville Searle, who has been walking and fishing Ripiro Beach for more than 20 years, said he saw several small children, the eldest no more than six-years-old, wading out into a huge sweeping tide a few days ago.
"They could have been bowled over ... but the amount of abuse you get from adults who you try to warn them is unbelievable," he said

The Gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus had just come to Simon’s house after a symbolic clash in the synagogue – the Jewish church-where he tackled face on the powers and principalities which destroy life, he openly exposed the deficiencies of the systems beloved by the scribes but which destroyed peoples lives in the very place which should have been there to free people to live.
People went away wondering who Jesus was and where he was coming from.
Straight after that, Jesus is at to Peter’s house in Capernaum. Peter’s mother-in law has a high fever, no antibiotics in those days, and although it‘s the Sabbath, Jesus heals her, restoring her to be able to minister/serve her guests. The news goes out and crowds quickly form.
Jesus could have settled in permanantly but we are told when they turn up for next morning’s clinic, Jesus wasn’t to be found. Jesus isn’t there, ready to heal, to fulfil people’s needs. What is Jesus doing? He is at a deserted place, well - trying to be- until Simon and the rest track him down,he is praying. I wonder why? There’s all these people who need help? It seems that Jesus is having to focus on what his essential task was, to get things in perspective.

He was doing good things, but was he in danger of losing the plot on his mission? Remember, he had just been out in the wilderness and been tempted with the opportunity to feed the world, rule the world and have all the power he wanted, and he had said No!
When his disciples try to bring him back Jesus says, I've got to keep going. Lets go onto the neighbouring towns to proclaim the message there also for that is what I came out to do.”
Repent, turn to the ways of God, The kingdom is near, beside you, believe in this good news. And this will confront the forces which seem to have sway over the world, and our lives.

How do we translate that task into our daily lives? waht does Jesus mission meanto us in our daily living and following of Jesus?

I wonder how many of us feel powerless and frustrated when we see people being hurt, nations being stirred into a frenzy seeking an excuse to destroy other people. And how did you feel when I read the article from the Herald?

At Baylys Beach, north of Auckland on the West coast the locals know that the tides are often unsafe. Their knowledge is a life and death knowledge. I hope they aren’t put off by that family not hearing, the next time they see children about to be drowned. I hope if my family are there they would tell us, we wouldn’t miss out wth tragic consequences because they had given up stating the obvious, with compassion, because they cared about whether we lived or died?

I get very upset when people trivialise the Christian faith to a feel good for me formula. Or some sort of individual heavenly life insurance which means I can forget about others and do my own thing.
Jesus challenged the cultural customs in his own people which had drawn boundaries which kept people out and made doing that part of the system. One of the major areas he really questioned was that of what makes up a family. Because as our government has discovered whenever it tries to define a family, and Destiny church discovered when they rather naively tried to say what they thought was obvious, family is a cultural word. Jesus' definition of "family" is so breathtakingly wide that it challenges all closed concepts of what family is.

When, the beachcomber, Neville Searle, tried to warn that family on the beach, he was acting as family, he was making the assumption that he had a responsibility for those people who were strangers. That he had some communal responsibility for the next generation. He could have just walked away and thought "well its their own problem" but he didn’t, and it sounds as though the locals try, regardless of the response, to exercise what they believe to be right and good. They advise and warn people of the danger they are in. They also know that they will have to be the ones to rescue them at that unpatrolled beach.

What the locals do not realise is that they are up against a world view which has boundaries / values which are different from theirs. Those families have no idea that others might actually care about them with no conditions attached. They either are so proud, so arrogant, so fearful of strangers, or so possessive of their rights about their children that they are willing to keep up a boundary which may mean death for their children whom they are busy protecting. [or themselves.] They are also depriving their children of finding out that others care.

I have no idea what Neville Searle's beliefs are but I do recognise that those expressed in this report in the Herald are compatible with the message of Jesus Christ.
I also know that family values are not the way to go, in any political or expedient definition; whose family? whose values? I would ask and be very sceptical unless unless we mean the interdependant human family of God. The place where the nurture of children is important and they know that each one is loved, and they ;earn to love and as they grow to care for others and learn to be part of the wider world.

In a secular country like New Zealnd, people make the mistake of assuming that values are somehow neutral, that there is a common universal understanding. – No! Values are driven by often unarticulated belief and if we are to live together as this diverse nation we cannot assume a common understanding of human values.

The world view of the Christian faith clashes with any who would have family values which form closed groups, which produce a them and us which is destructive to the outsiders.

I will give another example. If a country has an underlying values system which assumes family is absolutely the most important grouping– and that may well be a wider family group - then all ones values will be centred on that family/clan/ tribe etc. that will be how one measures what is right and what is wrong and what is moral. The outsider is made into a secondary person and doesn’t count when the chips are down. So if you have a job of employing people for something and members of your family apply, your first loyalty is to that group and it is right and moral within those customs to employ that person, even if another person is more suitable for the task. If telling the facts will hurt your family then to lie is the correct moral thing to do for that system. Extend that thought to justice systems of a country, educational opportunities etc and you very quickly get an “every person for their family” and those who have no family for whatever reason, become the outcasts of society. They do not get food, often only the most basic of help, and there is no concern for their care. Throughout history Christians have by word and deed taken good news that every person matters to God, they are part of God’s family, and have shown love which has affirmed and enabled people who were devalued and discarded and people have heard and families, communities and nations have been transformed.
We must acknowledge that because Christians are as fallible as anyone else that has not been a perfect trip. People have been hooked into ego trips, got off task, and much has been done in the name of Christianity which is terrible and life destroying but also a lot more has ahppened with has been life givng to millions of people.

In our society we are going to have clashes, [ not about surface cultural differences, we can have different cultural customs but share an underlying belief about human values, the cultural custom is just a way of expressing that] but about our common humanity.

The Christian faith is clear about who matters, God has no favourites. Isaiah gets it in perspective. He tells the good news to the dispirited captives of the Babylonians- this God who looks down and sees you like grasshoppers cares. Trusting in this God, we are told to love one another including our enemies for that is the only way true transformation of the world comes.

In this community we struggle to love, we do it imperfectly, we open our doors to the area to serve our community and people of every creed, race language and needs come here. I guess that Dingwall Trust and staff try to do that too, and the founder of Dingwall did his best in his time and age to set up something which would bring life for the children who are in their care.

We will be challenged, and we must listen carefully to challenges for if we are doing the work we are called to there will be confrontation with systems that devalue people. But people, whoever they are are precious in the sight of God, and even that statement can get you into trouble on a New Zealand beach in summer when you care enough to act.
And if we would tell people on a beach about the danger they are in how much more are we not to be silent but to tell and act on the good news of Jesus. We are free to love and not be possessed by hatred, we are free to try to follow Jesus and trust in Gods grace and to be given life and to give life, which is of lasting value. May God be with us as we reach out and touch the world with God's love.

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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