Monday, 12 March 2012

A welcome - for all God's children?

As a way of introducing the young folks to the gospel reading - Jesus clearing the temple of the pigeon sellers and money changers - yesterday, I spoke of welcome and posed the question: what makes you feel welcome when you come to "our" church on a Sunday morning?
Of course there were lots of positive comments - people spoke of feeling warmly welcomed and brought into fellowship.
As minister I suppose it is my job to view with a more critical eye what others might perceive. What about when the camaraderie among team members feels slightly exclusive to one who is not "on the team"? What about when there are so many folk standing around chatting, obviously comfortable with each other that they obscure the way in - and the offering plate - for those unfamiliar with the layout? What about the untidy piles of leaflets scattered everywhere - there for the taking but with little rhyme or reason?
And what about the ticket sellers for all the various church events - albeit opportunities to enhance fellowship?
As I pondered these things, I also mused on the folks, many of whom are still there, who commissioned and built the sanctuary in which we now gather. What were their hopes and dreams and aspirations? In that hopeful time of building and of growth, did they envisage the rituals we have adopted today and the traditions that have become the norm or that have taken over in a relatively short time? Does it seem to them that their shiny new sanctuary continues to fulfill it's purpose as the house of God for a new generation? Are they still optimistic about the future? And where do they see themselves in that future?
Being prophets today, what would we clear from our sanctuaries to make way for the Kingdom of God?
Do we have the courage to act out our intentions and bring the gospel to life in our familiar and well loved sanctuary?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Rocky Road

Mark 8:27-38
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

This gospel reading is a gospel of two halves.
One half: who do you say I am?
The other half: Get thee behind me Satan.
Jesus and his disciples have been doing a whirlwind tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching, healing, teaching.
The locals have been amazed and astounded by this Rabbi, this teacher who is so different from anything they have known to date – and they have been subject to a lot of wacky prophets for years.
And yet, even though they’ve seen these itinerant preachers come and go, there is something different about Jesus, something that attracts and keeps them going back for more.
I was musing this week on what made Jesus different?
What made him stand out from all the others.
What makes any preacher stand out?
In the days when we had communion seasons – when there was a preparatory service before communion and then several diets of communion services, when different preachers would be invited to come and participate in what now sounds like a preaching marathon -
Or Holy Fayres, perhaps in this neck of the woods.
A few years ago, I hosted a Holy Fayre in Inverkip parish. We invited former ministers back to preach.
It started off at 9:30am and went on all through Sunday, culminating in an outdoor communion service late in the afternoon.
That kind of preaching athletics was a regular occurrence.
And, occasionally, one preacher would stand out from all the others.
Maybe it was their tone of voice.
Maybe it was their personal charisma.
Maybe it was their humour or scariness or their way of getting the message across in a way that stopped folk in their tracks.
But something would make that preacher stand out from all the others.
Quite apart from Jesus’ miracle making and his healing, the things he said seemed to draw folk back for more.
His words were just as compulsive as his actions.
Everywhere, folk were talking about him.
So Jesus asks his disciples: What are folk saying about me?
Who do they say I am?
Well, some say you are John the Baptist some say Elijah or one of the other prophets come back to life.
Lots of suppositions.
Lots of theories.
It must have been quite amusing for Jesus to hear what was going around about him?
It seems that folk in those days weren’t that much different from folk today – what they don’t know, they’ll soon make up!
And you can imagine Jesus and his disciples having a bit of banter around that question: who do people say I am?
But the banter soon stops when Jesus asks: Who do YOU say I am?
Time to stop talking about other folk and their opinions and put your own neck on the line.
Who do YOU say I am?
Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Good answer, it would seem.
But, there is little time for Peter to bask in the glory of having got it right.
For life moves on.
The demands of the gospel are relentless.
Then AND now.
The disciples might well have reached a milestone.
But that’s not the end of the journey.
Like all moments of discovery, this one is just another stepping stone or marker on the way.
The journey continues.
A journey of listening and learning, a journey of two steps forward and three steps back.
And so, Peter, assured of who Christ is – the Son of God, still manages to get it wrong just a short time later.
When Jesus races on.
When Jesus speaks plainly of what is ahead.
Suffering and death.
Few of us are comfortable when folk speak plainly at the best of times.
But the kind of plain speaking that Jesus engaged in riled everyone around him.
Peter is the one bold enough to ask him to keep it down.

In many ways, it is easy for us today, journeying through Lent, knowing that, even though we will observe The Passion, remember Christ dying on the cross, we KNOW that Resurrection was just around the corner.
Peter had no such assurance.
He did not know that when Jesus said:
the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again
Peter did not know that Jesus was talking about resurrection.
Peter could only hear Jesus speak of suffering and death.
And, having discovered how wonderful this Messiah was, he wasn’t about to let that happen without protest.

Today, we live, thankfully, in the light of the Resurrection.
So what is our excuse?
Why do we keep trying to dilute the challenge of the gospel?
Why do we insist on promoting the comfortable version.
We know who Jesus is.
We know and believe in the resurrection.
But we know, too, that living as disciples involves hardship.
Following Christ is NOT a walk in the park.
There will always be the temptation to attract others by watering down the challenge.
But, succumbing to that temptation will earn us the same rebuke that came Peter’s way.
We know who Jesus is.
We rejoice in the knowledge of the resurrection.
But we must maintain a reality about the road Christ leads us in discipleship.
Not an easy road.
But one that demands much of us.
One that demands sacrifice.
One that involves setting our minds on divine things, not the easy rewards of the world.

2 questions for us tonight:
Who do YOU say Jesus is?
What will you do with that knowledge.

Jesus, the son of the Living God, calls us to follow him, promising, not a smooth road by any means, but promising companionship on the journey.
Are we prepared to endure hardship, to lay aside what is comfortable and take up our cross and journey on with Christ by our side in all things?

May God help us to know who Jesus is and give us strength to keep up with the journey – may God use us as disciples today.

For the glory of God.