Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
The gospel reading we’ve just heard is one of those which can make us feel really uncomfortable.
It’s a little like the story of the miracle at Cana when Jesus turns on his mum and says ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me?’
We tend to have a rather idealised and rosy view of Jesus’ family relationships. All must have been sweetness and light with a never a cross word being uttered.
Yet, today we hear how his family went out to restrain Jesus, for people were saying, “He is out of his mind.” They are concerned that things are getting out of hand and they are frightened about the turn of events. We don’t know if they were motivated by embarrassment, self-interest or fears for his safety. Whatever it was, they were determined to speak with him even if that meant sharpening their elbows to get to the front of the crowd and to jump the queue of his followers. When Jesus is told that his family has arrived and want to speak with him, he asks, “who are my mother and my brothers?” I wonder how they must have felt? And then comes the shocking revelation as he looks around and says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
On the surface it feels as if Jesus is snubbing his family and turning his back on them, and yet, he is also widening the net of who are his family. He’s being truly inclusive as he gathers in, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” Jesus is open to everyone and he doesn’t judge by outward appearances nor by stereotypes. He shows an even-handed, unconditional love and welcome to all whom he meets. He is open-hearted to everyone and wants to listen to their story and experience, rather than simply imposing his own views on them. Jesus always begins where people are, and then leads them to transformation.
Who was near Jesus then, and who is near Jesus now? Well, they are people who are broken and scarred by life; wounded people made whole again by God’s transforming love. If you haven’t yet seen Alison Clarke’s wonderful exhibition, Broken Beauty, in the Retrochoir, then I’d urge you to do so today before it closes. Building on the experience of 3 June attacks, Alison explores what it means to bring beauty out of broken wounds, using the Japanese technique of highlighting the wounds with gold. We can’t make invisible mends to our wounds, but our brokenness tells our story; a new way of being.
As disciples of Christ, we too are called to bind up the broken-hearted and to set people free. Caring for the people of God lies at the heart of the gospel as we see the face of Christ in all those we meet. But it’s far too easy for congregations to feel that pastoral care is simply the remit of clergy and the religious professionals, someone else’s job. It is not and never can be. Churches which are truly alive and transformational are those where everyone cares for each other and looks out for their needs. This morning I’d like to make an appeal for us as a Cathedral to do just that - to get to know one another and care for each other. It can feel a little scary to begin with because it makes us feel a little vulnerable. It means getting below the surface of simply nodding and saying hello, though that’s a pretty good start in itself. It could mean finding out what really makes another person tick and what is important in their life. Asking some, ‘How are you?’ And really wanting to know the answer.
In his Rule, St Benedict exhorts his brothers and sisters, ‘Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’ We may well be entertaining angels unawares. So how do we welcome visitors and tourists, dare I say potential pilgrims, who happen to come in to the Cathedral during our worship on Sundays? Are they fine so long as they are seen and not heard and don’t take photos? Are they second-class citizens, overlooked in favour of our regular congregation? Or are they ‘received like Christ?’
Chapter has made pastoring disciples, you and me, a priority for this year and we are working hard to make this a reality. The foundation for this is everyone’s responsibility as we care for one another. We are both a cathedral and a parish church, but the expectations of pastoral care here cannot be the same as a parish church where the majority of people live nearby within the parish. With a congregation as large and far flung as ours we need your help to identify those we haven’t seen recently who might need contacting. Please keep an eye out for those around where you normally sit. In good Anglican tradition most people sit in pretty much the same seat week in and week out! If you don’t know the people around you, take some time before or after the service to speak to them, especially if you haven’t seen them before. Take them with you to coffee and introduce them to others, rather than simply pointing them in the right direction. That makes all the difference to the quality of our relationships and can help newcomers to feel part of our community, rather than sitting on the sidelines.
We are blessed in having Marion Marples and Heather Smith as our SPAs and Caroline Clifford as Reader. Each of them has a pastoral ministry both within and outside the Cathedral and they exercise a wonderful ministry. There is a fantastic team who run our Robes Project, giving very practical care to vulnerable people. We have recently set up a pastoral team and we are planning a number of initiatives to help pastor the disciples of Christ. These include providing a ‘listening ear’ after the morning Sunday services for those who would like to speak with someone. We are going to train people to give pastoral care over the phone for those who live far away from the cathedral but still feel to be part of the cathedral family, as well as building a team who can do hospital and home visits. And we are investigating how we can become a more dementia friendly community. Watch this space for more information about these initiatives.
In the gospel, the ones not pressing in on Jesus were those who took him to task because they knew for certain what true religion looks like and how relationships should be. In contrast, Jesus transformed broken people by first noticing them and looking on them with love. May the same wounded Healer, look on each of us - scarred and fractured yet loved beyond our wildest imaginings, and make us bearers of his healing grace to all whom we meet, welcoming them and caring for them as if they were Christ.