Saturday, 7 June 2008

Sermon for other service

At the URC tomorrow we're looking at Matthew (9: 9-13 & 18-26).
Heres the finished sermon.
Sorry there haven't been many 'thoughts' this week, but I've been getting over having some skin removed from my leg (hopefully healthy and no more problems!).

Jesus for everyone
A Christian poet, Steve Turner has written this poem:
How to hide Jesus
There are people after Jesus.
They have seen the signs.
Quick, let’s hide him.
Let’s think; carpenter, fisherman’s friend,
disturber of religious comfort.
Let’s award him a degree in theology,
a purple cassock
and a position of respect.
They’ll never think of looking here.
Let’s think;
His dialect may betray him,
His tongue is of the masses.
Let’s teach him Latin
and seventeenth century English,
they’ll never think of listening in.
Let’s think;
humble,
Man of Sorrows,
nowhere to lay his head.
We’ll build a house for him,
somewhere away from the poor.
We’ll fill it with brass and silence.
It’s sure to throw them off.
There are people after Jesus
Quick, let’s hide him.

Who is Jesus being hidden from? Possibly those who need him most.

I wanted to separate out the two parts of the gospel reading today – which are placed almost right alongside each other, to help us to think about what is happening in Matthew’s gospel.

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to hear a ‘proclamation’ of John’s gospel at Emmanuel URC in Cambridge. A young woman had memorised nearly the whole of John’s gospel – 2 hours’ worth –
& with no notes or prompter told us the story in a dramatic form. It was an amazing feat – and brought home the power of sitting down to the whole story at once instead of just hearing bits, as we usually do. I was amazed at the number of times in John’s gospel when Jesus faces not just opposition but the threat of physical stoning. The gospel writer had never heard of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, they knew that Jesus got some people very hot under the collar.

The first part of Matthew’s gospel we heard today tells us about these people. Jesus has called Matthew, a tax-collector, and then has a meal with a number of tax-collectors and sinners.
A tax collector in Jesus’ time was not the government officer we might imagine, but someone of dubious morals who was prepared to work for the occupying Roman army and extort taxes from his fellow-Israelites, however poor, using force if necessary. Such people weren’t just unpopular, they were considered unclean.

Jesus offends the ‘religious’ people of his day by eating and talking with people who were marked out as ‘not our sort’, sinners, ruffians. There is constant opposition to Jesus from those he might have thought would support his project to bring in God’s rule and touch people with God’s love and healing. For the religious authorities Jesus just wasn’t doing things properly – he was doing it all wrong – healing on the Sabbath, partying with sinners, talking to foreigners & women. As Father Ted would have said ‘down with this sort of thing’.

But Jesus’ rejection by the religious authorities just makes him more accessible to the ordinary people and especially the people the more religious folk might have rejected.
In our second part of Matthew’s gospel we have a little scene of Jesus being accosted by those most in need.
An official comes and asks Jesus to touch his daughter, who has died, in an attempt to revive her. Mark’s gospel also tells this story and tells us that the official is the president of the synagogue, Jairus. You might think that as a very religious man he would have been in with the religious authorities, but in fact what he was asking Jesus to do would not have been done by any of his friends from the synagogue. They believed that a dead body was unclean and would make them unclean, and they would have been very unlikely to risk touching his daughter’s body, even if they thought there was any chance of reviving her.

But Jesus is prepared to try and help even if it means breaking the religious taboos, and so he sets off to the dead girl.

On the way, another outcast stops him and seeks his help. A woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches the fringe of his robe. The religious rules demanded that a woman who is bleeding, and who is therefore ritually unclean, should not be in contact with anyone else, especially a man. Jesus doesn’t attack her for this breaking of the rules, but offers her healing and wholeness. Then he goes on his way to touch and raise Jairus’s daughter.

The religious authorities stand back and tut at Jesus and his actions, but those who really need Jesus break the rules and find he is willing to help them.

I often wonder what the gospel writers would have made of the religious authorities of our day – this church for example, you & me.
Are we sometimes guilty of wanting to surround Jesus with rules – you should worship God in this way, in this place, at these times?
Or can we dare to let people see that when they need Jesus, he can be there with them, wherever they are, whatever they need.
Can we let our churchy habits be just that – habits that help us, not strict laws that cannot be broken. Can we be as prepared to break our habits as we are to break this bread, so that Jesus can be shared with everyone who is hungry- all who need him?

May God save us from laws which separate people from Jesus or hide Jesus from them – and help us to recognise where Jesus is at work and to join in.
In the name of Jesus and to the glory of God.
Amen.

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