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‘Jesus has come to do something different. To be something different.’ – The Revd Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner

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Title: ‘Jesus has come to do something different. To be something different.’

Preacher: The Revd Canon Maggie McLean

Date: Sunday 9 June 2024, The Second Sunday after Trinity


Most of us in the Minster this morning probably have heard of Quakers – fewer of us might have heard of ‘Shakers’. Shakers were a small Christian community which emerged in Manchester in the mid 1700s but found its greatest flourishing in America. They were at first called ‘Shaking-Quakers’ because of their boisterous dancing during worship. However, the shorter name was the one that stuck. Today only one Shaker village remains. Part of the reason for the demise of the Shakers was their strong belief in celibacy. They thought having children involved sin. You can do the Math! Today Shakers are best known for their beautifully simple worship songs – including the tune to ‘Lord of the dance’ – and some beautiful, spare and handsome furniture.

The Shakers believed that the second coming of Jesus was already underway and because of this many of them also abandoned the institution of marriage because – in the words of Jesus: ‘In the resurrection people neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels of God in heaven’. As we heard in our New Testament reading today, “we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus”.  So the Shakers, confident that the end time was already here, saw themselves as living in heaven on earth.

It is easy to understand how gospel passages, such as the one we’ve just heard, contributed to the Shakers’ idea of a radical new community. Probably a lot of people called them mad and in  todays Gospel reading, that’s exactly what people were saying about Jesus. “He has gone out of his mind”.

His family becomes so concerned about him that they go to retrieve him. However, the crowd is pressing in so tightly around Jesus that there wasn’t room even to lift an elbow to eat, let alone allow people in, so his family passes forward the news that they are there. The response from Jesus is startling. He asks who his mother and brothers are and answers his own question by pointing to those around him: “Here are my mother and my brothers”. It must have come as a crushing blow to his family, perhaps even confirming their anxieties about his state of mind. What on earth could he mean?

Mark places this event right at the start of the public ministry of Jesus. Jesus has just appointed the 12 disciples and now he is rejecting his family. This isn’t a coincidence. Jesus is making the point that something entirely new is underway.

The 98 year old German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann – whose death was announced last week – reflected on this passage. He argued that Jesus is here proclaiming something radical, the creation of new relationships – what he describes as a Messianic community – a sacred family worshipping a common heavenly father. Moltmann was keen not to underestimate how shocked people must have been about what Jesus had said. Moltmann notes, “it is a Jewish mother that makes a person a Jew”. So when Jesus asks “Who are my mother and my brothers?” it would feel like a rejection of his basic identity. Not only that, but a breaking of the 5th commandment, to honour “your father and your mother”.

This explosive incident at the start of the Gospel marks out the fact that Jesus has come to do something different. To be something different. In him all relationships are altered and transformed.

We need to think beyond the narrow limits of the nuclear family to remember that, through baptism, we are born again into a new community. The Prologue to St John’s Gospel could not make that any plainer:

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.  

We might think that the Shakers understanding of the church was too extreme. But they were living in one way, something all Christians are called to live in some way. Not by rejecting our immediate family relationships, but by recognising that we also belong to a new community that is coming into being. A community that connects us to siblings across the world, young and old, poor and rich, different but united. Together we share our kinship with the same loving creator God.

In a week when the world has lost a great theologian, the last word should belong to Jurgen Moltmann. He never lost his great hope in the Gospel and, within that, the one God who is and always will be, perfect love:

“there is someone who is waiting for you, who is hoping for you, who believes in you. We are waited for as the prodigal son in the parable is waited for by his father. We are accepted and received, as a mother takes her children into her arms and comforts them. God is our last hope because we are God’s first love”.

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