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Wanniassa ACT
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We are family

When I was a theological student, many years ago, our Homiletics lecturer (whose unenviable job was to teach a group of young students how to write and present a reasonable sermon) was named Frank England. Rev England managed to make even the art of preaching, reasonably interesting. He assured us regularly that the age-old custom of sermons with three points had many advantages, one of which was that they are easy for people to follow, understand and remember. If you wanted to go to the trouble of making the points alliterative, or rhyming, it would be even easier for your hearers to remember your masterpiece.

He illustrated his point with the parable of the Prodigal Son, which not only caused us great amusement, but after over forty years some of his examples still spring to clutter my mind whenever I hear this parable...like “he asked for his pay, he went far away, he started to play", and "he went to the dogs, he lost his togs, he fed the hogs”.

Professor England reached retirement and, of course, there was a farewell celebration put on by the faculty and students. In the manner of students since time immemorial a song was written in his honour (sung to the tune of "There'Il always be an England") with the usual tongue in cheek humour. I don't remember any of the verses but I do remember part of the chorus:
“There'll always be an England, within the student's hearts
It's just as likely to fade out as sermons in three parts”
It may have been unthinkable to preachers of yesteryear, but in fact the three point sermon, has pretty much become a thing of the past. But today, I'm going to cater for those who may look back with nostalgia to "the good old days".... And hope that some of you may remember the points after 40 minutes, if not 40 years!

The record of the baptism of Jesus is familiar territory, and I guess we’ve all thought about the implications of the pronouncement “this is my beloved Son.” This has been a foundation for theologians in their discussion about the divinity of Jesus, but other commentators have said that the emphasis on these words was not so much on divinity, but on relationship. This is a concept which is so familiar to us that we can be rather blaze about it. But at the time, this was a stunning, an awesome idea:
God is in relationship with Jesus, and by extension with humankind. This is a very foundation stone

of the good news and Jesus builds on it throughout his ministry. Not long into his public ministry he reinforces this idea when he makes the startling statement, “My family,” he said, “my mother, my sisters and brothers are anyone who seeks and does God's will". It's as though Jesus stood at the front of this church here, looked around and said to us, to you and to me, “You, the congregation of Tuggeranong Uniting Church on the 7th January 2018 YOU, like me, are children of God, we are family, YOU are my family."

What are the implications of this startling concept? What would you expect to notice in a group of people who were family? Well, here we have the first of our three points, an obvious one which is one of the topics of comment at any family reunion… Family Likeness. “Oh, he’s got the family colouring, hasn't he? All my boys love their sports, just like their Grandad”. Or less proudly perhaps, “that poor little mite has his father's helicopter ears, and the older sister has inherited Nanna's bad temper!”

So, what characteristics would we expect to see as family likenesses in a gathering of the family of God, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ? Not physical ones in this case, but the more significant features which are equally obvious in a common gene pool? Each of us could probably come up with our own list, but hopefully we would have many things in common when we compared our ideas of what Family Likenesses we notice when looking around us.

Members of this family inevitably look on the world with a kindly eye, would laugh and rejoice in the joy of living, would aim to leave the world a better place than they found it. Any member of the family of God would share a common interest in the welfare of their neighbours, would be concerned with issues of social justice, would take a responsible approach to the use of the world’s resources, would care about the treatment of the animals who share our planet. These would not be like the characteristics which only exhibit themselves in some of those present at a human family gathering. These are family likenesses which are integral to the very nature of every member of this family: the family of God.

The second of the three alliterative headings which will make this sermon stick in your memory bank is Family Loyalty. Not invariably, but pretty commonly a characteristic in the average, well-disposed human family. I was one of a large family, but didn’t think that it was particularly well organised in that the two siblings closest to me in age were boys rather than the girls with whom I might have had more things in common as a small child. They tended to laugh at my extended conversations with invisible companions, hide my dolls and turn their noses up at my invitations to play dress-ups. My brothers were not particularly unkind or uncaring but more often than not rejected the pleas of their bothersome little sister to be allowed to join their games with their mates.

One day, I came in from school to find them already sitting at the kitchen table while Mum buttered the bread and jam which would be our afternoon tea. She turned to greet me and with a mother’s instinct held her arms out to me and as I cried into her apron said, ‘Was someone mean to you on the bus?’ I nodded and she said, readily identifying the neighbourhood bully, ‘That Billy Smith!’ Nothing else was said, and I having composed myself, Mum finished preparing the snack and coming to distribute it said to Allan, ‘Where’s Robert gone? He hasn’t had anything to eat.’ ‘He’ll be back in a minute’ was the reply, ‘He’s just gone to thump Billy Smith.’

Family loyalty within the family of God hopefully doesn’t usually mean resorting to physical violence, and I hope you won’t take my childhood memory to assume that I’m advocating it! It does, I think, imply a concern for the welfare of our fellow
Christians. It’s the reason for the some of the items in a congregation’s intercessory prayers: why do we care about what is happening to Christians throughout the world, or in a congregation at the other end of the Presbytery, or even about the problems of other pew sitters in our own congregation if they are not personal friends of ours? Simple Family Loyalty.

Family loyalty also means that we don’t sit on the fence if the church is attacked in our presence. While acknowledging that our fellow Christians are not perfect, when they are in need of our support, we are there for them. We may have our differences, and within the family our relationships will not always be without their problems, but any of our siblings should not have far to look when they need a friend.

Perhaps you’ve already worked out the third of my three point sermon? In the footsteps of Paul, I could say, ‘Now abideth these three: likeness, loyalty and love…. And the greatest of these is love.’
I remember discussions I used to have with my pre-schoolers back in my teaching days, as we tried to work out how to define a family. In these days of great diversity it’s no longer a simple thing. Quite commonly in any class of children we could have single parent households, blended families, same sex parent families, multigenerational families. I remember once having a family made up of a grandmother, an uncle and two children left behind by an absconding mother! After some discussion, in successive years, and with multiple groups of children eventually some little Solomon would say, ‘It doesn’t really matter who they are, a family is people who love each other.’

Family likeness and family loyalty say something significant about the way we are called on to live our lives. They can make us a little uncomfortable perhaps. Challenge us to rethink some of our attitudes. Make us resolve to be more aware of the implications of being disciples of Christ when it comes to how we feel and act towards each other.

But when it comes to point three, family love, I think the most significant thing it is saying is not about us, but about God. God calls us family. Now we all know that families are not perfect. Some can be dysfunctional and even abusive. If that is your experience of family I hope that you can see past that experience and look toward a family where each member is accepted, valued and loved without limit. Because that is the family which we are each freely invited to be part of: the family of God.

And this is what I find really amazing about this statement that Jesus is the beloved Son, the foundation for the idea which identifies us as the family of God, the brothers and sisters of Christ, not anything about how we feel or act toward each other, or even how we feel and act toward God. What I find amazing is what it says about how God feels and acts toward us. Jesus calls us, you and me, his sisters and brothers. What he is saying is that, these characteristics of families: likeness, loyalty, love are not only features of our attitudes to each other, but also of God toward us. Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

Narelle Sellar

Narelle Sellar is a retired children’s services director, and teacher. Narelle is a member of Canberra City congregation of the Uniting Church. As a long term lay preacher Narelle regularly leads worship services in a range of venues, and has also regularly supported TUC when we have been in need of preaching assistance.

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P: (02) 6231 0488
F: (02) 6296 3403

Comrie Street
Wanniassa ACT 2903

PO Box 423
Erindale Centre ACT 2903 

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering, fellowship and ministry.

We come together for authentic and Christ-centred worship. While we worship in a variety of styles, we share a common focus on faithfully listening for God’s Word and sharing His kindness and compassion with others. We express our love for God and others through a range of ministries, and connections with our community.

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