Jesus and come dine with me

Luke 14

In amongst the TV that my daughter sometimes watches, there’s one that truly boggles my brain. People go round people’s houses for dinner, and then the people who have been fed and watered clearly to the best of the host or hostesses’ ability are then rude about it! I watched one part of this, and I was like, bad manners are now a TV program?

But that isn’t a million miles from what Jesus was up to today!

Imagine being invited for dinner and then really lecturing them on how they decide to seat people. Especially when they have seated you at the seat of the most honour.

As much as that program riles me, it’s fair to Jesus is quite rude to his host today, and my sermon today is to maybe look at why.

In Jesus’s time, the Pharisees held dinners for visiting itinerant preachers that moved from town to town. This was just such an occasion that Jesus was invited to. The seating for said dinners was very much ordered by your standing in the community; the higher honour, the better seat, however quite often, people used to try and move up the social ladder or be seen too by moving themselves up in the order of seating.

In an Honour based society, the more honour you could have been seen to accrue, the better for you.

Loss of honour meant shame, and the word shame entomology can be directly routed back to being forced into a lower place around the table.

This jostling for position is probably what Jesus was watching going on when he spoke up


So we have to ask ourselves what’s got Jesus upset enough to be so forthright and blimmin rude really.

 how we work that out really goes to the heart of how we use the bible as a guide for our lives. What’s a rule, what’s a paradigm, what’s an ethic, what is moral? It’s work we should do because Confusing those leads to all sorts of trouble. Treating a paradigm or a metaphor as a rule leads to literalism, and that’s a path to madness.

In simple terms,

Jesus isn’t after you changing where you sit.

Physical seating only matters, in this case, if certain seats are seen as having more honour. So if the seats at the front of the church are seen as more honourable then the seats at the back are the place to be. But if it doesn’t matter to you, then it doesn’t matter.

I say this as someone standing at the top of the church has moved from a special seat. I’ll be honest with you, it bothers me greatly until I came to the realization that people do have to hear what we say up here and be able to follow the service and that’s best done in a place where people can see us.

Today’s story has many layers, and seating really disguises

what Jesus is actually on about today.

The story is  about who we invite to the table, and who  indeed invited by Jesus and  whom we should invite to whatever we consider as places of honour, the best seats, the greatest places, those who we show off as worthy or merit and honour

The occasion in the story is a feast, and soon we are all to be invited up here to Jesus’s feast, and as a church in this story, we have been shown here as to whom should be invited.   

Because The most crucial thing Jesus is asking  us here today is this question, the question we should go away from today with


Who  does Jesus want us to ask “Friend, move up to a better place.'”


It’s kind of the story of Luke, really, Luke is the gospel where Gentiles are invited to the feast. Gentiles were considered by Jesus’s audience to be unclean, beyond redemption, sinful and breaking rules that God cannot forgive. 

They were withheld from religious rites that religious law stated god does not want at his table, and those who’s sin debars them due to their breaking of certain theological or religious norms that meant they cannot be accommodated.

When Peter questioned the inclusion of gentiles god said to him do not declare anything unclean that I have called clean.

This brings us to the central point

Who is beyond Jesus’s grace is the central question being asked here.

Todays story shows us that , nobody is beyond grace, nobody is beyond his love. Everyone is invited to the table indeed to the places of honour, because of Grace, which is why  god has declared us clean.

Grace is why Jesus came, Grace is the central idea of every word in the bible. It’s the drop that encapsulates the meaning of the ocean . The roots of the word Grace mean  Rejoice I am Glad.

Grace is for those that are declared beyond the pale! 

So to drill right down to it the story today is actually becomes about us.

Those whom that are considered unclean by us, lower than us untouchable, aberrant, who are so far from what we consider acceptable that we don’t want them in that door.

What I would really love from today is if you go out of here and think about who and why you might choose to stop from some religious rite, baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, marriage whatever.

Think about  that and then realise. whoever you think of as beyond grace, Jesus is today saying these are  whom you should invite to the places of honour, and whom Jesus calls friend as well as you.

I’ll try and illuminate that story by a couple of stories


I read a story recently, and a lady of the night was asked to come to church and her response was “why would I go there it would only make me feel worse!. That’s the reverse of Grace.

A bishop and a curate once were going to see a man who’s wife had left him  after he had cheated on her. The Bishop asked the curate, could you ever imagine doing something so awful?
The curate said no of course not.
The Bishop said, you better stay behind then.

Nobody is beyond grace, nobody is more or less broken than one another and all are called friend, and invited to his table.

That is what Jesus is saying today,  nobody is beyond his grace.

That’s it.
Amen

The How, When, Where and Why of prayer

Luke 11- 1-13

Nobody really knows why Luke’s Lord’s prayer is shorter than Matthews. It’s just one of those things, but what both versions show us is persistence is vital. Each one a vital petition that we say on numerous occasions, I think the Lord’s prayer is mainly for us, it’s about keeping us on track and giving us a prayer to say keeps us persistent. That makes sense because prayer as someone said
Prayer IS God, it is the movement of God to man and man to God, the rhythm of encounter and response. The more we move back in focus toward God the more he responds.


The mistake we can fall into is to call prayer that moment we bow our heads and clasp our hands.
Why because even a passing thought as to what God might be is that he is always, has been and always will be, is that he doesn’t wander off. He is always present. That means there’s nothing we do that we cant give to God, do as if Gods with us, because he is.
Something that really reached me when I heard about it is Benedictine spirituality. The Benedictine monks lived lives of prayer and hard work. However, St benedict said that we never need to separate the two. Because we can bring God into all our mundane activities. This teaches that everything we do can be done to the glory of God, everything we do can be a sacramental object where God is made present. We don’t have to wait for a eucharist, we can turn the washing up into a eucharist. A thin moment where God is with us. I recall doing the washing up once and really making sure it was perfect, because this was an act that God was present in. Because its self evident God is always present, Paul knew the separation or lack of awareness of God was artificial.

Paul uses the phrase to be “In Christ”, and Christ tells us he is in us and we are in him. Christ can no more be separated from anything we do that to say our Leg isn’t with us on a walk. It’s us that sort of lose sight of him and forget he’s around. To say hes always watching, makes it sound creepy, but he cant not be around, hes every where at all times, in us and with us and around us. Ive been married 30 years this year and Mrs T has seen me at my best and at my worst, and that process deepens our relationship and bonds. Its no more intrusive having God around while I do the washing up and having Mrs T around. In fact that chatter while the mundane acts of life continue is truly relationship.
So This means if I do the washing up, and give that act to God, I should do it to the best of my ability because he is in that act. He’s there anyway, but we can make everything we do an act of prayer that we bring God into, share that moment with God. As st Benedict said we can make the Hoe and the scythe as holy as any sacramental object on our altar today.

To look at that point in a different way, The liturgy of a service is different between our three churches, and liturgy is the act by which we cultivate the feeling of a presence of God, the differences reflect not God but us, how we relate to him. Christ is in all our churches, but fair to say he is in the checkout at Aldi’s, and the car wash, and in dinner making, and the hoovering. It’s us who lose awareness. Our churches and our services simply heighten that awareness.
That’s why Jesus wants us to knock, not because God needs a wakeup call, hes not asleep, we are.

The process of knocking helps us to wait for an answer, to expect or hope for his presence.
God does not sleep, if he does, hes not God. Its about practicing his presence, the more we practice the greater we become at being aware and guided by him. Prayer brings us into contact with the greatest force in all creation, a force that loves us enough to die for that wants to be with us, and for us to be close to him. Really, however, we do that is fine by God, because the formulaic prayer we say in church, or the whispered prayer at work, or the practice of awareness of him is really all he wants, he wants us to knock.
This continuous prayer, that we bring into all the nooks and crannies of our life, may bring God into places we would rather he not be. Bit we are a little ashamed of, that we wouldn’t look at too much because we don’t like what it shows us. So this in turn demands we need to lose our scruples when praying, As alain fenelon said Just as water quenches fire so do scruples act on prayer. Without going into the full quote, basically what he means is that if we are so eaten up with how to pray, and our own self loathing or guilt we become self-obsessed, or obsessed with detail. The object of prayer is then lost, and the well spring of grace emanating from prayer because we are put off prayer. The lack of prayer is far more crass than any sin we will not bring before him, because we cut ourselves off from him. The word sin means moving away from God, and lack of prayer does indeed move us away.

This isn’t news by the way St Benedict knew it, and St Ingatious as well. The examen from st Ignatius takes all those parts of the day and lays them at the foot of God, we give thanks for everything we get, we petition that ourprayer be fruitful (so pray our prayer is good and helpful, , we review our day and bring all of it too him , the we ask for and receive forgiveness taking on board we have been forgiven, and we try to move on with all those things supported by grace doing our lives a little better than before.
Hopefully what you can see is what Jesus is asking for here, persistence, practice, and praxis, the doing of a thing.

That point is essentially what today’s reading is all about, God wants us to pray. Pray in church, pray with out hands clasped, eyes shut or dancing, or driving, of fishing, or golfing, or watching our footy team (as a west ham fan they need a lot of prayer) , playing with our children, mowing the lawn.
God wants is to come as we are, lose our scruples and bring whatever we are to him, whatever we have become, whatever he made us to be, to the greatest power in creation.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

The thing that will be given to us is the wellspring of Grace waiting with just a small change in focus on him. The Lords prayer is an excellent tool for doing so and it’s a way of pestering God for these things, and as in the way of prayer those things get turned back on us as we enable others to have their prayer answered with daily bread and sins forgiven, with a sincere desire to make his kingdom come a little closer with each deed we do guide by him. This idea in Benedictine spirituality of being present in every little thing we ensures this is a constant ebb and flow throughout the day. We never need to leave him.

Its why our Christian life is so blessed with mindful meditative forms of prayer, such as the jesus prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living god have mercy on me – a sinner, said repeatedly out loud or to ourselves and like all good meditation we focus back on those words alone. The aim is to practice the presence of God. The journey this takes us on is described in one of my favourite mystics Terese of Avilla , we journey from conversion to companionship and ever deeper into a relationship with God, into every more interior castles, were we open ourselves ever more to God, removing those scruples that Fenelon so despised.

But hopefully, what today was is a few thoughts about what prayer is or. Its certainly about more than clasping our hands and bowing our heads, that as well, but its more about bringing him into every little thing we do. Imagine this for a moment, when you next speak to whoever your significant other is you say to them, in this relationship I am only going to really be with you for 2 hours on a Sunday, and when I want to speak to you or feel drawn too during the week. I think they may think you had just lost your noodles.

We all know that’s not how relationships work, not how they survive, not how we learn who the other person is. Relationships happen over a thing that just is, all the time, day on day out. Over the small things of life, and the big things. Sometimes we need that chat over the dining table, but mostly its just about being there.

That’s where he has asked to be, simply with him as much as we can. Like the child that asks for attention, knocking , asking, so he can share his love and his wisdom. We don’t give our children or loved ones, windows where they have to ask for our time, we want them around us and in a free and easy relationship where we are simply with each other the whole time.

Like any good relationship really. That’s it, all there is to it.

Amen

Who are we responsible for in the good samaritan?

I’ve been fortunate in my life and met many good men (and women too by the way) that have for some reason gone out their way to help me, show me love and been there for me. Their blessings go on through many lifetimes, and I hope I share a little of what I have been given.

I hope if you think for a moment, you can think of a few.
and In simple terms

Today’s story at first glance is simply about a good man, doing what a good man does. Nothing more complicated than that really. A bloke needed help, and someone found someone like that and helped them.

Its also about a lawyer wanting to clarify what he was legalistically supposed to comply with to work out where his responsibility ended.
He was trying to understand what he needed to comply with to get the payoff!
The software I work with these days helps people understand what they sign up for in a contract. What are the clauses that might cause us pain if we sign on the dotted line and we don’t like what happens as a result? I’ve seen companies go under because a company discovered a loophole in the contract and we didn’t get the payoff.

But contracts that we don’t like are hideous if we sign them and that’s a fact.

Is it any wonder this is what the lawyer, the expert in the law, who would have looked at the world in a very similar way was looking, or trying to understand if he knew all clauses in the contract? Its basically what he says.

So what do I have to do to inherit eternal life? I love the lord god with all my heart etc and my neighbour as myself. Jesus affirms this as correct. But to make sure that this is enough to fulfil the law, and get him into heaven the lawyer checks.

29 so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
What’s the contract regards who is my neighbour. What do I have to do to fulfil said contract and get the payoff of eternal life? Who am I responsible for?
Lets look at the story in jesus used in reply and then lets at the answer?

First off….
He could have just said “everyone” and left it at that.
Why didn’t he do that?

A man is stripped naked and beaten by robbers. So at this moment, he is an anonymous, vulnerable bloody mess. A man without tribe, country, or creed. Vulnerable and needing a neighbour he has no identity apart from human and male.. Like the tomb of the unknown soldier, his anonymity means this man represents us all, he could be any one or any one of us.

Then a levite priest, , passes by. Levites are those chosen by God to serve in his temple, so chosen in amongst Gods chosen people. Hes a levite, those who set and ensure others abide by the law. His law declares this man unclean, and anyone who touched him would be ritually unclean. This Levite priest hurried by the poor man leaving him lying naked in a bloody heap on the floor.

Then a Samaritan arrived . A Samaritan
The context of Samaritan mustn’t be lost on us.

Samaritans to Jesus audience did not belong on the land they occupied. They were of a strange culture, they dressed differently, probably sounded differently. They had occupied the land while the jews were in exile, and now they weren’t going back, in fact they had no back, they were 2nd, 3rd, 4th , generation. They practiced a strange version of the religion of the jews.
For all these reasons they were despised looked down on and considered unclean by the jews. They seen as taking resources, and land, and were disliked simply for being Samaritans . In another story the woman at the well who was a Samaritan was shocked that Jesus even spoke to her, both because she was a woman and a Samaritan.

So we have gone from one end of the scale to the other. From the lauded to the dregs. Those people we rather look down on and would rather not be around, those whom we blame when it goes wrong by default, those with less privilege and standing in our community, those we find very few of on a day-to-day basis, and don’t know how to talk with them when we do, where the culture gap is hard to bridge, the religion strange. The disliked, distrusted , unwanted, bottom of the pile. Mostly they are anonymous to us, invisible, when we think of them, very few kind thoughts might arise.

But this Samaritan He stops on the road from Jericho when he found the injured man.

and he stops on the road to Jericho….

The road to Jerusalem from Jericho was known as the way of Blood, because so much blood was shed by robbers. It’s a winding road with steep sided and lots of twisting turns as it drops a 1100 foot from above to below sea level.

In certain respects I can sort of relate to this. Like those estates in the 80’s that had so many perfect hiding places for muggers that the council like to give them in the 80’s.These were places that you had your ears and eyes open, you certainly never stopped and moved as fast as you could. When I used to catch the late train home in forest gate I always breathed a sigh of relief when I got past certain known mugger hotspots. I avoided the steel bridge at all costs., Rushed past places that had deep shadows where people could come from all of a sudden. So I sort of know that feeling.

But the Samaritan

He stops and shows real –

and the word I am going to use is Altruism,

The word Altruism is defined as when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves.

He definitely shows more than pity, the priest showed him that but , pity demands no action. The Samaritan, journeys between pity and altruism and he acts, taking one more step into dangerous altruism on this fearful road.

Jesus making the man naked and anonymous means he has to show universal altruism. Altruism of a sort that goes beyond the boundaries of his own tribe.

Then he gets him safe at the inn, and pays his bills to get better. 2 denarii, about £50, at that time about 2 weeks wages on average, so costly in every way.

There’s no law here forcing this man to take a risk, no law forcing him to do this, indeed the priest who knew the law rushed by, not wanting to be made unclean, not wanting to be next, let alone give up 2 weeks wages.
This is Jesus defining who is our neighbour and who is worthy of altruism.

In this story Jesus has told us there is no clause in the contract t, no boundary to love, no end date to the contract, in fact don’t seek a contract.
Its just outrageous love we are asked for. Jesus tells us that example can be set by anyone from any culture, and also that can be asked from anyone from any culture.

By making the injured man vulnerable and stripping him of all associations with creed, tribe religion etc . Jesus makes him every and anyone in need, We are simply one race, the human race. Whether the refugee comes over on a dangerous boat ride, or from a war-torn place. We have to show altruism that may put us at risk. How can there be an illegal immigrant, if Jesus just threw away the contract ? When in Jesus example where this man came from , why etc is deemed unimportant, in fact its actually deliberately stripped from him. this story shows we are simply asked to stand up for, stand in for whatever human happens to be around.

They were going down that road…. That’s all we are shown. Then we are shown what love is. Its more than altruism, or dangerous altruism, its excessive, it costs us, to risk out lives, to travel more slowly with an injured man on our horse while we work, it costs. It takes time and trouble. Its excessive well beyond anything that could reasonably be asked of us and it’s given without question to whomever we meet that needs our love.

The joy of this story is that whoever we are and from whatever standing in our or any community, we can still shine and be lauded and laudable in Jesus’ eyes.

Also to answer my earlier question.
That’s why when he was asked who is my neighbour, Jesus didn’t just say everyone. Because Jesus wants active, not passive love, he certainly doesn’t want sympathy, but active dangerous outrageous altruism.

Bonhoeffer said the biggest mistake we make is to try and work out who we are responsible for.
This parable shows we are all responsible for each other, in the human race.

it was that realisation was one of the key moments for me, this is why it’s the only way the world works.

In simple terms, Jesus asks us to obey the unenforceable clause, go beyond reason, beyond risk, beyond culture creed and religion actively not passively.
To stand up for and stand-in for whoever needs our love, out active love.
That is what the kingdom of God is like. We have been given the task of showing what that sort of love is like, in our lives as Christians. That’s what we are asked to witness to others by our behaviour. It’s when we bear witness to the kind of love Jesus asks us to show when we see our neighbour as Jesus asks us to as simply human and nothing else? When we stop asking who are we responsible for. That our faith becomes powerful and stands out.

I really wish the Lawyer hadn’t asked that question, because now we can’t say we don’t know, But he did and now we know, all of us do, and now as Jesus’s followers of the way, we know the way. All of us.

Amen

Are you ready for Jesus?

The following story is based on true events, but at different times in my life I may have been either driver, in my teens and early 20s I had an XR3 these days I drive an audi.

I was stuck at some traffic lights waiting for them to turn red.
This chap had been cutting me up and he got alongside me.
He was revving his engine, and looking over. He clearly wanted to go first.

Paula was like – let him go. which I was prepared to do.

A pause, lights when you are waiting for them can seem to take an age.

The lights went amber, I was surprised he didn’t go.
Oh well I thought…

Then Green, he must have jerked his clutch up way too fast. Because he leapt 2-3 yards on in frog hops.
He stalled his car he wasn’t ready, as he missed the orange light.
He had drifted off… then
When green came it obviously caught him by surprise.
he made a mess of it and frog hopped down the road.

The signs were all there, but you never know when the lights going to go green. They stayed red for a long time. In that time he lost concentration.

Who knows where he had drifted off too? His mind was not on the task at hand.

How does all that relate to today’s reading?

There are some similarities.
Jesus is telling us today

We are at that place of waiting for the lights to go green, however unlike the traffic lights there are more stages than just ready, get set, Go. There are far more things to do in these stages, than just wait and be alert.

We don’t get to sit nicely and wait, ours in an active waiting.

Ours is a calling while we wait.

To follow Christs example in calls us in so many ways,

We have to call him Lord, and know truth in our hearts that he is the source of all truth and love, and to rule that as Jesus says

“3 Heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away.”

And we have to stay the course, don’t do as the chap did and get distracted while he was waiting…. We have to stay focused.

As Jesus said
” Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, “

I doubt that chap, was carousing, but maybe he had drifted off on the anxieties of life. Got so caught up worrying, or gnawing away at a problem. Maybe that was what was making him so anxious to get round.

who knows, but Jesus warns us about that, and asks us to stay focussed, because that focus can help us when we are worried.

Like the old hymn goes what a friend we have in Jesus.
Our friend wants to carry our sins and griefs.

One thing that does hold true from todays metaphor is that Lights change without warning, we may if we sit at traffic lights long enough get to know how long they take. But in the time of waiting for Jesus we have no clue,how long before the lights go green.

However

One thing we know in the first week of advent is that the clock is ticking, because in the first week in advent we await, Gods affirmative action, deliberate action of Jesus arrival.

That ladies and gentleman was when the clock started, from red, to amber.

From stop to get ready.
Who has to get ready? When jesus said “this generation” doesnt mean the generation of Jesus day it means all the generations of humanity since he came. This generation in Gods terms means the group Since the clock started?

Today we await, the entry into the world of Gods redeeming love, brought into the world as a defenceless baby, I am sure over the next few weeks many sermons will talk about that fact. That the way he set the clock ticking to our salvation was not through force, but by the exact opposite. Today in advent week one we imagine a world that was firmly at “stop” and on his birth knew it had to get ready, and we learned from his example that he came to show us how.

Jesus showed us, that we become powerful when we give up our ideas of power, when we give love we receive so much more.
He started a journey roughly thirty years between his arrival and his resurrection, and theres something in that, the pace of our lives arent the pace God moves very often, most often he moves at a pace of lifes phases and things change when we are ready. He opened the gates of salvation, but it may take all our lives to get ourselves ready for him to come again.

How do we maintain that metaphorical car that focus, how do we keep our driving skills? Or better put how do we keep our eyes on him let him into our lives to keep us on the right track. The answer is simple – prayer. Prayer opens the garage door; prayer is us knocking on the door of the greatest power ever. A power that loves us very much, and wants to welcome us into his world, of peace and justice and love.

And all this is what it means to be ready, it means so much more than simply prepared, we need to know who he is, love him, follow his example and show love etc etc.
Like that chap from the lights, theres so much more to being ready, you have to learn to drive to even be sat at the lights, maintain your car etc etc.

Then you have to stay ready and not let all those things drift, let your driving habits get so bad that you stall and you do this by practice and staying alert.

This is what Jesus is asking today, that we maintain all the assets and edicts of our faith, trust in him, love for all, readiness to sacrifice, study so that we really know what he is asking, and prayer so that our study is led by him etc etc etc

We worship in an Anglican Church and our faith is built upon tradition, scripture and reason. All of those are nourished by prayer.

That I think this is, the real value of our church, and all our theologians, and our priests, our bible study, and our prayer. Getting us and keeping us ready.

Then comes the next task. That’s every person who knows jesus shows jesus in the way that we act.
That is our task in this life. Getting as many people ready for when the lights change as we can.

He came to show us how to et ready, his salvation gave us the means to move forward with him when the lights go green.

Our task is to ponder on him all of our lives and be as ready as we can be

As we move through advent, as we think about all the lessons contained in why he came, what he tried to teach us. The question we have to ponder over and over again with prayer, with thought, with love, in companionship, listening to the words of our service that show us. I mean we are just about to hear the words of the creed. When we hear all those words, we need to ask

is are we ready?

because in advent week one, we prepare for his arrival, and we know in that very moment the lights have changed to amber.

Amen

Sabbath, what is it, why, and how?

I stand here today giving the first sermon on the subject of Sabbath, being as it’s the first I thought I would spend a little time looking  Sabbath, what is it, how can we do it, what is it not and why? And reflect on what Sabbath is and how we might observe Sabbath in our modern context. What does God want?


The first thing many of us learn about the sabbath was, that when  God made everything, he rested, on the seventh day he had a rest.   Did he go have a lie down? Did he sort of let creation do its own thing for a bit? Like when we leave our kids with the iPad for an hour and go put a wet flannel on our head?

Here’s the thing, as much as we try, humanity is not going to stress out God to the point of needing a lie down and neither is making everything. God is omnipotent, all powerful inexhaustible and does not need a rest. God did not need to rest, so why is this in scripture?

This is God setting an example to us, showing us what we should do moving forward.  He’s saying 6 days of toil and then we stop, he loves us and only wants whats best for us, and so he’s setting the cycle by which we should live, for many more reasons than just rest.

There have been many versions of what doing nothing on the Sabbath means in the bible, the Hebrew noun for Sabbath, “Shabat” simply means stop or cease. The first time Sabbath is mentioned by name is in exodus verse 20 chapter 9-11 in the ten commandments, where God makes it a holy day, and says everyone including the foreigner has to stop work.

Making a thing Holy really means setting it apart as special. The dictionary really points us in the right direction when it defines holy as “dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose; sacred.”.  Hence the reason why Ezekiel criticised people for continuing to buy and sell sheep in the sabbath, basically keep the works of industry moving, but Isaiah was more interesting, he wants us to celebrate the sabbath as more than just as an exhibition of piety, but to do so properly meant to ‘learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’.

That’s not really stopping as such is it, so what is it? Isaiah also foresaw when the Sabbath was for more than just gods chosen people but for all humanity and included us here today. 

But if it isn’t as simple as just stopping and watching Netflix, or a good book whats it  all about?

 Jesus often ran into the Pharisee’s legalistic view of the Sabbath when he healed people and walked through fields of wheat eating corn, this  was seen as breaking the   strict laws of Sabbath, His response was that the sabbath was made for humankind not humankind for the sabbath.  

Essentially God made the sabbath for us to be released from bondage not to be interned by another sort of bondage of legalism. So for Jesus Sabbath had a greater meaning than just doing nothing on a Sunday.

Also it hasn’t always been on a Sunday, for early Christians it followed the Jewish tradition of starting on a Friday to a Saturday evening.  It then moved again to the “lords day” on the first day of the week in acts.

 The Sabbath was a day of rest, but the Lords day was a day to gather in community and worship God and concentrate on his word. As our faith moved to the Gentiles community Paul said that they don’t need to follow this Jewish rite but encouraged them to set aside a special day to worship the lord if they decide to do so, but they are free of the legalistic duty.

Essentially as Christianity separated from Judaism to create its own identity they moved from a legalistic sabbath to a “lords day” where the emphasis was on worship.

So what did our lord want us to do with this day? Old testament law was not abandoned in the new testament but fulfilled, properly fulfilled. Take Jesus pronouncement that where the OT says do not commit adultery, anyone who looks lustfully wishfully at another woman has done so.

The  law is about the betterment of society, Jesus is concerned about whats going on in our heart. So it is with the Sabbath, as we move from the legalistic rite of Sabbath bound up in laws and a burden to all, so as we as modern day Christians work out what to do with old testament ideas of sabbath we must overlay the idea’s that Jesus came to fulfil that law, to bring it to its proper purpose.   This is in part what the Jews listening to Jesus saying in matthew

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”.

would have heard, their yoke was twofold, the burden of an occupied society, but also burdened by a legalistic faith that used the Old Testament law as a tool to keep their culture intact but also to make a straitjacket that all had to be bound by.

So Jesus yoke is easy, and his burden is light. But there is a yoke and a burden, he wants us to follow the law by having a day of rest, but the yoke is he wants us to spend that time concentrating on him, pondering him. Closer to the lords day of the early Christians.

 As the old testament scholar mark scarlata said “Sabbath is God’s way of drawing us into a place of rest where we might begin to tap into the divine imagination and wisdom that brought the entire universe into being.”  Being still and knowing he is God as it says in the psalm, only by being still and turning ourselves to him can we access the true meaning of Sabbath.  I recently gave another sermon about Jesus being the bread of life, and someone asked him how they can access that bread.  Jesus response was  “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”.

By taking ourselves away from the pursuit of the bread that spoils, in our ever more commercialised world we can stop and meet the bread that never spoils in our lord Jesus Christ.  By being in his world for a day or so, we are driven by what Boenhoffer called costly grace, the grace that costs something in our lives and drives us to sacrifice ourselves for others , that drives us as Isaiah said “‘learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’” or whatever our society needs us for, by letting him into our lives we become his body on earth, make a rebellious statement about what we think is of real importance by turning of and tuning into him. We make a statement that we believe life is more than the frenetic gathering of wealth.

This ethic takes us right back to the time of god and his  overthrowing the Pharaoh and exile.


Each time God sent a plague Moses demanded god free his people  Pharaoh had   his people making more  bricks and with every twist he removed the means to make bricks but increased the demand, he wanted Israelites firmly focussed on mammon,

Whereas as soon as God got them, he asked them to stop on the seventh day, eat the bread they had already collected, but focus on him. Focus on him and leave mammon behind

This is what our Sabbath should be, its why I was happy to work on my studies on Sundays as I trained to become an LLM, because that wasn’t about mammon it was about God, its why we should gather here each Sunday and focus on him.  Because ultimately this is fulfilling the law of the sabbath, not meeting it legalistically but truly in our hearts.  Making time, real time each week to focus on him,  our Sabbath.

Which by the way in our busy lives doesn’t have to be on a Sunday because it has moved around,  in the past both through our Jewish heritage and as a means of setting our faith apart from Judaism  and sometimes it has too, wherever it settled it was always encouraged. Because wherever it is ,  the idea is we must set aside time to be with our lord each week. Proper time that we regard as sacrosanct, not of mammon and to state openly to the world this time is his.

What a statement, my life is yours, I think your more important than everything else I might be doing. That’s rest and witness all at once!

So to sort of cover off what is this sabbath and what isn’t it…

Well some of that is informed by the fact

God doesn’t need a Sabbath, but he knows we do, that’s why he models and commands it for us

Also Jesus railed against a legalistic sabbath and

It’s easy to be legalistic about observing the Sabbath, but that doesn’t get to the heart

It’s easy to be blasé about the Sabbath, but then we miss the rest we need that helps us refocus on God

Properly observed, Sabbath is a light yoke and an easy burden


Because ours is the lord of the Sabbath, and we should give our Sabbath time to him.


Because that’s what he wants,  that’s sabbath our time focussed on him and being his body here on earth, acting for him, in ways that please him, and bring his wholeness to the world.

When we reflect on sabbath that is  what we should reflect on both on defining it, and doing it.


Our Lord Jesus Christ 

Because it’s his

Amen

Sermon on the growing seed and mustard seed

June 13th: Second Sunday after Trinity

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

Psalm response ‘We will call upon the name of the Lord our God

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17

Mark 4: 26-34

Note to reader – St Marys runwell is a very lovely saxon church with a very large copper beech tree outside its door. The day I gave this was HOT and as everyone files out I knew we would all be under the shade of the tree. We would be surrounded by the many gravestones that sit under it.
They are quite formal in service, and the church has many people who have come for most of their lives. 

Has anyone at St Mary’s ever heard of Radulphus?

The earliest rector ever recorded here at St Mary’s was Radulphus in 1181. I wonder what sermons he preached and how many times he said something that resonated with someone listening, sat not more than a few feet from where you are today.  We sit here today part of that story, and I wonder what lives they all had. I wonder what lives all the parishioners had since then. What petitions did they bring before God, what were they? What I wonder have all the people sat where you are today asked for, as they bowed their heads in prayer?  

I wonder did God give them what they wanted, or in what way did he help them see what’s happening? If at all, quite often, we are clueless to see what the heck is happening, especially in the midst of everything. 

How many of us look back on our lives and see where God has known better than us, or how many times have we prayed and seen the velocity of our lives change course long after a prayer. Sometimes we wonder why our plans have gone awry and plead with God to put them back!  Sometimes when we look back, we see that if X or Y had not happened, our lives would have missed some real purpose that God had in store. 

How many seeds has God sown, all unknown in all the lives that have been sat where we are today, and really we cant see them or they are held in the dark until they are fully grown?  

That’s what our first parable is about today, things that God sows in our lives in our world that we don’t see until he is ready to show us or that we may never see.

This parable is about the things that God does in the dark or at the same speed that mustard seeds grow into trees. Things that grow so slowly or things over a tree’s life span, which means we may never see them bear fruit because it won’t happen in the lifespan we have?

A Sermon by a famous French theologian in 1866 contained the words,
Blessed are old people who plant trees knowing that they shall never sit in the shade of their foliage. Maybe that’s got some wisdom for today.  In all the lives that have sat where we are today how many planted seed’s that grew into tree’s real or metaphorical that we sit in the shade of? 

How many of them did things guided by God, in the dark just like a seed grows in the dark, that affect our lives today?  

We don’t know how mustard seeds are created inside a pod but we know they need so many things to flourish, and planted, and watered, and tended for. 

Only God knows how, and why, and what for and that’s the story of our first parable today. The things that God plants that we don’t know or notice until the tree has grown bore fruit.  All those stories precious to God, working to contribute to his purpose, add their bit to his story.

He also reaps what he sow’s, and we await the day he harvests and brings us all home to rise again with him.  That idea brings us on to  the next parable of our pair. We live in that space of now not yet in our lives. Jesus planted the seed, the seed that grows into a large tree that birds sit in the branch of, that gives life to our planet, that we sit in the shade of.   That seed that has a secret life as the roots burrow down in the soil and live in harmony with our planet. So as with all Jesus stories, there is a mystery here. We, as Christians, live with mystery. I think mystery is a significant part of both our stories today. The seed’s planted in our lives and the countless lives before or after that we don’t see until God’s ready to show us, or maybe we just don’t see in this life but maybe in the next.  We await our turn in God’s harvest, knowing that when he brings us to him, we will never die nor need harvesting again. Maybe then we will see more of the things he created, and tended and sowed and harvested. 

Planted through love, and love always has a choice. God won’t force us to listen to him.  Love never forces anything on anyone but tries to pull and cajole and caress its beloved into a place of safety and wholeness. Love is willing to die for its beloved, as our lord died for us, planting the seed that allows us to come to glory. God’s harvest is us with him forever made into everything he wanted us to be. One day we are promised to see that come to fruition, we believe we will rise in glory to share that glorious harvest.


When you leave today have a look at the tree outside. I am reliably informed it’s a copper beech tree. 


Maybe wonder, who put the little sapling down, and tended it until it was the magnificent things we see today. They maybe imagined what they might look like fully grown, but we get to see the glory of them.

That’s what our parables are about today. Knowing who planted the seed, and tends it sometimes without us knowing who tended them, who created the seed, who will harvest the seed and the promise of seeing the story come to its magnificence crescendo of eternity with him.  You, me, all of us, including  radulphus and all who believed with him 😊

I wonder if part of the thread that really joins us to radulphus,

a bishop long ago once said If I get to heaven I think I will be surprised by three things, one that I am there, two people I expected to see but don’t, and people I didn’t expect to see 😊

That loops us to part of our purpose here, is to sit here and wonder what do we have to do, to be, to say, to act like to know in our hearts, to have faith in, so that we become the seed that God scatters on the ground

that when the harvest comes

One day we will all rise in glory.

Amen 

Where has God been in the last year?

Sermon on John 12 20-33.

Before I start, I would like you all to do one thing for me write down in percentage terms how much God has been a support for you in lockdown? How present has he been? As I am speaking please just put a number , zero being not at all, and 100 a total all-pervading presence. It’s a rough tool but have a go?

NOTE if you are reading this – Press stop and write a number down?
Don’t go ahead till you have answered this question!
!

Just type the number in the comments section please, as I speak? We will come back to this at the end.

The Greeks had come to see Jesus, the gentiles, that is us,
These were strange people knocking at the door, they had check before letting them near him.
Gentiles asking to see a Jewish rabbi was a bit weird, but being as the disciples had probably seen lots of weird, they checked, before possible sending them on their way.

Before we stir up any more problems best check.

So the Greeks asked Philip, Philip told Andrew, who told Philip who, told Jesus. The thing here of course is this was happening just as his own people rejected him, and the pharisees were trying to catch him out , here are strangers, from outside his people, outside his faith asking to see him. Big news if you ask me? His message is getting out!
When asked , can they come in, Jesus does as he often does and rather infuriatingly for those of us who want a nice easy to understand text so that can write a sermon, Jesus gives one of his sideways answers and starts speaking about seeds. Not how lovely let them come in , or what? Not today thank you, his answer is about seeds.

The disciples are probably as confused as ever because after they had plucked up the courage to ask whether the gentiles can say hi and then to hear their messiah say he is going to be glorified and then talk about seeds dying. They probably wouldn’t have seen it as him speaking about himself because of course messiahs don’t die?

Whatever this message means it does sound disturbing. But he tells them he is troubled, so they are probably right to worry despite not really getting it. We do not find out if the Greeks ever got in to see him.

In our gospel reading today, writing much after the event, our apostle John gets it because he’s writing his gospel many years later and he explains to the reader that Jesus did this to speak about , the kind of death he was going to die. So, we are all the readers since then are also in on it, and its with that context we are going to have a look at what Jesus means with all that stuff about seeds…

So what did Jesus mean about seeds and whats this got to do with having Greeks at his door?
What metaphor is Jesus illuminating?
Anyone who wants a crop this year is either awfully close to planting or has put their seeds into pots and is probably waiting for some green shoots (I’m probably late again, I wish Fred was here as he would know). Our fields around us in Wickford have been tilled and are ready for the farmer to sow his crop. As average a gardener I am I know when you plant a seed, you bury it in the soil, and wait. The potato we plant shrivels and dies and becomes many potatoes, the tomato seed disappears as soon as the first root pops out and then the plant takes on a new life.

In or story today Jesus was troubled by what was to come but he knew he had to be buried, lost from sight to make new fruit, he was the seed that had to disappear to make new fruit. He had to head through lent, to the period of darkness that is Good Friday to make easter happen.

Why did he have to do this? I think that’s why the Greeks at his door sparked off this train of thought. Because he knew he was here to make disciples of billions of gentiles rather than just the few that had come to see him. To make that happen and open the gates of eternity he had to die. I think the Greeks at the door may have been seen by Jesus in the same way I noticed the tiniest shoot in my greenhouse this week. A tiny shoot, but not enough, nowhere near what he had come to do.

To make more

He had to disappear to reappear, he was the seed that had to die to make new fruit.

But what do we make of this? What lesson is there for us in this story? How do we relate to this story?

I think many of us may understand what it’s like to be buried this year, our homes have become very small boxes. We have tried to find as many legally inventive ways to be free from. We have been entombed like the potato or tomato seed. We have tried to be faithful servants, and many of us have tried new ways to worship him, via zoom or YouTube. How many of us used zoom for the first time as a result of all this nonsense? But we are all his servants and we remained faithful.

Here in this act of death and renewal , is a message of hope for all of us who have had bad times in this last year. For all of us who have felt this was like a time of being buried, of darkness, maybe we can see the green shoots of spring. Our church has seen itself in new ways, worshipped and carried on and been Christians in so many new ways. Its forced us to revaluate the importance of this building, as much as we missed it we have learnt that we can carry on regardless. We can’t unknow that we are more than bricks and mortar. Also, we have found new ways to reach out, and be church, and we have had much time to reflect on those things that we have missed. I bet very few of them are grand things. A cuddle from a loved one, dinner at a nice restaurant, being able to move around and breathe fresh air.

What long term change this year will bring about ,but online church is here to stay, maybe online bible studies and lent courses. Who knows? So, what will we do differently in our communities once we can reach out again? Asking ourselves what can we do with these new tools we have made will be important things maybe on our next parish day or reflection day at pleshey?

Also when I listen to peoples stories from lockdown its amazing how much of a presence and a steadfast pillar of strength God has been for all of us. How much part of this year he has been.
We can’t unknow that, where to turn when the world goes mad.

So, turning back to Jesus metaphor of the seed,

When we put that seed below the soil, think how pleased are we when it pops up again as a new shoot. Both at prospect of lots of lovely tomatoes but also as a sign of spring.

The end of the burial of the seed and a season of plenty is round the corner, as we approach good Friday the thing is we know Jesus knew it was the only way to easter Sunday. He was of course referring to himself knowing his death would bring billions of gentiles to his door for all eternity and he was going to his death for each and every one of them and us. He knew when he burst forth the world would see signs of spring, for the whole of humanity.

But I also think there’s a message for us who have been buried away for a year now. Hopefully when we can all be together again soon and we will meet with the vigour and joy of what was seen as mundane being wonderful, we can share that sign of spring with others. Maybe just maybe spring is round the corner in this life, as we know it is in the next.

So as we endure the last days of lockdown, maybe we can console ourselves that albeit we have been locked away, locked down, hidden away. When we come back and speak up people will have questions. Maybe the only way we could make new fruit is to be buried, and we have been buried, but who knows whats round the corner.

He knew that the Greeks coming to see him were just the beginning, that was why he answered as he did. He knew he was the seed that would bring forth all the fruit in the world, he was the living water to bring that fruit from the darkness of the soil and set it free and into the light.

I think that might be a lesson for us and a cause for optimism. That all the things we have learned in this period will hold us up and embolden us when we step back into a more open life.
When we emerge from darkness maybe we can bring much light into the world, we can share knowing how much we relied on him, how little he relied on this building and how much of the church was in us

What is your score please comment? Have look at some of the comments I hope have gone up? Some of those scores

Those scores should give us that confidence so that we can tell of our experiences with God and have new tales to tell our community about what being a follower of Jesus is like. When our community says where was God in this we can answer from confidence, from experience he was with me every step of the way. We know from our stripped back lives how important he is to life, we can say that with total confidence because think just for a second how much have you relied on him this year. Hopefully borne out by the numbers going up? We know that much more now than we may have done before, just how much he is with us in hard times
Jesus has been with us in our darkness, he will be with us in the light. He was with us in our solitude, he was with us in our community. We can be the seed that was buried, the seed that fell to the ground but grew into new fruit. We can witness to others how much he has been with us, when people ask where’s he been, think of the number you put up, and know that. Tell others about that number, tell them hes been with us all.

So now as we stand at the gateway the threshold of the literal and metaphorical spring we can take these new tools, these new ways of doing things and move forward. Remembering we are Christs body here on earth, we are the ones he expected to him bear new fruit and he is with us. When he said he knew that the only way was to fall into dust to rise up that includes us.

That’s the lesson here today , that with that knowledge of how present he has been we can help show the world that Jesus is the only way into the light forever so that Jesus that was the seed that died , will through rising again and his body here on earth , make new fruit forever.

Amen

The sign of the Manger

When I give directions, I often point out landmarks, when people come to my house, I tell them 10th house down with a Blue Audi outside. When you get down my road, count roughly to ten and look out for a Blue Audi. There’s enough information in that direction to think this is about ten houses and the chances of there being another Blue Audi are slim, especially in the next 3-4- houses and the fact it was given to you as a signpost makes it very likely you have found my house…
The Audi signifies that this is my house.

That was the thing about the manger. A roughly carved stone drinking trough with a Baby inside was unusual enough that when the Angels said they would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in and there he was, they must have been sure this was the child Angel Gabriel had said to go see.
The other thing about the oddness of it, is that it sorts of proves they hadn’t lost their marbles, or the cold had not given them a funny turn, and an Angel really had directed them this way.

Even more importantly if we have seen an angel and he was right about this strange location for a Baby, and they had found them to prove they hadn’t imagined it. The angels were right about one other thing, and this was the messiah. What with the census going on it might be expected a few mothers and children might run away? But the manger was a signpost, this particular baby, in this location, in a rough drinking trough.

The manger was a sign.
This sign of the manger was given to Shepherds. Shepherds at this time were considered as very lowly people in society. They could not give testimony or be a witness, as they were not considered reliable. In a rigid honour based society, they were among the lowest..
So not only was the sign of the manger one of poverty, but it was given to the poorest and those regarded as the most unreliable.
These low born people were also his first heralds. They were the first ones to go and explain what had happened.

God’s and Messiah’s do not in our worlds view enter into the world like that. Our royalty leaves the king Edward hospital in the west end with the worlds press and world leaders as heralds and the woman looks very smart has her coiffured hair styled perfectly with. Dad in a very expensive suit, both smiling, holding the perfect baby as the cameras flash, and enter into a life of conspicuous privilege to lead a life detached from the day-to-day reality of all of us.
This view of royalty is one of detached, entitled perfection. It’s given to us as an aspirational thing. However, as Christians we recognise it is the precise polar and exact opposite of Jesus. But with that in mind we have to come to terms with the fact this place, this location, this poverty, displacement, and helplessness was a deliberate choice of God .God made that choice.

So we have to ask? this way God?
Why hasn’t Jesus been zapped out of the sky, been heralded by trumpets, prime ministers and princes, had roses thrown at his feet. Why hasn’t he turned up on a Gold chariot, with hangers on, mothers hair coiffured with Joseph in a Saville row suit in front of the worlds eager press .
Why has he not been led into glorious wealth, and led a detached life, while issuing ethical advice from said detachment about how we should all live? Why has god decided this way?

This is not an accident, God is complete, in every facet, in every part of his nature and being, he lacks nothing and is in everything. Omnipresent across space and time, knowing everything. However, not content with reducing himself from a thing with no boundaries in time or space, to an object, a creature with form and shape and limitations “the word” the ultimate, the alpha and omega etc. he joins us as a homeless baby

This is a god that instead of standing back and pointing the finger at everything bad. Joins us in it, born into poverty, on the run, placed in a drinking trough , literally in the mess made by animals, scared, met by and announced by societies outcasts. Totally reliant on parents, who themselves are exposed to danger, a refugee, essentially homeless,
That reason for that choice is the same reason I am a Christian, the reason for all the faiths for me this marks out our faith as unique.
Why Lord why? What should we make of this choice?
Because the only God I could ever worship, is one who met me at my lowest, who knows me at my worst, joins me in my suffering, loves me enough to die for, one who isn’t big ,scary and detached. But a baby who you could pick up and smile at, and who needs the care of a scared mother to survive. Who chose angels , a mum and the lowest of the low to announce him?

That’s the perspective the manger gives us, Christianity does not start with “Jesus saves you from your sins.” It starts with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This means we cannot reduce Christianity to a method of being saved. It is a way of viewing reality and the narrative of scripture should influence our view of reality, how it was made, what are we, where we fit, what are we to God, what are others, etc. This view of reality in today’s shows us a lot about our lord, who he is ,who he chooses, where he is.

I don’t think he ever left the manger really; I personally feel closest to him among the homeless in southend. We often feel him most strongly when we are lost or alone, or scared or vulnerable. This is because this God knows what that is like to be vulnerable, and reaches out. This is where he is today in our story a helpless babe among the helpless, hapless and unreliable

The other person of course who shared this story is his mother. This is a mother’s story. Scholars think by the way that it was Mary that gave Luke this story. Unusually Mary’s name comes before Josephs in the text, and the fact that her reflection is mentioned in this is Luke making it as clear as he could where he got this story from . This is a mother recalling a night no mother would forget a detail about. “ But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”. The other thing that indicates this is Luke making it clear she did these things.

This is a God for 2020 isnt it? When our lives meet the real mess of life. A mother remembering giving birth in a smelly place with animals, and placing your child in the animals trough, on the run, sore, scared, worried, with a fresh burden of a new mouth to feed.

Mary’s prince is probably clearing the dung in the stable, emptying the trough, staying with her despite his young wife having given birth in a very odd way and not really understanding whats happening. His vulnerability is a sign to us , same way the manger is a sign to us, that where we should be, not pointing a finger but with others, helping saving making whole, clearing up the dung. So when we and so many are at our lowest point, I have no doubt that’s where he is, right there with us. Not pointing a finger, but with us, helping ,saving, making whole, loving us.
That’s where our lord put himself. Not by accident, not by mistake, but because that’s where he chose to be. He hasn’t locked himself up on a private island to rule us from the internet. He’s in our pain, in our loss, emptying his completeness into our loss. The angels made sure the shepherds knew him by the very fact of his poverty. The manger marked him out. The mother passed on the story, The outcasts announced him.
Also
The shepherds show us we don’t need to be among the worlds elite to announce him, and that’s such a comfort to me personally. This story helps show that those who may feel themselves or may have been made to feel unworthy can be his heralds, and announce who he is. He doesn’t need the worlds press and the paparazzi, he can have a shepherd, an ordinary mum, or a slightly sweary east end boy.

This story is shared by the angels, the shepherds, Mary when she told luke, and me, and hopefully you.
All quite different beings but all given the same job.
Inthis story we are also shown how we must announce him, where we are to begin when we speak about him.
The manger marks our God out as one who’s selfless love meets us at the lowest point imaginable.
When we speak about him, we must begin at the manger, when the shepherds in our story did as was told in out scripture “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” , they were said to be amazed, almost certainly like us, amazed that God had chosen this way to enter the world. With the lost, placed in a drinking trough, with lowly scared parents, heralded by outcasts.
That gives us all hope , and shows us where to begin when we explain him, not from a lofty perch handing out great advice from above but from the perspective of fellowship of those who may not always feel worthy, but are worthy of being Christ’s heralds. We should be where the worlds at its messiest, and meet it with love, and see the world as inhabited by Gods precious creation worth enough to die foe

When we meet the outcast, the lost, the sad, the refugee, the desperate we have to meet them as if they were precious, parts of Gods creation , worthy of being heralds of Christ, because they are . So wherever you reach out to the lost, dispossessed, helpless angry, and bring peace through love that’s being Christ. Meet them at the manger, from the perspective of the manger, this is a God who met the world from the manger, used it as his sign. Share it from the perspective of the Shepherds,as someone who may be unreliable witness to some but chosen by God to share his good news, or the mother remembering her beloveds first day,
Oh and we share a helpless babe, that shows us that when we are at our wits end, when we are lost, clueless, worried, feeling unloved, scared by the future that’s being helpless is Christlike as well.
We have all had our days in 2020 when it all got on top of us, not known the right thing to do. Grappled with seemingly contradictory demands and tried to work out the least worst option. Felt pretty hopeless doing so, 2020 has reduced all of us to the vulnerability of a baby in a manger. Been made feel less than worthy.

Christ shows us its Ok to be vulnerable, to not be able to do everything. To not know whats going on, to just ad-lib our way through strange days. That’s the sign of the way he chose to enter, today he needs his mum, wants simply to be warm, and loved. He is vulnerable, helpless, reliant on selfless love . This is what our lord chose to be like on the day of his birth, reliant on love helped by people who don’t really know whats happening. Not even Christ can sort it out today, not until the time is right.

That’s the sign of the manger as well. Our lord the servant king, who came to love us enough to die , who today needs to be served by Mary and Joseph and has the both the angels and the low born of society as the messengers of his good news .

The only God that fits 2020, and every year
Amen

Sermon Matthew 16:21-end

In certain respects, our weekly readings can be like watching a film in segments, ten minutes here, then minutes there. Like any film if you watched it that way you would either not understand whats going on, or, perhaps get the wrong end of the stick, or it may be because you have seen the film before you know roughly where we are.

I think this week reading requires a long view, see why people have reacted this way. Essentially to get under the skin of todays reading I think we have to work on a little context. 

Imagine it, a chap comes wandering past you while you’re at a steady job fishing, collecting taxes.

He asks you to follow him

You sense something, drop everything, follow him every day for three years.

Eat, Sleep, talk, pray, wander with him as he preaches in town after town.

You learn to love him with all your heart, and all your soul.

You learn that in fact he is the son of God, the Messiah.  

That means different things to different people. The saviour of your people, or the one that is going to bring back the land from brutal oppression.

Messiahs were expected to bring power back to Jerusalem,  deliver political and military victory over the current occupying force.  . You totally believe in this one. Previous claimants had ended up with
with roman justice, roman empire , roman peace celebrated because the Jewish leader had been killed 

Various Prophets all died, having had their say, tried to get the word of God to be listened too.

But this one , this one was different. He performs miracles, feeds 4000 people , heals people, comes out with stuff that makes the world make sense.

He asks you, one of the chaps that’s dropped your steady job, left your family, followed him for three years.

He ask you Who do YOU think I am – you tell him – you’re the Messiah, and you KNOW he knows what that means, what each and every one of you has invested in that word.  You’re going to put it all back, get rid of the romans, put Israel back on top! You’re going to be all that those very dead prophets promised.

He tells you a simple fisherman, the impetuous one, the one that always gets it a little wrong, that you are the rock he is going to build his church around. Hows that going to make you feel, promised that by the Messiah.  That’s trust way beyond anything a fisherman ever expected.

Then he says – don’t tell anyone I am the Messiah.  Which isn’t denying it at the very least, and confirms it in most peoples  way of thinking about that, and you know in your heart that he is, you dropped everything for him, got more than you ever imagined, saw things that will stay with you forever. This is the son of God.

THAT’S where we step into today’s segment of the story, that’s where we restart the DVD, or pressed play on the Netflix movie.

So with this context we move on to todays reading

From that time on he starts telling you he has to go to Jerusalem, the seat of power that hates him, the most dangerous place any of you could go. Then he says and here’s the kicker.

When I get there I am going to suffer and die!

Because your Peter, the rash one , You sort of grab him by the arm and say “God Forbid it lord this must never happen”!!

So many things would elicit that response, Love for the man in front of you, the fact the man you left your home for just calmly said “I am going to suffer and die” 

The man you believe is the messiah, who said your going to be the rock! Is going to die, messiahs don’t do that! They don’t die!

His reaction is a rebuke, Get behind me satan! Then he calls you the stumbling block to him, (the very opposite of a rock your going to build on).

Then he says, the thing that we still struggle to get because we are human.

The only way to follow me is to deny yourself.

(which sort of works, because you denied yourself a LOT to get here)

Then he says the real mad strange thing

The only way to save your life is to lose it.

Save your life is to lose it,

I don’t know about you, I like to win at things. Scrabble, Monopoly, win at work, win arguments with the wife (albeit that never happens).  I like my football team to win , albeit I support west ham and winning happens only slightly more often than I win arguments at home…

On one level Jesus just said, the only way you win is by losing.  In Alice through the looking glass, Alice finds out the only way forward is to step back, the only way up to go, is to go down. This is like that isn’t it? It makes no sense, sometimes even to us who have the fact of the resurrection, who are post Emmaus.

 For The disciples following Jesus logic meant he just stepped through the looking glass.

Actually what Jesus did was explain the actual only way Christianity makes an ounce of sense. Without this idea when you boil it down none of it works. Get this idea and everything fits, miss the point and it whooshes past in a whirl of confusion.  Things contradict, and jar with the world and his message. Get it and everything sort of works, what he said , and what we are supposed to do.

My mission today is to try and work towards that point, that Jesus was making.

Don’t get me wrong  I dont think we can relax after we get this; but what Jesus was talking about today we have to grasp to make the rest make sense.

It’s a bit like when I was a kid and I missed a lot of maths classes through being ill.  You cant do Algebra if you don’t know how to add up, subtract and divide.

There’s still algebra to come here, but the essence of this story, the principle is right at the core of our faith

Jesus is the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. Why;  because he is an immortal, eternal God , complete in every way, needing nothing, that made  himself small enough to be a man through love. Dying and resurrecting opens the way to salvation for us all, and he has to do that for us all.  Gave us victory over sin, defeated death. 

The mysteries and models of atonement are another day’s conversation.

But there’s also the question of what do we, here today do with this story;
And that’s the other thing  also he’s showing us the only way the world works; and that’s where I want to spend the rest of my time.

He knows that when everyone gives everything to everyone,  then nobody wants. If we give everything to each other regardless of whether we like them or not, nobody wants for anything.   The only way to reach that point is when enough people break the chain of taking from each other, and share love from the limitlessness of God.

We as Christians are taught the only way to make it work is to give to each other, the only way that we make his kingdom come is when give to each other because then we receive from each other as well; to give when we don’t want to, to give when we would rather hold on to what we have.

Fortunately, Paul takes Jesus point and explains it long hand for us,  what does this giving achieve. That is exactly what Paul is explaining today, what Jesus was doing times a million and what we have to do to replicate that in our small way.



Marks of the True Christian (Romans 12:9 – end)

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[b] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[c] for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 
So when Jesus said “get away from me Satan” its because in protecting life, protecting what we have, we take life, protecting Jesus from Giving was being overcome by evil, and he wanted to overcome evil with good.

The limitless giving of our god,  has as Paul explained to be replicated by limitless giving,  giving to each other?

Limitless giving is how our lord saved us, and gave us salvation and

Salvation most academics think is better translated as making whole or healing

Our lord gave everything to make us whole,heal us to be who he wanted us to be

When we give to each other we make each other whole and he wants us to give without limits

That’s the way the world works, do I think we can do that?

I know I can’t, but I have faith my lord will help me try, and that faith gives me access to grace.

Grace overcomes the shortfall, in my efforts  and Ill rely on that.

Jesus knows we can’t, we aren’t able the worlds too broken but he wants us to try. To try and give as much love as we can to each other to try and lift each other up and make the other whole.

So, to conclude
Peter had Grace when he missed the point, and grabbed Jesus arm and said “no that’s not happening” 

We all have grace when we miss the point, that’s why we need grace so much. We as Christians must keep trying, we try because we have been shown how to make it work, how to make each other whole by giving..

Thy Kingdom come is Jesus asking us to do that, make each other whole.

Grace is for the times we miss the point

Father Jo once said to me if I get to heaven I want our lord to say nice try.

I say
Amen to that.

Christ as Sister

The other day I ran a prayer session and referred to Christ as mother, brother , father and sister.

It raised an eyebrow or two

Why did I leave that in?

Because faith is what saves us, through relationship with the risen christ,

Christ was male whilst on earth, because he came down into a society where unless you were male it would have been hard to be listened too.

While we was here

He said that we can call him a friend, He is called a light, a lamb, . the alpha and omega, the narrow gate etc. The saints often called christ names that transcended gender? Julian of Norwich referred to christ our mother? This is because she saw the relationship of the trinity as more than gender specific and wanted to explain aspects of his love.

Indeed when john said “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” – John 1:29. John the baptist was most likely Essene and would have spent his days buried in scripture. As such he knew the Scriptures perfectly well, and knew what he was saying, he would not have called a man the Lamb of God, when in fact, the offering for sin is a female lamb.

He was making a leviritical reference

Leviticus 4:32 If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish.

In regards to a prayerful relationship, I think if your male relationships are broken, invested with ideas of the patriarchy, unwholesome etc, loving christ, coming into relationship with him in whatever way opens the door for you? That’s what counts?

He said we are made in our image, plural, more than one gender or type.

If he can be a lamb, he can be a sister, because I don’t he’s a white guy sitting on a cloud?

Maybe all our metaphors lack something? How much of gender do you think is preserved when we die, and rise again, if we join him in heaven?

More importantly for me however

Christ wants us to love him the very best that we can, that’s what really matters? As a subject for prayer, a way of coming closer if your male relationships are broken, come to him as a sister, its the agape love that counts. Because his love includes aspects of love that are mother, brother, sister, father, light, lamb etc. We can love him in all of those ways…

IE what paul said in galatians

Galatians 3:26-28 New International Version (NIV)
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Come to Jesus whatever way you can but come to Jesus because in him there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.