Sunday, 28 June 2015

What's In A Name?

What do our names mean?

Simon - He who hears

Jairo - Hebrew - Shines

Isaac - he will laugh - son of Abraham and Sarah

Peter - the rock

Jesus - from Joshua - God will help or save

Doesn’t stop there. Our surnames say something about us too. Mason worked with stone. Carpenter with wood etc. Or remember our love of genealogy? My paternal Grandmother's family - a member of the Wills family - can be traced back to Exeter.

We discover things about people in other ways - by their actions and ways of life.

We all have passions - things we will stand up and be counted for - things that matter intrinsically to us. Those of you who know me will know I can be evangelical about progressive rock music, PNE, films, malt - the list goes on.

When Jesus says (in Matthew 16:13-19) to his friends - 'Who do people say that I am?' He’s not asking about what his name means or where he comes from or even the things that people in the crowds are passionate about. He’s wanting to go a bit deeper.  He’s been teaching and healing amongst many people for a while by this point - this question is therefore a bit of customer feedback - will the crowds back his vision of God and His coming Kingdom or not?

In a week of horrendous tragedy in Tunisia, Syria, France and of course in Charleston in the USA or when confronted by racial hatred on our own doorstep in Luton again this weekend many preachers, many people of faith and none will wonder what on earth you can say in response. Yet respond we must - because at the end of the day - who will we back? How will we each respond to the forces hatred, evil and division in our world?

Jesus’ question - 'Who do people say that I am?' is one of enormous vulnerability. What if people hadn’t got it? What if they had misunderstood? It’s a question of risk, rejection and heartache

His question isn’t just about identifying him with a place or a people - it’s about a bigger vision of love and life and God and His kingdom.  He’s asking us on what we will wager our lives. It’s a question about who we are and who we wish to become with his love in us - guiding us.

St Peter, who the church remembers today got it - you are the Christ - the Son of the Living God. But I’m not sure he really know what he was saying. All I suspect he got, is what I get and you get - there is something going on in and with this Jesus that transforms my life and my world and somehow the hopes of all of us and our broken broken humanity are being healed and restored in Him.

We all, with Isaac as we baptise him today, need to answer Jesus’ question this week of all weeks - and on into the week after and the rest of our lives: who do you say that I am? - because how we answer it says much about us; how we respond says much about our vision for the world - saying yes to Jesus is saying yes to loving our neighbour, feeding the hungry, caring for the outcast, welcoming the stranger and ultimately standing with and in the love that God has for the world and against the forces of evil and hatred.

Like St Peter, I’m a work in progress. I get it wrong, I muck it up and I bet you do too. But Isaac’s parents and godparents know - we have to start somewhere - for him that’s today as he’s baptised. As  he is - Isaac will through his parents and his Godparents begin saying his yes to Jesus and God’s vision of love for the world. A vision that the disciples saw and experienced and that St Peter named. The question is - will you?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Stilling Life's Storms

Your actions say a lot about you... I remember hearing a report on the radio a number of years ago about an Orthodox Jewish couple, who are suing their neighbours because they were effectively housebound for 25 hours once a week, as the automatic lights that come on when they open the door to their apartment, infringe Sabbath laws. Surely this is the sort of simple dispute that could and should be rectified through talking... Like I said, your actions say a lot about you.

What did the actions in the boat of Jesus say about who he is? What did the actions of the disciples say about who they are?

How Jesus can sleep through a storm is beyond me! I have reasonable sea legs, but sleeping in what would have been a smallish fishing vessel seems a little unlikely. We also need to remember that amongst the dispels were some experienced fishermen so they would have handled all sorts of weather out on the lake before - they were concerned for their safety and that of the boat so it must have been very rough. They wake Jesus and instead of helping steer the boat, or maybe even bail it out, instead he commands the winds and the waves to stop and they obey - this sort of mastery of the elements is something that only a god could do - who is this man?  Prior to this event, the disciples had been experiencing the profoundest mystery - Jesus the teacher, Jesus the healer, Jesus the miracle worker - whilst a man, Jesus also clearly possesses something of the creator God about him. It strikes me that the disciples had every right to be frightened whether Jesus was awake or asleep!

The disciples needed Jesus when faced with danger and the limits of their mortality. They, like so many people cry out to God in Jesus, when in danger. They recognised that the only person or thing that could save them was God. Once awake and all is calm, Jesus asks the disciples why they were frightened and where their faith was? Did they really think that God would let them die like this? Despite all they had already seen and heard - they totally forgot who it was who was in the boat with them.

Your actions define who you are. Jesus’ actions and words reveal him to be the friend of fishermen, but also able to control the physical world for good and the will of God. The disciples’ actions and words reveal their lack of understanding of the great love story of God and humanity running from the moment of creation and reaching it’s high point in Jesus. But despite their fear, their actions and words also reveal a very real understanding that the only person who can help them when confronted with danger, uncertainty and ultimately death is God himself in Jesus.

Your actions define who you are. This is true of us. We say and pray and sing that we are following Jesus, listening to him teach, and trying to live it out, and yet all too often we leave all of that at the church door. As we re-emerge from church into the storm of Monday to Saturday we assume that Jesus is elsewhere, perhaps in still Church - sleeping as it were on the cushion in the boat. We like those disciples forget all too easily that here we have spent quality time with a friend of fishermen but also with creator of the universe with power to control the physical world for good and the will of God. All too easily we forget that from Monday to Saturday we live no differently to anyone else - only calling on God is crisis situations. We all too easily forget Jesus words, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’, ‘I am with you always till the end of time’ and ‘the kingdom of God is among you...’

Your actions define who you are. St Mark’s account of this story tells us that the disciples took Jesus out in the boat just as he was. I guess that means they took Jesus out onto the lake in the boat where he had spent most of the day teaching. But, it’s a strange phrase ‘just as he was.’ Yet Jesus teaches in parables from this boat just as he was, telling stories about birds, seeds and trees and most people went home scratching their heads wondering when they would see a miracle.

The disciples took this man who is God just as he was into the storm and their actions defined who they were in terms of their faith, and his actions revealed that there was more to him that met the eye. But they took him out just as he was nonetheless. Our continued challenge is to do one better than those disciples - to look at this man and nevertheless see God on Sunday and take him out ‘just as he was’ with into a world filled with storms. We need to trust that he is with us always and his kingdom is among us.

Jesus asked his disciples ‘have you still no faith?’ a question he asks us too in times of suffering, turmoil, doubt and darkness. Where is our faith? Either we believe in a God who can act and who can break through and change the present, or we hold on to some sort of myth, but that sort of God makes no difference in our world.

C.S Lewis put that dilemma so eloquently...

‘...I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to...’

The good news of this passage from Mark is not just whether we are willing to acknowledge that the one who can order and reorder the chaotic waves that sometimes seek to crash and crowd our lives and bring us peace and calm. No the promise of this passage is mentioned by Jesus right at the outset - ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ Jesus was there along whether teaching or sleeping but also that he knows that there is something worth crossing the lake for and He needs to get us to it.  Of course, the reality for the disciples, and for us, is that the other side is not all that rosy. It has its own set of challenges -- the disciples have to see Jesus differently, themselves differently. It means living into a new reality. And that takes some getting used to. Because when your location changes so does your perspective and others’ perspective of you. When your location changes, so do you. That’s pretty much how change works.

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”

Perhaps the act of faith is not just the trust that Jesus will still the storm. The act of faith is taking Jesus’ invitation to heart. The act of faith is getting into the boat. The act of faith is believing that another side is not only possible, it is essential.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

It's All About Family

We all have guilty pleasures. One of mine, until recently, was a tv show on Channel 4 called ‘The Island.’ It centres, for the uninitiated, around a group of British men and a group of British women left to fend for themselves on desert islands for a number if weeks.  on their return they really appreciated the creature comforts that we all take for granted - a shower, a bed, regular food etc

We like our homes to be comfortable and have things like the decor that mark them out as ours. Yet we live in the Ikea generation. What that means is ironically that our homes are more and more alike as Ikea’s success has swept the UK. 8 million Billy bookcases have been sold since their launch in 1987. One in five of us sleep on an Ikea mattress; 468 million items of Ikea cookware have been sold in the UK alone along with some 11.6 million meatballs in it’s restaurants. We like our individuality to enable us to blend into the crowd.

In these first few chapters of Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, with Him we have whirled through Galilee -- He has been baptised at the Jordan, the Spirit alights on him and God pronounces Him as His beloved; Jesus’ opening words announce the presence of God’s kingdom and call for a response to this good news; he walks by the sea and summons fishermen to follow, and they leap from their boats in obedient response; in a synagogue he teaches with an astounding authority, but a kind of secrecy enshrouds him which only the demonic seems to recognise; yet a secret power breathes from him that will not be contained, as witnessed by the numerous events of healing that mark his route. After all that Jesus returns home.

When Jesus comes home a crowd gathers - so big and eager for the things of God - that Jesus is so tied up that he cannot eat. His family then come out of the house and try to physically restrain him from ministering. After this comes some parables about the nature of the coming kingdom Jesus proclaims.

Whether his family acted the way they did that day out of love and concern for Jesus or out of embarrassment because he’s being called a devil, we’ll never know. What we do know is that Jesus clearly has a bigger vision of what it means to be family than something simply nuclear.

I’m not a fan of TV soaps, but it does entertain me at how many characters on EasterEnders can be parodied by remembering that no matter what happens to any of them - the only thing that matter is family ties. But our families can be awkward and tricky - relationships that need to be negotiated like an obstacle course - rather than settled into and enjoyed. But as the sayings say - ‘You can chose your friends but you can’t chose your family’ and ‘blood is thicker than water’ - when it comes to it we are bound to these people out of more than shred interests and choice.

Towards the end of this melee of activity and some teaching on the authority under which Jesus acts, Jesus doesn’t just respond to the over-protection or even controlling of his own biological family, but broadens the definition of and opens up God’s family wide to all people.  ‘Your mother and brothers are outside asking for you’ ‘Who are they?’, asks Jesus but those who do the will of God.

Talk of will, in a week infused with allegations of power, bribes, and winning at all costs in athletics and football on the world stage, takes our minds to thoughts of power and how it’s exercised. Jesus talks of the subjugation of the powerful in the heart of this morning’s Gospel reading and in so doing inverts how power is used and exercised in the Kingdom of God.  In the same way so Jesus redefines who’s in and who's out - women, Samaritans, centurions, lepers, the blind and lame are all in. So to our ears at least, to hear Jesus talk of His family not just being those bound to him by blood should come as no surprise.

What might be surprising is how that makes me feel. To now be invited to become Jesus’ brother or His mother welcomes me and you into a very intimate and familial relationship with the Messiah. To be invited into a relationship that invokes of other such relationship memories that centre on time together, shared memories and stories, upon mutual care no questions asked, ultimately upon something that can only be put into one word - love. And for those of us who only dream of a family like that, as ever with Jesus, we’re included.

To be Jesus’ mother or brother’s is not to do with membership - it’s not about surnames or even of Baptism in which we talk of the newly baptised being a new member of the family of the church.  Familial ties here are about doing the will of God.  His will is not about exercising power over someone for you own gain, but for theirs - it’s about rising the lowly, it’s about doing justice and acting mercifully - in Jesus’ words elsewhere - it’s about loving God with every once of our being and loving our neighbour.

What is Jesus saying to us this morning? I guess for me at least, it’s simple - if you Simon, are in my family, how do people know? We’re not bound to Him by a name or a place, so how does how I live demonstrate my desire to follow God’s will - loving Him and others before myself.

What of you? How will what you say or do today and tomorrow demonstrate your family ties with Jesus? How does being invited to be Jesus’ mother or brother make you feel? How will it change your relationship with Him? Will you let it?