Easter Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Resurrection-telling”

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

‘“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’

The words which I have just read, and with which St Mark’s Gospel concludes, stand in strong contrast to those with which the Gospel began and which we read a few months ago on the First Sunday of Advent. There St Mark proclaimed, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[1]

St Mark has set out to tell everyone the “good news”, but those who receive the great news of the resurrection of this Jesus from the dead react with terror and amazement and fear – and silence!

The women who have come to the tomb in which Jesus was hurriedly laid a couple of days earlier, – Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome – have bought spices with which to anoint his body. I heard someone say the other day, “I hope they kept the receipt!”

On the way, the women are worried as to how the stone in front of the tomb might be moved; but when they get there that worry is unnecessary. For the stone has been rolled away already – and Jesus is gone! A “young man dressed in a white robe” (an angel or two in other Gospels) tells them “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him”. He then gives them a task: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee”.

Throughout this Holy Week, I have been talking of ministry (= “service”) given to us as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, we spoke of “the ministry of donkey-fetching”. Two of Jesus’ disciples were given the very ordinary task of fetching the donkey on which Jesus was to ride into Jerusalem. Our ministry of donkey-fetching is to do the very ordinary things of our life in service to Christ, whatever he asks of us. And most of us, most of the time will find “ministry” very ordinary.

On Maundy Thursday, we talked of “the ministry of foot-washing”. This entails our being willing to serve one another – Christians and those so far outside of the church. No one is outside the orbit of the love of God as revealed in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection; and we are all called to serve the least and greatest equally, without prejudice or discrimination.

On Good Friday, we encountered “the ministry of cross-standing”. According John’s Gospel, at the foot of Jesus’ cross as he was dying were his mother, his aunt, Mary Magdalene and the disciple John. Their presence was undoubtedly a comfort to Jesus in his last awful hours. We, as followers of Jesus and his disciples, are called to stand alongside those who are dying and those who are the victims of injustice and oppression, of violence and evil.

Today, we are introduced to the ministry of “resurrection-telling”. “He is not here; he is risen; go and tell”. This is the mission of all Christians. To tell the whole world that Jesus Christ has conquered death; that he has been through it and come out the other side; and so can we. This is “good news” indeed!

Sadly, in St Mark’s account of the resurrection, those who were given the “ministry of resurrection-telling” failed to do it. Which is probably why a number of attempts have been made to finish the Gospel on a more positive note. In many Bibles you will find at least two possible “better”, “happier”, endings. But Mark – the first-written of our Gospels – definitely leaves us with the mission unfilled.

Matthew, Luke and John have appearances of Jesus to various of his followers; St Paul in today’s Epistle details numerous post-resurrection appearances[2]; and the early Church built everything on the proclamation that Jesus not only died but rose in triumph because death could not hold him.

St Peter’s sermon to the household of a Roman centurion, Cornelius, of which we read a little as our first lesson this morning, tells the story clearly and succinctly. “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.[3]

And so the story has been told generation by generation, for some two millennia so far. And so we – today’s disciples – are called to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus – to tell the story of his suffering and death which restores the relationship between God and all humanity, to heal division and to overcome the fear of death – and to tell of our own experience of his resurrection life in the here and now.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus went through human life and death, “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”[4] Isn’t this good news?

It is good that we have journeyed together through this Holy Week – from Jesus’ joyous welcome into Jerusalem, through the Last Supper, his painful prayer-time in the Garden of Gethsemane, his unjust trials before the High Priest and the Roman governor; to his crucifixion and death.

It is good that we could experience a little of the utter devastation as the broken and pierced body was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, and walk with the dispirited woman towards that tomb early on Easter morning.

And it is wonderful that we can say with the angel, “He has been raised!”

But if we simply enjoy this celebration together and go off to eat breakfast and chocolate, and that’s all we do, we will be like the Marys and Salome in the Gospel – amazed, terrified and afraid.

The resurrection of Jesus is GOOD NEWS! And, like St Peter and the apostles, “we are witnesses”.

How can we not share this news – in our lives and with our words and actions?

 

The resurrection of Jesus transforms our lives and our world.

 

The ministry of resurrection-telling is yours and mine.

 

Christ is risen! Alleluia!!     He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Mark 1:1

[2] I Corinthians 15:1-11

[3] Acts 10:39-41

[4] Hebrews 2:14-15

Good Friday Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Cross-standing”

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”[1]

These words from today’s Passion Gospel provide the springboard for my sermon this morning.

On Palm Sunday, we spoke of “The Ministry of Donkey-Fetching” – that much of our service as Christians is in doing the mundane and ordinary tasks of being Christian – ministry which often goes unnoticed and without fanfare.

Last night, in our Maundy Thursday service, we spoke of “The Ministry of Foot-Washing” – humbly and willingly becoming, like Jesus, servants to one another and the wider world free of prejudice, reluctance, discrimination or favouritism.

This morning, I want to talk of “The Ministry of Cross-Standing”. By this I mean our willingness to stand by the cross of suffering and pain which is being experienced by those around us.

One of the most personally rewarding and challenging types of ministry in which I find myself involved is that of being with people who are dying. In the mid-2000’s, I worked for a couple of years as Chaplain to the Silver Chain Home Hospice Care Service, based out of the Murdoch Community Hospice. This was a time of meeting terminal patients in the last stages of their life and illness. It was a wonderful experience, working not only with the dying, but also with their families and carers and being a resource for the Silver Chain staff.

I was often in awe of the nurses, doctors and ancillary staff of the Service, in their unstinting willingness to be alongside these patients, and I learned a great deal about such care, which is frequently of help to me in my daily ministry.

On the night we call Maundy Thursday, when Jesus was arrested and taken off for his “kangaroo court” trials, all of his close disciples ran away and left him. John apparently attends some of the trial and Peter sits outside taking every opportunity to deny Jesus that comes his way.

When people come down with terminal illnesses, there are often friends and family members who “run away”, unable and/or unwilling to be around in such a situation. Precious indeed are those who willingly stay around to listen, to talk, to encourage, to feed and give fluids, and to help with necessary personal hygiene matters.

This “ministry of cross-standing” encompasses much that it means to be a true follower of Jesus.

Precious indeed were the women and John standing by the cross. Crucifixion was one of the most evil forms of execution known to humanity, both intensely painful and intensely humiliating. To run from the sight of it would be perfectly understandable; but the presence of Jesus’ mother and aunt and Mary Magdalene and John “the beloved disciple” would have been so important to Jesus as he gradually expired on the cross – not to mention extremely costly and even risky for them.

But there is even more to this “ministry of cross-standing”: Jesus in this situation represents all who are persecuted and penalised unjustly and unjustifiably.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells of the King who rewards those who fed him, gave him drink, clothed him, cared for him as a stranger, and visited him in sickness and in prison. The Jesus we see on the cross is a victim of all the unfairness and injustice and alienation the world could throw at him.

Every disciple of Jesus is called by the ministry of cross-standing to stand in solidarity with those who are victims of society, of governments and political powers, of wars and corruption and domestic violence and sexual abuse – while never forgetting to support and care for the victims of natural disasters.

Last Sunday, many Christians marched in Perth and across Australia’s cities and larger towns in support of the many refugees who are imprisoned in our “detention centres” on- and off-shore, especially the 107 children still held in these hell-holes. And this evening there is to be a silent vigil outside Royal Perth Hospital in support of an Iranian man who is on a hunger-strike and near death because our government wants to send him back into an impossible situation in his homeland.

Christians who understand our ministry of cross-standing will always stand with victims, actively supporting them, and actively working for the alleviation or removal of their burdens.

The Good Friday story is first and foremost about the death of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of humanity. This is about the removal of sin and all that hinders and damages the relationship between humanity and its Creator. And thanks be to God for the amazing love and grace which makes this possible!

Despite its awful story of injustice and cruelty and abuse of power, we rejoice to call this day “Good Friday”, because of all God in Christ achieves through the cross.

And as we come to the foot of the cross in worship, adoration, sorrow and reflection this morning, we can commit ourselves to the ministry of cross-standing, caring for and serving and advocating for all who suffer and all who are dying – both in the natural order of things and through all forms of injustice.

The Lord be with you.

[1] John 19:25-27

Maundy Thursday Sermon 2015 – “The Ministry of Foot-washing”

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

Feet! Most people find them pretty unattractive. I certainly do. I am grateful for the podiatrist I see every so often who checks on the condition of my feet – pulses, sensitivity, ingrown nails and other potential problems – and then cuts my nails and sands back the hard, dry skin. But there is no way I would want to do her job. On the other hand – should I say “foot” – the fact is that those of us who experience her care very much appreciate this service

In the time of Jesus, of course, people wore open sandals, or more often bare feet, as they travelled dusty roads in Mediterranean heat. By the end of a day’s journey, the feet would be pretty unpleasant. And the job of the lowliest servant in the house was to wash the feet of the master, his family and his guests. A humble and unrewarding job, we might well understand.

On Sunday, I spoke of “the ministry of donkey-fetching” – how much of what we are called to do in service of Jesus is very ordinary and mundane; how not all ministry is highly visible, rewarded and famous, just necessary and almost routine.

Today, the obvious title for the sermon is “the Ministry of Foot-Washing”.

In this evening’s Gospel, we see Jesus sharing a meal with his twelve disciples – probably the Passover meal.

And then we read that “during supper, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

Jesus takes on the lowliest of jobs for those who are by definition lower in status than he. He is their rabbi, they his disciples; yet he takes on the role of the lowliest servant, washing their feet.

Peter, the regularly outspoken one in the group, objects, realising that this is all about-face: by rights, he should be washing Jesus’ feet. But Jesus insists, later saying to them all, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

 

It’s not about status, Jesus says. In the Kingdom, none is greater or lesser than another. All are called to serve equally, without discrimination. Do you notice that Jesus even washes the feet of Judas Iscariot, into whose heart, we read earlier in tonight’s Gospel, “The devil had already put it … to betray him.”

The love with which Jesus “loved his own who were in the world” incorporated even the traitor. In this situation, we would almost certainly call out the traitor, refusing to perform for him any service, however elevated or lowly.

Of course, as the story continues, we will read that all the disciples flee from Jesus at Gethsemane, and Peter denies three times even knowing him. The element of service, the ministry of foot-washing, is not dependent on past activity or potential future outcomes: it is to serve high and low in the here-and-now, without prejudice, without reluctance, without discrimination or favouritism.

You and I are people who have declared in our Baptism and Confirmation that we will “strive to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with our whole heart, and our neighbour as ourself, until our life’s end?”

 

And living as a disciple of Christ is to “follow in his steps”, to do as he did and taught. We are called to the service of others – within and outside of the church – without prejudice, without reluctance, without discrimination or favouritism, as I’ve said.

For many centuries, Jesus’ action in washing his disciples’ feet has been “re-enacted” with the clergy washing the feet of lay people in what is an action more symbolic than physically necessary. As a parish priest for over thirty years, I suppose I have washed well over three hundred feet (or perhaps pairs of feet) in my time.

A bit of a problem with this is that it can still seem to elevate the priesthood in a way that is unhelpful. Surprising as it may be to you, I am not Jesus! J If anything, my washing your feet is to say that you are special, not I. It is an annual redressing of any sense of imbalance between “laity” and “clergy”.

At the same time, Jesus’ command to the disciples was to “wash one another’s feet”. So this evening, I’m going to start the washing, and ask you to “pass it on”. And somewhere in the line, I hope someone will wash mine.

By the way, if foot-washing is a problem for you, feel free to offer your hands to be washed. The symbolism of service is not limited to feet!

So, the call of Jesus to us is to the ministry of donkey-fetching and to the ministry of foot-washing.

And there’s more!

Part Three tomorrow.

The Lord be with you

Palm Sunday 2015 Sermon – “The Ministry of Donkey-Fetching”

NB: This sermon draws heavily on http://revplockhart.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/tthe-ministry-of-donkey-fetching.html. But it set me off on the theme for all the sermons of Holy Week]

+ In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, Palm Sunday (aka Passion Sunday) marks the beginning of the greatest week in the Church’s year, the week we know as “Holy Week”. Throughout this week, we are called to walk with Jesus from the time of so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, through Maundy Thursday’s Last Supper and foot-washing, to his trial and awful death on Good Friday, all the way to his glorious resurrection which we celebrate at Easter.

Today, this Palm Sunday, also marks the beginning of a new life for E [a sixteen-year-old-girl]. As an adult, E is coming for Baptism, coming to make a personal commitment to walking with Jesus for the rest of her life. Such baptisms usually are preferred to happen on Easter Day or during the Easter season, because of the connection of Baptism with the death and resurrection of Jesus. But I think the “coincidence” of E’s Baptism and Palm Sunday is wonderful, because it all speaks of journey and service.

In Baptism, E will be committing not only to belief in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but to serve God and the world, “shining in the world as a light to the glory of God the Father”. And at Easter we will all be invited to renew our own promises to do the same.

This theme of service is the one about which I feel called to speak throughout this Holy Week.

Today I want to talk about the “Ministry of Donkey-Fetching”.

Most ministry to which we are called as Christians is not particularly “out there” and spectacular. There are relatively few called to high office in the church, or to be great evangelists or famous missionaries. Most of us are called to simple and faithful service, mostly not widely observed or praised.

As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem, we are told that he calls over two of the disciples to send them to get a donkey. Of course the mundane task of donkey-fetching is made special by Jesus’ prediction about where the two would find the donkey and what would happen when they got there. Yet there is still a level at which it remains an ordinary task. It was just something that had to be done – someone had to fetch the donkey.

Imagine, years later, these two disciples trying to explain the significance of their donkey-fetching ministry. Maybe the omission of their names from the story reflects how they might have felt about it. So the question we could ask is why even bother including this part of the story, it has to be more than just filling space. Mark, particularly, seems not to waste words in telling his story of Jesus.

One of the things that strikes me about the inclusion of this aspect of the disciples’ work is that, even in mundane and ordinary tasks, God can be encountered. Jesus sends the disciples to fetch the donkey, and by predicting the encounter that the disciples would have, Jesus turns the event into a moment of revelation.

The appearance of the person questioning the disciples as Jesus had predicted affirms for them that God’s work is going on around them, even in the midst of a mundane task.

When asked, “Why are you doing this?’ their response is to describe what Jesus had said to them. They tell of Jesus’ prediction of the event. Through this, the disciples are once again reminded of Jesus authority and place within their lives.

Now, what, if anything, does this have to do with us? When we see this mundane and ordinary task as something special, an encounter with the divine, I believe we are reminded that even the most ordinary tasks in our lives can be places in which God speaks to us as well.

As we put our hands to work in the everyday humdrum of life making a meal, mowing a lawn, balancing our books, serving customers in a shop, or patients in a hospital or home, or students in a school, we can encounter God’s presence and be taught by God’s love just as the disciples were.

The great American preacher and activist, Martin Luther King, once declared, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Maybe in these moments of our everyday life we will hear someone asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Why are you doing chores at the church, or looking after the op shop, why is it that you are nursing or teaching? I wonder do we have a sense that God has called us to these everyday tasks of life as an expression of ministry in the world. Tasks that may seem everyday – even dull and boring – may be places we remember and encounter God; and maybe when asked we might even be bold enough to explain that we had a sense that Jesus had asked us to do it.

Just as with the disciples and their task of donkey-fetching, so too we are often called to do mundane and less than glamorous tasks in our lives. Ministry, service of Jesus day by day, can often be that simple – and that rich!

So the disciples return with the donkey; and we can safely assume they follow Jesus as he enters Jerusalem.

This little part of the Jesus’ story is not a mere detail, but an essential part of his whole journey from his birth at Bethlehem to his death and resurrection.

We who know the story of what occurs should also understand our place within it. We are part of that crowd. We are not just the donkey-fetchers. We wave our branches. We gather in hope. Yet as we do so we know that despite our enthusiastic response, we too will probably lose our way with Jesus. Like his key disciples, we may well desert, betray, and hide. The crowd which welcomes Jesus into the city, may well be some of those who will cry “Crucify” on Good Friday.

This is how we live our lives with a strange mixture of belief and disbelief; with an annoying ability to do both things which are good and bad, often not even fully aware of which is which. We live as people celebrating God’s love, yet all too often denying his place in our lives.

Yet, the good news is that Jesus, knowing this, rides on. He travels towards the cross, towards his death and towards his resurrection, to break through our fickleness and so declare God’s love for us and inclusion of us in God’s very life.

This gathering on Palm Sunday shows the other side of the coin of our spiritual life to the low-key and mundane task of donkey fetching. The times we encounter God as a gathered community – just like running to the roadside to see Jesus, we come and gather here, and in worship and in singing our Hosannas, Jesus is present with us here in the midst of our fickleness, accepting our praise.

The hope that we find in the story of the donkey-fetchers and of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is that Jesus is with us and alongside us. He is there us as we go about our everyday tasks and he is here as we gather together to celebrate, not because we are worthy in any way of his presence but because he chooses to be so out of love.

The ministry of donkey-fetching is probably much under-rated; but it is a ministry to which E and all of us are called, and to which we commit in our Baptism.

The Lord be with you.

Following Jesus

THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY – 25th January, 2015
St Barnabas’, Carlisle-Rivervale
SERMON NOTES

+ In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD”.

“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

“Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

In every account of Jesus calling the men who were to become his apostles, it seems that their response and following him are instant decisions, instant action, instant forsaking of the old life and embracing of the new.

Last week, we heard from John’s Gospel of the calling of Philip, of his immediately seeking out Nathanael and of Nathanael’s quick commitment to Jesus.

Today we read of the instant acceptance of Jesus’ call by the fishermen Simon & Andrew, James & John. “Immediately they left their nets … immediately they left their father”.

And, of course, as we read a part of the story of Jonah this morning, it would seem that Jonah follows the call of God pretty quickly, too. Except that the passage began, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” For Jonah, unlike the apostles, the call of God wasn’t quite so welcome!

His first reaction to the call of God to go preach in Nineveh was to board a ship going in exactly the opposite direction. Nineveh is a thousand miles east of Israel; but Jonah took passage for Spain, a thousand miles west! And I’m sure that many of us hearing the call of God have experienced at least the impulse to walk, run, sail or fly as far as possible away. I know I have been that way from time to time; and I don’t think I’m Robinson Crusoe in it!

Jonah finds himself and the ship in a great big storm on the Mediterranean, thrown overboard to appease the gods, swallowed by a great big fish and praying for three days and nights for forgiveness. The fish throws up, and Jonah finds himself on a beach in a nasty pile of the fish’s stomach contents – not, perhaps, the most pleasant experience!

And “The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.” God is gracious but persistent! And I’m glad of that. Jonah is chastened, repentant and eventually obedient.

So we come to today’s passage in which Nineveh – its king, its people and even its animals repent and seek God’s forgiveness. And, even then, Jonah is unhappy. You need to read the next chapter to see his reaction. He was looking forward to witnessing God’s destruction of the city, and is disappointed at the mercy of God. Interesting thought in light of some of the awful incidents of “terrorism” we’ve been witnessing in recent years!

As an aside, let me encourage you to go home and read the book of Jonah in its entirety. It’ll only take you ten or fifteen minutes; but it’s worth getting the whole picture.

Now to the disciples and their calling and “instant” following.

There is no doubt that the four fishermen in this morning’s Gospel respond instantly to Jesus’ call. But it seems that there was still a process of dealing with that commitment which meant dealing with the effects of such a change of vocation.

I saw a cartoon the other day in which Simon is at the printers’. He is just picking up 5000 business cards which read “Simon Bar-Jona, fisherman, Capernaum, Galilee”. The next picture has Jesus saying to him, “From now on you will be called Peter”.

Commitment to follow Jesus and to become “fishers of people” undoubtedly took some time to organize, however immediate their response.

A new movie out this week is “Wild”, with Reese Witherspoon starring as Cheryl Strayed, a woman in her late thirties who walked the 1500-mile Pacific Crest Trail.

Cheryl Strayed, in telling her own story of this journey, which she undertook to redeem her life from the self-destructive course in which she had spent several years, and from the fear and rage that had lived in her heart since the sudden death of her beloved mother when Cheryl was only 20, writes this about her commitment to this journey as a journey in itself, a journey that became part of her life journey:

There was the first, flip, decision to do it, followed by the second, more serious decision to actually do it, and then the long third beginning, composed of weeks of shopping and packing and preparing to do it.
There was the quitting my job as a waitress and finalizing my divorce and selling almost everything I owned and saying goodbye to my friends and visiting my mother’s grave one last time.
There was the driving across the country from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, and a few days later, catching a flight to Los Angeles and a ride to the town of Mojave and another ride to the place where the Trail crossed a highway.
At which point, at long last, there was the actual doing it, followed by the grim realization of what it meant to do it, followed by the decision to quit doing it because doing it was absurd and pointless and ridiculously difficult and far more than I expected it would be . . . And then there was truly doing it.

These things must have been true of the disciples. Certainly the quitting of their jobs required some decency, some words about why, and some farewell. Simon, we know, had a mother-in-law, and stayed in touch enough to know when she was ill, so there must have been some goodbyes said there. And in sorting out what to take and when to go, there must have been some question, said or unsaid, about whether this was wise or foolish.

In calling others to follow him. Jesus often said that they must count the cost. Even Peter, well into the journey with Jesus, said to him, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you. What will we then have?” And Jesus reassured him that no-one gives up everything for him, who won’t in the end be rewarded many times over. But that’s not the point in following him, is it?

And those who followed Jesus “immediately” also went through times of failure. At the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was arrested, they all ran for their lives. This very Simon Peter even denied three times that he knew Jesus at all. But, like Jonah, to whom “the word of the Lord came a second time”, Peter was given another opportunity to commit to the following of Jesus, and he took it and followed all the way to his own untimely death.
The good news is that there is room for the immediate responder;
there is room for the reluctant;
and there is room for the runaway!
In the economy of God, in the grace of the One who calls us to follow, there is always room.

You and I are called to share the message – the good news – that God’s kingdom has come near, that repentance and faith are the entry, and that we are loved and valued and forgiven. In accepting this call, in truly following Jesus, there is no doubt that there is “stuff” to be left behind, there are attitudes which need to be abandoned and replaced, and there are priorities to be rearranged.

But those who’ve walked the journey with Jesus will tell you it’s all been worth it. You know and I know that our commitment to accept his call and follow him have rewarded us greatly already and there’s more to come.

In a few minutes, we are going to sing a hymn we used last week, “Will you come and follow me”, by John Bell and Graeme Maule of the Iona Community. Its last verse is a good response to Jesus’ call to us, and with it I finish:

“Lord, your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
in you and you in me.”

The Lord be with you!

God honours the faithful aged.

ANGLICAN PARISH OF ST BARNABAS, CARLISLE-RIVERVALE

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS – 28th December, 2014

+ In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

When people ask me whether St Barnabas’ has a youth group, I usually respond, “That would be KT and me”. J   And when there is discussion about the future of the church – whether amongst clergy or laity or mixed groups, I so often hear the complaint that we are mostly made up of elderly people and that the church’s future is looking grim. And I will confess that as my own hair has reduced in volume and changed to grey, I am tempted to join in the general gloominess of such complaints. [pause]

But then I think of the story in today’s Gospel, and I am grateful for the many folk here and in our churches across the diocese for those who older than me and still faithful to the calling and teaching of Christ.

Quite a few of you have been a part of the church for longer than I have been alive, having been faithful in your attendance and taking responsibility for the efficient running of the organisation and reaching out in loving care for so much of that time

With age frequently comes wisdom; with age there is long and varied experience; and with can come a greater trust and confidence in the God who came among us as a child and shared our life, leading us to salvation.

In the Gospel today (Luke 2:22-40), we meet two very elderly people –Simeon, a resident of Jerusalem, and Anna, described as “a prophet”.

Simeon has probably been coming to the temple for many years, looking for “the consolation of Israel”. He has been promised that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah”. And he has hung in for many years to see that promise fulfilled. And today is his day!

In come a fairly non-descript couple, probably not particularly well-dressed; clearly poor because their offering is only “a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons”, which is the poor people’s alternative to the offering of a lamb. Their baby boy would seem to any casual observer just ordinary. But to the one who is watching and waiting, this little one is “the Lord’s Messiah”.

And Simeon bursts into a song of praise which has been recited in churches and homes forever since. It has become a permanent part of the liturgies of Evensong and Compline in most Anglican prayer books around the world.

Simeon, this old man, considers himself immensely privileged to have lived long enough for this wonderful arrival, and declares himself ready to die, now that his “own eyes have seen “have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”.

There is, of course, a sting in the tail as Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and the baby. He says to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” And because we know the whole story, we understand that she will suffer as she sees her son suffering and dying. And I suppose it’s true that parenting is not all or always joy. The old man understands from experience and from revelation much that is to come.

Now we are introduced to Anna, a prophet, a woman who is only 84 years old. (Some of you could give her a run for her money, I know J ) She is another immensely faithful worshipper of God, and has become a permanent fixture at the Temple, fasting and praying day and night.

Anna “just happens” to arrive on the scene, sees the baby and his parents, and begins “to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”. She has waited for this day for so long, and – like Simeon – is privileged to see her hopes and dreams fulfilled. And she can’t help but spread the good news to everyone who will listen – and probably to many who don’t want to hear J .

The news is so good that she can’t contain it. And, for an old woman, it has been worth the wait. Her prayers, her fasting, her constant presence in the Temple, have all been more than worthwhile.

Over the many years that most of us have been in and around the church, be it St Barnabas’, St Michael’s or many another, we have seen many people leave the church for a variety of reasons – logical, emotional and otherwise. I am grateful that many have been faithful and determined to serve God and to continue to look for his salvation, as did Simeon and Anna.

Bishop David Murray, when I was under his oversight as my Bishop, often used to say that the church’s job was “to keep the rumour of God alive”. I am grateful for every one of you who continues to meet week by week and more often to do just that – “to keep the rumour of God alive”. That you have done so for so long is a source of grace and beauty in a troubled world.    As St John has it in the prologue to his Gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[1]

When St Paul was giving instruction to the young preacher Timothy, he told him, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”.[2]

I think it important to say to older folk, “Don’t let anyone despise you because you are old, but continue to set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.”  And I realise that it’s a good message to young and old and all in between.

Simeon and Anna show us that age is no barrier to hope for and proclamation of the one who came among us as Emmanuel – God with us, and who is yet to come among us as King and Saviour.

The Lord be with you!

 

[1] John 1:5

[2] I Timothy 4:12

Living Water

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT- 23rd March, 2014

ST BARNABAS’, RIVERVALE

BIBLE READINGS

 

“There’s a hole in my bucket,

Dear Liza, dear Liza,

There’s a hole in my bucket,

Dear Liza, a hole”.

 

So goes the comic song everyone’s heard at some time or other.

 

“So mend it, dear Henry…

With straw, dear Henry…

The straw is too long, dear Liza…

So cut it, dear Henry…

With what, dear Liza…

With an axe, dear Henry…

The axe is too dull, dear Liza…

So sharpen it, dear Henry…

On what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza…

On a stone, dear Henry…

The stone is too dry, dear Liza…

Then wet it, dear Henry…

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza…

Try water, dear Henry…

With what shall I fetch it, dear Liza…

With a bucket, dear Henry….”  

 

When Jesus meets a Samaritan woman beside Jacob’s well at Sychar, he is “tired out by his journey” and the sun is at its peak, because “It was about noon”. Jesus is thirsty – not surprisingly – and, unlike Henry, he doesn’t have a bucket – not even one with a hole which needs mending!

 

Jesus’ disciples have gone into the city to get food and Jesus waits beside the well.  But this is no chance meeting.  Our lectionary, for some unknown reason, began the Gospel reading at the fifth verse of John chapter 4.

 

Let me read you the beginning of the chapter:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria.”

 

“He had to go through Samaria.

 

Jesus is on his way from Judaea in the southern part of Israel to Galilee in the north.  But between these two territories lay the region of Samaria, which ran west to east from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.  The Samaritans were a mixed-race people, part-Jewish and part-Canaanite, regarded by the Jews with the sort of contempt not uncommon throughout history.  John tells us that “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans”, and that is something of an understatement!

 

Immediately before this story in John’s Gospel is the one we heard last week about Jesus’ night-time conversation with a devout Jew, by name of Nicodemus.  To Nicodemus, Jesus spoke of new birth and new life which comes through a response to God’s love shown in sending Jesus so that those who believe in him “might not perish, but have eternal life”.

 

Today’s story makes it clear that when Jesus says that “God so loved the world”, this love was not limited simply to the children of Israel.  “He had to go through Samaria” because there was someone there who needed to hear his message of love and acceptance.  Normal Jews, and especially religious ones, would cross the Jordan just before the territory of Samaria, head north along the eastern bank of the river, and cross westwards once they had passed the Samaritan border.

 

But Jesus – in the words I well remember from the King James Version of the Bible – “must needs go through Samaria”.  It is possible that he was in a hurry to get to Galilee, but you could say, “We know better”

 

Jesus comes to this Samaritan woman and asks for water.  Not an unreasonable request, except for all the reasons I’ve listed in the “Bugle” this morning:

  • She is not only a Gentile, but even more significantly a Samaritan, someone racially challenging to this Jewish rabbi
  • This person is a woman, and it was not considered proper for a man to be alone with a woman who was not his immediate family.
  • Not only is she a Samaritan and a woman, but she is a woman who has been married five times and is not married to the man with whom she now lives.  So she is undoubtedly regarded as being of questionable virtue. 
  • And – something I didn’t write in the “Bugle” – she was at the well to get water at midday.  Most of the women of Sychar would probably get their water in the cool of the early morning or late afternoon.  But this woman had probably been the victim of gossip and ridicule because of her marital history.  This time of day gave her a little refuge, however uncomfortable the climatic conditions. 

She is a complete outcast, not only to religious Jewish males, but even to people of her own race and gender.

And yet Jesus asks her for water and engages her in a long conversation.  It’s a pretty good lesson for us who proclaim ourselves to be Christians, followers of Jesus the Messiah.  We have met with Jesus, we have acknowledged our sins and sinfulness and been totally forgiven, restored to friendship with God, and given the “water of eternal life”.  We have been accepted and welcomed, despite all of our failings and inadequacies, and we are loved.

And, lest we ever get proud of our Christianity to the point of criticising or excluding those who are not of our faith, or denomination, or even parish, Jesus goes over and over in the Gospel stories to those who are “unacceptable” and “unworthy” and even “unclean”.

The message we are given is that of Jesus the giver of living water, the water which becomes “in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life”. 

The prophet Isaiah says in a wonderful poem, “Therefore with joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation.”

Jesus came to a well which was abundant in water, but he had no bucket.  We have come to the one who has given us both the source of “water springing up to eternal life” and the bucket with which to draw.

How can we live with greedily drinking of that water and not reaching out to bring others to the well which is Christ himself?

At the end of this reading, we discover that the woman to whom Jesus has spoken has gone off to the city and – regardless of her inferior status and the obvious rejection of the citizens – has brought a whole lot of people back to Jesus, so that they, too, might meet the one who “told me everything I have ever done”.

And, what is even more wonderful, is that when they have met Jesus for themselves, “they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word.” And they said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.

 

Let me tell you that, if you and I are willing just to introduce people to Jesus, we will find that we don’t have to do a huge amount of coercion and convincing.  There are many people who – knowingly or otherwise – are just waiting for someone to say “Are you thirsty?  Let me draw you a little water”.  We have found it abundantly in the love and forgiveness and welcome of Jesus.  We, too, “must go by way of Samaria”. 

 

TLBWY