“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”

“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”

In the beginnings of the Anabaptist/Mennonite movement, most people in Europe couldn’t read. Instead, they committed large collections of scripture to memory, and the church leaders organized those verses topically.

I have a written copy of that oral concordance and I refer to it often in my sermon preparation. It has many familiar categories, like ‘Fear of God,’ ‘Repentance,’ and ‘Discipleship’ at the top, and some spiritual but almost strange sounding names like ‘Concerning False Prophets and the Antichrist,’ ‘Do Not Depend on the Great Crowd,’ and ‘Useless Chatter.’ The one that I turn to often lately, however, is ‘God is not a Respecter of Persons.’

Causes and theological emphases change from decade to decade and century to century, so we should expect things, in a list like this, that we don’t understand or aren’t passionate about anymore. But, to consider that God doesn’t respect our personhood goes beyond strange into troubling. Why did early Anabaptists list this notion as one of the core Christian topics?

It’s never easy to know what people five hundred years ago were thinking, but they really weren’t that different from us. Many of our contemporary bookstores keep Christian books in the “self help” section. Evangelical Christianity places a high emphasis on recognizing Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Saviour. Even in Mennonite Church Alberta, we are emphasizing encounters with Jesus and many of us only know how to do that as individuals.

Early Anabaptists wouldn’t have an issue with using our Christian spirituality to help ourselves, with us talking about Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour or with us as individuals encountering Jesus. They would have been fine with all of that, as long as it didn’t end there. For many people in our world, their spirituality begins and ends with their own personal encounters, experiences, and opinions. Early Anabaptists and Christians throughout history and around the world have always pushed beyond that.

Lately, in our worship and community life, each of us has had ample opportunity to focus on our individual spirituality. For the rest of the church year we will be encouraged to focus on our own encounters with Jesus. But, one of many things that the pandemic response has taught us, even the quietest and most introverted among us need to express our spirituality in community. And, when we do that, and embrace the individuality of the people in our community as much or more than we embrace our own personal freedoms, we will see their needs as more important than our own. Our full humanity is only realized when we celebrate the full humanity in people around us.

Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.”

- Matthew 12: 48-50 CEB