Security – Psalm 118:19-end Mark 11:1-11

20180326_101201w
Security of faith – a cross of hope: on Holy Monday 200+ local children (plus teachers, pupils and parents) walked across the fields from Charles Kingsley School, were safely crossed over the main road by the local police, left their boots outside and came to worship in St. Mary’s Church Eversley together.

I preached this on Palm Sunday, a day when many remember the joy and hope that filled the hearts of many pilgrims in Jerusalem at the start of the final week of Jesus life. But, given all that has been going on in the world, I felt called to dwell on a slightly different theme, that of security: our security, others security, Jesus security, and the security of our faith:
In France, we could have been held hostage and shot in our local supermarket this week.

In America, at the very least we’ve possibly had our social media hijacked and our news-feed manipulated for political gain, even if our children have survived their schooling.

Here, at home, there has been poison on our streets, and we’re defining our borders as to whether they are hard, or soft.

Security is important to us.

As an island nation, or a nation of islands, or even as a nation of nations, invaded by sea over millennia and threatened by myriad other means in the last century, what we deem as “ours” is a highly contentious issue, and that’s before we even mention the ‘B’ word.

Security, is often about not risking what we have gained, corporately or individually, financially and materially, in independence or in familial relationships. It means checking that we’re password protected, logging-in, opting out, and possibly even changing our passports!

For some, personal security is about not being bullied, threatened or abused, because of race, religion, gender or because you are differently-abled.

For Christians, personal security in some places is more an issue of life and death. In India, a woman converting to Christianity risks being drugged and raped if she refuses to return to her original faith. In Iraq Christians are torn between the risk of death in their homeland, or life without that homeland. Either that or they worship in a church with its own security guards. In rebel-held areas of Syria, security might mean living underground to avoid the shells, or it might mean not admitting you’re a Christian; that’s a freedom only available in bombarded Damascus and other government-held territory. Security you see is not a simple issue.

For Jesus, as he asked his disciples for a colt to be untied and brought to him, in his name as their Lord, any ideas of protecting his security, or theirs for that matter, were dismissed. He’d tried, somewhat cryptically according to Mark’s Gospel, to explain who he was; and then told those that seemed to understand, not to talk about it (Mark 8:27-30)! He knew the leaders of his faith were out to get him, and the Gentiles to make whatever political capital they could from this perceived in-fighting within the Jewish faith (Mark 10:32-34). But it was now time for the Messianic secret to be so no longer. This time when he visited Jerusalem, he wouldn’t walk among the pilgrims as an ordinary Galilean as he had in the past (John 7:10).

But that didn’t mean he could afford to be diffident in proclaiming exactly who he was, what sort of Messiah he was, and what sort of victory would be his. As the rich man discovered when he sought to follow Jesus (Mark 10), Jesus had radically re-defined what it was to be Israel’s king. The colt that had never been ridden was a humble king’s conveyance, for when the message was peace, not war. But it still singled him out, made him noticeable, drew attention to him, compromised his security.

He had after all developed quite a following; a following who’d seen the healings, heard the teachings, and thought they knew what he was there for; to save them. They weren’t bothered about risking his security, if in doing so it bought them their freedom from oppression and injustice at the hands of Rome. They were more than happy to draw attention to him, by laying their precious pilgrim cloaks in the dusty road for him to ride over as a king. They were just as willing to strip the locality of its vital shady greenery to mark him out as being in the same mould as Judas Maccabaeus who had driven out a Syrian king 140 years before, and re-consecrated the Temple.

Psalm 118 had probably been written in that same era. Read as it would have been said in the Hebrew and Aramaic the phraseology of “Blessed in the name of the Lord, is he who comes” was both a traditional greeting to all fellow pilgrims, and shouted in this moment an announcement of the “One who is Coming”, the Messiah. Their expectation was that this was the renewal of the kingdom of David, and aligned with the shouted phrase Hosanna, which meant “Save us!” more than it praised God, meant that Jesus’ security was compromised still further. It would have been obvious to the authorities, Jewish and Roman that they at least thought of him as their national leader in the fervour of pre-Passover excitement; now was the time for God to bring them salvation from oppression, personal and national security.

Yet, this Kingdom was no more their father David’s, than he was a heroic and victorious leader. The salvation that Jesus was bringing was no more theirs to covert and protect, than it was theirs to proclaim if they didn’t really understand the consequences for both Jesus, and for the kingdom that he was really seeking to bring in. For as the Son of God, his place was God’s place, his kingdom, God’s kingdom, the salvation he brought a surrender of his own right to life, his sacrifice the opportunity to bring the world together in peace. Security for Jesus, as he surprisingly quietly walked the Temple courts, was a security in who he was and what he was there for; the redemption, the buying back, of the whole of humanity from their fixation with their own security.

We are, to some extent rightly, concerned with our security, as people, as families, as communities. It is not unfair to expect to be safe when shopping, secure online, free from the risk of sabotage, even if there are many millions in the world don’t have that security. But just as we need to acknowledge that the world is not a straightforward place where one group of people is right, and another wrong, one nation safe and another a risky place to be, so we must accept that where we live here, we aren’t at significant risk because of our faith in who Jesus is. But does that lack of risk compromise the security of our faith in Jesus, who he is, and what he came for?

The pilgrim crowds that shouted “Hosanna!… Save me!”, were the same crowds that shouted “Crucify him!” a few days later. Uncertain as to whether Jesus was who he purported to be, confused because his behaviour did not confirm to their idealistic picture of Israel’s Messiah, and with minds narrowed by a selfish desire for their own political freedom, they were easily swayed by those that feared an invasion of the traditions of their faith. The need for security expressed by a few, blinded the many to the goodness and mercy of their God (Psalm 118:29) revealed in human form, crucifying what hope he had held for them.

If we aren’t secure in our faith in who Jesus is revealed to be through his death and resurrection, there’s a danger that we too become hypocrites, turning our proclamation of Christ the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22) into a search for prosperity (Psalm 118:25) and the security of a pilgrimage that leaves us tied to an altar of our own making (Psalm 118:27), rather than his teaching and example.

Our task this Holy Week is therefore to refresh and renew the security of our faith, and not to allow ourselves to become distracted by the individualism of our society. It is a week of pilgrimage beside our Lord, that shares on Maundy Thursday in the refreshment of shared relationships without condemnation of those who doubt like Thomas, or could turn rogue like Judas. We may not physically carry Jesus’s cross of sacrifice, but as we encounter the nails that held him there, we can seek again to let go of what is “ours” for the sake of our neighbours who need to encounter the grace of the crucified Christ… our time, our money, our patterned lives, and our prejudices. Only if we can strip away the security of isolating ourselves from the suffering of others, and our Lord who suffered with and for them as well as us, will we be able to rightly encounter the freedom of our risen Lord, and the security of knowing him as our Saviour.

Advertisements

Going the ‘long way round’ – Matthew 16:21-28

Going the long way roundMuch at St. Mary’s Eversley is now focused on preparing ourselves for the arrival of the new Priest-in-Charge of Eversley and Darby Green, and the work that will be done with him in the months and years to come, following Jesus, and proclaiming his love for the world. So yes, sermons have a particular bias in that direction over the last couple of weeks:

If we’re going on a journey, perhaps a walking journey, what do we need to have with us? Boots, wet weather gear, bag, food, water…. But how do we know where we’re going? We need a map, compass, or perhaps satnav or some sort of gps system. We need to know where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there, before we start; then we need to have a plan of the route, know what the obstacles are going to be – is there anything we are going to have to go round? And we also need to know the destination we’re aiming at.

I suspect that almost all of us have had cause recently to look at a map, of one form or another. I’m getting used to having a car with built in sat nav, and it amazes me the route variations that it offers, some of which are wildly different to what seems obvious, to me at least. Sometime taking the sat nav’s suggestions seriously can be a good thing, sometimes er… not so good. Trust me, if you can, whatever your sat nav says, avoid the centre of Exeter when heading to the edge of Dartmoor!

Some of us who have been to the West Country over the summer, have had to take a decision: do we drive past Stonehenge very, very slowly, with the queues of other holiday traffic, or get up at crack of dawn in the hope of avoiding the jams, or seek an alternative route, that is much further and apparently a longer way round, but is less stressful, and may get us to our destination much faster?

If we heard or read the Gospel last week, or remember our scriptures well, we know that a few days before our reading this morning, Simon Peter had effectively worked out the destination of Jesus’ ministry on earth. He’d sussed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the ultimate ruler that the Jews had been looking forward to for generations, the one who would liberate them.

So when, very soon after, he hears Jesus talking not of an authoritative assault on Roman rule in Jerusalem, but that Jesus expects their own Jewish leaders to torture and kill him, Simon Peter the ever impulsive, tells Jesus that he’s talking dangerous, defeatist, nonsense.

But of course, Jesus isn’t talking nonsense. Simon Peter and the other disciples may not be able to see it, but Jesus understands the map that his Father God has given him, and he doesn’t get to the destination, to fulfilling the role of Messiah by being on the aggressors’ side of a conflict. He has to take a different route.

The journey that Jesus has to take involves… a sarcastically offered purple cloth, a crown of thorns, a heavy cross – the cross that he won’t just have to carry, but he will be nailed to!

The divinely ordained route to Jesus being fully revealed as the Messiah, involves being on the receiving end of mis-understandings, injustice, and pain; it involves being tortured, and being killed, and only then, at the resurrection, will the destination be reached. Jesus is going the long way round; he has to, he doesn’t have a choice.

If we’re faced with something daunting, scary, something that at least part of us doesn’t really want to do but we know we can’t avoid, we are all prone to getting a little short with people who ‘don’t get it’. Jesus it seems was no different, and in a very real way, what Simon Peter was suggesting was the devil’s way out; if Jesus didn’t go to the cross, there wouldn’t be the light that breaks through darkness, the good that overcomes evil, God’s forgiveness of our sins, the resurrection to eternal life, and two millennia of us being able to witness to our risen Lord.

At the heart of the message in our Gospel this morning is not just what Jesus would have to do as the Son of God on earth, but what we are called to do as a result, and Jesus is quite blunt about what it is. We are also called to carry the cross to follow him… we also have to go the long way round, to get to the place where God is revealed to the whole world in the person of Jesus.

Like Simon Peter, we have a human tendency to want to go the quick way, to bowl into situations where we feel we know the ‘right’ thing that should happen, or even the way we’ve ‘always’ done things. Then we expect people to recognise us as Christians, to listen to the message we share, and to automatically recognise Jesus in us and so come and join in with what we’re doing. But life isn’t like that, and this morning is a very good reminder that we have to work out the divine route to showing God’s love for the world, and to remember that it probably requires a lot more tact, patience, hard work and sacrifice than we feel is either necessary, or ideal.

In the other passage for today, from Romans 9:9-21, St. Paul makes this equally clear. We might get to rejoice in the hope that comes from Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but we are also called to be patient, to persevere. When Paul tells us to ‘bless those who persecute us’ and ‘not to be haughty’ it’s pretty obvious that we will need to be humble and forgiving of people who don’t understand that sometimes we need to go the long way round to achieving God’s aims. As Jesus found with Simon Peter, sometimes it will be other followers of Jesus that may be the ones we feel aren’t understanding the route of humility and sacrifice he has prescribed.

As a church, we’re gearing up to start exploring the next bit of the map, and to discern the route, the divinely ordained route, to making Jesus’ Messiahship better known in our local communities. The map and compass, or the sat nav, that must inspire us, are scripture and lots of prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It will require the building of new relationships, changes to some, and perhaps even the hard work of repentance and forgiveness for the healing of others. The one thing I think I can guarantee, is that it will require going the long way round various obstacles in the way, obstacles that we wish weren’t there. It will take longer than we think, or want it to. Like Simon Peter we are more than likely to get some things right, and then make sweeping assumptions and get things wrong.

We will all be required to make sacrifices of some sort or another, perhaps giving up treasured ways of doing things, or picking up burdens of care and commitment to new projects or particular people. These are the sacrifices due to Jesus, tokens or small offerings in gratitude for his greater love and sacrifice for us. The destination we know; it is the return of Jesus in glory.

Let’s load ourselves up, map, compass, gps… patience, forgiveness, prayer and humility…. cloth, crown, nails, cross and all… and follow Jesus route to glory, the long way round.

Christ the King – In Him, can we? Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43

What I think is a male Duke of Burgandy butterfly... a close view of the photograph suggests  stubby legs at the front! (Noar Hill, near Selborne, late May 2016)
What I think is a male Duke of Burgandy butterfly… a close view of the photograph suggests stubby legs at the front! (Noar Hill, near Selborne, late May 2016)

This morning as part of my placement in the North Hampshire Downs I was in All Saints, Odiham marking the end of the liturgical year with the Feast of Christ the King. My reflections start with the super-moon and a very small butterfly!

Epistle: Colossians 1:11-20  Gospel: Luke 23:33-43

I suspect few of us will have seen the full-extent of the super-moon on Monday, though on Sunday as I returned from a late afternoon service in Greywell I was blessed with a wonderful view of the apparently huge rising of the ‘nearly’ super-moon, in the glowing colour of autumn’s glory. But as there was no-where suitable to pull-off and capture the phenomenon in a photograph, it has to stay purely as a memory.

There was something so fascinating about this phenomenon of the moon being 30-thousand miles closer to the earth than usual, that images of it filled our news bulletins, our papers and our social media. Something we usually feel very far removed from, suddenly appeared closer (due to angles and orbits) and we were drawn into the detail of the moon, especially the craters and their impact ray systems. From a greater distance we normally just accept these by projecting onto them features with which we are more familiar: a man, or a rabbit, depending on our cultural context and physical viewpoint. Instead the different materials of which the moon is made were highlighted, emphasising for those of us that aren’t scientists that the moon is a far more complex thing than perhaps we realised. We understand more of the universe when we are able to see the detail of what we are looking at.

I originally come from the New Forest and have been fortunate to be surrounded by wildlife most of my life, learning to understand the differences in coat colour, markings, size and other physical attributes of some native animals and birds. But it took the discovery and accessibility of digital photography to bring to the fore the detail and significance in an insects eye, antennae, wing-case or legs. Did you know for example that some of the small, rare and beautiful Duke of Burgundy butterflies have only four apparent legs, the vestigial remains of the front two marking out such individuals as males?! It’s important to those studying the viability of butterfly populations to know whether individuals are male or female. We understand more of the world around us when we are able to see the detail of what we are looking at.

On this final feast of the Christian year, known as the feast of Christ the King, we are given the opportunity to understand in more detail the significance of our Servant King by drawing close-up to the cross on which he died.

In Luke’s account of the crucifixion the accepted view of Jesus’ pretentions to the role of a Messiah who brings salvation, inspire mockery and derision with the thrice repeated challenge to save himself. The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers and one of the criminals with whom he is being crucified see Jesus as-if only from a distance, and even then, perhaps only as what they want to see: not a man or a rabbit on the moon, or an insect with the usual legs but another defeated and humiliated trouble-maker put out of the way.

Yet the second criminal takes a much closer view. Recognising his own death as justified by the law of that time because of his own wrongdoing, his vision of the innocent next to him is enhanced, and he sees clearly in his character, words and actions, the truth of who Jesus is, and the power of which his crucifixion speaks. For the irony of the mockers demand that Jesus should “save himself” to prove he is “the Messiah, the chosen one”, is that in his crucifixion lies the means by which this King achieves his royal power and offers salvation not to himself, but to all humankind. As in so many other examples from his earthly ministry, it is an outcast from society who is capable of a unique insight into who Jesus is, the Servant King.

The early Christian Hebrew poem that we now read in English prose in Colossians, draws this image of Christ as Servant King still closer, like a telescope on a distant moon or perhaps the macro lens on the minute detail of a passing insect. Here is visible even more detail, highlighting the supremacy and sacrifice of Jesus, giving us a greater understanding of the nature of the God we too are called to serve.

Jesus, it highlights, is the first-born of all creation. In him all things hold together. It is easy to forget when looking in awe at a super-moon or the beauty of a butterfly, that actually they are, because Jesus. Jesus Christ wasn’t simply the person for whom the whole creation was made, it was his idea, his workmanship in the first place, designed for humans to enjoy and care for. He who flung stars into space, created us to rule with justice what he had brought into being (Psalm 8).

But, we’re told, he is also the first-born from the dead. Why? Because the evil and pain that came into that creation through humans wrongdoing, their inability to care appropriately for it and for each other, could only be healed by the very one who created it, the living God. Christ the agent of creation is also the agent of reconciliation, forgiveness and hope, which is why Christ the King, the head of the church, the fullness of God, is a crucified Christ, the Servant King.

As WE look in detail at these close-up images of God made man, refusing to save himself because of you and me, and the world we live in, we should also see something else: Jesus is the blueprint for the genuine humanness which is the gold-standard of what we are called to be as humans. The cross isn’t just about the perfection of love, grace, forgiveness, humility and sacrifice which Jesus made, it is a summons to find and exhibit that love, grace, forgiveness, humility and sacrifice in our own personal humanity.

Unlike the images we have of a super-moon, a butterfly or any other aspect of the world and life around us, whether purely in our memory or on a camera or computer chip, this close-up, detailed image of Christ, the Servant King, can only be retained in our memories, and, importantly, shared with others, IF we willingly admit our own wrong-doings, strive constantly to understand who Jesus is by being up-close to him in all things, and bring that image alive in our own lives.

JESUS withstood the mockery of those who really should have understood and recognised him, and rose with humility above the derision of those whose last laugh was at the expense of an innocent. In him, can we?

JESUS recognised in the words an outcast criminal condemned for crimes he really had committed, a hope and faith in God that deserved a place with him in paradise. In him, can we?

JESUS, first-born of all creation, brought the world into being as a place of beauty, in which the abundance of life was to be enjoyed, celebrated and cared for. In him, can we?

JESUS, first-born of the dead, brought healing and forgiveness to a broken world and to broken people. In him, can we?

In the image of Jesus we show to others in our own lives, can we welcome people into this kingdom of Christ, our King?