A Sermon from Sherborne
The Christian tribe?
A sermon for the Parish Eucharist at Sherborne Abbey, preached on Sunday 18 March 2018 by The Reverend Guntars Reboks, Assistant Curate
Recently I spent three weeks on a placement in East London, Newham. And it led me think of what our Christian identity is. If we were to ask people on the street about their religious belonging, many would say “Church of England.” Ask the same question in Germany people will respond with “I’m a Lutheran” or “I’m a Catholic”. Or ask the same question in Russia and the answer will be “Orthodox”. People will usually associate themselves with a religion based on cultural grounds. But I want to challenge this view and say that Christianity is a culture in its own rights.
When the Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus (37-100 CE) wrote about Jewish history, he tells us about different tribes that that he knows of. He goes on to say that there is this tribe and they are like that, and then that tribe and they are like this, and then another, and another, and so on. Then, he tells us, there is also a tribe call themselves “Christians”.
What is a tribe? It is a group of people who are blood-related, an extended family. But it was different in the Christian tribe. People were not related by blood but by something much stronger: the Love of God. They were no longer Jews, Greeks or Ethiopians. They were Christians.
When Jesus calls God “Father,” “Abba”, he wants to see us all as brothers and sisters of the same Family. He points to the same idea also when from the cross when he says to one of his disciples, John, “This is your mother”, and hands his own mother Mary over into John’s care. He establishes a new kind of relationship between people; he creates a new kind of family. This was also what I experienced in East London, that people of different backgrounds, places and nationalities are coming together to worship and serve God: to live together as a family.
So when we say “The Church of England”, or the “Church of Sweden,” or “The Roman Catholic church” and so on, we are using a language that is very misleading. It is not “The Church of England” or the “Church of Russia”, or whatever. It is the Church of Christ and we all are part of it – part of God’s extended God’s family. We are the Christian tribe, related not through blood but through God’s eternal love.
And for that, thanks be to God.