Saturday, 16 January 2016

Sermon 17 January Hidden in Plain Sight

Mark 4:1-34

I think most folks love a story; and a story with a happy ending, or a moral or an interesting twist is even better.
We understand the idea of stories; they paint a picture with words; they can give us insight – try getting three people who all attended the same event tell you their story of being involved – three different version; all telling you about the same. Each correct in its own way; yet each unique.
And actually, generally if you ask someone to tell you their story, they will very happily tell you all about them, their life, loves and losses.

Jesus clearly loved a story too; stories with meaning; stories which made the hearer think.
Stories which were for everyone to hear; but not necessarily for everyone to understand.

This group of parables about seeds and growth and light and dark; about hearing and seeing; and knowing and not knowing disturb me somewhat… some folks refer to the Messianic Secret. They suggest that the reason Jesus talked in riddles was already a sorting; a discerning. It disturbs me because this sifting of who is in and who is out at such an early stage seems uncompromising, biased, inflexible or partial. And I guess I don’t like to think Jesus was more partial to some than others…
Who would understand? Who would get it?
Would they ask for an explanation, or were they just hanging round hoping to see something magical and mysterious?

When we hear the parables we can immediately envision what is happening; we see the field; the farmer; the seed drill.
We have all seen the collection of stones piles at the side of a field – when they are churned up by the plough the farmer will gather them together and leave them at the side… some things never change. So as the seed is sown some will fall to the side where the stones are; some will fall at the boundary where the thorny hedges are; some will fall to the middle where the farmer travels and tramples with the plough – and the rest will fall in the rich dark earth.
We can see it; we can visualise it…
It’s the same with the lamp; and with seeds – tiny, tiny seeds will yield relatively huge plants; time and time again.

Each parable; each story has the obvious meaning: the retelling of an age-old custom. Each also has a more subtle nuance.
Hearing God’s Word is one thing – living it out can be another thing all together
Being blessed with God’s gifts and talents is one thing – using them, letting them shine out can be something else again!

Jesus wanted people to know and understand about God’s love; God’s promises; Jesus also knew that people are fickle.
People are easily influenced; people follow one crowd this day and are just as likely to follow a different crowd the next.
People break promises; turn away from a Good Thing; people, can be just as likely to land in the good soil as they are to land among the stones or thorns.

As we discovered last week; Jesus had crowds and crowds of people following
Some wanted to see the wonders
Some wanted to hear the stories
Some just wanted to not be left behind
And some wanted to know more; dig deeper; seek the answers
Jesus had identified the ones who would be his inner circle; the ones he would spend more time with, sharing more, explaining more, telling more until they might find a glimmer of what it was that they were hearing.

Jesus knew it would take time – years – before they began to grasp what it was really about. And even at the end; when all was revealed, they still wouldn’t quite get it… but they’d try.

Jesus spoke in riddles; the truth about God was there, but hidden. Seen but unknown; the stories have their own value, but greater than that they point us to God; to an encounter with God – if we will let it happen…

Think for a moment of your own story.

Your history – events which stand out for you – meeting someone new; conversations which come back to touch you; birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and funerals… and the ordinary everyday things.
Work and leisure
Rest and activity
With others and alone

These are your stories – and if you can let it happen, God can speak to you. It may only be the faintest whisper
It may be a tiny glimmer
Or is may be a brilliant shining beacon blaring….

Think of your stories
All the chapters of your life
The people who have come and gone and left a mark on your soul…

Listen for God
In every chapter of your life
In every story
Every parable
Every tiny seed; hidden deep and waiting to grow…

Listen, look, wait for God
And God will be there


Saturday, 9 January 2016

New things - sermon for 10 January

Sermon 10 January:
 New beginnings; new teaching; new ways…
Mark: 1:14-22; 2:13-17; 3:13-19 

The gospel of Mark is short and sweet; full of energy and movement. Mark doesn’t waste time, he has an important message to share and he wants to get on with it.
So, no birth narrative for Mark; no early years, just straight in to the message: Jesus is the Man! Mark wants everyone to know it:
Jesus is the man and I’m going to tell you all about him, his message and a great opportunity.

The first three chapters of the gospel are interspersed with miracles and conversations, and each one leave people stunned, questioning, wondering… “Who is this man?”

The three short readings from each of the first three chapters that we heard today highlight how the twelve were chosen. It is clear that every day more and more people are gathering, listening, responding to Jesus words; and in amongst the crowd of people Jesus saw the ones that had the greatest … well. The greatest what? I often wonder about these disparate men.
Men who would run away; men who would make bad choices; men who would disown, doubt and betray… and somehow in these ill-equipped, unreliable, unlikely men Jesus saw potential.

In our three readings I saw three things: new beginnings; new teaching; new ways of being.
Everyone was given an opportunity to start again; to start fresh – to turn and believe. Everyone. Not just the educated. Or the people of faith. Not the scholars and lawyers. Not the respectable alone… but everyone.
Especially those who the teachers and lawyers turned their noses up at: tax collectors were really lowest of the low. They had chosen to work for the Romans – it was Roman taxes they collected; and added their own percentage on top. Regularly swindling and abusing the system, leaving people helpless, caught in a trap – for they had to pay, there wasn’t any choice.
The price to the tax collector was total isolation; they were despised by the Romans; they were feared and shunned by the Jews. They may become wealthy, but they had nothing to hope for; no joy. The love of money had made them completely alone. They needed hope more than any other section of society.
For Matthew to be offered a new beginning, a new start was perhaps the most radical and astonishing call issued by Jesus. To be included, called, invited, welcomed… loved. To be loved. What a marvellous feeling!
Jesus saw beneath the outward appearances; Jesus looked at the person, not the place in society. And when he looked at Matthew he saw the goodness underneath.

Fishermen were couthy, hardworking peasants. They worked long hard hours; the work was physically demanding and prey to the vagaries of weather and seasons. And generally the business was a family one. Passed father to son. So calling brothers, two sets of brothers, would have decimated two family businesses. We don’t know about Simon and Andrew’s family. But we hear that James and John left their father in the boat. Just like that.
I can’t imagine that Zebedee was best pleased! And every time I read this part of the calling of the apostles I feel sorry for the old man abandoned in his boat.

These men, who were not prone to daydream; not likely to be impetuous or impulsive were given an amazing opportunity. Here was a man, a good story teller, a man who seemed to be in touch with God on a new and unexpected level; and suddenly he saw something that no one else had seen, least of all the fishermen themselves!
Possibility. Potential. A risk worth taking. And he spoke their language, he didn’t dress it up, impose rules and restrictions. It was a simple, clear message.
Come with me.
Follow me.
You can be fishers of men.
This was a whole new teaching. Not confined to the learned and educated, but freely available to all. And underlined – I’m not here to call the respectable. I’m here for the outcasts. WOW!

Jesus taught through story; through allegory; through using the everyday things that people knew and repurposing them, helping ordinary people to connect with God in a way that they’d never seen before. No need for holy, exclusive language.
No need for flowery words and convoluted rules.
To say it was radical is possibly the biggest understatement ever.
And immediately – right there in the second chapter of the gospel, Mark notes that the Pharisees don’t like it; challenge it; question it. What is he doing? Why is he with THOSE people?
I can almost see it; Jesus relaxed happy, chatting and socialising, talking about God’s love to these people who have only been told how bad and unworthy and unwelcome they are. And on the edges the teachers, muttering and mumbling; unwilling to get too close with those who they’ve scorned. Grabbing some poor sap and demanding to know what this new teacher is doing. Outraged that he should speak to the unspeakable… and Jesus, hearing, putting them on the spot. Answering their mumbling and moaning; smiling at the ones who were being cornered, pulling them back into the fold… laying the first stones which the Pharisees will build up and up and use to condemn him.
The Gospel; the Good News is not nice and sedate and ordered and wrapped in religiosity.
The Good News is radical and inclusive.
The Good News is plain and simple.

When people who don’t know me discover what my job is there is a tendency for explanation.
“OH, I don’t go to church”
“Ah, yes, well, you know I’m spiritual, but I don’t do all that organised religion….”
“I can worship God out in the hills far better than in church…”
And, my favourite, “I’m just not religious really…” to which I always reply, “Neither am I!”

I pray – and talk to God; out on walks, and when I’m washing up; and when I’m getting ready for meetings.
I get distracted, and my mind wanders, and I forget to read, or fall asleep, I fear that what I do will never be good enough.
And then I remember: the tax collectors; the fishermen; the rebels and the impetuous bad boys. And I thank God.
I’m not religious. Or at least I don’t think I am.
But I do have faith in the Good News of the Gospel.
It’s a simple message: God loves you. God wants you to love others, love God, love yourself.
God calls you: yes. God calls every single one of us. Calling is not confined to ministry in the church.
We minister when we teach; when we nurse; when we work in offices, and in shops; when we stay at home and care for children or parents or others. We minister when we have no work – when our health is compromised and unpredictable.
We minister when we use the skills and talents we have for good. For compassion and kindness and sympathy and generosity and to share hope, love, faith, joy: helping others to see God at work in the things we do.
The message Jesus brought was astonishing: God loves. Pure and simple. Turn back and follow God.
And when you do, you too will have a New Beginning; hear the New Teaching; follow the New Ways.
Jesus calls us
Chooses us.
Wants us…

Will you follow him? 

Sunday, 3 January 2016

New Year Sermon - 3 January 2016

Psalm 119:105-106; 129-130
Matthew 2:1-12

The Gate of the Year

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
"Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!"
And he replied:
"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."
 Minnie Louise Haskins 1876 - 1957

In December 1939 the world was in darkness; lights went out all over Europe as the world descended into war. There seemed to be little to hope for, little to cheer, little to be glad about.

Into that dark night there came an urgent need for a message of light and hope, and King George VI used this poem to begin his Christmas Speech.

Those of you who were in church over Christmas, either at Watchnight or on Christmas morn, will know I made reference to Light. The light that came into the world and the darkness that could never overcome it.

The Queen made exactly the same reference on Christmas afternoon.
As had her father; the Queen affirmed again the faith that will not let darkness take over.
Even when we are at our lowest
Even when it seems that the world has gone mad
Even when darkness penetrates every corner of humanity
Even then
God is there.

Now. Don’t get me wrong!

There are days when we will not see any light; literal or spiritual.
There will be days when we do feel overwhelmed by it all, that the darkness has taken over and light will never return.

That’s what I really love about this poem – give me a light, the poet asks, so that I may go safely… trust in God comes the reply.

The psalmist understood it too: your word is a lamp for my path. It doesn’t light up the whole region, just that part of the path we tread.
All need patience and time.

And the most patient characters in the bible can be left waiting for a very long time indeed; a lifetime in some cases; some never see the promises fulfilled, but that doesn’t make them doubt any the more.

Then we have these wise visitors; the strangers who came from a foreign land bringing impractical and inappropriate gifts; stirring up an already paranoid and jealous king who lives in a tenuous state constantly uncertain of what will happen next.

That was not so wise!
Yet, they trusted the light.

They followed it, through the darkness of their journeying until they finally reached their goal.

Not the king in his palace, but a poor family, in borrowed accommodation, disturbed and confused themselves by all the attention.

The travellers had trekked far and long to reach their destination.

Knowing against all common logic that something wondrous had happened.
A new king, not of their tribe’ or race, or faith, or culture.
But a new king nevertheless.
Born into poverty.
Born into danger.
Born in unusual, mysterious circumstances.

The star led them; guided them; inspired them.

We have all now received our own stars for this year.

It may be a word you are unsure of.
It maybe one you are delighted to receive.
It may sit, uncomfortably, challenging you in ways you did not expect.
It may already be stirring you; making you think; moving you to action.

Whatever it does; whatever it says, I pray it will bring you, new hope this year, and new light in the darkness.
Like those wise men, all those years ago, may your star lead you; guide you; inspire you.

Remember the psalmist: “Your word is a lamp to guide me…”
Your word
Your star
As we all stand at the gate of this New Year, "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."

STARwords ready to go... if you're reading this blog,
and weren't able to get your own word today,
please ask in the comments below, and I will draw one for you