Friday, 12 August 2011

Transformed...

Completed sermon notes for Aug 21st

Transformed

As some of you know I have been on holiday this last week, so this sermon had to be written a week early, for once. As I was writing it, the news was full of the riots and looting in London and various other cities. Whatever else has happened in the intervening week, I’m sure the riots are still fresh in our minds.

Paul’s letter to the Romans, with it’s call to 'Be transformed not conformed' feels like the good news many people need to hear as we contemplate what makes the think veneer of society break down so dramatically. Don’t follow the crowd, and be conformed but allow God’s love to change you: be transformed.

There have been many theories as to why the disturbances have happened, and I’m sure there isn’t one simple answer. But I saw struck by three comments in particular I heard from people at the centre of areas of trouble.

A mother in Manchester stated “if you treat them like scum, they’ll act like scum”
A resident of Tottenham reflected “these boys in gangs have no sense of belonging or self-worth, except what’s given to them by belonging to a gang”.
And someone caught looting a shop brazenly said ‘I can afford this stuff, but if you can take it for free, you’re going to, aren’t you?’

It is awful to see violence and arson, to hear reports of people losing homes and livelihoods and even lives in the face of what looks like mindless violence. And it is shocking to hear that at the core of some of this there is such a sense of despair and true poverty - the sort of poverty of thought which says you are only worth something if you own the right goods, or belong to the right gang, or are paid huge sums or treated like a celebrity.
- it's time for the church to speak out about what really makes people happy & to stand out against consumerism - not just moaning about 'the state of the world' but offering an alternative.
Maybe we need Peter’s honesty & forthrightness to speak to the world.
Here we are, back with Peter in our Gospel reading. Despite the confidence-inspiring nickname – the Rock – there has always seemed to me to be something very human about Peter – more rocky than Rock.

Last time we ‘met’ Peter in the lectionary he was acting before thinking – jumping out of the boat to join Jesus walking on the water.
In today’s reading we meet another example of Peter’s impetuousness – as well as someone who acts before thinking, Peter is also, it seems, is a blurter-out of what’s in his head.

When Jesus asks ‘who do you say that I am,’ the others disciples don’t have much to say. They’ve been quick enough to talk about what other people have been saying, but when they are suddenly asked what they think, they go very quiet. You can imagine finger-nails being examined, clothing being picked at for imaginary fluff and sandals being drilled into the floor.
But Peter splurges ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God’. He must have glowed with pride to hear Jesus respond ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah’.
Perhaps it is Peter’s very humanity, his ability to be open to what God can do for him and through him, and his readiness to speak out that makes him the Rock on which Jesus can build his church.

Jesus chooses an ordinary person – perhaps better at using his heart than his head – and definitely fallible and imperfect. This is Peter - a rock in the sight of Jesus – someone Jesus will take and teach and forgive and fashion into a stable foundation.

As well as exhorting us to be forthright like Peter, you might be wondering whether what Peter says has any relevance to our troubled world. I think it has.
Peter says to Jesus ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God’.
In Jesus Peter sees God beside him – speaking with him, healing the wounds of the world, listening to what Peter has to say.

If one of the great ills of our world is a lack of self-worth and a vacuum where there should be a sense of value, our own value or the values of others; then here is the Good News for that situation. Every single person – every young person, unemployed person, black person, every old person, disabled person, overlooked person. Every single one of us can know God alongside us – not as a vague sense of good, or even as a moral compass to help us steer clear of trouble – but as a loving friend, a guiding Spirit, a heavenly Father.

I can think of no better word of Hope than the word ‘Love’. Yes, it is love which binds families and communities together and enables them to re-group and re-build. But first comes the love of God – the love which would hold each one of us like a precious child and which whispers ‘you matter. I care’.

This is what produces the transformation that Paul writes to the Romans about – this is the love which changes and enhances and empowers lives.

As we give thanks to God for the Rock which is Peter, let’s also give thanks for the God who by the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ can take each one of us, rocky as we may be, and build us up into the body of Christ, the church founded on Peter, God’s agents in the world. The people who are here to declare to the world – you are loved and precious.
To God’s praise and glory
Amen.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

August 21st

No, I haven't forgotten August 14th - but I'll be on holiday & not preaching. So the plan is to get ahead and prepare for Aug 21st this week. Well, it's a plan - but lots of extra stuff seems to have hit the diary this week...*sigh*

Anyway readings for Aug 21st are:
Isaiah 51: 1-6
Romans 12: 1-8
Matthew 16: 13-20

My initial thoughts were to preach about Peter - but will all the riots & stuff it seems that Isaiah & Romans are more relevant. 'Being transformed not conformed' feels like the good news many people need to hear - it's time for the church to speak out about what really makes people happy & to stand out against consumerism - not just moaning about 'the state of the world' but offering an alternative.
I may well make reference to the Camping and caravanning club campaign 'Get Rich Quick'
here - especially as I am off in the tent the next day! Happy Times.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

If it is you (final version)

Slightly expanded and amended:

If it is you Matthew 14: 22-33

Last week’s gospel passage told the story of the feeding of the five thousand. This week’s passage begins with Jesus sending the disciples back across the lake while he dismisses that crowd of over 5000 and spends time alone in prayer. And then, in the depth of the night, as the disciples struggle against a head wind, the most amazing thing happens – Jesus walks across the lake towards them.
I am not surprised the disciples were terrified – wouldn’t you be?
The storm is wild, the night is dark, they just want to get to land. And through the dark and the storm comes a figure …walking on the sea. What??

Maybe they had already lamented the fact that Jesus wasn’t with them when the storm started – after all Jesus had already shown them on another occasion that he had the power to still the storm. But the last thing they expected was for Jesus to come and join them in the boat by walking on the water. This is not normal – maybe it is even an evil spirit or something – a sign that something awful is going to happen to them.

And then the figure speaks – it is Jesus, and he tells them not to be afraid. Hearts start to beat a little more normally, and maybe if Jesus is there he will sort the storm out for them, too.

And then Peter does a very strange thing. Peter calls out 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water'.
Peter says ‘if it is you… prove it? Is Peter genuinely unsure that it is Jesus? But then surely a more natural thing to say would have been 'if it is you speak again? or come closer?
Or maybe “if it is you.. save us! Come and still the storm; or come and help us get back to shore; or come into the boat with us”.
But Peter says “if it is you, command me to come to you”. Is Peter perhaps sure now that it is Jesus & is he trying to gain 'top disciple' standing by doing what Jesus does? Is Peter so carried away by seeing Jesus do this amazing thing that he wants to join in?

I can't help comparing this with John's account of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on the beach. Remember? After the death & first resurrection appearances of Jesus, the disciples go fishing, and then spot a figure on the beach. John says “it is the Lord” & again it is Peter who is first out of the boat. He warps something round himself, because he’s naked in the boat, and swims to shore while the others bring the boat in.

Maybe Peter is just impetuous and can’t wait to be with his Lord – putting his friends, the other fishermen, and even the safety of the boat itself to one side in his eagerness to join Jesus.
“If it is you, command me to come to you”. You have to admire Peter’s loyalty and reckless abandon!
And at first it works: he, too, walks on the water. Then he notices, or maybe he remembers, the storm – the high wind, the huge waves – and he is afraid and starts to sink. Peter cries out “Lord, save me!” and Jesus reaches out and catches him and together they get into the boat. Then the oart that perhaps we all remember. Jesus says to peter “Why did you doubt? Oh you of little faith”.

This might seem a bit unfair, Peter getting criticized for trying and failing to follow Jesus, when the pthers haven’t even tried. We might feel that we are firmly on Peter’s side. In fact we might feel we are always on Peter’s side. We all like Peter, don’t we? - because he is fallible, like us.

But why does Matthew tell us this strange story of Peter’s rash decision to get out of the boat?
In fact only Matthew’s gospel includes this part about Peter in this story, although Mark & John tell the story of Jesus walking on the water. One suggestion is that Matthew puts Peter in this story, as in other stories, to stand for every disciple of Jesus.

Peter is the rock on which Jesus builds the church. Peter is the faithful, foolish, fallible disciple.
Peter is each one of us.

If this is a stiry not just about Peter but about each one of us, what does this story tell us about our following of Jesus? Our faith, our doubt? Our need to call out "Lord, save me!"...
Maybe Peter calls out to Jesus becomes a question to each one of us ‘if it is you..’

If it is you in this story, how are you getting on with following Jesus. If it is you, are you prepared to get out of the security of the boat and risk the storm? If it is you, dare you trust Jesus to help you? If it is you, what do you do when you feel you are sinking? If it is you, what help do you need?If it is you, do you find it easy to believe – or easier to doubt yourself, your family, your friends. If it is you, do you doubt that you’re worth saving, or doubt that Jesus can help?

If it is you, here’s good news. The identity of the disciples in this story may be interchangeable – it could be Peter, it could be me, it could be you. But the identity of the one who can help us all is the same. It is Jesus who comes to us when the storm is at its height. It is Jesus who can give us the power to follow him onto the water’s surface. And it is Jesus who will catch us when we fail.

Let us pray: “Jesus, if it is you who comes to us, hold out your hand whenever we sink. Hold out your hand to touch and save. Hold out your hand and feed us here at your table. Amen.”

Thursday, 4 August 2011

If it is you...

Notes so far for the sermon. If it feels unfinished, it's because it is. I just stopped & I'm not sure where I'm going for the last part - but I quite like this 'If it is you' theme & might rework the whole sermon to make more of it: or just tag a bit on the end - who knows?

7-8-11

Last week’s gospel passage told the story of the feeding of the five thousand. This week’s passage begins with Jesus sending the disciples back across the lake while he dismisses the crowd and spends time alone in prayer. And then, in the depth of the night, as the disciples struggle against a head wind, the most amazing thing happens – Jesus walks across the lake towards them.
I am not surprised the disciples were terrified – wouldn’t you be?
The storm is wild, the night is dark, they just want to get to land. And through the dark and the storm comes a figure …walking on the sea. What??

Maybe they had already lamented the fact that Jesus wasn’t with them when the storm started – after all Jesus had already shown them on another occasion that he had the power to still the storm. But the last thing they expected was for Jesus to come and join them in the boat by walking on the water. This is not normal – maybe it is even an evil spirit or something – a sign that something awful is going to happen to them.

And then the figure speaks – it IS Jesus, and he tells them not to be afraid. Hearts start to beat a little more normally, and maybe if Jesus is there he will sort the storm out for them, too.

And then Peter does a very strange thing. Peter calls out 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water'.
Is Peter genuinely unsure that it is Jesus? But then surely a more natural thing to say would have been 'if it is you come into the boat with us'.
Or is Peter sure now that it is Jesus & is he trying to gain 'top disciple' standing by doing what Jesus does? What is Peter doing?

I can't help comparing this with John's account of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on the beach. Remember? After the death & first resurrection appearances of Jesus, the disciples go fishing, and then spot a figure on the beach. John says “it is the Lord” & again it is Peter who is first out of the boat - this time to swim to shore while the others bring the boat in.

Maybe Peter is just impetuous and can’t wait to be with his Lord – putting his friends, the other fishermen, and even the safety of the boat itself to one side in his eagerness to join Jesus.

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you”. You have to admire Peter’s loyalty and reckless abandon!
And at first it works: he, too, walks on the water. Then he notices the storm – the high wind, the huge waves – and he is afraid and starts to sink. Peter cries out “Lord, save me!” and Jesus reaches out and catches him and together they get into the boat. Then the oart that perhaps we all remember. Jesus says to peter “Why did you doubt? Oh you of little faith”.

We all like Peter because he is fallible, like us.
In fact only Matthew’s gospel includes this part about Peter in this story – and one suggestion is that Matthew puts Peter there to stand for every disciple of Jesus.

Peter is each one of us.
So what does this story tell us about our following of Jesus? Our faith, our doubt? Our need to call out "Lord, save me!"...
Maybe Peter’s question to Jesus becomes a question to each one of us ‘if it is you..’
If it is you in this story, how are you getting on with following Jesus. If it is you, are you prepared to get out of the security of the boat and risk the storm? If it is you, dare you trust Jesus to help you? If it is you, what do you do when you feel you are sinking?

Here’s good news. The identity of the disciples in this story may be interchangeable – it could be Peter, it could be me, it could be you. But the identity of the one who can help us all is the same. It is Jesus who comes to us when the storm is at its height. It is Jesus who can give us the power to follow him onto the water’s surface. And it is Jesus who will catch us when we fail.

Monday, 1 August 2011

If it is you...

Been looking at Sunday's gospel reading at the first meeting of 'The Good Book Club':
Matthew 14: 22-33

Mark & John both have this story too, but only Matthew has the strange bit including Peter.
I say 'strange' because I can't quite understand why, when Jesus walks on the water & then reassures the disciples that it IS him, Peter then says 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water'.
Is Peter genuinely unsure that it is Jesus? But surely a more natural thing to say would have been 'if it is you come into the boat with us'. Or is he sure now that it is Jesus & trying to gain 'top disciples' standing by doing what jesus does?

I can't help contrasting this with John's account of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus on the beach, when again it is Peter who is first out of the boat - this time to swim to shore.

We all like Peter because he is fallible, like us - so what does this story tell us about our following of Jesus? Our faith, our doubt? Our need to call out "Lord, save me!"...