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Don’t you love the way children sometimes respond to questions? I came across recently a set of questions about different aspects of relationships, and I thought you might like to hear a few:

Is it better to be single or married?

Anita, aged 9: “It’s better for girls to be single but not boys: they need somebody to clean up after them.”

Kirsten, aged 10: “Single is better for the simple reason that I wouldn’t want to change any nappies. Of course, if I did get married, I’d figure something out: I’d just phone my mother and have her come over for some coffee and nappy-changing.”

How do you make a marriage work?

Ricky, aged 7: “Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like a truck.”

Lori, aged 8: “If you want to last with your man, you should wear a lot of sexy clothes. Especially underwear that’s red, and maybe has a few diamonds on it.”

How do you find the right person to marry?

No person decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.”

I originally asked Margaret if she’d preach on this subject, because relationships and discipleship are right at the heart of CreateLincs. However, circumstance with our grandchildren mean that she has to look after two of them today, so what I’m going to say today is really the result of a joint effort.

Relationships are never simple, and I’m sure you’d agree that in life our relationships are a key challenge, whether we’re Christians or not. For those of us who have committed ourselves to being disciples of Jesus, it makes sense to look at how Jesus related to others, and see if there’s a model that we can emulate in some way. His relationships are like a series of concentric circles.

  • Three close disciples – Peter, James and John

There were times when Jesus needed to be with just these closest of friends: on the Mount of   Transfiguration, in the Garden of Gethsemane. There are times when we have things we need to share, which we can only talk about with our closest of friends and which we could never share with a large group or the whole church family. Even Jesus himself needed that intimacy with just three special friends.

  • The twelve disciples

But then he had the larger group of twelve with whom he certainly shared much of his life. He taught them, and they travelled widely with him around Israel, and they were a very mixed bunch: they included two quick-tempered and ambitious fishermen, a tax collector, someone with lots of doubts, someone who broke his promises, and someone who, in the end, betrayed him to the authorities for a paltry sum of money, possibly in the hope that it would force Jesus’s hand into revealing himself as the military Messiah Judas was hoping for to overthrow Roman rule.

  • His family

There’s a passage where his disciples tell Jesus that his mother, brothers and sisters are outside, and Jesus says, “Who are my brothers and sisters? Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister or mother.”

If you think this sounds like a rejection of his blood family, I think that’s a misunderstanding. I believe what Jesus is doing here is to say that the Christian family is bigger than mother, brothers and sisters. In Christ, we have been brought into a new family which includes our blood relatives, of course, but also all who’ve expressed their faith in Jesus, the big family of God.

  • The 70/72 followers

Then there were the 70 or 72 that he sent out on mission to spread the gospel of the Kingdom. Now these were people who’d obviously been following Jesus, had received his message and were now willing to spread that message. I suspect that, although these were following Jesus, he didn’t necessarily know them intimately in the way that he knew the twelve or the three, but they were part of his wider group of acquaintances.

  • The crowds

The crowds at times were numbered in thousands, because we know he fed 5,000 on one occasion. The Bible tells us that his heart went out to these people because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He could never know each one of them individually, but he cared for them enough, not just to provide them with teaching, but also to heal them when they were sick and to feed them when they needed food.

  • The strangers and foreigners

Think then of some of the individual people he ministered to: the Samaritan woman at the well, when Jews had no dealing with Samaritans because they were considered to be heretics. Just compare that to the lovely Muslim shopkeeper in Glasgow who was killed by a fellow Muslim last week, not, as was originally thought, because he wished his Christian friends a happy Easter, but because he was considered by his killer to be a heretic.

Think of the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter Jesus healed. These were the people who, in the Jewish faith, were unclean, not to be related to; but for Jesus, there was no one to be excluded from his love.

  • The Gentiles

Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion – just about as Gentile as you could be and part of the repressive Roman occupation at that! For his followers, some of whom were almost certainly hoping that Jesus would be the Saviour from Roman rule, this must have been very hard to swallow.

  • The Pharisees and Sadducees

I think we have to make mention of these religious leaders because they were the people with whom Jesus had to most fraught relationship.

They quizzed him, they tried to trick him, they plotted to kill him on several occasions, finally being successful with Judas’s help. Jesus certainly engaged with them in debate: there are long sections of John’s gospel where he does that. But in the end, they are the one group who come in for some really scathing judgment for, above everything, the thing that I think Jesus hated most – hypocrisy.

Neil Cole has described the church as a family on mission, so what did that look like? One characteristic above all stands out for me: he moved about and didn’t stay in one building, expecting people to come to him. This is Jesus’s three-year itinerary according to Mark’s gospel:

Nazareth – Galilee – Capernaum – the local villages – Capernaum – Lake Galilee – a local mountain – back to Lake Galilee – across the lake – Gergesa – back across the lake – Nazareth – the surrounding villages – Bethsaida – Gennesaret – Tyre – Sidon – the Decapolis – Galilee – Bethsaida – Caesarea Philippi – Galilee – Capernaum – across the Jordan into Judaea – Jericho – Bethphage – Bethany – Jerusalem – Bethany – Jerusalem.

From north to south, it was about 95 miles; from east to west, it was about 40 miles. Jesus and his disciples were on the go a lot of the time! They would eat together, sleep together, rub shoulders with each other and probably had times when they found it difficult to get on with each other. We know that there were times when they got irritated, such as when James and John wanted to be those sitting on his right hand and his left in his kingdom. They even tried to tell Jesus to send the crowds away at times when they’d probably had enough for the day!

As they travelled around, they had meals with all sorts of people. Sometimes they were invited, like the time he was invited to dine at one of the Pharisees’ homes (not, of course, because he was interested in following Jesus but probably out of inquisitiveness to see what this itinerant preacher was all about: if you remember, the Pharisee in question didn’t even have the courtesy to offer Jesus water to wash his feet on entering his house, which any courteous host would have done). Then there were occasions where he invited himself, as he did to Zacchaeus’s home. Sometimes he stayed with folk who’d clearly become good friends. To the woman at the well, he simply asked for water to quench his thirst after much travelling.

There’s one thing Jesus never said to those who decided to follow him: “Now you have seen who I am, make sure you go to the synagogue every week.” Discipleship was not about synagogue attendance: it was about relationships. By dramatic contrast, his last command to them was, “Go! Go into all the world, preach the gospel and make disciples.” I have no doubt that Jesus went to the synagogue, but the gospels record only three occasions when Jesus was in a synagogue, compared with the numerous occasions when he was engaging with individuals, groups and crowds in people’s homes or in the open air, on a mountainside or from a boat on the lake.

So you and I are a family on a mission. Spreading the values of the Kingdom of God should be our priority. Jesus chiefly wanted disciples who would make that shift from the customary me-first to being outward looking., to living in the Kingdom way and spread its influence.

Last week, David challenged us as to whether we were Christians or Biblians: followers of Jesus or slavish followers of the Bible. Our challenge today is how far we are just Christians or truly disciples. The word disciplecomes from the Latin for learner, so, if we’re not learning or we’ve stopped learning because we think we already know it all, we’re probably not being disciples.

So, do we each have relationships that will help us grow as disciples? If not, what can you do about it?

You could join a home group, or form a new small group with one or two people that you trust and could share your life with, so that you belong to other Christians beyond the 1½ hours on a Sunday morning. You won’t grow by just listening to sermons on a Sunday morning, no matter how good they may be. If you’re already in a home group, do you see yourselves growing as disciples? Is your group just a study group, or is it a group committed to seeing each other grow spiritually? There’s a big difference. If you don’t think your home group is furthering your discipleship, why don’tyou make it a subject for discussion? This might take courage. Change nearly always involves risk – but have you the courage to not be a disciple?

Finally, you might ask what’s distinctive about this pattern of relationships which is particularly Christian, and reflects an upside down kingdom? After all, non-Christians have close friends, wider groups of friends and acquaintances, families and bigger groups that they probably interact with. Well, of course, the answer is in the passages which we read this morning and which I haven’t so far referred to at all. In Matthew, we’re instructed to love our enemies, and in 1 John we’re told to love one another. Out in the world, if you don’t like someone, you don’t have to have anything to do with them, and you can just cross them off your Christmas card list…job done.

Well, in the family of God, this upside down kingdom, we can’t do that. You’ve heard the saying, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” Well, you’re my family, and I’m stuck with you for better or for worse, and you’re stuck with me and we’re all stuck with each other! That’s the upside down nature of the Kingdom: we’ll never all agree, but we need to love each other and build one another up in our discipleship. Richard Rohr, a wonderfully reflective American writer has said, “We should spend less time focussing on who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out, and more on communicating God’s radically inclusive grace to the world.” We do that first by loving one another, then by showing that love to our friends, our neighbours, and those who we find difficult to love. Let’s today renew our commitment to be more than just Christians, to see our discipleship as something much more than simply worshipping for an hour on Sunday morning, but, through a fresh commitment to one another, to be true disciples and to encourage one another in our discipleship.

  • 2 Corinthians 10:17-18

    “But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

Wed Aug 17, 12:00 -
Wednesday House group
Wed Aug 17, 18:15 - 21:00
Boys Brigade
Thu Aug 18, 10:00 - 14:00
Source Cafe
Thu Aug 18, 10:30 -
Home group (Leasingham)
Thu Aug 18, 18:00 - 21:00
Girls Brigade
Thu Aug 18, 19:30 -
Music practice
Fri Aug 19, 18:30 - 21:00
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Sun Aug 21, 10:45 - 12:00
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Mon Aug 22, 07:30 -
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Mon Aug 22, 09:30 - 11:30
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Short mat bowls
Tue Aug 23, 10:00 - 12:00
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