Friday, 26 October 2012

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

Mark 10: 46-52

I find the story of Jesus and blind Bartimaeus an amazing one.

It’s amazing that when everyone else in the crowd is telling the blind beggar to shut up, Jesus notices him calling out & stands still. Even though Jesus & his followers were just on their way out of the town of Jericho, Jesus stops & says ‘call him here’.

It’s amazing that Jesus can and does heal Bartimaeus – Jesus somehow makes him to see again, and then instead of sitting and begging, Bartimaeus can decide to follow Jesus.

But I think the most amazing bit of the story is when Jesus asks Bartimaeus, a blind man who cannot work and who just manages to scratch a living, the question ‘what do you want me to do for you?’.
It might seem obvious what Bartmaeus is asking for – but Jesus takes time not only to listen to his call and to heal him, but he takes time to find out what Bartimaeus wants.

And Jesus asks us that today. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
Our answer to the question might depend on what we think Jesus can do. Bartimaeus is sure that Jesus could make him see again – and he did.
What can Jesus do for you? What can he do for me?

Today we celebrate the fresh start – of baptism – that Jesus offers Grace and Jack. A chance to celebrate being born into a world where they are loved by their family and loved by God. And that fresh start isn’t just for today – Jesus will keep offering them a fresh start whenever they need it. What do you want Jesus to do for you? Give you a fresh start? It’s yours.
Maybe today we want to celebrate love in our lives: the love of family, the love of friends, the love of God who knows everything about us, knows all our bad habits and mistakes and failures – and loves us anyway. What do you want Jesus to do for you? Help you know that you’re loved, whoever you are? He can give you that.

Or maybe today you’re facing a difficult stage of life. Maybe you just want to know that someone is with you, even when it’s tough. What do you want Jesus to do for you? Be with you in everything life throws at you? He’s there.

We’ve heard just this one story from the Bible of what God, in Jesus, can do for us. The Bible is full of stories of all sorts of ways in which God’s love reaches us to people. God reaches out in Jesus and in other ways too – healing, loving, comforting, guiding. So today I have a gift for Grace & Jack – a book of Bible stories. I hope that as they hear them and as friends and family read them to them, they will learn what God can do & wants to do in their lives.

And I also have a gift for everyone here – the bread and wine of communion. When we eat the bread and drink the wine we remember that in Jesus the love of God was so great that he gave his life – suffered and died – for us. So whatever you want Jesus to do for you, you are welcome to eat this bread and drink this wine as a sign of  the promise of God’s fresh start, of God’s love & of God’s presence with you your whole life. Of course you might prefer just to sit and think, or to come up for a blessing rather than communion itself – it’s your choice.

But whatever you choose, may everyone here know God’s blessing, today and always. Amen.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Who do you think you are?

A sermon for One World Week: Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 35-45

Thanks to the BBC show about famous people’s family trees, it’s maybe not so bad as it used to be for someone to say ‘who do you think you are?’.
But it’s all in the tone: ‘who do you think you are?’ can be a warning that you’re thinking too highly of yourself, that you’re putting on airs and graces. Like James & John in today’s gospel reading.

They want to be great: they want places of honour in this kingdom Jesus keeps talking about. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

But what does this glory look like? What does Jesus think greatness looks like? 
IF James & John think they want to be Jesus’ right and left-hand men, perhaps they should have listened more carefully to Jesus talking about who he is.
Jesus warns the 2 brothers that he cannot grant them the positions of honour they long for – though he can promise them they will share in what will happen to him. Then the others disciples get angry with James and John: ‘who do they think they are?’ , trying to grab the best places in Jesus kingdom…

Jesus makes it clear to all of them  You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Who do you think you are? Well, if you’re a follower of Jesus you are someone interested in being ‘servant of all’, as Jesus is.
The letter to the Hebrews also deals with this question of who we think we are: the issue of our place in God’s kingdom. Is it a place of honour? Or a place of servanthood?

Chapter 5 verse 4 is clear ‘one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was’. If we see ourselves as deserving a place of honour in God’s kingdom, we might want to grab the goodies for ourselves, as James & John try to. But if instead of seeing our role as priests in God’s kingdom as a reward, we see it as a responsibility, then we arrive again at a position of servant to others.

The high priest referred to in Hebrews was one who helped to bridge the gap between God and God’s people – who presented prayers and offerings from the people to God and who led the people in worship of God.
Jesus, our great High Priest, offered himself, his own life as the offering to God the Father – he did not try to grasp power or status.

And having given himself for the world, Jesus gives us a place in the kingdom – a share in the work which he has begun. This is One World Week, when we remember our responsibility to caring for our planet and all God’s children on it. Caring for one world is not just about ‘being green’ but recognising  that it is all God’s world – the world Jesus came & died for.  We have the honour of being precious children of God, but we also have the responsibility of caring for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

As priests – as part of the body of Christ – we have to offer worship to God which is not just about what we do in church, but is about how we live our lives.

The link between One World Week and our Christian faith isn’t just that as Christians we want to support a Good Thing. The words of Jesus to James and John and the letter to the Hebrews each remind us that one expression of following Christ is to realise our true place in God’s kingdom as servants who care for and cherish the world.

Just this week I was talking to a colleague who spent some time in the late 1990s as a missionary in the Pacific islands. He said he was faced by the question  ‘What does gospel look like in the Pacific, where the Christian West is blamed for global warming and the destruction of land?’. Concern for One World is central to the good news there, not just an extra or and add on to the ‘real’ message of God’s love.
The Good News is that God loves the Pacific islands as much as he loves our islands – that Jesus lives and died and rose for the whole world.
If you love your neighbour, that means accepting responsibility even for our brothers and sisters who are far away.

Who do we think we are?
Hopefully, we see yourselves as servants of the world, as Jesus was. We are loved children of God the Father, with a responsibility to the whole of God’s family. And hopefully, too, we see yourselves as people who can be helped by the Spirit to invigorate our imaginations to see this as God’s world, and to live our responsibility to this One World. In Jesus’ name.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Post harvest blues?

A cure for the post-harvest blues?

There is something about harvest-time that always leaves me a little bit unsettled. I don’t think it’s just the thought that with harvest safely behind us and the autumn colours really starting to take off we can settle down for the coming winter. I’m left with what I can only describe as the post-harvest blues.

It’s good that once again we have remembered to give thanks for the fruit, the flowers, all our food. And although the harvest has not been a bumper one, and we know that world food prices are up, even so we can give thanks that we have enough.. and more.

But somewhere I am left with a feeling that thanking God for the harvest is alright as far as it goes. I think I’m always left wondering quite where the Good News is in the harvest message of simple thanks to God who made all that we have.

So I was glad of today’s readings which have encouraged us to think about the beauty and wonder of creation, but also to think about the relationship we have with God the creator.

It is good to marvel at creation, it is good to give thanks to God for all the gifts of creation, but it is also important to remember that we are part of the created order, that we too are created beings.

In Psalm 8 the writer begins by praising the vastness of the heavens and the glory of God we see in them. When the Psalmist looks at the heavens, at the moon and stars – we might add and the billions of galaxies – the Psalmist asks ‘why do you care about humans?’.

In all the enormous vastness of space, why would the almighty creator God care about us – these tiny specks of life on the small blue-green planet we call Earth?
But, the psalmist writes ‘ you have made us a little lower than you yourself, and given us power over sheep, cattle, wild animals, birds and fish’.

God has made the immensity of space, but here on Earth he has placed us to be stewards. So it is right that often our thoughts at harvest-time turn to our important role in caring for our planet, and of sharing the bounty of the earth with other people and with all creation.

We cannot read Psalm 8 and then allow our thanks to be only about what we have stored up ‘ere the winter storms begin’. We thank God for making us and for giving us responsibility in his world.
Even so, I’m left with the post-harvest blues.

It’s almost as if  we are implying that God has made us this beautiful world, placed us in charge of creation to care for it and each other, and then… left us to it.
If we only praise the God of creation, we are left as inhabitants as a beautiful but essentially empty world. If we’re not careful, we relegate God to the role of an absent parent, who surrounds us with wonderful gifts, but never actually spends any time with us.

So I’m grateful for the letter to the Hebrews, which  makes it abundantly clear that our relationship with God our creator goes beyond this.

We are part of the created order and we are given responsibility for the rest of creation. But that is not enough – that is certainly not all there is to the relationship we have with God.
God has not made us to be just caretakers, God has made us to be God’s beloved children.
We mustn’t let the beauty of creation blind us to the fact that God is not only the almighty creator, who wants us to serve him. God is our loving parent, who wants us to know and love him.

So the letter to the Hebrews is clear that God’s fullest attempt to communicate love to us is through Jesus Christ, who came to seek and to save the lost.

God has not just created the world and set us in it. God has come to his world in Jesus to love and heal and touch and convince us that wonderful as the world can be, it is only a part of the reality that is God. We can see reflections of God’s glory here, but we are made to know the fullness of life lived in God, through the eternal life beyond this created order.

We are not created by God to live loveless lifes as caretakers of an abandoned earth – we are loved and cherished. God is not an absent or impersonal creative force – God is with us and for us and surrounds us with love and care.

Here is a cure for the post harvest blues.
Here is bread and wine – gifts of creation but here at the Lord’s table much, much more. Here is God with us – here is the gift of the body and blood of Jesus – here is the promise that as we take this food and drink into ourselves we take the promise of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit.
Creating us and sustaining us – but also abiding with us and in us – as a cure for the post harvest blues and for all that ails us. In his name – father Son & Holy Spirit. Amen.