“Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2:11, NIV)
One of my favourite tracks to play and sing along to in the car is an adaptation by Carey Langtry of the hymn ‘Peace is Flowing like a River’. (In fact, it was thinking about it that led me to ‘Rivers in the Badlands’ as a title for this website.) After singing a couple of verses, he pauses to say a prayer that begins “Dear Father, Brother Jesus”. We often pray “Lord Jesus” but to address him as brother somehow feels daring and yet the verse above from Hebrews and other Bible verses encourage us to regard Jesus as our brother! Wow!
I’ll come back to this but, first, I want to say a little about the popular hobby of family history research. It has been one of my hobbies for many years and so I enjoy watching TV programmes like the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ or ‘Heir Hunters’.
What motivates people like me to give time to such research? I have to admit that it may be pride because we want to be able to tell people how far back our family records go or how many people of high status feature in our tree. (A second cousin of mine is an eighth cousin of Barack Obama. The relationship is through his mother rather than his Shortt father so, sadly, I can’t claim blood relationship!) Perhaps, on the other hand, pride in our ancestry takes the form of showing that we have come from ‘humble origins’ and have ‘made something of ourselves’.
Perhaps we are motivated by an interest in the people themselves who have, to some extent, shaped us to become the people we are. What were they like, our grandparents and our more distant ancestors? What were their lives like? We want to understand them better and, in doing so, to come to a better understanding of ourselves.
Perhaps we are motivated by a concern to create and preserve historical records for future generations. In former times, we used to record family births, marriages and deaths in what we referred to as the ‘family Bible’. We wanted these to be there for the future.
This concern is linked with a logical desire for completeness and accuracy of detail. We are constructing a jigsaw that has no edges and is multi-dimensional. We hunt for pieces to fit. We try to put together assorted pieces of evidence. We are detectives looking for clues that will solve the puzzle. Finding one missing piece can change the whole picture.
This concern is linked with a desire for a bigger perspective that puts our lives into context. Generations come and generations go. The children are born, the parents have great hopes, sometimes fulfilled but sometimes things turn out so differently. Family history study reminds us that we too must die one day.
However, I’m talking as if the pleasures of constructing a family tree are open to everybody and I am deeply aware that is not the case. I have friends who were adopted as infants and who do not know the names of one or even both their biological parents. Indeed, I have tried to help them in their searches.
A recent blog on the website of the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity entitled ‘Inherited Identities’ puts all this into context as it concludes with these wise words:
“Although we are shaped by our ancestors, we are not destined to follow in their footsteps; nor can we inherit the glory or guilt that comes from their actions. For ultimately the important question is not where you are descended from. It is not how you will be remembered. It is not even: who do you think you are? Rather, it is: who does he say you are?”
Our human families are important, very important. But if we have come to a personal faith in Christ, we are adopted into a new family! We are all brothers and sisters to one another in the family of God. We come from all generations and all nations into his family.
The Bible nowhere says that we should not care for and care about those to whom we are naturally related, our human kinsfolk. I say again, our human families are very important but this is even more important. We are in the family of God. Our identity and our standing before God is not ultimately in our human lineage, it is in our relationship to God our Father through Jesus his Son.
He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. We can therefore pray with Carey Landry, “Dear Father, brother Jesus”! Wow!
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