Sunday, 30 September 2012

Making room

Mark 9:38-50
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Mark's gospel has to be the worst for the disciples. They are consistently portrayed as numpties. They keep on misreading situations, misunderstanding Jesus and constantly getting it wrong.
As we've journeyed with them over these past few weeks, it's been fairly easy to sympathise and perhaps even identify with them.
So they had bother understanding Jesus' teaching.
We do too.
So they didn't want to engage with all his talk of suffering and death.
We get that too.
But today's incident?
Where they are stupid enough to complain to Jesus about someone who was casting out demons using the name of Jesus.
Now that really was stupid.
Especially when, just a little while earlier, those very disciples had been unable to cast out a demon when asked.
Is it a case of - if we can't do it then no one else will?
Whatever their thinking, it seems pretty daft to go complaining to Jesus.
It didn't seem to even cross their minds that this might be a good thing.
They don't seem to have viewed this deed from the point of view of the one released from unclean spirits.
Or the joy of his friends and family to regain the person they know, restored to health in body and mind.
The disciples seem only interested in the fact that the person who cast out the demon is "not one of them."
And that seems a bit dumb - even for the disciples.
So while over the last few weeks, we might have been tempted to sympathise with them.
While we might have even been able to identify with them - after all, we too would have got it wrong - today we want to step back from their stupidity - it has just gone too far.
How could they possibly expect Jesus to condemn someone for doing good just because he was not in the right crowd?
None of us would ever find ourselves doing that.
Would we?

Marks gospel, as well as showing the disciples up to be numpties, also demonstrates the widening of the kingdom.
More and more people are welcomed into the kingdom.
Jesus demonstrates that God's love is far reaching and much more inclusive than has ever been conceived.
So why would the disciples imagine for a moment that Jesus would be pleased with them dismissing someone who cast out demons in the name of Jesus simply because he was not in their group?
But lets Imagine how it must have been for those disciples.
They are the ones who upped sticks and followed Jesus.
Working men one day.
Itinerant preachers the next.
Jesus had turned their lives upside down with his charisma and pulling power.
They were singled out by Jesus.
And invited to go on a journey.
A journey of discovery that changed them forever.
He taught them so many things.
And commissioned them as disciples.
How could just anybody then begin to do the things that they had been called to do?
And not only that but do it better than they were doing right then?
When we stop to imagine how it might have felt for them, when we begin to see where they were coming from - Then maybe that's where we find ourselves beginning, once more, to identify with the disciples.
Then we can sympathise with their indignation.
Here are the guys with the long service awards.
The ones who have endured hardship.
The ones who have been through a lot together.
How can someone new just show up and be embraced, given all the same power and privilege that is theirs?
How can that be?
They are the keepers and the dispensers of the faith, not some new comer who has not been through the kind of training they've been through or put up with all that they've endured together with Jesus.
It's not right that they should do all the hard work and then someone else shows up and reaps the benefit.
Not only that - but someone who is better at their job than they themselves are.
And I wonder if we are starting to see how we might identify with the disciples as they are portrayed in today's gospel.
Feeling threatened.
Feeling sidelined.
Feeling fear.
If someone can just pitch up and do what they are supposed to do, not only that, but do it better even though they've not been around as long as they have.
Even though they have not had the benefit of all of Jesus teaching.
Folk can appear from nowhere and take over their tasks and, not only that, but be welcomed and encouraged by Jesus.
And that is precisely the gospel that is preached in Mark.
That everyone IS called.
And equipped.
That God includes us and gives us power.
Whether we have been here forever.
Whether we are in with the bricks.
Or whether we have just shown up recently.
God makes room for us and invites us to participate.
On Gods terms - no one else's.
And we are called to welcome others on those same terms.
With openness.
Even if they want to do the jobs that we have always done.
The jobs that no one else can ever do in just the right way.
We are called to move over and make room.
To welcome and include.
To stop being precious about the things that only we can get right.
We are called to welcome and involve others so that the kingdom grows.
To set aside our complaining and allow others to serve as God calls them too.
And that is not easy.
It doesn't come naturally.
It takes effort.
We'd rather complain about how busy we are.
And about how no one can do properly those task that we have always done.
We'd rather have a good moan about it than move over and make room for others to share the load.
Because what if they mess it up?
What if they get it wrong?
And, even worse, what if they are better at it then we are?
It takes courage and strength to welcome others and to make room for them.
It's something that doesn't necessarily come naturally, something that has to be worked at.
But something that God calls us to do for the sake of the kingdom.

So, today, as we smile at the disciples getting it wrong again.
As we see them feeling threatened and feel their fear as they feel sidelined.
May we pause to catch a hold of those feelings in ourselves.
And may we get over ourselves and move over to welcome others.
Because the consequences for our congregation and for our church are too awful to contemplate.
The consequences if we cannot move on are what Jesus goes on to outline in the rest of the passage.
Jesus teaches in his usual over stated way, the things that we know deep down, the things that our common sense tells us but that we choose to ignore.
And that is - that we can easily turn others off.
That we can easily be responsible for someone turning away from the church.
That all of us can be stumbling blocks.
There seems to be a bit of a pre-occupation in Marks gospel with demons that need to be cast out.
Maybe we have a few of those ourselves.
That demon of fear that our positions will be usurped..
That demon of fear of change.
That demon of fear of the unknown.
That demon of pride in what we have done that no one else could possibly do as well as we do.
There are demons in us that we could do with being freed from.
So that we can stop being stumbling blocks to those new in faith or those tentatively taking their first steps in the kingdom.
So that we can be free to move over and make room.

For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
Jesus spells out to us that our actions must match our words.
It's no good claiming to be welcoming when we don't make room for others, when we don't encourage them to settle in and stay.
Its no good claiming to be welcoming when we only welcome those who pose no threat to us.
Accepting that cup of water.
Being ministered to as well as ministering is a vital part of discipleship.
And, often one we are slow to learn.
Especially when we have been here a while, when we feel settled and comfortable.
It's hard to let others, especially those we don't know minister to us.
It's difficult to see our need.
But in the kingdom of God, all are welcome, all are called to minister and all have a need to be ministered to.
Thanks be to God for widening the scope of the kingdom so that we don't need to carry the burden by ourselves.
Thanks be to God for calling and equipping others so that we can enjoy ministry rather than be overwhelmed by its demands.
Thanks be to God for every cup of cold water offered to us on the journey.
May we never be to proud or too precious to accept, wherever it comes from.
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Being the greatest - at love

Mark 9:30-37
30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

One of the first sermons I ever preached, before I even started university was on the text of Jesus blessing children. The feedback was mainly polite and positive. But one parent said to me -it's clear that you have no children. At that time I was an aunt who could always hand back the children when they got cranky!
In suggesting why Jesus had blessed the children, I had talked only about all the positive aspects of childhood in a somewhat idealistic way.
Now, being older if not necessarily wiser, I view children that bit differently.
I celebrate the spontaneity and enthusiasm of children but recognise too those less desirable elements of childhood, the bits that "only a mother could love" as we say.
And perhaps I appreciate better the extreme vulnerability of children.
In our gospel this morning we find another example of Jesus holding up a child to make his  point and to teach his disciples something important.
Once again in this reading from Marks gospel, the disciples aren't being portrayed in their best light.
Jesus tries to keep it simple, explaining things to them in great detail - about how he must suffer and die and then rise again.
The trouble is, as we discovered in last weeks gospel reading, that this is so far outside the disciples notion of what Jesus should be - as the Son of God, the one sent to save Gods people.
They don't really get Jesus' description of the kind of Messiah he is: one who serves out of love.
One who suffers, who dies and who rises again.
Jesus' dying is so far beyond their imagining that they are consistently unable to grasp what he painstakingly tries to describe to them.
It's a case of "too much information already."
And, what's more, they don't even know the right questions to ask of him.
Possibly because they are too afraid of showing their ignorance or looking foolish in the eyes of their peers.
But when something is beyond our imagining it IS hard to know what to ask.
Perhaps that's why they end up discussing something as inane as " who is the greatest?"
That struck me as being a very common ailment in life, in so many areas:
When we are faced with things we don't understand, we don't want to look any more foolish than we already feel.
So, rather than stick our head above the parapet by asking difficult questions, we resort to the unimportant.
We try to keep it simple.
Then we won't get too involved or look too foolish.
It's particularly common in our church life.
If we don't delve too deep, we won't get bogged down.
And so we end up discussing, at great length, things that aren't really important.
Things that keep us from admitting that we don't understand.
Things that keep us safe from either controversy or looking foolish.
Things that keep us from admitting that there are so many questions we cannot answer.
Why DO bad things happen to good people?
Why does evil so often triumph?
Why is the world so unfair?
And why does God allow things to be this way?
Those are the kind of questions we keep quiet about.
They are also the kind of questions which are impossible to answer.
But we must not shy away from them.
They won't go away just because we don't acknowledge them.
Sharing those kind of dilemmas leads to openness and honesty with each other, to the deepening of relationships as, together, we struggle with difficult questions., as together we really get our teeth into things that matter, not just to us but to the world we serve.

Jesus discovered the disciples squabbling over things that don't really matter - but, rather than dismiss their concerns, he addresses them
He uses the opportunity to teach them some more about the nature of Gods kingdom.
So you want to be great?
Well, here's how:
And that's when Jesus used a child as an illustration of greatness.
A child, in Jesus day, was of very lowly status, seen as a liability rather than an effective contributor to society.
Yet again, Jesus was turning contemporary wisdom on its head.
As with so much of Jesus' teaching.

To become great, What qualities, present in children might we emulate?
Perhaps rediscovering imagination would be a good place to start.
The ability to conceive of things we don't understand, allowing for the in-explainable.
Maybe tenacity would be another desirable quality:
Children are rarely easily distracted from their goal but persist in attempting to achieve.
And what about wonder?
Children continue to be surprised and amazed, with the capacity to be enchanted and to wonder, not satisfied with easy explanations, always thirsting for knowledge.
But children are also vulnerable.
God calls us to,look out for the vulnerable and not to be afraid of our own vulnerability.
And what about when children get a bit wearing , when they try our patience and test our endurance.
Jesus calls us to love such people, be they children or not.
The vulnerable, those who are hard to love.
That's the kind of greatness to which we are called.
Can you imagine how different our fellowship here would be if we embraced the kind of greatness to which Jesus pointed?
A fellowship where folk aren't afraid to display vulnerability.
A fellowship where folk are happy to struggle together with difficult questions with no easy answers.
A fellowship where we love one another, even those who are difficult to love.
Jesus was calling his disciples out of their embarrassment at not understanding and inviting them on a journey that would demand more involvement, more curiosity, more daring and risk, more love.
In using a child as an example, Jesus was encouraging us to embrace vulnerability and to seek justice where that is exploited in others.
To love beyond our imagining.
Involvement, curiosity, daring, risk, protectors of the vulnerable, doing all this in love.
Are those paths we want to travel?

There’s always one,
or two,
or twelve
that miss the point.
Sometimes it gets lost in translation.
We’re not all interpreters 
of heavenly jargon
or experts in the code of love.
Sometimes it gets knotted with fear.
We’re not so quick with questions
when our arguments are mired in silence.
Sometimes it gets confused with power.
And we’re the first to elbow our way 
past the last
to the front of the queue.
It takes only
one innocent life,
one act of love
to make the point.

Jesus said: Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me -  God who sent me.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Who is the Christ?

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.”

An exercise I like to do with folks on retreat involves choosing a picture of Jesus that, for them, captures their notion of Jesus.
It might be an image from our Sunday School days -of Jesus surrounded by cute animals. Those sort of pictures hung on the walls of our youth halls.
There are so many images of Jesus from many different cultures.
What about this image of the Rasta Christ?
Or this Korean image of Christ carrying his cross?
An image from the Philippines is of The Angry Christ - painted by an artist whose experience is of oppressive military regimes, depicting the kind of Christ his people need to rescue them from the unfair world that is beyond their control.
But Maybe you're more comfortable with this image of Jesus calming the storm.
And you're probably more familiar with the image of Jesus of Nazareth as portrayed by Robert Powell.
One of my favourite images is the laughing Christ.
I believe Jesus has a great sense of humour and, often, sees the absurdity of life.
So many images of the Christ.
Today, in our gospel, the disciples are being challenged to sort out their image of Christ, to get to grips with Jesus whom they have left everything to follow.
To get real about what that means and about the demands it places on them.

It doesn't seem that long since we considered, here in worship, Jesus question "Who do you say I am?". Some of you were brave enough to share how you would answer that question - who Jesus is for you. It's a question we can never consider too often but today, I'd like to nudge us on a wee bit in our musings - to consider, once we've decided, for ourselves, who Jesus is - what do we do with that information?
However you answer Jesus question for yourself, what difference does your answer make to your life?
In this passage we often focus on what a good answer Peter gave: You are the Christ.
But it is the rest of the passage that gives us some clue as to what  "The Christ" demands of each of us.
The posing of this question in Marks gospel signals a dramatic change in direction for Marks portrayal of Jesus.
A turning point in how Jesus is portrayed from then on in Marks gospel.
It's as though the secret is out -Jesus is revealed as the Christ - and so begins to speak often and at length about his death.
Because this is what is important for Jesus.
It is as though discovering who Jesus is is not enough.
Because our image of Christ is not enough.
And that is why Jesus gets so ticked off at Peter.
Peter has proclaimed him as the Christ.
But the Christ that the people of his age were anticipating was a vastly different character from Jesus.
The Christ they invested their hopes in was a kind of freedom fighter who would violently overthrow those who oppressed Gods people, one who would battle his way to victory.
Jesus needs to disabuse his followers of that notion of him and re-educate them in his vision of The Christ, a vision that involved suffering and death, not violent campaigns to overthrow governments.
That is why, from this point on, Jesus speaks of his road to the cross, calling his followers to join him on his journey.
And why he is so annoyed at Peter for not understanding just how different a Christ he follows.
But who can blame the disciples for being slow to grasp the different kind of road that Jesus would have them travel?
This is not the journey they had anticipated.
This is not the elaborate military campaign they might have envisaged.
Instead, Jesus is taking them on a very different journey - a journey that involves taking up a cross.
So, Peter, having proclaimed Jesus as the Christ has to decide what to do with the kind of Christ that he has chosen to follow.
Will he be able to stick with this Christ - who leads no earthly crusade, who promises no earthly victory?
Peter has to decide - is this new image of Christ one he can continue to follow?
Can he live into being a disciple of THIS Christ?
The one who demands that we discover a new identity -for him AND for ourselves.
Whatever or however we proclaim Christ, he refuses to be moulded to our image and calls us to follow in ways that are not of our choosing.
And so, as we re-define our image of Christ, so too we must re-define our relationship with this Christ.
Over the past couple of weeks, as we have learned about Jesus as portrayed in Mark's gospel, we have pondered the inclusivity of the gospel - the expansion of grace to include all who come.
Jesus reinforces that message of inclusion in today's gospel: "if ANY want to become my followers "
We are all invited.
But it involves denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following.
We are ALL invited.
But will we re-imagine our image of Christ and fall into step with this new, revised version?
Knowing who Jesus is won't do us much good on its own.
Jesus invites us to really get to know him - how?
By following him.
As we follow and learn more and more.
As our image of the Christ is changed by our following, then we can begin to live into being disciples.
"Want to know what I'm like?" invites Jesus.
Then follow me.
We are all invited to know Christ better - by following.
May we be willing to discover who Jesus is as we follow.
And, in discovering the Christ may we be willing to share.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

For the love of dog...

Mark 7:24-37
 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

Do you ever get those days when you feel everyone wants a piece of you – and there simply isn’t enough to go around?
Or days when you feel you’ve given all you have to give and you just want to go home, close the door and hide by yourself for a little while?
It seems that Jesus was having a day like that.
 He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there
A woman, whose daughter was sick came to seek Jesus’ help when she heard he was there.
It says something of her desperation that she approached, uninvited, a man who was culturally very different to her.
Perhaps it also says something of her courage that she was prepared to take the risk of being shunned by him.
And she was.
A tired out Jesus, just wanting a bit of peace, tried to move her on.
He had enough on his plate without picking up any more demands on his time and energy.
That’s a feeling I think many of us can readily identify with.
Enough already.
Let someone else take over for a while.
We’ve done or bit for now.

But this woman knows that there is no one else.
Lord knows she’s tried them all.
Jesus is her last resort.
So she ignores all her instincts, all her breeding.
She goes against all that she has been taught about social niceties – and she pins Jesus to the wall.
‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’
Jesus hasn’t been very nice with her.
Tired and grumpy.
But this woman isn’t about to be fobbed off.
She throws his words back at him.
Forces him to live up to his own teaching.
Forces him to re-evaluate his mission.
Forces him to step up and reclaim his integrity.
After all she’s not asking for much – only crumbs.
Even Jesus, tired and grumpy as he was, can offer her that.
Remember last week, we heard Jesus saying – its not what goes in to a person that makes them unclean – its what come out?
From that saying, we considered Jesus’ call to us to be inclusive, to be hospitable and welcoming.
In today’s gospel Jesus himself is being called to put that into action.
To widen his remit.
To practice what he preaches.
Jesus finds it in himself, to do the right thing.
And the woman goes away satisfied to find her daughter healed.
Compassion saved the day.
Compassion that couldn’t be thwarted by weariness.

In Mark’s gospel, this encounter – Jesus with the Syro- Phoenecian woman, is seen as a turning point in the spread of the gospel.
Jesus moves from working with his own kind to widening the scope of his mission – taking the message to non Jews.
Broadening out the kingdom.

I wonder when we last confronted our need to change, our need to rethink what we do and how we behave so that we can keep on making room for others.
It’s tempting when we’ve been around a bit, when we think we’ve seen it all, when we think we’ve read the book and got the T shirt, to imagine that the tried and tested ways will always work.
God constantly moves the goal posts, keeps us on our toes, stops us settling into complacency.
God keeps on pushing us to confront how open we really are to those who are different.

The gospel story moves on quickly to another healing – that of the deaf mute.
His encounter with Jesus led to his ears being opened and his tongue being freed.
Hearing – and speaking the love of God.

These two stories thrown together in our gospel work to direct our attention to our need to remain open to God’s mission today, to be prepared to change direction wherever God leads and, in particular, to be careful about excluding others from the kingdom when God shows us time and again, how none are beyond the power and the reach of the gospel.
There are no limits to the reach of God’s love.

Over the lat few weeks I’m sure you, like me, have been inspired by the Paralympics.
Seeing men and women refusing to be confined by physical constraints, refusing to be limited, men and women confounding expectations, setting new records, inspiring others.
Oscar Pistorius,aka the blade runner said:

“You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”

Taking our inspiration today from those Paralympians and from the example of Jesus who, when challenged by a woman outside his circle revised his strategy, let’s look beyond the limits we set, beyond the horizons we see.
Let’s imagine and work to accomplish a wholly inclusive fellowship where all are recognized for the strengths they bring rather than the challenges they present.
And may we be willing to revise our strategy, to abandon our well worn habits, even when we are weary.
May we embrace God’s compassion for the world and ALL its people.

For the glory of God.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Cleaning up our act

A reflection on Mark 7 v 1-23

Ive been thinking a lot recently about how we do things together as church - both locally and nationally and reflecting particularly on what it must be like for new folk to come here to worship, be they from other similar worshipping congregations or from no particular church background.
What I've been very aware of is the things we do almost unconsciously simply because they are a part of our tradition or because that's just the way we have always done them.
Like communion.
Today, as we come to celebrate this sacrament of communion together, we celebrate a memorial of love and grace - a reminder of the love that God has for us, of how that love was demonstrated in Jesus' death and of how that love is still ours today, free for the taking.
Communion - A memorial Jesus set up in very poignant but simple surroundings, over a meal with friends the night before his death.
A memorial that we have shrouded in solemnity and ritual.
A ritual that, though we might never be entirely comfortable, we are nonetheless familiar with.
But how must our celebration of this sacrament look to those who haven't grown used to all those, let's face it, strange things we do?
A memorial that, though it started off quite simply has become so formal and complex that we worry if we will get it just right - or, will we drop the bread or spill the wine or do something else equally heinous?
I cannot imagine that there was much ceremony around when Jesus instituted this memorial with his disciples over supper.
Indeed I imagine that, although they may well have been affected by a somber attitude - they didn't know what was to come, but Jesus had a pretty good idea - So although things might have been pretty sober, I'm sure they weren't particularly ordered.
Of course to celebrate the sacrament together as a fellowship here with so many more people than gathered round the table with Jesus, it helps to have some order, but we could relax more as we share.
We could even smile as we serve each other.
What matters is that everyone feels welcome here at this table, that everyone feels able to share, that everyone knows that this is for them, that Gods grace touches us all here.
That is what matters in communion the touch of Gods grace.
We have shrouded the love and the grace that Jesus wanted us to celebrate , we have shrouded that love and grace in ritual and formality and tradition.

The  challenge for every generation in the church is to sort through the traditions handed on to us and, taking care not to throw out the baby along with the bath water to sift through those traditions, preserving only those that still further the cause of the gospel.
No pressure there then!
Often, the church today, shows itself to be living at a disconnect from the people it serves.
But the church is a body of people, so how is it possible to get so out of touch with each other?
One way the church becomes irrelevant is when it stops listening.
Over the past wee while various branches of the church have issued pronouncements, believing that they can speak for the people.
But that position can only be adopted if the church is also prepared to listen, and to listen carefully so that it captures the real concerns of the people it serves.
Otherwise the church displays only arrogance and a disconnect from community.
Each community has a story to tell, a story that is vital and constantly unfolding as life moves on.
And those stories matter.
Traditions are often pointers to that story.
But the story moves on.
And so must tradition if it is to retain any relevance.
The faith keepers of Jesus day were concerned about hand washing.
Men, who had the luxury of access to all the conveniences required to righteously adhere to an ancient ritual.
Who failed to see that ordinary people had moved on.
Ordinary people who had no less desire to be people of faith but who simply  saw the nonsense in getting so tied up in knots with an ancient practice when faced with much more pressing issues of the day.
The same kinds of issues that face us today.
Huge populations with no access to clean water for basic survival never mind the luxury of using water to purify so that an ancient tradition can be preserved.
Surely today we see and hear Jesus saying to us get real.
When the hungry are fed.
When the naked are clothed.
When the homeless are housed.
When You who follow me, calling yourselves Christian, live out the love that I commanded, then we can look at traditions.
But then there will be no need.
For we will have learned, in loving and serving each other, that none are to be discarded, that none are unclean.
Besides, we will be too busy anyway, to have energy to spend on things that do not matter.
God is not offended by what we consider unclean.
God is offended by our lack of love.
And a church that thinks that she serves God by excluding any of Gods children is a church that has travelled too far on its own path, too far from the will of God.
A church that doesnt deserve to be taken seriously.

Today, in worship, we celebrate an ancient tradition.
The particular mode of celebration matters not a bit.
What matters is that, as we mark here the remembrance of a body broken for us and blood spilled for us, we scratch the surface of the ritual and recognise the grace that underlies it.
We celebrate here because Christ died for us all of us.

Even the symbols we use, bread and wine have become symbols of status.
Symbols that point to our privilege.
As we take for granted these elements of bread and wine in a world where many go hungry, it is even more important that from our place of prosperity we take seriously the demands of the one who gave us these symbols. Christs love and compassion. His acceptance of all.

Our gospel passage, in The Message version of the bible reads:
Were saying the right thing but our hearts not in it.
Were using Jesus for cover for teaching whatever we fancy
Are we guilty of that today?
Now, just like the disciples then, we want to ask: We dont get it Jesus what does this gospel really mean?
I believe, for us today it means:
Its not the things around us that contaminate us.
Its not the dilemmas we face today.
But its how we respond to those dilemmas.
How we respond to those who are different.
Do we act out of love?
Out of compassion?
Or are we more concerned that by being open, accepting, welcoming, we will somehow become less ourselves.

As Gods people today we are called, not to hold ourselves separate from our contemporaries, not to shun those who we see as different, not to keep ourselves and the traditions we hold dear pure.
We cannot be compromised by our embracing the world of today that is what God calls us to do.
And if we do that from a place of love, with hearts full of compassion, if we practice openness and hospitality, we do not lose but gain through.
We are called to be not so much gatekeepers as inn keepers.
Not keeping folks out but drawing people in.
Welcoming people who may not be used to our rituals, whose hands may not be as clean as wed like but who, along with us, God calls beloved children.