Saturday, 24 July 2010

Sunday 25 July 2010 Matthew 20:20-28, St James, Bruce

As some of you may know, getting on for four years ago I undertook the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, the shrine of St James in Galicia in northern Spain. You will recall that the fascination of this pilgrimage is not with the destination itself, but with the process of travelling, and the lessons one learns about the journey of faith that we all make.

Nevertheless I found myself thinking about saints and their shrines in general, and James in particular. He was the first of the Twelve to be martyred, in 44AD. During the preceding eleven years he was thought to have travelled to Spain to found the church, before making his way back to the Holy Land. After his death, faithful disciples were supposed to have placed his body in a stone coffin that miraculously floated, and navigated itself back to the northern coast of Spain where it was buried; it was providentially discovered in the ninth century just when a symbol was needed to help the armies of Christendom in their conflicts with the Moors.

All this is fantastic stuff. The underlying story of the man, however, is true and instructive for each one of us. James and his brother John were the sons of Zebedee, with the nickname “Sons of Thunder”. They liked results, to make an impact; on one occasion they wanted to call down fire from heaven on a village that seemed inhospitable. And they were ambitious; I bet their fishing business was successful. They were members of the inner circle with Peter who had special times with Jesus; they were present for the transfiguration. Jesus has just said that the twelve disciples will sit on twelve thrones when Jesus sits on his, and they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus had added that many who are first will be last. Perhaps they felt that Peter’s star had dimmed somewhat; he had earlier told Peter: “Satan, get behind me!”

Where has this got us? Jesus has just told the parable of the workers in the vineyard, repeating the saying that many who are first will be last. He has just announced he was going up to Jerusalem to be betrayed, condemned, mocked, flogged and crucified. On the third day he would be raised.

It all feels a little uncertain: what will become of us? There is more certainty in the housing, employment or pensions market today than it must have seemed to Jesus’ disciples at that point in the story.

And so their mother goes to Jesus, to try to get a handle on the situation, to gain a measure of control. But we know that James and his brother were there too, because Jesus asks them a question which they answer. The request is simple and direct: “can we have the top positions in the coming administration; can we be your Right Hand and Left Hand men?”

Jesus parries with another question: “You do not know what you are asking for. Can you drink from my cup, walk in my steps?” And they reply “Oh yes”.

“Well,” says Jesus, “you’ve got it.” And James did die a martyr’s death, and John was imprisoned for years on the island of Patmos.

The remaining Ten are outraged. The Two have made their play, stolen a march, got in first. It seems that they were just as ambitious, but a bit slower!

So Jesus has to explain again to all of them, and to each one of us, the very basis of the Christian life.

Jesus came as a servant. He was attentive at all times to his Father’s will, and was determined at all times and in every way to be obedient. He was a servant.

This is at odds with the way the world likes to run. Take a look, says Jesus, at the way that every Chief Executive or office manager operates. Have a look at the way many parents demand obedience. See how often people like to be in control. See how often marriages and families founder on the rock of people wanting everything done to please them. Humankind likes to think that all of creation is there for us to exploit to fulfil our desires, that we have a right to food, to shelter, to emotional support, to the comforts of life. When I was younger and in a hurry, I used to fix my eyes on a person in front, and determine to overtake them so that would walk faster; so often we seek to inspire children to work harder by encouraging them to compete with others. Even in the Garden, we wanted to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge so that we could get ahead.

How different it would be if we were each centred on Christ. If we aspired to live as he lived, seeking to please our heavenly Father. How different each one of us would be, if we each sought as individuals to be disciples of Jesus, learning from him and humbly looking to have our characters changed to be like his. How different St Michael’s would be, if we each took seriously the imperative to serve other people, and this was our driving force, rather than the need to be right or to impose our views and wishes on others. How different Camberley would be, if we each sought to serve others in ways that build community and take seriously the needs of those on the edge, those without influence or power. What a difference we would see, as our families, neighbours, colleagues and friends saw in us the influence of the Jesus who was servant of all, and gave his life as a ransom for many; the church would grow.

To be a servant is to acknowledge that ultimately we all have to allow our Father God to be in control. We pray for his will to be done, not ours, for his kingdom to come, not ours. We are forced to pray for our daily bread. We would love to be able to amass sufficient resources that we would never have to rely on anyone else, but this is not possible and if we ever feel that we have achieved it, we are deluding ourselves. We need him to forgive us, and the evidence that we are forgiven comes in the way that we cannot help ourselves forgiving others. We are helpless to avoid the trials and temptations of this life; we pray to him to keep us.

James later became the quiet humble leader of the church community in Jerusalem, and it was on account of this that he was singled out by Herod for death. His name and reputation were later taken up and used by centuries of Christian communities to suit their own ends, so that you may wonder about the real James. It seems to me that he was a companion of Jesus, who changed over time to be the person Jesus wanted him to be. Amen. May that be true of me, and may that be true of you.

Discussion Starters

1. Name a personality from the history of the church who has inspired you; what lessons have you learned from him or her?

2. How much do you agree with the statement that we all want control or to be in charge? And to what extent do you think that you really have control in your life?

3. What message do you think God would like to convey to the Vicar, the Wardens and the PCC of St Michael’s about the way that we serve each other? Can you write these down and send them in?

4. Please pray for yourself and for brothers and sisters that we may all become more like Jesus in this.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Sermon for Sunday 18 July 2010 – Luke 10: 38-42 - Kim

This story is another of the well known ones. Martha invites Jesus to her home. This fact and her busyness in the house suggest that Martha is looking after the house and its occupants. Perhaps their parents were already dead and as was the custom, the oldest daughter took on the responsibility for domestic affairs.

This was a place Jesus was really at home. It was a good base when he was visiting Jerusalem for festivals. Here he was obviously fed and most likely given accommodation. This is the house we hear of most and it’s near Jerusalem. Martha is busy, well, she would be – she has a guest to look after. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus as a pupil would for a Rabbi. Mary is giving Jesus her attention and listening to him. Martha really could do with a hand. ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But Jesus does not command Mary to get up. He speaks kindly to Martha. ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need only for one thing. Mary has chosen the better part that will not be taken away from her.’ You cannot help but feel at this stage that Jesus is lucky that Martha does not wallop him with a cooking pot! We must look deep into this event, for Jesus did need feeding.

Martha was distracted and anxious and no doubt she had good cause. Very often the lady of the house has to work hard when there is company while others sit having a drink and being waited on. Sometimes we need to share out our tasks better, and sometimes we need to realise that our guests are there to spend time with us and not just to be fed!

Many of our troubles and anxieties occur because we do not spend time in quiet with Jesus. Many churches are hyperactive, doing all sorts of activities but spend little time in prayer. God is our priority, well should be, He should be our ‘one thing’. If we make God our priority, then he will send us out. God does not want things from us; he wants our love and us. The same could be said of many who come to us as friends. We miss healing relationships if we are too anxious or busy.

O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Listen to St. Paul: ‘do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4:6, 7).

It is because our sympathies are with Martha that we need to learn to be more like Mary.

The greatest danger of television is that it encourages us to switch off from one another and God. This is true of iPods and personal CD players. They all help to shut off and enclose us in a world of our own. But we do not need any of these to be inattentive. A child comes in with an important message but the father is filling in his tax forms and the mother is busy preparing the dinner. ‘But..’ says the child and is still not given attention. The parents have not listened and the child is left feeling alone. The generation gap is often created because we do not listen to each other. The child goes out and wonders who will look at the washing machine that is overflowing! When a child plays up or a relationship breaks down, in and woven through the sadness is the lack of being listened too. God wants us to listen to him and He also wants to listen to us. He wants to know are cares and concerns as well as our love and ourselves. He wants us to share in the work of his kingdom, in reaching out to our neighbour and others in the community, and He also knows that we need to take time out for our families and friends. We need to learn to find a balance.

We live today at breakneck speed, rushing here, there and everywhere, yet forever chasing our tails. Despite having labour-saving gadgets such as our grandparents could only have dreamed of, we are part of a society ravaged by exhaustion and burn-out as we attempt to cram yet more activity into our already overcrowded lives. The material rewards are many, yet spiritually most of us are hopelessly impoverished.

We need sometimes to pause and ask ourselves where we are going and why. We need to consider the deeper things of life and to reflect on what actually matters most. Unless we pause to think now, we may reach the end of our days only to discover that we have frittered our lives away on much that is empty and meaningless trivia. I can help asking myself why? Why do we do this to ourselves and our families and friends? Why do we push ourselves and families to doing what seems to be everything and sometimes all at once?

I believe it is because there is a need to be part of this world and it can mean keeping up with others, whether its more money, a bigger car, success for us or our children, bigger house, holidays….. Whatever it is, it doesn’t bring inner peace. It doesn’t bring a joy that overflows, that others can see. It brings tension, it challenges us – some times into making wrong choices and it can pull us in the opposite direction. Away from God.

We need to learn to be a ‘one thing’ believer. ‘But one thing is needful’ (Luke 10.42). Martha was caught up with ‘many things’ (Luke 10.41). Mary was lovingly occupied with ‘one thing’ (Luke 10:42). Are you and I a ‘one thing’ believer? Both David and Paul were ‘one thing’ believers. (See Psalm 27:4 and Philippians 3:13).

In the Christian life, the Lord Jesus Christ is not to be one thing among many things. He is not part of our life; HE IS OUR LIFE! (Or should be) He is the very hub, the centre. In all things, He is to have first place. (Col 3:3-4, Phil 1:21; Gal 2:20 and Col 1:18).

Are you a ‘Mary-like’ disciple of the Lord Jesus? In a ‘Martha world’ (so busy and hectic) we need to have a ‘Mary heart’. We need to be both Mary and Martha and we need to find that ‘one thing’ balance. May God give us Mary’s heart to adore; Martha’s hands to serve? Amen.

1. Which are you more inclined to be a Mary or Martha?
2. What distracts us from taking time out to be a ‘Mary’?
3. Why is it so important that we take time to be a ‘Mary’ and why is it so important that we take time to be a ‘Martha’ in our busy schedules?
4. Is Mary’s choice better? If so, why and in what way?
5. What about Jesus’ practical call to servant-hood? What’s Jesus’ point?
6. How do you seek to serve others while also keeping God-given priorities?
7. What patterns and practices could you institute in your daily life that would make you more like Mary?

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Sermon for Sunday 11th July 2010 - Kim

Sermon for Sunday 11 July 2010 – Luke 10: 25-37

Back in the late 1970’s, I worked in a London and it was not unusual to hear the blast of a bomb or an incendiary device going off. It was the time of the IRA bombing in London. Every day I would go to work and there would be a roll call of staff making sure that everyone had arrived safely and if one went off as we on our way home, again someone would ring to make sure we had arrived home safely. When I was on the train, as we approached London, there would be a reassuring message over the PA system to advise us that the rail company and the police were doing everything they could to ensure our safety and could we please look out for suspicious packages and report them immediately. The fear on the faces of fellow passengers was clear. Suspicious looks, apprehensive glances, people on edge. Anyone with an Irish accent was viewed with suspicion and some people even moved seats upon hearing one. The presence of armed police at Stations, Historical landmarks, and around Oxford and Regent Street was, I am sure, intended to reassure people as well as intimidate would-be bombers. Clearly the vast majority of our Irish community then, as is the vast majority of our community now, of all races and creeds, against violence. Yet remembering how commuters treated one another brought home to me the significance of today Gospel reading.

This parable of Jesus is as controversial today as it was to those who first heard him. Jesus’ audience would have been very familiar with tales of hapless victims, robbed or murdered on that very road. Even today it isn’t the kind of road to take the family on an afternoon drive. Jesus had their attention. Jesus talked about violence and danger - He talked about crime, racial discrimination, fear and hatred and we have plenty of that today. We also see neglect and concern, we see love and mercy. We know very well what the parable says, but what does it mean? Jesus talks about the wounded man’s condition, that he was unconscious and naked. These details are skillfully woven into the story to create the tension that is at the heart of the drama. The Middle Eastern world was made up of various ethnic-religious communities. You could identify the stranger ahead of you in two ways. By their accent and their clothing. In the first century the various ethnic communities within Palestine used an amazing array of dialects and languages in addition to Hebrew. Not without reason was the north known as the Galilee of the Gentiles. No one travelling a major highway in Palestine could be sure that the stranger he might meet would be a fellow Jew. But a short greeting would reveal his language if their clothing had not already given their nationality away. But the man in this story had been stripped of his outer clothes and is unconscious. He was reduced to a mere human being. No identifying clothing, unable to speak. So who will help him?

The thieves saw him as someone they could exploit not someone made in God’s image. It did not matter what happened to him, as long as they got what they wanted. "What's yours is mine-I'll take it". God gave us things to use and people to love. We live in a culture that has got it round the wrong way. Jesus never exploited a person, always gives back more than he asks for. Always leaves a person in better shape than when He found them. If he wounds, he also heals. We must beware of looking at people and thinking "what can he do for me?" We may not mug people to steal their money, but we can so easily hurt people with our words and actions.

To the Priest and Levite he was a Nuisance to Avoid. Jericho was a priestly city, a place where many of the priestly families lived in the warm mild climate it had all year. Before 1967, many of the oil rich sheiks from the Gulf States would spend their winters in Jericho. By comparison, Jerusalem is cold and exposed in winter. So Jericho was the place to live, and priests and Levites would regularly frequent this road on their way to and from the Temple. Of all people one would have expected them to help this poor man. As the privileged elite of Jewish society, the priest was most probably riding, as no one with any status in the community takes a seventeen mile hike through the desert. The poor walk. Everyone else rode. So what excuses might the priest have offered had he been caught on a security camera travelling by on the other side? "I've got to remain pure in order to serve God" When confronted by a stripped and unconscious person the priest faced a dilemma. How could he help someone who might be a sinner? His religious laws forbade him go within four metres of a dead person in case he became defiled. Then he wouldn’t be able to perform his duties. His peers would have applauded him for not stopping so that he could perform the higher work for God. Perhaps he thought, “It's not my problem”. Maybe it was. Why didn't the religious leaders do something about the dangerous road? Perhaps he was afraid of an ambush. May be it was, maybe it wasn't. What mattered was the person in need. If we allow fear to determine our actions we will be unable to serve God. Maybe he thought “Let somebody else do it” The priest could have said, "the Levite coming up behind me, he can stop, I don't need to." But then the Levite could then have thought, "The priest didn't do anything, so why should I?"

We can always find somebody to point to as an excuse for our own neglect. Failure to act when we should is just as sinful as to act when we shouldn't. If we go through life wanting our own way, then other people will always be a nuisance because they will get in our way. But if we go through life with our eyes open seeking opportunities to share the love of Christ, then every nuisance, every encounter becomes a divine appointment, an opportunity to serve God.

To The Lawyer he was a Problem to Discuss. Jesus told the story in reply to a lawyer's question. The lawyer was an expert in religious law. Israel lived under religious law and he was then a professional theologian. The lawyer wanted to test Jesus on a point of law in order to win an argument. But Jesus turns the conversation round to teach a fundamental truth about concrete action. The lawyer was safe with theories, "who is my neighbour?" He was threatened with the reply "What would you have done in this story? What kind of neighbour are you?”

To The Inn Keeper he was a Customer to Serve. I am not criticising the inn keeper for he had his inn to manage. But I want to use the inn keeper to illustrate the fact that many Christians serve, or rather serve particular people because it is their job and they get paid to do it. Maybe the inn keeper would have helped the man without the Samaritan’s two silver coins, and the assurance of more if it was needed. We don't know. That was not the main point of Jesus story, but it is worth noting that the inn keeper took the money. So let’s follow through on the implications. How far are we willing to serve as long as it is convenient and won't cost us anything? Fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with what I have to do? Fine, as long as I can be reimbursed for that expenditure? Motive has a great deal to do with ministry. The Pharisees prayed, gave tithes and fasted - all acceptable religious practices, but the motive of some, says Jesus, was to gain the praise of people, not to glorify God. If I only serve because I am paid to do it then I am more like the inn keeper than the Samaritan, for I am treating you as a client rather than a human being. Of the five attitudes demonstrated in this passage, only one was acceptable, and that belonged to a foreigner. When Jesus uttered the phrase, "But a certain Samaritan...." I'm sure His Jewish audience were shocked. The last person you would expect to help a Jew would be a Samaritan. The concept of "ethnic cleansing" may be a recent addition to the vocabulary but the actions it describes have been going on for thousands of years. There was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus might just as well have been describing the action of a Serb toward a Croat in Bosnia, or a Greek toward a Turk on Cyprus, or a Palestinian toward an Israeli settler on the West Bank. Contrary to their expectation, Jesus elevates a despised Samaritan, as the one who did not permit racial or religious barriers to hinder him from helping this unknown victim.

To the Samaritan he was a Neighbour to Love. The Samaritan did not blame the injured person for the collective attitudes of either race, and use that as an excuse for doing nothing. As the Samaritan travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he had compassion and took pity on him. He was deeply moved inside. Pity is the word used to describe the way the Lord feels about lost sinners. Compassion describes the way God feels about us. When we show compassion we are demonstrating our family likeness. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The Samaritan could have excused himself. He was a foreigner in a hostile country. He was alone and vulnerable, but Agape, God's love does not look for excuses, it looks beyond obstacles. It does not ask why, but why not? He bound up the wounds so they would begin to heal. He took the man to the inn to recover and promised to return to pay the bill.

The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' He interrupted his schedule to help this man. It may have made him late for a business appointment, it may have delayed him from seeing his family. But he paid the cost. What did he have to gain from this personally? Nothing - except the joy and strength that come when you do God's will. When you serve in love without expecting recognition or reward. What did the Samaritan show? Compassion, initiative, sacrifice. Jesus said, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man?" When Jesus asked the lawyer which of the three was a neighbour, the lawyer gave the correct answer but he would not even bring himself to use the word "Samaritan". He was still resisting Jesus attempt to reach his heart. I wonder whether we have got the message?

Today, with continued anxiety over possible terrorist attacks, perhaps we would do well to ask the question - who is my neighbour? For Jesus teaches that we cannot separate our relationship with God from our responsibility toward those he brings across our path. The lawyer wanted Jesus to define the limits of his responsibility of neighbourliness. He wanted Jesus to identify those he had to be a neighbour to and those he could ignore. Jesus turned the question round. The question is not ‘to whom need I be a neighbour?’ But rather ‘what kind of neighbour am I?’ - to anyone I meet? I invite you to join a revolution this week. Break the spiral of fear and hate in our community with acts of compassion and mercy - especially toward those who are different, are outsiders, are strangers. Whoever the Lord brings across your path, your assignment from Jesus is really very simple: “Go and do likewise.”

1.If you were to select three themes that this passage, what would they be?
2.Have you ever heard a person (Christian or otherwise) try to justify a less-than-Christian attitude or action? Why do we constantly try to justify our actions? What motivates justifying ourselves?
3.How did the lawyer justify his actions? How do you think the priest and Levite in this story justified their actions?
4.What does the parable of the Good Samaritan illustrate? What does it teach us about love? About mercy? About selfishness?
5.How are we to imitate the Good Samaritan by "doing likewise"? What is God speaking to you from this passage?