Saturday, 9 June 2012

Sunday 10 June 2012, Trinity 1, Isaiah 40, Mark 1:1-17, A Journey with the King, Bruce

Today I set off on my walk to Lindisfarne.  The publicity team have been doing their best to drum up interest in the project and have been making contact with people, so hopefully I will be met by people along the way.  It will not be as exciting as the Olympic torch, but you get the idea.
Today we also set off on a three month journey through Mark’s gospel.  We begin at the beginning.  Mark is a master story teller.  This is not a detective story where we are to be kept in suspense; we are told in the opening words that this is the story, the good news, about Jesus.  He is the Messiah – the long promised deliverer who would come to his people in their servitude.  He is the Son of God.  We are told this at the beginning, but we are going to work it out together as we follow Jesus in his journeys and meetings with many different people.
Mark presents John the Baptist as, in a way, Elijah come back from the dead.  He quotes the words of Isaiah, spoken to Israel at a time when they are in exile and defeat, longing for a deliverer.  John’s words obviously strike a chord because the response is tremendous as crowds come out to him; he is echoing the words of Isaiah, to prepare our hearts by repenting of our sins and being baptised.  Also as in Isaiah, he announces that God is coming to deliver them, except that he talks of an individual who will be mighty, and who will baptise not just in water but in the Holy Spirit.  We are to be plunged into, immersed in, God himself!
We are agog.  How will this play out.  Who is coming?
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John on the Jordan.  It’s a man.  But not just any man.  As Jesus was coming up out of the water he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’   There is no indication that anyone else saw or heard this, so we presume that Jesus told his disciples about it later.  But we know because Mark has given us privileged access.  We are going to observe over the coming weeks how different people respond as they encounter Jesus and try to understand who he is and what he is about.  This is a major theme, sometimes spoken of as the Messianic Secret; it is a striking feature that Mark presents us with different audiences for Jesus’ activity and wisdom; different reactions to the authority of this teacher, prophet and healer, this quiet revolutionary.
The first thing that Jesus does is to respond to the Spirit’s impulsion to go into the desert and confront Satan and wild animals.  Jesus will later speak of himself as the ‘strong man’, and we see here the beginning of the authority that Jesus claims as God’s representative here on earth.  This is made explicit when the arrest of John seems to fire a starting pistol for the open public ministry of Jesus.  He returns to Galilee and announces the good news of God.
The good news is the coming of the authority, the kingly rule of God himself.  Just as when there is a takeover in a company and new bosses arrive.  Just as when a football club is taken over and the new regime bring in their own manager and style.  Just as when a new head teacher is appointed and everything we thought we knew about a school can change.  (Digression: should this apply when there is change of leadership in a local church community?).  Just as when there is a coup and the old king or president is deposed and a new regime takes over.  So Jesus is announcing that God is ruler of this world, and that his own arrival is making this obvious.  He is God’s ‘taking charge’ personified.
What are his commands?
We are to repent and believe the good news.
To repent is to have a complete change of heart and mind, that leads to a change in direction and behaviour.  It is not just to turn over a new leaf, or to make a resolution to be good.  It is to have such a changed view of the world and our place in it, that we just cannot conceive of life going on as before.  All sorts of analogies come to mind.  Entering a new relationship, or one coming to an end.   A sudden and terrible bereavement.  A calamity such as war or earthquake or tidal wave.  When the Berlin Wall fell and the former East Germany was reunited with the West, a whole lifetime of repression and double speak was swept away.  It is too soon to know how the events of the Arab Spring will play out, but many were dreaming of a new start and a better future.  In Syria today, we see a tragedy being enacted with many longing desperately for relief.
My point is that when something so momentous happens, everything must be revaluated and we must be prepared to change.  The coming of Jesus was, and is, such an event that we are shaken to the core.  Our comfortable lives are held up for examination.  We will see this many times in the coming weeks as Jesus encounters various people in the gospel, and they respond to him.  Just as Jesus was led by the Spirit into a place of examination and testing, so are we.
To believe the good news is to embrace it, to fling our arms open to embrace any and all things that God sends us.  We may not understand everything.  We may doubt our ability to live up to the high calling of being a follower of Jesus.  We will see, though, that there are many who encounter Jesus who suspect or reject him, and we are invited instead to welcome him into our lives.
Mark then recounts the calling of some specific named followers.  Simon, Andrew, James and John all receive their call, and we will follow their journey.  It seems to me that we are also to understand that Jesus is giving to each of us the same invitation: ‘Come, follow me.’  As we repent and believe, we are engaged in a lifetime’s journey of discovery and growth, seeking to be truly open for all that he has for us.  We have little power to achieve anything, but as we follow the king and serve him, so we can be part of the bringing in of his kingdom, and seeing his will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.

Trinity Sunday 3 June 2012, Royal Jubilee, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17, Bruce

This weekend we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.  I am sure that you will be familiar with the fact that jubilee is a Jewish concept.  We read in Leviticus 25 that every 50 years there was to be a sort of Sabbath year.  Fields would be left fallow, debts and leases cancelled, slaves set free, and there was to be rejoicing and thanksgiving in the provision of our God.
George III was the first king of Great Britain to celebrate 50 years on the throne as a royal jubilee.  There have been only two Diamond Jubilees, Queen Victoria and now our own Queen.  Queen Victoria died when she was ‘only’ 81 years old, and we rejoice that Queen Elizabeth has reached the age of 86 and we pray for her continued good health.  She is not Queen of England (there has not been one since Queen Anne in 1707), but rather of the United Kingdom.
When I visited the school on Friday the children were all being encouraged to wear crowns, as well as to dress up in red, white and blue.   Similarly the library had a crown-making workshop yesterday.  I notice also that you can buy face masks of the royal family.  So I wonder which royal would you like to be?
Of course that is just a bit of fun.  We cannot make ourselves members of the royal family just by wishing it (although Prince Harry is still a bachelor, so if you are a single young lady ....)  Even if a member of the royal family were to decide that they really should be someone else within the family, perhaps even monarch, they do not have that power.
Now the mystery of Trinity Sunday is that we are all invited to be members of the family, the family of God.  Jesus said that we should call God our Father, and I do not think that he was merely using a figure of speech.  When we encounter God and begin to grow in him, his Holy Spirit comes to live within us, giving new life and hope, and bringing about our fresh start, our adoption into the family.  God is our Father, Jesus is our brother, and we are to live as those who enjoy all the benefits of a royal upbringing and lifestyle.  We are not those who aspire to be on the throne, but God in his mercy gives us the same status as his son.  When we read that God said from heaven to Jesus “Behold my son whom I love”, we are to understand that he thinks the same about us. 
How does this happen?  Well, Jesus says to Nicodemus, you hear the wind blowing but you cannot tell where it has come from or where it is going.  I can describe to you how God gave me new life, and that might be helpful to you.  There are other accounts that you can hear or read.  The best thing though is to be open to him, and look out for every clue and indication about him – respond positively and expectantly.  Even your questions or doubts can be indicators helping you on a journey, a pilgrimage of discovery.  God sent his son into the world so that whosoever believes in him, trusts in him, reaches out after him, will have new life.
We are joint heirs with Jesus Christ – this sounds so strange, but we have a lifetime to explore all that can mean.
First, we see that being in the Spirit will have implications for the way that we live.  Just as being a royal means that there is a code of expected behaviour, so we discover that being in Christ leads us to re-evaluate our actions and motivations.  Behaviour that we used to think was acceptable now comes under the spotlight.  We are not trying to keep a code of rules or ethics.  The work goes deeper and further.  We are living with someone and adjusting to the desires and rhythms of someone else takes time and is not always easy.  The point of the bible reading and prayer that we do is to tune our hearts so that we are increasingly aware of what pleases him.  We want to be like Jesus who rejoiced to do only what his Father told him to do. 
Second, we acknowledge that Jesus walked a path of confrontation and suffering.  In the same way we seek to live at peace with all people.  We seek never to start quarrels or arguments.  We are happy to surrender our rights.  And yet Jesus found again and again that he was the centre of controversy and he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  We also cannot expect to be spared the troubles of this world.  From the apparently trivial, like rain falling on our carefully prepared jubilee events, to the much more serious as people take against us for quietly seeking to follow Christ in today’s world, and the tragic occurrences of illness and suffering in those whom we love and care for, we share in the disorder of this world now, as we pray and work to bring in the kingdom.
We pray each week:  We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and specially thy servant ELIZABETH our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and indifferently minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.
In other words, we look to the civil authorities, under the direction of the Queen, to work for the good of us all and for the improvement of society.
In the same way, we pray (perhaps daily) thy kingdom come, thy will be done.  This is our family prayer that we pray together as sisters and brothers.  We are led by the Spirit of God as children of God, to be and to act in such a way that we are part of the transformation of this world.
This is most certainly about each of us as individuals having our own personal encounter and receiving life from above, being born into the royal heavenly family.  It is also about us living out the reality of God’s authority and rule here on earth now.  This is not visible to those who choose to be blind to it.  For those who are open for all that he has for them, God makes his love known and we can share it as we work and pray to anticipate the coming fulfilment of the kingdom by making things better on earth right now.
May you know a jubilee of rejoicing and freedom, both as you honour Her Majesty and also as you encounter the Triune God and grow in him.

Discussion Starters
1.       The talk concentrates on relationship with God.  What would you have liked to ask about the doctrine of the Trinity?
2.       How do you respond to the thought that God calls you his beloved son or daughter?
3.       In what ways have you been aware of being led by the Spirit of God?  If you do not feel this applies to you, how could you make progress in this important area?