Saturday, 30 June 2012

The desperation of love

Mark 5: 21-43
2 Corinthians 8: 7-15

Mark’s gospel tells us a story of desperation.
It’s a story full of illness and death and desperation.
Of a desperate father who longs for Jesus to heal his daughter before it’s too late. Of a desperate woman, who has tried everything to find healing, and is grasping her last chance.

Jarius comes and says to Jesus ‘My little daughter is at death’s door. I beg you to come and lay your hands on her so that her life may be saved.’
It’s the use of the word ‘little’ that’s so revealing somehow. And it’s the use of the word ‘beg’. Many of us know at first hand what it means to love another human being so much that we would beg, we would give up anything, we would do anything to save them. You don’t have to be a parent to know what this feels like. But of course we all know how deep human love can go and how much we’d do to keep those we love alive.

Meanwhile the woman is alone and her desperation is for herself. We know that she’s on her own because she’s been bleeding for 12 years. That means not only that she would have been anaemic and perpetually tired, but she would have been ritually ‘unclean’. No-one could get close to her, for years. Impossible to sustain a marriage or work or worship. She’s an outsider even from her own family. She’s alone. She reaches out to the strange rabbi in the hope that he, unlike all the doctors, might be able to heal her.

And Jesus, far from recoiling from her touch, or chiding her for doing the wrong thing, congratulates her for having faith that its possible to be saved and he sends her on her way in peace.

Two stories of people desperate for healing form Jesus – stories of people so desperate that they fall over each other – the one story interrupts the other. Jesus is on his way to heal the daughter of the leader of the synagogue when he is stopped in his tracks by the older woman.

The story of the 2 healings is rich with similarities and differences.
There is a young girl/ an old woman
A request for healing from an important man / an attempt to gain healing without being noticed from a very unimportant woman
Someone who has suffered 12 years of bleeding and therefore of being considered untouchable & unclean/ 12 years of a privileged life as the daughter of the leader of the synagogue.
This is a very complex and beautiful story of healing.

And the story is amazingly told – with the tension of one story interrupting the other – you can sense the impatience of the disciples when Jesus stops and asks ‘who touched me?’…we almost want to shout at Jesus to get on with hurrying to Jairus’ daughter before it’s too late.

The question ‘is it too late??’ is a big question for both the young girl and the older woman. Remember it says that the woman had tried many forms of healing before – she has spent all her money seeking a cure. Is it too late? And if Jesus faffs about with her will it be too late for the daughter of Jairus?

But it’s all OK – because the answer is that with Jesus, it's never too late.
However desperate we are, however long we have left it, however much we have despaired.. it is never too late to ask God, in Jesus, for help and for healing.
I love the good news in this story – that is never too late to respond to God’s love – it will always be there for us. And that when we find it it comes with new life and joy and healing.

But, desperate as the story tells us that Jairus and the un-named older woman are, I don’t think their desperation is the most intense desperation in this story. There is the desperation of God. A God who loves his created children so much that he has come to be among them.

Paul, in his letter, tells us that Jesus Christ became poor so that we may become rich. This means that the barriers between God and humanity and the barriers we humans set up between ourselves, are all broken down, or perhaps it would be better to say are all healed, in Jesus Christ. God is so desperate to share his love with us that he comes to earth to live and die and rise, to tell his world that we are all loved and precious children of God - whatever our age, our condition, our status.

The healing love of Jesus is there for us throughout our lives – and is present in a visible way in this bread and wine.

When we eat and drink in communion we are accepting the place that God’s love has in our lives – a love that in Jesus heals and touched and then dies and lives again.

God’s love is here for you – whoever you are. God is desperate to share his love with you today – God reaches out in this communion, to touch and to heal us all.
Thanks be to God.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Jesus and the storm

Gospel reading for this week is Mark 4: 35-41. We have a baptism, so it will be a short sermon.

I am not a good sailor. I’m really much more comfortable on dry land. So when I had to get on a ferry to sail from Ramsgate to Dunkirk, some years ago, I was apprehensive. But it’s only 20 miles – so I thought ‘how bad can it be?’ If I’d known how bad it would be, I would never have got on the boat at all.

It was a gusty, wild sort of day, the sea was dark grey and looked like boiling ink, and the boat pitched and rolled and yawed and heaved and various other sea-faring terms I don’t understand. On the boat it was truly horrible – people being sick everywhere, falling around, moaning & groaning. There was only one thing we wanted to do on that boat and that was GET OFF. When we finally reached Dunkirk all any of us could think of was getting back onto dry land and staying there.

So I really sympathise with the disciples in the gospel story which we heard. They’re in a fairly small fishing boat, and although they’re not going far – probably only 7 miles or so – a terrible storm hits them. They have no motor, of course – you can imagine them struggling with flapping sails, struggling with oars and frantically baling out the water that’s coming in. All they can think of is reaching shore in one piece. Meanwhile Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. His friends wake him ‘Don’t you care that we’re sinking?’. And Jesus gets up and stills the storm.

His disciples of course are amazed and it gives them one of their first glimpses of just how special Jesus is and they ask themselves ‘who is this, that even wind & waves obey him?’.

And then, presumably, they finished rowing, sailing or a bit of both to get back to shore.

If Jesus had the power to make the storm stop, why didn’t he finish the job by making a favourable wind blow them back to complete safety? Maybe Jesus was teaching his friends something about what life with Jesus is like. Jesus doesn’t stop the storms happening, he doesn’t magic you back to dry land, but Jesus can still the storm and enable you to get on with your journey.

As we celebrate the beginning of Phoebe’s journey today, we thank God that Jesus will be with her all through her life. There will be storms – Jesus won’t stop the harder times from happening. There will be times when she longs for safety and security – and Jesus won’t give her a magic answer. But with Jesus alongside her, Phoebe will be able to travel through life, knowing the storms will never overcome her, and that she will sail on, surrounded by the love of the one who can still the storms and make life worth living.

Jesus will travel with Phoebe all her life – just as he will travel with each of us. The storms will come, but with the help of Jesus we will never sink & perish.
May we know God’s love in Jesus all our lives long. Amen.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Like a mustard seed

Mark 4: 26-34

I hope we all remember the parable of the mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.  Very small, but amazing, growing into a bush so large that you might even think of it as a tree – big enough for birds to nest in the branches.

But in Mark’s gospel, from which we heard the parable, before the parable of the mustard seed Jesus tells a less well-known parable – the kingdom of heaven is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground. Any seed will do – because all seed is amazing. But it seems Jesus is talking about some kind of grain – maybe wheat. It grows, the sower doesn’t know how: stalk, head, full grain. Once the grain is ripe, the sower knows what to do – gather in the harvest.

Jesus helps us to think about the amazing potential of a seed. In even the tiniest seed, there is everything needed except water to begin growth – and then as long as the seed is in good rich soil, and the light conditions are right the seedling can grow into a mature plant, ready to set its own seed in the future. Ready to produce a rich harvest.

Jesus tells us that God's kingdom is like a seed – it grows in secret, by small amounts and yet everything needed for that growth is already there.

Previously I think I’ve always talked about this parable as one that teaches us something about how we build the kingdom – how we work to grow the church, but we rely on God’s strength and gracious love to make things actually happen.
But just for today let’s forget about the church and our work for the kingdom. What does the kingdom of God mean in each of our lives here today? What if the field in the parable is not the whole world, but your heart – then what does the parable tell us?

The seed – God’s kingdom, God’s rule, God’s love – grows in the field which is your heart. It may not start with a huge event – it may be very small at the start – so small you can barely notice it. God’s love has found a resting place in your heart. But then the miracle – the seed begins to grow. Don’t ask how, or when, or why – like the growth of the seed it is mysterious, beyond our control, a miracle. But once God’s love starts to grow there’s nothing we can do to stop it, or decrease it, or avoid it. We can help it along with the right ‘conditions’ – regular tending and nurturing of our knowledge of God’s love through prayer, worship, scripture. But God’s grace is really what produces what we see growing – and as that love grows, wonder after wonder unfolds until a harvest is produced. That harvest is the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. We recognise the harvest when we see it: and it tells us that the love of God has grown in the field of our lives from a tiny seed to a demonstrable outcome.

Jesus tells the parable because he wants us to be amazed at what God’s love can do and to be ready simply to allow the miracle of God’s love to grow in us.
And it is good that we are also sharing communion this morning. The amount we will actually eat and drink is tiny, little bigger than a mustard seed, but this is all we need to be fed.
It is not about taking a great plateful of food – good though it is to think about the feast God has in store for us in the future.

This is a symbolic gift of bread & wine. This is God's gift of Godself, this is where again we see God’s kingdom among us and where God opens heaven to us. We eat and drink and remember how Jesus came to earth – eating and drinking and sharing his wisdom, his love and his life with his friends.

The kingdom of God is present among us in this bread and wine, in each individual in this church, in every small seed and sign of God's activity and God’s love.
The kingdom of heaven is like a seed – which grows and produces a harvest in the fields of our hearts and our lives.
If we can be open to God’s love and observant of its harvest, we might see God do wonderful things in our lives, as God’s love grows in us.
May God work that miracle in each of us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

We do not lose heart

Readings for this week: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 and Mark 3: 30-35

We do not lose heart.

After all the excitement and (let’s face it) sheer hard work of celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee here we are back to earth with a bump. Perhaps there isn’t a better time to hear Paul’s words ‘we do not lose heart’.

Some of you might know that I wrote to the Queen about the diamond jubilee back in January this year. In researching the background of ‘the day thou gavest, Lord is ended’, for a songs of praise service at Pampisford, I discovered that the hymn was chosen by our present queen’s great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, to be sung at every church service to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. I asked our present queen whether any thought has been given to her providing a selected hymn for use during acts of worship to celebrate this Diamond Jubilee this year? Sadly, the answer was a very polite ‘no’.

But what an amazing hymn for Queen Victoria to choose. Victoria, whose titles included Empress of India, chose a hymn with the lines ‘So be it, Lord; thy throne shall never, like earth's proud empires, pass away’.

How refreshing that Victoria could choose a hymn which openly admitted that her empire and her reign would end. I’m sure people celebrated her 60 years as we did – but how wise of her to point to the fact that her reign was not forever – only God’s reign is eternal.

There is something about the sense of perspective in the whole hymn which makes it so loved, even if it is not a cheerful hymn.

We heard that same sense of perspective in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians
‘Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.’

This is not Paul sounding like Fraser from Dad’s Army & saying “we’re all doomed”. He is pointing out the reality of life: we all know that our bodies age each day, and eventually they let us down. Physically or mentally or if we’re really unlucky, both ways we are not what we were. Paul knows what it is to suffer – physically, through illness and trial and imprisonment; mentally, through arguments with others and discouragement and even depression.
He also knows that church life isn’t a constant picnic – there are disputes about who belongs and who doesn’t, debates about how best to share the gospel with the world around, concerns about how to ensure fair shares of money and power, and worries about whether the next generation will continue to be part of the Christian church at all. If all that doesn’t sound familiar to us, it should. We are wasting away: personally, corporately, as a church.

So what is Paul’s solution to all this?
Remember that everything we face is a ‘slight momentary affliction’. Yes the night seems long, sometimes, but the daybreak will come, and when it does it comes with ‘glory beyond all measure’. Paul likens our earthly body to a tent, but states that what awaits us is a building from God, a house not made with human hands, an eternal home in heaven.

I don’t believe that Paul is saying that we should stop living our lives – that we should give up on trying to tell people the good news of God’s love, or that we should stop serving and loving other people. But everything that we do should be done from the perspective of knowing that this is not all there is – that life as we know it is only the start, and that death is the gateway to our eternal home with God.

But what makes Paul say this? Is it all just wishful thinking?
Just yesterday I heard terrible news of a young mum, only 43, who had died suddenly of a heart attack. All I could say to her distressed friends is that she is safe in heaven. That’s not just what I hope – it is not just what St Paul hoped – it is what Jesus promised when he said ‘in my father’s house are many dwelling places’ and its what Jesus proved when he rose from the dead.

We heard a rather baffling story from the start of Mark’s gospel. Jesus’ own family try to restrain him from doing his work, because they fear he is being labelled a trouble-maker, in league with the devil. Jesus does not submit to them, he says ‘whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’. Jesus is focussed on God’s will, on God’s kingdom, he will not simply allow others to steer him towards a quieter life.

And so St Paul, far from suggesting that we abdicate from our responsibilities in life, suggests that we live our lives in a full awareness of where our allegiance should really lie – with God, God’s rule & God’s will. This world is only the start of our lives with God. 
This meal of bread & wine is only a foretaste of all that God promises. 
This tent of our bodies will collapse – but our real lives are with God. 
And so we do not lose heart.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Diamond Jubilee

We have a village service for the Diamond jubilee tomorrow - so what follows is a short reflection on Luke 22: 24-30. 

We are here because it is our Queen’s diamond jubilee – she has been Queen for 60 years.

A friend of mine was wondering lately – what must it be like to be the Queen? To know that whenever you go into a room you’re going to be the most important person there? To know that when you’re at one of those great big posh banquets you are going to be in the most important place. To know that when everyone stands us and sing ‘God save the Queen’ you have to sit there and try not to look too smug.

But it seems that although she is Queen and the most important person in the country, our Queen is not big-headed and pushy but is actually very sure that what she is doing is serving other people. That doesn’t mean that she will say to one of her footmen – ‘you look tired – why don’t you sit on the throne and I’ll go and pour the tea’ (or whatever it is that footmen do). It means that whatever she does as Queen who remembers that she’s serving the country – trying to make people feel better, if she’s visitied them in hospital; trying to use visits to foreign countries to encourage people to buy British goods; trying to make sure that the government of our country works as smoothly as it can.

That’s the sort of leadership that Jesus was talking about  in our reading from Luke’s gospel – loving other people, serving them, not just throwing your weight around.

And I think one of the things that helps our Queen to be a great Queen is her faith in God. When she was crowned Queen she had to promise
‘to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?’
and  ‘to the utmost of her power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel’.
And then she had to go to the altar, lay her right hand upon the Holy Gospel in the great Bible and say
‘The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.’
Then the Queen kissed the Bible and signed the Oath.

Our Queen has said that she goes to church not because she has to, but because she believes that going to church and worshipping God helps her to do all the other things she has to do.

In Jesus, God showed us what loving and serving other people looks like. So today we ask God to help the Queen to continue to love and serve other people.
May God bless her – and each one of us.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.