Sunday, 13 March 2016

What Awaits - sermon for 13th March

Mark 13: 1-8, 24-37

Nothing in life is as certain as death and taxes.
The first time this analogy was used was by Daniel Defoe, in The Political History of the Devil, 1726:
"Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed."
Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) used the form we are currently more familiar with, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789, which was re-printed in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1817:
"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
One of my favourite programmes is 24 Hours in A & E – not actually for the injuries but for the stories of life and love; I especially like the talking heads of the doctors and nurses:
“No one expects it’s going to happen to them; you don’t have your breakfast, say goodbye and expect anything other than going to work and coming home again at the end of the day. If any of us knew what else would happen in that day, we would do more, say more, be more; it is really important that the last words your loved ones hear from you is “I love you” (24 hours in A&E) we all need to know we are loved”.

Jesus knew that the end was in sight for him; he knew of the inevitability of it all; he knew it was coming, and he dreaded it. The disciples, arriving as they were to Jerusalem were overwhelmed by the magnificent buildings, the scale and size of it all; the hustle and bustle; the atmosphere – everything that was assailing their senses.

When Mark wrote those words down, he was most likely living in Rome, witnessing growing persecution of Christians, and the destruction of the Temple itself was soon to happen.
When Mark wrote these memories down, he and the disciples anticipated that impending destruction to be a sign that things were about to happen; that Jesus would return as soon as the temple was destroyed and that threat was the first, biggest sign of the end of the age. The expectation was high, tangible, senses were heightened.

Jesus was explicit: or was he?!
I think the only explicit thing said in this passage is verse 32: “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”

And that applies to everything.
Life and death
The world as it is and the world as it may be
We do not know; we cannot know.
So what do we know?
What do we know about what awaits us?

Back to Ben Franklin – nothing is certain but death and taxes
Or, to our friend in 24 Hours: let those you love know that they are loved. The final words anyone wants to hear are, “I love you”

It is important to remember the context in which the gospels were written; the initial audience; the passage of time since and that while we may not know when or how this world will end; we do know that our own worlds will end one day.

Those of you who have been using the study guide for Lent, will this week have been contemplating that very thing. And the question – how can we be sure to be ready for whatever life throws at us?

When I have the privilege of talking with someone who has a terminal diagnosis there is a difference in the conversation. There is no need to talk about the weather or sport or the garden… the talk is more focused – we do not necessarily talk about what will come – for we do not know, we cannot know.

But we do talk about the important things – life and love; achievements and the small triumphs that have given purpose to life.
There may also be reflection on regrets; things left undone; hopes dashed – dreams unfulfilled.
Some may worry about their loved ones, about what life will be like for them afterwards.
Others spend a deal of energy making sure that the ones they love are prepared – teaching skills, sharing instructions, encouraging experiences, creating memories to sustain and  strengthen. Finding friends and creating support networks…

What if we are not prepared though? What if there is no warning? Because that happens too; the accident; the sudden catastrophic illness; the unexpected event. What can we do? How can we be ready for that eventuality?
Well, actually, we may not know exactly when – but we do know that as sure as we are born, we will one day die.

Be ready!
Relationships die when the love goes
Life loses its shine when it loses purpose…
So do something!
Tell the ones you love how you feel.
Do the things which fulfil and excite you; fill your life with good things, good people and good experiences.

What lies ahead?
Who knows?
What will you do with the rest of your life?
Well that’s up to you, but maybe what we each need to do is to tell the people we love that we love them.
Tell those whose work, whose efforts, whose kindness we appreciate that we value and appreciate them. Tell them!
Tell them today!

Because who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Saturday, 12 March 2016

If these Stones...

If these stones could talk
What would they tell?
What news? What memories?
Would they remember building up, tearing down;
 creating and re-creating?

Oh these stones!
Magnificent building;
Stones, piled high (c) JMW 2016
tripping stone, cornerstone;
temple; body; earth and heaven.
All will pass eventually
Time wears it down
Time comes and goes
Time passes
Until, at the last,
nothing remains.

What awaits?
Wait and see… if these stones could tell

what a story that would be 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Sermon 6 March

What is it Worth?
Mark 12: 28-44

Everything I do – I do it for you…
Anyone who lived through the summer of 1991 will recognise those words… that song.
Sixteen weeks at no.1 a feat never (yet) repeated.
It was a song about love and sacrifice and devotion.
And I have seen it used in worship, especially at this time of year, when the song has been played as a background to the events of Good Friday – everything I do – everything he did – he did it for us.
There is a sense of urgency in this section of Mark’s gospel – spread over the past three weeks as it has been that urgency may escape you; but if you were to read chapters 10 -13 in one go the movement is tangible; the pressure is mounting; the excitement building; the anticipation is palpable: something is about to happen.
Something big.
A teacher asks
Jesus teaches
A widow gives

Today’s reading is only 17 verses; but when I first looked at it I saw at least four different sermons!
Love God; Love others – I have preached on more than one occasion in the past couple of years
Warnings against abuse and pride we hear often enough
And even sacrificial giving; giving your all; giving graciously to God has cropped up in different guises…

I heard a question about this widow and her two little pennies which made me pause awhile…
What if Jesus isn’t simply praising her generosity?
What if his observation is actually linked directly to the previous statement – talking about the Pharisees Jesus said: “they take advantage of widows and rob them of their homes…”
What if it is an indictment of the “rich get richer, poor get poorer” system?
A system where those who were responsible for upholding God’s laws, were so corrupt that they took everything a poor widow had to line their own pockets.
She gives all she has to live on – because that is what the teachers of the law demanded – not what God demanded.

There was a cartoon I saw this week, that I’d seen before; in it there is a man sick in bed and a friend at his bedside saying “don’t worry, it’s God’s will”; the next picture showed God looking puzzled beside a whiteboard – with two things written

1. Create the world 
2.  Give Steve cancer…

It’s that ridiculous! The love of God; the will of God; the grace of God – all are for good.
God does not will or design or give us cancer; or accidents; or catastrophes.
Stuff happens.
Terrible, tragic, dreadful stuff happens.
God does not make it happen; but God is with us every step of the way as we deal with it, live through it.

The fact that even in her impoverished state the widow was expected to continue giving her offering money was totally wrong. The visible giving was valued over the stark reality of life.
God doesn’t want us to suffer or go hungry; and God certainly doesn’t make these things happen.

What does God require of us?
The words of the prophet Micah are as relevant today as they ever where:
Act justly
Live kindly
Follow God

And what are the greatest commandments?
Love the Lord your God withal your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength
Love your neighbour as you love yourself
Life is complicated enough
The world is full of wicked people, and good people

What the world needs now, is love (sweet love)
Everything I do – I do it for you
The message actually really is that simple.
Love God; love others; love yourself

What is it worth?
Whatever we give – however big or small, is worth everything if we give with all of our heart, mind, soul, strength and do not count the cost.

More valuable than silver or gold – love
Unconditional, beautiful, hopeful love
And that’s priceless