Sunday, 25 November 2012

The king of love

Revelation 1:4-8
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

In addition to all the questions that we have gleaned and mulled over from Marks gospel, today we might consider another question: What kind of king?
The answer to that question lies in the many discoveries we have made about Jesus as we have pondered all the other questions raised by the gospel over the last few weeks.
What makes us clean?
The things inside of you.
What must I do?
Love God with all your heart, mind and soul.
Where can I sit?
In the lowliest place.
Who is the greatest?
The one who is servant of all.
Which is the most important commandment.
To love.
Every question we've probed brings us face to face with a character who confounds expectation and who calls us to be different too.
The one that we encounter this morning in our reading from Revelation as the Alpha and the Omega - the beginning and the end.
Christ the king:
A suffering king.
A serving king.
A king who stoops down to look in our eyes and tell us that we are loved.
Last year in Advent we decorated a Chrismon tree - a tree on which the decorations, in white and gold, all symbolised Jesus - from symbols of his baptism, to his life with the disciples, to his death on a cross.
Each decoration told a story.
About Jesus.
About love.
During the season of Lent, that tree was fashioned into a cross and we journeyed with Jesus through death to resurrection.
We have journeyed with Jesus through another year in the church but before we move once again into Advent, we pause to encounter the one who is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, who was and is and is to come.
A king - but not as we know it.
In our town centres there are already signs of Christmas.
Lights are switched on, Santa has arrived.
Christmas trees have appeared in windows.
Christmas music fills the air.
But this one Sunday, in church, before we too become even more caught up in it, we pause to remind ourselves of the king whose birth we will celebrate.
The king who pours out his love in baptism.
The king who served others as he journeyed to the cross.
The king whose compassion embraced all whom he met on the way.
The king who still holds out love for each of us today.
Whether we are already caught up in the Christmas rush.
Or whether we're holding off until the last minute.
The king of love squats beside us, trying to catch our eye, trying to distract us from our need to do and inviting us simply to be.
The king of love who tells us - you are enough.
The king of love who proclaims - I love you just as you are.
And so, before we move into Advent, the church's season of preparation, let us today encounter love.
And, as we have celebrated that love in baptism, acknowledging that we love because first God loved us, may we celebrate too that love for our adult selves.
It is not only in the cuteness and innocence of infancy that Christ offers us love but in our youth and adulthood and later years - God still holds out love and repeats again: I love you just as you are.
Even though Advent is coming.
Even though we may feel we have so many preparations to make to allow us to celebrate Christmas.
Christ the king tells us again: I love you whether you're ready or not.
Today, as pressure mounts on us to get caught up in the rush, to conform to tradition, to cave in to buying gifts to prove our love, God whispers into this space - you are enough. I love you just as you are.
Lets be sure and hear that whisper and capture that promise while we still can today.
So that we can move into Advent, secure in the knowledge of Gods love for us, content that we are enough, confident that we can live in the love of God today and always.

For the little baby,
Dependant on others for survival,
God holds out love
For the child just beginning to encounter independence
God holds out love
For the teenager already rebelling
God holds out love
For the adolescent full of angst and confusion
God holds out love
For the adult shouldering weighty responsibility
God holds out love
For the middle aged striving to get it right
God holds out love
For the elderly fearful of once again becoming dependent
God holds out love
The king of love stoops down to offer Love
that holds all the promise of life everlasting.

Thanks be to God.

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Sunday, 11 November 2012

Counting the cost

Mark 12:38-44
38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

I had the opportunity this week to discuss todays gospel with folk who are training for ministry.
They had heard this passage about the widow's mite used in various ways by preachers.
Mainly as an exhortation for us who have plenty to give more to the church.
Or as an example of sacrificial love, and that being compared to the kind of love that God has for us.
But we often take the widows mite part out of the context of the verses that go beforehand.
This Remembrance Sunday, the context of this story about the widows mite becomes very poignant.
Listen again to the description of the Temple Authorities in the verses that precede the story of the widow:

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The widows of the day were reliant on the Temple Authorities to allocate their resources for living. And that's why they were so poor. Because those with the power took more than they needed, devouring widows houses, and left little for those who were dependant on their charity.
In spite of that, the widow still strived to pay her dues to the temple.
She chose to break the cycle of injustice and corruption.
She chose to do what was right even in the face of exploitation.
She wasn't put off by institutional wrongs - she looked beyond that to offer to God all that she had.
This Remembrance Sunday, it seems, we witness the same kind of corruption and are faced with the same kind of dilemma.
Those who have given themselves in war and have returned with injuries seen or unseen.
How do we care for them?
How do we honour the sacrifice they have made - and continue to make.
And those who have not returned.
How do we support their dependants in a life they had not imagined, without their loved ones to share?
How can we ask them to make such sacrifice when, in reality, the institutions that demand such sacrifice are failing miserably to find alternatives to war and, it could be argued, have even stopped trying.
News coverage this week carried pictures of Prime Minister David Cameron on a Middle East tour.
Proudly wearing a poppy, he was in the Middle East to sell fighter planes that the UK no longer needs as well as to win other defence contracts for the UK.
Our UK economy needs a boost - but through the sale of Arms?
The same coverage also saw the Prime Minister touring a refugee camp in Jordan that houses 36000 men, women and children who are fleeing Syria.
Mr Cameron pledged a further 12 million pounds in aid, bringing the total relief Britain is injecting there to 50 million pounds.
A total that pales into insignificance when compared to the 3 billion pounds Arms Deals he was also trying to broker.
Our government speaks of wanting to encourage democracy while at the same time selling arms to oppressive authoritarian regimes.
This kind of bartering displays a shocking disrespect for human rights of those who have no voice, of those we should be protecting - the widowed and the vulnerable.
Libya, Egypt and Bahrain launched their recent violent crackdowns with UK supplied weapons.
We have to question our governments commitment to peace and democracy in the Middle East when boosting the UK economy takes priority over other concerns.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said;
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of labourers, the genius of scientists, the hope of the children.

It's easy, however to criticise our government, and there is much to question there.
But what about ourselves?
How do we honour the sacrifice of those whose lives have been given in defence of our nation?
How do we honour and support those who have returned from war changed forever?
Are we paying those sacrifices cheap lip service?
Or are we committing ourselves to making a difference.
Are we committing ourselves to peace to ensure that we don't keep on asking for more sacrifice, more lives ruined?
We wear our poppies with pride.
Are we prepared to wear them also with commitment?
The commitment to hardship that will be necessary if we want our economy to rely less on Arms Deals and more on brokering peace and on continuing to support families blown apart by the ravages of war.
In preaching on this gospel text this morning, I'm asking, not that we be more like the widow, giving her all but, rather, that we notice the irony of the widow being forced to pay tax to a corrupt institution - an institution charged with protecting her rights that chose to exploit her.
I'm asking that, in noticing that injustice this morning, we will also open our eyes to the injustice that is perpetrated to our service personnel and our veterans in this country every day.
That those who are being asked to give, being asked to pay a terrible price, are not being supported as our government finds new battles to fight and barters more human lives in boosting our economy.
It's a huge, messy, complicated wrangle with no easy fixes.
But, if wearing our poppies today is to be in any way meaningful, it will involve us recognising the corruptness of our institutions today and it will involve us, with our eyes wide open, entering that fray to make a difference for peace.
It is for us, today, to question the costs that we still demand from those who can least afford it.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus called to attention those on the margins of society, those who had previously gone unnoticed, the poor, the blind, the lame, the beggars, the lepers, military personnel and widows.
Those whom society looked down on or simply ignored.
It is these that Jesus brings into focus.
It is in these people that Jesus demonstrates the Kingdom of God.
What is the Kingdom of God?
It is the time or the place or the people in whom Gods will is accomplished.
The time or the place or the people in whom we see the face of Christ.
It is the time and the place and the people to whom God constantly calls us back.
In every decision we make, our over riding concern should be - are we establishing by our thoughts or commitment or action the Kingdom of God?
Are we promoting the face of Christ above all else?
We wear our poppies today to honour those who have fallen in war and those who continue to pay the price of war.
We wear our poppies to establish the Kingdom of God and to see the face of Christ in all those we honour today.
Those who have sacrificed much.
And, from our abundance, we commit ourselves to ensuring that that sacrifice is not made any more difficult.
We commit ourselves to sharing the cost.
The cost of peace.
We are all too aware of the cost of war.
But Peace costs too.
And, unless we are willing to commit ourselves, sacrificially to that cost, our nation will continue to sacrifice lives for war, not peace.
There is a sense of futility in our gospel story this morning - it doesn't appear such good news.
A widow giving her all to a corrupt institution, an institution that fails miserably to care for her as charged.
But she gives anyway.
And Jesus commends her giving.
Jesus commends her giving while condemning the system.
Such is the strange conundrum in which we find ourselves today.
Recognising how flawed and inadequate are our moves toward peace, recognising how flawed and inadequate are our institutions charged with finding peaceful solutions to conflict, charged with reducing the cost of sacrifice.
In all of our hurt and outrage and disillusionment and,often, sense of defeat, yet we honour those who continue to sacrifice.
Our military personnel and their families who make their offerings.
All those who have served.
And those who continue to serve.
We salute them.
And we take up the challenge to bear the cost that must be borne so that the sacrifice is not theirs alone.
Jesus did not undervalue the widow's gift and its cost.
And neither should we.
But we look beyond that gift to determine what we can do to challenge the institutions that continue to demand such sacrifice.
In that work, will our poppies be worn with pride.
In that work will the Kingdom of God reign and the face of Christ be seen.
For the glory of God.

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