Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
Let's look at the family : the traditional family is disappearing. There is an abandonment of what many have thought was the traditional family. It is no longer possible to have fixed etiquette over such matter as weddings and who follows the bride, many a bride now has to ask, 'which father will give the bride away'. This is no less the case for Christians families have changed,. A recent survey of American Christians showed divorce higher than the national average. Perhaps half the marriages we perform in church will end in divorce. Today's reading Colossians 3:18 Our reading from Colossians today looks at family relationships and gives us some models for how we should behave in the family. But what do we make of them?
- What does it mean for the woman to submit to the husband as is fitting in the Lord?
- How should a husband show his love for his wife?
- How should children behave towards their parents if they are to be obedient?
- How should fathers not cause their children to be bitter?
- How can slaves be truly obedient to their masters?
Hold on slaves obedient to their masters? I'm not sure that I like that one! Let's cross it out and just leave the other ones. Because we now see that slavery is something that we have in society as a result of the fall. One group of people lording it over another, its shameful and Christ has released us from this.
But wait! If Christ has released us from the idea of slavery what about the demands he lays upon us in relation to the family? Well it's alright to condemn slavery but the truth is that it is not really alright to condemn the family. The family is a sacred symbol, given by God for the good ordering of society. Why the family is so sacred that a divorced person was not allowed to take communion a short time ago. They had transgressed the great divide, they had failed to find salvation by the traditional family model! But was the family ever meant to be the vehicle of salvation, are its structures sacrosanct? Has it been the great foundation of civilisation so that we are right to listen to the great teachers who tell us how to preserve the family at all costs. Many organisations are now devoted to preserving the traditional family and its God-given roles for men women and children- are they right or wrong?
Well first of all what did Christ tell us about the family?
A straight reading of Jesus would lead one to think that he was actually anti-family. We know a great deal about the ancestry of Jesus. It is the perfect situation for somebody who loves looking at their family tree. All of Jesus' family dynasty is shown from Abraham to Jesus, like a huge family soap opera they are all spoken about with no attempt to excuse the indiscretions of white or black sheep. When we read the gospels the life of Jesus is shown by Luke and Matthew against the background of his human family. But there is a curious change of direction at the start of Jesus' adult ministry. At the announcement of the Kingdom there is little interest in the family of Jesus. For the rest of His life he remains celibate, doesn't live at home and rarely sees his closest relatives. Its only in the Hollywood life of Jesus Mary and Joseph take starring roles. In the original script they are extras. Joseph his father is never mentioned again after the infancy narratives, the gospels show little interest in his four brothers and his sisters are never even named. Jesus appears to have severed his links with his home at an early stage in his ministry and he seems to be in direct confrontation with his family who think that he has gone mad. (Mark's Gospel provides the best reading).
Perhaps we gain more from the way Jesus expected his followers to relate to their families.
Here a curious picture emerges, Jesus announces that the Kingdom will be good news and yet his first act is to call four brothers to leave their families. My Sunday School teacher taught me to admire their spontaneous and wholehearted commitment but what about their responsibilities to their father Zebedee left standing on the shore. What about the hired men who depended on the sons' management of the family firm? What did the young wife of Simon Peter think of her husband going of for a life of poverty with an unknown religious cult leader? Surely Jesus is encouraging irresponsibility? Apart from Jesus does shouting at the Pharisees for using the law of Corban to neglect their parents for families Jesus is bad news! As Jesus went along a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go', Jesus said to him 'Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lie down and rest'. Jesus warns that discipleship involves detachment from home, having no place to belong'. Matthew 8:21 He said to another man, 'Follow me', but the man said 'Sir, first let me go and bury my father'. That would seem a reasonable request! Most employers would give time off. Even if the father was not yet dead the man was showing considerable care for an elderly relative,. But Jesus answers 'Let the dead bury their own dead, you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God'. Another man said, 'I will follow you but first let me say good-bye to my family' Jesus said to him, 'Anyone who starts to push the plough and keeps looking back is of no use to the Kingdom of God' Again Jesus appears to be wilfully breaking up families by calling his disciples to leave home. Political parties sometimes tell us that families must stick together. But Jesus is the divider of families. His disciples left them and we hear very little about them at all. Peter a married man spoke up for the others when he said, 'Look we have left our homes to follow you, yes Jesus said and I assure you that anyone who leaves home or wife or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom will receive much more in this present age and eternal life in the world to come'.
Jesus in a sense begins a new family. Those whom he calls to himself do not become citizens but rather children. God is like a father. It is a family whose kinship is related not by kinship but rather by faith. The disciples are a new family. Jesus showed this most forcibly when the his mother and brothers came to arrest him Mark 3:31. He said that now he had a new family and his mother and sisters and brothers would be his disciples. So perhaps some of our ideas about the sanctity of the family need to be reassessed.
What has been the effect of the family in society?
Before we run to recover a lost utopia of family life it is worth asking what our utopia was like.
The traditional nuclear family has for many years been seen as a stable unit in which to bring up children and in which everybody knew their place and duty. However it must also be recognised that it has also been a place of oppression, violence and abuse—predominately of women and of children. For many it has been the perfect respectable cover for cruelty and manipulation. Partners can be trapped in marriages where there is no love but rather imprisonment and abuse. Often it is biblical passages which are seen as proof of the man's power and authority, passages like Colossians and Ephesians. It has provided the means to oppress women because women were to be the ones who stayed at home whilst the man went out and earned the living. Women were therefore less powerful had less say in society. This has been to the advantage of men and of course since the church was governed by men it has been to the advantage of the government of the church.
The traditional church teaching on the family must take some responsibility for the fact that women have been deprived of ministry in the church. This is an ingrained prejudice against women which has permeated life in our country. It was only in 1914 that women were given the right to sit on parish councils. Practices were once common in the church such as the men all receiving communion before the women. A short time ago women were refused permission to read lessons in church let alone preach, we are still fighting for the ability of women to be allowed to minister. I remember well statements about a woman deacon who was to work in the church and the cries of the congregation that the place of the woman was in the home, looking after the family. There are still churches in England to day where that is so. A woman who desires to follow something different from the pattern of husband and children is still today frequently dismissed as a Lesbian, breaking the God-given pattern. In the Church of England there are still untouchables. The woman can not do this or that because of her sex which is the most comprehensive insult that can be made to a human being.
Listen to a quote from the early part of this century 'Deacons choristers, church wardens, acolytes, servers, and thurifers, even the takers up of the collection are almost exclusively men. If at any time not one male person can be found to collect, the priest does it himself, or after a long and anxious pause some woman, more unsexed than the rest, steps forward to perform this office. In one church I am told it was the custom for collectors to take the collection up to the sanctuary rails, till the war compelled the women to take the place of men, when they were directed to wait at the chancel steps. In another it was proposed to elect a woman church warden when the vicar vehemently opposed it on the grounds that this would be a slur on the parish. In another the impossibility of getting any male youth to ring the sanctus bell induced a lady to offer her services. After anxious thought the priest accepted her offer 'because the rope hung down behind a curtain and no one would see her'.
I must in a sense be careful because of course in many societies the subjection of women which resulted from the fall is still practised as the norm. In many countries where we seek to go and work or visit on holiday women must be careful how they dress and behave because women are still regarded as chattels. But be careful it is not all over here. We are still arguing as to whether women will be allowed to minister fully in the church of England.
The study of Tony Walter and Gary Simmons in Third Way (April 88) was concerned to discover why the Gospel message was appropriated by women far more readily than men. Their conclusion was that women were more able to understand it. The study showed women
- Incapacitated by guilt
- Subordinated to men, even welcoming subordination
- Sacrificing themselves for their men and their children, who often do little in return. 'Me Tarzan (me initiate), you Jane (you follow).
This is often the way we behave. Women are allowed to seek a person outside themselves whilst men are called to take the lead in relationships. Some see this as part of creation, others would recognise this as part of the fall. The first suggestion of male dominating female is part of the judgement inflicted on them following the fall in Genesis 3. Christ comes to redeem us from a Patriarchal God who appears on earth as a male human being who proceeds to side with the poor and oppressed and gets crucified for it, he gives up his patriarchal power. The response system makes more sense to women, they see it agreeable to respond to the initiative. They also see it more clearly when the call is there to make sacrifice. They tend to speak of their faith as everything, whereas a man will more usually say his faith makes sense of the world.. Women are more tuned to the idea of sacrifice, and willing to make change in their lives.
But what is the real role of women, can they have jobs and children? Can they break once accepted patterns of behaviour? Or will they always be made to feel that they have broken the God given pattern of submissiveness when they take jobs?. How can we talk about women taking their place in the home when we live in an age when men are unemployed and women are often the only ones able to find casual employment? Once accepted Christian norms are now almost a world away for many Christians.
Men are just as confused as women. It was once easier, the church taught that you were made in the image of God, that woman was a biological mistake, that Eve sinned and you were really the right gender that God had intended to make. You were encouraged to make the women do the housework and tend to the children whilst you go to work and then indulge in recreation. Now these message are not so clear. We are giving women more and more power and authority, even in the church. Men are being told that it is alright to cry. They want to renounce their aggressive role but feel bound to it, they want women to be independent but feel threatened by it. They desire a more balanced sexuality and yet feel compelled to perform. At work men are called on to be businesslike, ambitious, competitive, rational, at home they are told to look like the new man on the Mothercare catalogue and be loving. They are confused.
Those men in the most demanding positions professions are often those with who lack that personal language with which to express themselves. They are among the most insecure as they always have to provide proof of their masculinity. Is it any wonder that men are so troubled with the mid-life crisis as they try to come to terms with their own identity.. left feeling insecure and unable to express themselves. There is now a backlash against men by women. Men are all rapists and women should be enabled to have children without the need to have a man around. Women like Michele Pfeiffer can adopt, others call for the right to have insemination.
Parenthood and Children
The old ideals of parenthood and roles of parents are now incapable of meeting the needs of the family. Many children will grow up in families with absent fathers, where father is not welcome in the home or where the government is desperately trying to locate him to make him pay, when all other mother wants is to see him as far away as possible. One parent families are not any longer unusual but will increasingly become as common or more common than two natural parents. Most children who are abused are abused by friends and members of their own family. The abuse which children have suffered in the home secure environment is laughable. There can be no claim that the home is the safest place in which to bring up many children. Often parents refuse to believe children and blame the children for the abuse. And of course children can be abused by kindness as well as cruelty in relationships where they are regarded as appendages of the selfish parent and not allowed to grow and be free to live their own lives.
The demands of women and men to have children, irrespective of their own sexuality, or condition is a dangerous and worrying sign. I would not have thought it a Christian ideal to advocate single sex relationships as a suitable environment in which to bring up children and yet this is now becoming accepted to the extent that adoption is an option considered by man. Yet equally selfish demands for children gains respectability in the confines of marriage. The desire for children and multiple children to gratify ones own desires and need for dependents is no less a form of child abuse than many others for which we rightly convict in the courts. Children are also confused they live in a strange world in which immense pressure is placed upon them to conform to set appearances and behaviour. Growing up has become more complex for them to deal with at precisely the time that they do not have the capacity. Growing up has also come much earlier in life and one wonder where childhood has gone. Take the issue of sex. There was never an easy time for any generation to deal with growing up, but what do we say to children now. Christian advice was always
- Do not go to bed with someone before you are married and
- Do not go out with a non-Christian.
These rules are as good as extinct so that to keep repeating them is simply to show oneself incapable of understanding the emotions and difficulties of courtship in the nineties. Whilst to take what may be the pragmatic or realistic way out and insist on your daughter going on the pill and giving out condoms can be seen as the ultimate permission to do as we please. Indeed how easy is it for parents to give advice to children about relationships when the concern of the parent may be how the children will receive their latest 'friend'.
It seems that parenthood begins with exhaustion: lack of sleep because the baby is awake and demanding, and yet as the children get older parents lose sleep still worrying over the teenagers who seem so vulnerable and yet demand do much independence. All parents seem to feel the same. You can't demand obedience to the parental decree because they are likely to stop listening to you altogether and you can't just ignore them because often you feel that they are going headlong over a cliff and repeat all the mistakes which you made.
For children of all ages it is hard to relate to parents. They always think that they know best, and they make unreasonable demands, and it doesn't stop. They ruin your fun when you are young by stopping you doing things and they ruin your life when they are old by making unreasonable demands when you have your own family to look after.
More people are living to a very old age. 80's and 90's are now the order of the day. Moreover the state is not going to care for them all so more will be thrown back at the struggling and ill defined family, which will be breaking up under yet another pressure. A certain kind of care and provision for elderly relatives can be demanded as a threat a kind of spiritual blackmail which is held out as a necessary for all true Christians.
Why are families breaking down? Is it really because women have failed to do as they were told and parents do not know how to treat their children? No I would say that these were instructions given to the church by Paul in order encourage people to give themselves in relationships and not to lord it over others and be selfish. Why are families breaking down? I would tend to use one word and that is selfishness. Selfishness from all sides. Pressure from husbands and wives for their partners to behave in certain ways and a refusal to persevere when the going gets tough to try to work things out. Human greed and selfishness generally lies at the bottom of most family difficulties. Marital failures take place because husbands are violent and beat their wives up because wives fail to sacrifice themselves and because husbands and wives desire other people and give in to their selfish desires to experience another partner. Whatever the reason it is generally the result of selfishness we all need to give more.
- Husbands and wives need to give more to their partners of themselves and their time.
- Children need to think less of themselves and parents ought to spend more time with their children learning to understand and help them.
My reasons for the breakdown of family life centre on selfishness and not the breakdown of traditional roles. It would be true to say that marriages seem to be on the rocks more today than in the past but I wonder if that really is so. Probably marriages have always been unhappy for many people, there have always been affairs. Yet as in the Victorian period there was much hypocrisy, prostitution was a national outrage and yet men went back to their wives. Nowadays we are simply less inclined to remain in unhappy relationships, there is an escape which has never been there before either socially or financially. So what can be done?
We cannot rebuild the family structures of some era in the past., whether the hypocrisy of the Victorian families or the extended families of the Old Testament. We may be in danger of seeking after an illusion of some kind of system which has been for many oppressive and dispiriting. We need to look again at the roles of men and women and children and not think that we have got some divine blueprint which was working and which we loose at our peril. Paul was writing for a fallen society. Men were Lord over the women and Paul was trying to encourage mutual submission, the woman continuing the norm of society in obedience and yet encouraging the man to give himself in sacrifice as Christ sacrificed himself for the church. Such an injunction would eventually eradicate the need to think in terms of submission and obedience. Ghandi did not advocate a policy of non-violence because he supported the oppressor but because he saw it as a way of bringing about change. Do we honestly think that Paul today when looking at a situation in which family roles had changed would urge women to be obedient to husbands? Would he not say submit yourselves to one another, stop being selfish
We must not make an idol of the human family, family life can be every bit as selfish as any other. The expression charity begins at home comes to mind. God's love is wider than the family and we are encouraged not to be insular in our love, we cannot be exclusive. We have a responsibility to a wider family of which Jesus said we are all one. God is far more concerned with our spiritual location within the family of the church.
In the New Testament Jesus says that we must not be like the Gentiles who exercise power over one another who like being bossy and ordering others around. He is not just being critical of people who like to be bossy he is being critical of the structure themselves. We tend to have a fixation for power and authority. Even the Greek word 'diakonos' has been translated in English, minister which means someone with political power or spiritual office. Jesus calls us to be 'diakonos' servants, later in the same verse Jesus uses the word 'doulos' which means slave. Slaves one of another. It is this which must characterise our relationship inside the family and outside the family in the bigger family of the church. We are servants, or slaves. We should not use structures such as the family to make demands and compel others to serve us. Rather we should all look for ways to think of others before ourselves. By this will the selfishness which destroys all our relationships be gradually overcome.
The church has been fond of dualism. Matter has been divided from spirit. This dualism has been extended into the sexes with a male/female division. The male has represented the souls and female the material, because the material or physical has been seen as evil and hence woman has become evil. The assimilation of female male dualism into body soul dualism has left the woman defined by her carnality and ethically dangerous to man as the arouser of his passions. This is reflected in the need to suppress women and to punish her for being the temptress. The image of God like a mother Isaiah 66:13 Jesus like a mother hen Matthew 23:37 As Mary Daly said, 'if God is male then the male is God.' This divine likeness of the male has allowed and encouraged him to take positions of power and dominance, assuming divine right. The liberating power of the bible has been overlaid with feminine hermeneutics. In the church women have had to accept a role which has denied their humanity, their intelligence, their, spiritual gifts, everything suppressed in submission to the male. This should not lead us to Goddess worship, the pendulum can swing too far. It leads to female divine images and mother earth concepts. Feminist theology has tended to focus upon experience as an essential feature of theological practice. Women were first at the cradle and last at the cross.
The traditional family has disappeared and we now have a very strange new set of models which we have to look at and try hard to figure out. Making pronouncement on the family can now be seen as rather like trying to stick Humpty back together again. In the first part I looked at the different expectations and I know that very many people found that helpful in giving you some material to try to think about how to negotiate your way around the moral maze. Of course all of this leads us into very difficult areas because the epistles especially give teaching about the family and this teaching was given in a very patriarchal and fixed family network. Wives be obedient to your husbands as in the Lord now rings a bit hollow when he has cleared off with his secretary. We are having to rethink a great deal of our theology about the family and relationships and it is a difficult challenge for the church. Anyway I focused on the family, and in part 2 I would like us to think about the Christian family. For if the traditional family is breaking up and roles are changing and having to be thought out afresh, what about the Christian family. What is our place in the Christian family, what is your place?
Jesus begins a new family.
Those whom he calls to himself do not become citizens but rather children. God is like a father. It is a family whose kinship is related not by kinship but rather by faith. The disciples are a new family. Jesus showed this most forcibly when the his mother and brothers came to arrest him Mark 3:31. He said that now he had a new family and his mother and sisters and brothers would be his disciples. The family of Jesus are those who do His father's will Matt 12:46 Luke 2:48 The church is the household of God Eph 2:19, 1 Peter 4:17 Of course almost all of the early Christian congregations were family or house church meetings in domestic buildings and led by the householders, including husband and wife teams Acts 2:46 Rom 16:3-5 1 Cor 16:15 Philemon 1:2 and so it would have been meaningful for Paul in the Epistles to spend time telling families how to behave, they were Christian families. Families were important to the Christian movement in the sense that they expressed the new relationship which the Christians had entered into one with another, words such as adoption, sonship, inheritance were used frequently of the Christian gospel (Eph 3:15 1 Tim 5:1-2 Phil 10).
These words are incorporated into the baptism service. We are brought into the family of the church. This is one reason why it is so important that the service takes place in public worship. To signify that this is a relationship with others which is going on, the joining with a family. The Book of Common Prayer uses the words adoption and incorporation) (Page 255 speaks of giving notice at the night before or before the beginning of morning prayer) There are many ways in which the church could be thought to be a household of faith. There are many ways in which we are like families. The Christian is incorporated. We ask that God will 'forgive us our trespasses, as forgive those who have trespassed against us.' There is a reminder there that our forgiveness and acceptance by God is conditional upon us showing the same regard for others as God shows to us.
This corporateness is something which we need throughout life in secular and church life. Many people believe that it is the lack of control by parents over their children that is the prime cause of the escalation of juvenile crime. Yet, looked at in the historical perspective of the transition from traditional communities to contemporary mass society, it is not the lack of control by parents over their own but over others children that has opened up the possibility of large scale juvenile crime.
There needs to be an involvement of every member of the community in the life of the community if it is to be made to work. Community is vital to the church the sharing and acceptance. The business of ecumenism at a local level is the business of how well we can incorporate into our family the different members who are part of it. It is an exercise in love, tolerance and sharing. One of the commitments of this partnership has been combining our different traditions sensitively, so that no one would feel too much had been denied or undervalued. It is good to report that the term LEP is now dead, the renaming has taken place and we will now call Local Ecumenical Projects—Ecumenical Partnerships!
But I want us to think today not just about our incorporation into the family. I would like you to think about the other half of the equation. The baby is baptised on an understanding as a promise, but that promise has to be turned into something personal. (Read page 256 bottom of page on right about the baby being baptised as a promise until he come of age). The time when a child is given the opportunity to confirm that the promise has been accepted is at confirmation, come to church on September 27th and we will give anybody who wants the opportunity to do this the chance to publicly own their baptism vows for themselves.
Where do you stand in relation to your baptism? That is the message of the passage from John's Gospel. Peter was preoccupied wondering about somebody else and Jesus said, stop, what about thinking about yourself. That is a major reason why we have this baptism service in our worship, to remind ourselves of what we are about as Christians. I know in the questionnaire few of you indicated baptisms as being particularly helpful ways of worshipping but stop and think when there is a baptism, where am I. Think of the promises which God makes to the child who is baptised, those are promises made to you. Then think of the life to which you have been called and ask yourself how is it going. Baptism is personal for the child, personal for the parents who are so pleased with the baby God has given them, is it personal this morning to you.? Do you know what it means when we speak of the forgiveness of sins.?
Family life is very like church life. In a family there are those who sometimes do not pull their weight. You may have somebody in your family who doesn't pull their weight. Who expects others to do the work for them, you will know that in these cases what happens is that everybody else has to carry them along. If they lived on their own they wouldn't get away with it. We used to say that my little brother watched that advert on television with the milkman who has milk bottles that walk themselves to the doorstep. He thinks that if he finishes a bottle of milk off he can put it back in the fridge and at night when we are all asleep it will jump out wash itself and hop back on the front doorstep. Now he is part right, if he puts it back it will find its way back to the doorstep, but it will be done by somebody else.
Ask yourself this morning, have you brought your own contribution to the life of this church. If not then how are you trying to bring your peculiar contribution. There are many ways that we try to avoid our responsibilities in church life. One way is to simply leave everything to others. You could be bone idle and sit down and say, let them do it. Wendy once quoted to me the saying if you want something doing ask a busy person. This is very true the people who are prepared to get stuck in, who are not afraid of working, these people are the ones we tend to turn to because we know that they are reliable, take their duties seriously. May God give us all the strength to take our duties seriously, yes in family and church life. One way is to criticise others for the way that they do their bit.
Churches like families can be full of criticism of others. One sure way of clearing your conscience about your lack of effort is to criticise the effort of others. I am sure that it did me much good to have been a member of a church at a time when a lot of people were bailing out and going off in search of fulfilment to churches elsewhere. I remember as a young teenager thinking that it was strange to leave a church because it was lacking in some way and go and set up another church elsewhere. If we were all to do that then where would the church ultimately be. We would be splitting up by the minutes and going off to form another church with people who were more like us.
Local Ecumenical Projects have just been renamed. We are now Local Ecumenical Partnerships, people working together, learning from one another, bringing our own special contribution. If you think that that there is a failing, a shortfall in your church then thank God, that is your gift, bring it to the attention of the church and let the church work in partnership with you. Where would the church of England have been if all the supporters of women's ordination had cleared off because the church wouldn't ordain them? We would have been left with an unbalanced church, and those who left to form another church would have been unbalanced as well. Thank God for all the brave women who stayed and prayed and worked for women's recognition, so that the rest of us should be able to hear God's voice telling us where we had gone astray.
Co-operation with God is a matter of constantly bringing ourselves into his presence, so that he, like any loved one can help us to know ourselves. Our following of Christ demands a receptivity without ambitions for what we want, only by so doing can we avoid the worst of betrayals, the judgement of others. One of the dreadful things about churches is that they can be seen as places for power struggles. This is human nature but it is unfortunate when it relates so closely to church life. Perhaps the worst offenders are the clergy themselves.
In the New Testament Jesus says that we must not be like the Gentiles who exercise power over one another who like being bossy and ordering others around. He is not just being critical of people who like to be bossy he is being critical of the structure themselves. We tend to have a fixation for power and authority. We see ourselves in our power struggles not in isolation, if we are to be in centre stage then other people must be excluded from it, standing in suitably subordinate and decorative positions.
Think of Joseph's dream... 'Behold we were binding sheaves in the field and lo, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and behold your sheaves stood around and made obeisance to my sheaf.'
We are seldom content simply to know where we stand, we are eager to know where others stand in relation to us. We want to see the script and the stage directions to make sure that we are not being 'masked', that we are still the focus of the dramatic action. This was the problem with Peter. The model of the church is not that of Joseph's dream in which all the sheaves bow down around the powerful ones. The church can easily become a power structure we must be wary of it. Even the Greek word 'diakonos' has been translated in English, minister which means someone with political power or spiritual office. Jesus calls us to be 'diakonos' servants, later in the same verse Jesus uses the word 'doulos' which means slave. Slaves one of another.
It is this which must characterise our relationship inside the family and outside the family in the bigger family of the church. We are servants, or slaves. We should not use structures such as the family to make demands and compel others to serve us. Rather we should all look for ways to think of others before ourselves. By this will the selfishness which destroys all our relationships be gradually overcome. Such is the inexplicable variety of internal dispositions, that the same course and order in all things will scarce serve any two souls' Father Baker (Holy Wisdom 1 II: iii:8)
If this is so then it is a foolish soul indeed which believes himself or herself capable of writing another persons part for them and assessing their progress in it. 'I only tell you your own story' says C.S. Lewis's Aslan to the inquisitive child. The Christian life is not a solitary life, we are constantly being knit together into one communion and fellowship, his work is not to isolate but to unite us and to bring us together into one fellowship. Yet there is a need for each one of us to listen to the voice of God that we may know our part in the whole. The model is rather that of the choir, each singer being able to read his or her part so that the richness of the harmony can be heard. If we simply look at our own part we will be surprised at the richness of the harmony. Raymond Raynes said that 'life was a love song which we sing to Jesus' Very sentimental perhaps, but fundamentally true for the Christian. Only it is not a solitary serenade, but a madrigal. In singing a madrigal there is a right way and a wrong way of listening to the other voices. A dedicated and critical attention to what everyone else is singing is conspicuously unhelpful. You have a part to sing that no one else can supply, concentrate on that, in the light of Christ, and for the rest, What is that to thee? follow thou me' John 21:20. Perhaps we should be less concerned with what our neighbour is doing and a little more focused on what God is saying to us. Sometimes membership of the Christian family can be an excuse to blend in with the crowd. We need to recognise our individuality.
Heavenly Father we a part of a community and we need to listen to others and share and be tolerant of what they are. But help us also to hear your voice so that we might develop our own relationship with you so that we can be what you would have us be.