Saturday, 27 February 2016

sermon 28 February

What do you think you own?
 (Mark 12: 1-12)
“Jesus began to speak to them in parables…”
Ahh… parables! Stories used to illustrate truths; stories using familiar motifs, which need little or no explanation. Except of course, for us, these motif are no longer part of our tradition. Part of our common way of life. So it does need a little explanation, and maybe a bit of arguing back and forth. And the first thing I want to challenge is the Gospel writer’s assertion that this is a parable and not allegory.
The difference is that for me, for us, with the benefit of hindsight we can see that this isn’t just a story to illustrate God in action in the world, but also a prophecy of the fate of the Son of God; a foretelling of all that was about to happen.
We know that the Son was indeed put to death; and then discovered to be the cornerstone, the one who would restore the kingdom.
I have pondered long and hard over what to say and explore with you all this morning; it is a reading that is full of temptations; and full of uncomfortable metaphors. We are the tenants!
We are not the owner or the servants – we are the tenants.
We could so easily reject God’s laws and Jesus’ teaching; we could assume that all we have, all we work for is ours and ours alone, we can assume that we would be good tenants, the ones who did pay their rent and care for the owner’s vineyard.
But it is never good to simply make assumptions. Because when we do, we often make utter fools of ourselves.

Let me back track a little and give you some context; we have skipped from chapter 10 to chapter 12 and in the intervening passages Jesus has had some deep and difficult conversations with the Pharisees; they are on the back foot, defensive and anxious, wanting to find a way to rid themselves of this nuisance, who is provoking the people and upsetting their fragile equilibrium. Immediately before this, Jesus has once again outwitted them, and made them feel foolish. He answered a question with a question, and had them struggling to continue; they are now moving from defence to offence. This man is getting to be more than just an irritation, and they want him out of their lives.
So, when Jesus now tells them a parable about the abuse of power; about gaining power that is not rightly due, they know that they are in the spotlight.

It was common practise for absentee landlords to take a small percentage of a crop in order to maintain their ownership of the land. This was the recognised manner in establishing a right to the land. If they neglected to take their tithe, then the land would go to the tenants.
So these tenants were abusing the law to gain ownership from the man; they were not acting in the spirit of the law – their landlord was not a bad man; he did not abuse them, over charge them in rent or leave them with ground unfit for purpose. We are told he had prepared the ground, built the watch tower and winepress – he had done all that he could to make the land as good as it could be for his tenants.
If he had left the ground unprepared and not provided for them… but he didn’t. He did everything in the good and proper manner.
The tenants were simply greedy; wanting more than their share and more than that, wanting to eliminate their landlord all together.

When we think about this vineyard tale in relation to our own faith lives; our own relationship with the church, it can be very uncomfortable.
I want to think that I am a good tenant of what the landlord, God, has done for me. I want to think that I am loyal, hardworking, fair and reasonable in all I do. I hope that when God calls to ask for a share of my harvest I am generous and scrupulously fair in my dealings…

That is my hope.
The reality of course is different. When I work out my giving – how do I calculate what I can give? In money and time and service.
I wonder if I take the easy way out – or stall in how I give; retaining some for me; retaining something for a rainy day…
And when it comes to dealing with those charged with being the messengers – how do I behave then?
And when it comes to decision making – do I bypass God? Do I make choices on secular matters without applying the “what would Jesus do” question?
These are hard questions. 
There were hard answers too: Jesus asked them what will the owner do when he discovers what has been going on?
Will he just give up and let the tenants take over what is not theirs? Will he give up in the face of losing his servants, his son?
The answer is unequivocal – he will come and take back what is rightfully his; and he will remove those unfaithful betrayers putting them to death and installing in their place those who will care for the vineyards properly.

So –to the question posed for the sermon title – what do we think we own?
If we are the tenants – not the owners of the vineyard – or our community, or our countryside, or our society – does it make us look at the world differently?
I think the biggest question for me is this:
I can think of myself as being a steward of creation; of buying fair trade goods; avoiding companies which may be unscrupulous in the way the deal with employees.
But what about how I steward everything else?
Do I steward my work?
My conversations?
My relationships?
When I am impatient, or make a snarky comment under my breath – am I honouring God?
Am I being a good tenant?

This has been a challenge as I reflected on how this story of the tenants resounds in my heart. Because, if I am truly going to ask myself that question – what do I own?
The answer really is: nothing.
It all comes from God
God is no absentee landlord, but the one who watches over me, willing me to make good choices, care for others, give of my time and talents without hesitation.
It is a challenge
I am not there yet
But I am trying…
What do I own?
What do you own?
Everything we have comes from God, is of God, will go back to God
It may feel scary; it may feel uncomfortable – but isn’t that really what life in faith is all about?

O Lord – make us good tenants, prepared to give and give, share and share, love and love, prepared to be yours – through and through

All in; without hesitation or censure.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Who do you think you are?

Sermon for 21st February
Mark 10:32-52 

Today’s reading continues on straight from last week; the disciples are still reeling from the revelation of how difficult it is to get into heaven. They are bewildered; confused and not a little afraid.
Immediately, they are off again. Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem, and now he is on the way, nothing will slow his progress. He knows what to expect when he gets there; it plays on his mind, and so once again he spells it out; tries to get these chosen men to truly grasp what will happen when they get there. Trying to prepare them. Trying to get them to understand: this is part of The Plan.
Remember last week?
“Jesus looked on him and loved him”. (Mark 10:21)
Jesus wants those whom he loves to be prepared. Now is the time not for parable, story or illustrations, but for hard truths.
Into this scenario then, we have these boys. James and John. Sons of Thunder. Reputed to be hot heads; bold, indiscriminate, fool hardy, brazen…
Think about it for a moment.
Jesus has just opened his heart to them.
“I’m going to Jerusalem to die”.
“I’m going to be betrayed; condemned; mocked and stripped and whipped and hung high…”
It is a moment of deep emotion; deep pain.
If it had been me listening I’d have been stunned; speechless; flabbergasted; horrified even.
But James and John choose this very moment to ask for a favour;
“I’m going to die”, “OK then – well when you get there, save us the best seat will you?!”
It’s no wonder the others were angry!
It doesn’t feel like the most considered response; and how dare they? Who do they think they are? Why are they any better than the rest of us?
Talk about ideas above your station!

As ever though, Jesus is able to use it as a teaching moment. Instead of anger, he responds with love, with questions, with gentle probing:
Do you think you can bear the things I must bear?
Can you go through what I must go through?
Well – even if you can; even when you do – this is not my gift to bestow; it is not my place to give.
And as for you, and the rest of you. Take a moment…

We all understand about hierarchy
The boss dictates to the employee
The master to the slave
The commander to his captain
It is the order of things
It is the way things are done…
But not in my world
Not in God’s Kingdom
If you want to be leader; commander; master, the boss. Well then you must always put yourselves last. Don’t ask to be the right-hand man! Don’t expect to take the position of privilege. Put yourself last. Let others go ahead. Serve others; support them; go the extra mile – do this for me, just as I will do it for you.
The Son of Man came to be the servant of all; to give his life so that others will be saved.

James and John made the mistake of concentrating on the glory – “when you come into your glorious Kingdom!”, even though they lived and walked along with Jesus, they still hadn’t grasped his message; his mission.
It was not about power.
It was never about power and glory
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer together we end with, “The kingdom the power and the glory are yours…” these things, power and glory are for God alone. Not for humanity.
James and John, walking with Jesus were still totally blind to this reality. This fundamental truth.
Jesus – Son of God – was to be a servant. Not a King.
They couldn’t see it.
Yet a poor blind man who could see nothing saw exactly who Jesus was. His insight was a truly wondrous thing. Much more wondrous than the healing he asked for was the blessing of knowing and recognising – of seeing without sight. This knowledge; this faith, was a great blessing; and as Jesus said to him, “Your faith has healed you.”

Faith – that thing so difficult to describe or explain.
Yet so powerful; so profound.
James and John – sons of thunder, would do well to watch and listen to the poor blind beggar who saw more of heaven than they ever could at that moment.

Jesus, spoke to them with great love: you don’t know what you are asking. If you want to be great; truly great, then put yourself last not first; if you want to finish first, then offer all you have, give it away, serve others. This is what I am here to do; this is the real mission.
To serve.
Brother, sister, let me serve you
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to
Let you be my servant too

As we serve; so we must also let others serve us. As we give, so must we also receive. As we share, so must was also allow others to share with us.
Pause… Pray… who do you think you are?

As Jesus looks into your heart today, and asks you this question – how will you answer him? The greatest servant of all? 

The fallen Christ, Iona (c) JMW 2010

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Who do you think you love?

Sermon 14th February 2016 - First Sunday of Lent
Mark 10:17-37 

A rich young man
A camel
A needle
And a seemingly impossible task

This parable is one that has followed me for years. I remember hearing it and focussing only on the ridiculous image of a camel and the eye of a needle.
I remember then, as a young adult earning for the first time, wondering how much money I would need to earn to be in danger of losing my claim to the kingdom.
Then, much later as I began study in earnest I was lucky enough to attend a summer school led by Paul Scott Wilson, a Canadian professor of homiletics. Over the course of four days of teaching he took this parable apart; resetting it in the 21st century; examining the nuances, helping us to dig deeper, seeking to know more clearly what God really wanted from this young man.
It is clear from the narrative that the disciples, anxious, astonished onlookers found it tricky too.
The example Jesus used is preposterous! Impossible. Unimaginable.

Even if you adjust your interpretation to the eye, not of a needle but of a gateway – the eye being the mall side gate, made for people not camels – it was difficult, but not totally impossible. In order to get through the camel would need to be unburdened; all baggage and saddles removed – stripped down to the bare essentials, and made to bow low as it crawled through to small gap. Difficult but not impossible.
Professor Wilson did not try to excuse the story – he did not try to explain away what s meant by the camel and needle aside. His focus was entirely on the young man in question.

Jesus looked at him with love.
In the NIV it says: Jesus looked at him and loved him.
This young man was exceptional: Jesus could see potential in him; Jesus knew his short comings; knew he was imperfect, distracted, misguided – yet this did not stop Jesus looking at him, and loving him (what great hope this gives to us!!)

The professor retold the story in our current day context
He drove up to Jesus in his Porsche; top down, ray bans on; Rolex on his wrist. Armani on his back – this was a man who exuded success, confidence, power – yet even with all of that, in his heart he knew it was not enough; it was not all it could be – so he went to Jesus with a genuine question on is lips and in his heart – what is missing? What do I need to do?
The answer stunned him.
He loved his fast car
His smart suits
His fancy watch
He loved his big house and his lifestyle – it was a lot to ask
It was a lot to give up
Jesus looked at him, and loved him.

In the parable; in the story; the rich young man drove off into the sunset. And we are left wondering.
What did he do?
Because we are told he went away saddened because he was very wealthy.
We are not told what he did next. He may well have followed Jesus’ advice. He may not.
He may have followed, been one of the crowd; or he may have decided it was all too much, too difficult, too tricky. It is not for us to know.
But remember this: whether he obeyed or not; whether he gave it all up, or held on – Jesus looked at him and loved him.

The disciples were shocked; horrified. If this successful, faithful, model citizen was not guaranteed his place in heaven, what on earth would that say to them? To their context?

They of course, were still thinking in earthly terms only. The young man filled the criteria of all that was deemed good: he kept the commandments; lived a good life; was blessed in every way – and yet, Jesus said he lacked what was really needed.
To them this means that no one can be saved; that no one can ever be good enough to receive the promises of God.
They could see no way out.
They could see no way forward.
They could see no hope on the horizon.
And they said as much: Jesus’ reply to them is the answer to everything.
It may be impossible for humans; but nothing is impossible for God; everything is possible with God.

This is the crux; this is the definition of grace.
We cannot earn it
We cannot buy it; work for it;
Grace is freely given
Grace is the promise of eternity
The strength for life and love
Grace is everything – it touches us, moves us, inspires us.
Grace cannot be earned.
It doesn’t need to be earned.
Grace is freely available to each one of us: rich or poor; old or young; successful or unknown.
It doesn’t matter who we are – God’s grace is there for us when we need it.
Grace it is that prompts us to action; that moved us before we knew it into faithful living’ faithful following

The rich young man was a man of faith; but he chose to rely more on his own strengths; on his own abilities; he knew his wealth would sustain him – so that even though he followed God’s laws, his heart was torn between two things
Money and God.
God and money.
One had to have dominance.
What Jesus saw, was that this young man, even though he followed the law faithfully, diligently, was guided by his money and position, rather than fully relying on God. And this was holding him back.
Jesus saw all of this, and yet still, he looked at him, and he loved him.

What hope that can give us!
What joy we can take from that!
We too are beloved children of God – even when we trip up, make silly mistakes, go the wrong way – even then, grace is there to prompt and guide; love is there – for we all are beloved children of God.

The disciples fell into the  trap of equating great wealth with salvation. They still strived for wealth, money, status – the things that the world sets store by.
Jesus wanted them to look again, with different eyes.
Not wealth.
But love
Not the gathering in of possessions, but the relinquishing of them.
The rewards would be great; but so would the persecutions and pitfalls.
Those who the world sees as best are not necessarily viewed the same way in God’s realm.
Those who the world puts last are not necessarily put that way in eternity.

You, each one of you, are a beloved child of God
Jesus looks into your heart and loves you.
He will still ask much: give it up, let it go, put it away…
But even with all of that, Jesus loves YOU


Words and Actions

Sermon preached at Earlston on 7th February 2016
Mark 8:27 - 9:8 

I have a confession to make!!
I went to bed last night with no sermon!
I have had a sore back since I got off the plane on Thursday; and with catching up with the mail and getting caught up with domestic stuff and preparing all of the other things for today – I just was not finding the right words for this morning…
This is not totally without precedent, but usually I do manage to have the gist before bedtime on Saturday
I couldn’t work out why either.
Transfiguration is one of those events that comes up every year; I have therefore preached on it many, many times. I could even, have gone through the archive and found one from previous years to share with you all... but somehow I felt I was being prompted to something else; and generally, when the Spirit starts prompting, I stop and listen.
So, I set the alarm super-early and decide it would be better to sleep on it and see what this morning would bring!

This morning as I brewed coffee and thought about what to say this morning it suddenly became obvious to me!!
The sermon title I chose three weeks ago, before I went off on my study leave / holiday.
Words and Actions.
Words and Actions.
The gospels share with us many events and stories from Jesus’ earthly life; each gospel gives us a slightly different view depending on who has written it and what their inspiration was; each one gives us insights into how God works; how God loves; what God wants us to know and how God would like us to live.

During my study leave we were looking at how culture – the place and time we live in is affecting church life; how church life is changing, growing, evolving to meet the needs of the world we live in today.
Two things became apparent to me:
We are already doing many of the things needed to serve the world we live in now
The church in America is beginning to do this, but is in a different place to us. They are challenged now by the things that were challenging our church back in the 1990s.
Many of the things suggested as part of the teaching are becoming part of our everyday church life – to be a missional church in the 21st century.

The transfiguration is all about change:
Jesus’ appearance changed before the disciples eyes
What they saw changed them forever, even if they did not know it at the time

Jesus’ message to the disciples, and to the crowds who followed him was transforming:
“To follow me; to walk the path God calls you to, you need to set aside the ways of this world; forget about yourself; forget about striving for worldly success; give yourself to the gospel: dedicate your life to God’s ways.”
Winning the world is as nothing if you do not also claim God’s Way.

While we were in America the presidential election kicked off; and I watched with fascination as the first caucus in Iowa played out.
Watching the pundits; the political commentators; the politicians themselves as they waited and watched for the first result to come in.
The priority for everyone was to seem better than all the others; to have a better grasp of life, the universe and everything.
The political machine there is very different to ours; and of course, we do not elect a president, so it is difficult to compare like for like.
But. One thing that really stood out for me, was how some of the candidates chose to claim that God was on their side; that they followed biblical guidelines.
But. I do not see anywhere in the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed that only the rich get into heaven; that only employed white executives have access to God’s love. In fact, the Christ that some politicians claim is not in my bible at all.

Jesus calls us to be transforming, radical people; people who are prepared to go the extra mile; people who will not only call themselves friendly and welcoming, but to BE that.
To live out the vision of transfiguration we need to take our faith out into the community: to carry on and develop the things we are already doing.
Messy Church
Community Café
These are reaching into the lives of people who have not been part of the church;
The church is not just the building on the hill.
The church is each one of us; and whatever we do, we do as if we were doing it for Jesus.
I know that our church has plans for more activities away from the building: that there will be new and exciting things to be involved in.
We are the church in our community
We are the transfiguration people
We can bring the gospel right out into our community
With words and actions the gospel will come to life right here in Earlston
God’s people, sharing God’s love, showing God’s concern, answering questions and sharing insights…

We are the church seven days a week; on Sunday we gather, we worship, we share, we nurture each other and prepare to be the Word in Action in our community.

The days of keeping Jesus a secret are long gone!

Listen to him
Follow him
Be Jesus People – be Words in Action
Shining for all to see