Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Penny Drops - sermon for 22 January

The Penny Drops ~ Extreme Fishing
 Luke 5:1-11

When I was a girl every summer my family went on holiday; and every year we went to the same house, in the same village in North Wales and for the same fortnight; and every year we met up with the same families. There were as far as I can remember 6 families who all went at that same time. Between us we had a selection of dinghies and canoes and we loved to swim in the Irish Sea!!
It was here that I learned to swim, and to handle a canoe, and indeed to fish... I grew up loving the sea, and loving to go fishing, mostly trailing off the back of the boat, but also with a rod off the rocks.

One summer when I was 14 or 15 years old had been particularly hot; for some reason there were very few fish being caught... in fact the dads were a little frustrated – for by the middle weekend they hadn’t actually caught anything at all. My friend Liz and I asked if we could take the big canoe out and do a little fishing ourselves... and so we did.
This was a big wooden Canadian Canoe, wide bodied, very stable and ideal for trailing spinners and feathers. Out we went, into deep water and around the quiet cliffs and bays along the coast – it was truly idyllic... to our surprise after just a few minutes we realised we had caught something... and to our even greater surprise when we pulled the lines in we had each caught a couple of beautiful fat mackerel!!

We put the lines out again and repeated the manoeuvre and once again brought up mackerel... our excitement was tempered by the effort it took to stun them, but we carried on for a little while before turning and making our way back to the beach. The incredulity from our fathers, and indeed all of the men and brothers in our families was joy to see!! And within minutes the beach was void of men as they leapt into their own boats and canoes and headed out – really not wanting to be outdone by two girls!! The men did not catch anything that day – but the mackerel was delicious!!

Fishing is a combination of skill and luck – if the fish are there a good fisherman will make a catch, but if they are away somewhere else it doesn’t matter how skilled you are... Jesus was a craftsman - a carpenter; his undoubted skill was not really transferable to fishing, nevertheless this did not stop him from offering advice to the fishermen out in their boats.
Timing though makes all the difference.

Peter and his brothers and friends had already met Jesus. They had listened to Jesus speaking... listened to Jesus teaching – had witnessed Jesus healing. They knew this man was different. So when he approached their boat they were ready, they were ripe for the catch.
I suspect that a couthy old fisherman like Peter would not have responded so favourably to his suggestion had Jesus not been known; because fishermen know their trade, know how to read the water and know the right and wrong time of day – fish do not bite in the middle of the day – they come up to the shore region at evening when the water insects are at their most active so to put out and lower the nets at this time of day really was ludicrous.

For Peter – still at this point Simon of course – this was a pivotal moment – Jesus had been in the region for some time, teaching and doing amazing things and Simon had most likely been on the periphery for a while;
Then Jesus came to his home;
And Jesus healed his mother-in-law;
Jesus had healed many others too
For this stubborn old man life was about to change forever.

I am sure that it was no accident that it was Simon’s boat Jesus chose

Jesus – God,  knows each of us better than we know ourselves
God puts people, opportunities, events and experiences into our lives and it is up to us whether or not we respond

In God’s terms we are all fishers:
We can go out to life’s big ocean expecting nothing
Or hoping for that elusive catch against all the odds

The catch?
Well the catch could be another person; or an unexpected opportunity
It could be a second chance
Or a conversation that blesses and encourages

Truth is we don’t know until we take up the challenge
Take a risk
Step out in faith – uncertain of what it is we let ourselves in for
And when we do, life can change, realisation dawn – the penny drops.

Simon would become Jesus right hand man
And becoming one of God’s fishermen doesn’t mean you need to suddenly turn into a preacher or teacher – Simon Peter certainly didn’t! it took him years, and years to get to that point.
God’s fishers take up the opportunity to show God’s love
To share Jesus Good News
And make a difference – and we do it all the time without ever realising
We bring our children for baptism
We share our joy and our hope
We tell the stories of our faith
We will not always know the impact we have had – but God will know

The boat is our lives
Jesus asks to use our lives
To teach, to show, to challenge and to accept
To love, to care, to simply be;
Jesus comes in many guises
God sends people into our lives, for a moment, for a short time and for a lifetime
We may lose touch
We may never leave them
We may remember and we may forget
That is life
But when our paths cross things will happen...

It is for us to use those opportunities
To allow God into every conversation
To help others realise
For the penny to drop
Because when Jesus invites us to cast our nets wide
God knows what will happen!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Teacher Rejected - Sermon 15th January

Luke 4:14-30
Sometimes, the sermon appears, almost unbidden. The ideas come and the words flow.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter how much reading, praying, contemplating and reflecting I do, the sermon stubbornly refuses to be written.

Today’s reading is tricky.
It is very challenging to us as listeners. And the challenge is hidden and easily missed.
On first read: Jesus has arrived in Nazareth; tales of his mission, his actions, his teaching had gone before him, and the people were delighted to welcome him home.
This was one of their own, coming home, his kudos would extend to them; his cachet would rub off on them. This was a time of civic pride in one of their own made good.
The shock comes not when he chooses to read from Isaiah, and then claim that the prophecy has been fulfilled. But after that, when he tells them in no uncertain terms that they were not fit to receive the blessing; not chosen to receive God’s chosen; not good enough for a blessing.
It really was outrageous.
It was like me standing here and telling you, there was going to be a great spiritual revival but that God was going to pass over Earlston because none of us is chosen. (I’m not saying that… not at all!)

I have been trying to work out what it was that Jesus said that triggered such a violent response; why were they so outraged? Why did their response lead to such an aggressive reaction? What did he say that so disturbed them? And what did they do to provoke Jesus’ challenge?
It is frustrating, because the text is sparse, and so much is subliminal, unwritten.
The first thing we need to remember is when and for whom this gospel was written. Luke is writing for the new “Christians” the majority of whom are Gentiles; he is writing from the perspective of one who has investigated thoroughly, interviewed witnesses and gathered as many of the stories as he can. And Luke, whoever he was, has not been a first-hand witness, he did not know Jesus, follow Jesus, hear Jesus for himself.
Luke is writing for these new Christians, the ones who come from other traditions, the ones who were not Jewish from birth. So, when Jesus reads from Isaiah, and then exclaims the scripture is being fulfilled the Nazarenes are cast as the unacceptable.
It is important to note that when it says Jesus sat down – this is because he is about to teach. The tradition was to stand to read scripture and then the teacher would sit to explain and expound on the scriptures.
The next part of his teaching is this: remember that when God was with Elijah, he sent him to the Gentile widow not the Israelites to feed them during the famine; when God was with Elisha, he sent him to the gentile king to heal him, not to any Jews who had skin diseases; when God sends me to teach and heal and work miracles, it is not to you, but to everyone else – you will not hear me and believe.
And this is why they were so mad!!
The implication is that God is sending him not to Nazareth, but from there to the rest of the “world” – the Isaiah reading is basically Jesus’ manifesto for the rest of his mission on earth… the time of grace, of jubilee is announced; but these first ones to hear it are rejected. It’s no wonder they were outraged, scandalised. And it is no wonder that the rising fury led to a mob of people determined to drive him away, out of their lives and out of their town, and more, to drive him out of life all together.
The image of the mob, pushing, shoving, closing ranks, moving like a tidal wave up the hill, hemming him in, ready to throw him off the cliff – is tangible, the atmosphere tense, the mood disturbed… and suddenly he’s gone!
No longer at the head of the crowd being carried along; suddenly he slips away, escapes, never to set foot in his home town again.
So, how do we, with the gift of hindsight and the distance of all those years, respond to this? What must we do to be sure we hear and act? How do we fulfil Jesus’ manifesto right now in our 21st century community?
That manifesto again:
Preach the Good News to the poor
Proclaim release to captives
Bring sight to the blind
Liberate the oppressed
Proclaim the year of Jubilee – God’s favour.

In our 21st century world; the rich get richer; the poor lose out; the land is over used; the forests burned; the air polluted; and God’s little ones are overlooked at best and abused and disadvantaged
What are we to do about it? because it all feels too big; too much; too impossible for us to tackle the reality.
We are not called to fix the whole world
We are called to fix our own small part. Because if everyone did just that, and truly cared for everyone they came across, the world would be a far better place.
The people of Jesus’ home had become complacent; they followed the rules and thought that was enough. They had become self-satisfied.
We cannot do everything; but we can do something.
What can you do?
We have many different ministries in our church: from coffee fellowship on a Sunday morning; to praying through prayer requests; to helping with worship or joining the Wednesday morning cafĂ©; and, in future when we have other events or projects or start new things, come along – bring a friend, help us to grow.
I have been doing a lot of reflecting this past few weeks as we approach my sixth anniversary it is a good time for me to take stock, and for us to work together to begin to grow our church; time to consider new ways to reach out to those who do not have a live church connection.
We know there are plenty folks who feel a connection, but don’t actually do anything about it… so I want to look at ways of reaching them.
Also, they are many, many folks who have lost touch, who find Sunday morning isn’t the right time for them – and I’m wondering what we might do for those too.

I can’t do it all by myself; but I can be a catalyst for new things; for God-given inspirations that come in many shapes and sizes.
The Spirit of God is alive and working in and through each of us
The Spirit proclaims once more the year of God’s favour – it is for us now to hear and act.
It is for us to be God’s Church – alive and well in our community and beyond.
Those who heard Jesus had a choice – to respond or to reject.
And so do we – what will it be?
Do we respond and answer God’s call; can we build God’s church anew for our time and for our people?
 God’s manifesto of justice and grace is the mandate that stands the test of time
And it is for us to act and respond to that call
Right now in 2017. We can be God’s chosen ones!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Wildman and Carpenter sermon 8 January

The Wildman and the Carpenter sermon for 8th January 2017 
 Luke 3:1-22
They were cousins; their mothers were cousins too, and close; close enough that Jesus’ mother had visited her cousin and stayed to help out while she was pregnant.
On that visit, before he was born, Elizabeth’s son had reacted with joy to the presence of his cousin – Mary’s boy, long before anyone knew anything for sure about either one of them.
These two boys were both miracle babies; born in unusual circumstances; their impending births foretold by angels, their lives mapped out for them long before they were born, let alone grown.

John has taken to a life of desert wanderer; he follows God; is inspired by God and seeks to bring God as reality to the people who are wandering in a different sort of desert; alone seeking God in their spiritual wilderness. A feeling that I am sure we can all identify with from time to time.

Into this time of seeking; these wilderness years comes a new teacher; one who is very different; one who does not pander to them but rather tells them a few home truths. This new style of teaching is so dynamic, so attractive that people flock to hear more; and they seek more than just a spectacle, they ask again and again, “what shall we do?”  
The teaching pulls no punches:
Do not cheat
Share with others
Be fair in your business dealings
Be satisfied with what you have
And then he called them to repentance, to be ready, to be prepared, and he baptised them.
They sought, they wondered, they hoped – “is this the one?!” “is this the Messiah?!” “Is now the time?!”
And he assured them, no, not yet, but soon, be ready, listen to me, I am making the path clear, I am leading the way forward… one is coming.

John was distinctive; the other gospel writers describe his appearance and clothing, as wild, camel hair, locusts and wild honey – it is a stirring image.  Yet, for us so far removed from those events; so far removed from that hand to mouth existence, it is really hard to hear those words and really feel their impact.
We hear those exhortations, do not cheat, share with others, be fair in your business dealings, be satisfied with what you have; and it’s a simple faith-justice mantra, we can identify with it; know it, agree with it.
Of course we will! Of course we don’t cheat; we do our best to share our resources, and be fair; and we try to be satisfied with what we have. So how can we hear these things again and actually have them impact our lives? How do we make a difference?

I am going to leave that question hanging for a moment. And take you to the end of today’s reading. Two short verses to tell us, almost as an afterthought, Jesus was baptised.
It doesn’t even tell us that he was baptised by John – in fact, it almost implies Jesus baptism happened after John was in prison.
The other gospels give us much more information. But I am not going to go explore other gospels today; we are going to be working through Luke’s telling of Jesus story over the next few weeks, and there will be many times we see such contradictions, or differences.
Luke’s portrayal is simple, pared back.
Jesus is baptised; the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit comes down like a dove, and a voice from heaven declares, “You are my own dear son. I am pleased with you.”
Here is a wonderful commitment from God. Jesus hasn’t actually done anything yet. No healing, no teaching, no miracles… just baptism. His belovedness, like our own, is not a reward for righteous living, it’s simply grace.

There is much we can learn from this. Much we can do. Or try to do. Much we can hope for even when we are
Stuck in a spiritual wilderness
Seeking a right and just way of living faithfully
And feeling that it is all a tall order, beyond our capabilities.
How can we be the difference?
How do we respond today, to John’s exhortations?
All we need to do is remember that John called the people to repent, to turn again, to start over – all good and helpful things, especially at the start of a new year.
And, at the same time remember that Jesus too sough baptism, sought direction, and received much, much more, showing us, reminding us again, that we are God’s beloved children, before we do anything at all.
So we strive to be better, in the full knowledge that God looks at us, knows us, loves us – before we do anything at all.
We strive to be better, because of love.
We are better, because of love.
We are better, because God sees us, knows us, loves us.
You are my own dear child. With you I am pleased.
The Desert of Judah (c) JRen2012