Tag Archives: ministry

What do you (really) want?

What do you want – really, really want? I can guess some answers:

  • sun, even a holiday in it
  • Money – a lottery / Premium bond prize
  • a Ferrari, / gadget / status symbol

But I seem to remember a few stories which centre around 3 wishes. All too often the first two are disasters, and the third has to be used to put things right. Reality breaks in, even to fairy tales!  There are lots of things we want, without the consequences. Human nature always has eyes bigger than its stomach, and a desire that forgets the dangers of selfishness.

Today’s gospel (Mark 8:31-38) is very revealing about what Jesus really wants. We have just passed the high points: first, Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah (the promised great King), then Jesus was Transfigured.  And Jesus takes that cue to tell them about his coming suffering. Peter had probably been dreaming of success – perhaps Prime Minister in Jesus government of Religious Restoration, a comfortable and honoured position. And Jesus says, “Get away from me, Satan, Your thoughts don’t come from God but from human nature!”

Jesus didn’t want to suffer; he wanted all the usual things – home, family, to be loved, accepted and respected. He was fully human, tempted as we are. But what did he want most? He knew that what he wanted above everything was to do what only he could do, and bring humanity back to God. He wanted to finish his ministry successfully.

He wanted the disciples to understand. Here, in chapter 8, twice in 9, and again in 10, he tries to make them face up to reality. But they can’t; only later do they remember, and understand.

“Have a cross”. “Expect a hard time as a Christian”. “Only those ready to die should apply”. As advertising slogans, these lack something important.  Or do they?  Jesus wanted all the usual things, but when it came down to it, he really wanted to serve God, no matter what. And he did. The disciples couldn’t get their heads around it, and went on arguing about who was most important, and other “key issues”. But when they saw how it played out in Jesus life and death, they knew what they really wanted, and they offered their service and their lives.

So what about us? What do you really want? Will you settle for Sunday lunch, a bit of TV or social media time, and life as usual? – or have you caught a glimpse of something worth so much, a vision of what God might do, that is enough to put you to service, no matter what?

Yes, the stakes are high, and the warnings on the tin of Christian life are scary and blunt. But can all the Christians be mad – or is it all the others?

Spreading Light (Epiphany 2a)

It is a dark time of year, and I enjoy light – winter sun, illuminations, shop window displays. Little wonder that, from the time of candles and oil lamps, people have spoken of the darkness of evil, and the light of Jesus. In the second Sunday of Epiphany, we are continuing to look at the way the gospel spread, and continues to spread.  Early in his gospel John tells us about the spread of the light, as Jesus lights up people. Today’s gospel takes the process further (John 1:29-42). Its an interesting and important process, that we need to understand and repeat.

First, John the Baptist has recognised Jesus – he had known there would be someone, but didn’t know who until he saw the person on whom the Spirit came and stayed. He tells the people round him, and two (including Andrew) go and see.

The initial contact is tentative – Jesus speaks first. His question “what are you looking for?” is significant. Open ended, it offers conversation without buttonholing, but encourages them to think about what, in fact, they want.

Their answer is odd “Where do you live, Rabbi?” They are not yet ready to trust Jesus, though there is respect, but want a little time. If that is the right understanding, Jesus understands, and instead of saying “29 High Street” says, “Come and see”. Of course, as they go, they talk.  “ So they went with him and saw where he lived, and spent the rest of that day with him.” (v39)  Jesus is ready to engage, answer questions.

That time – time to see, ask questions, to check and see for yourself what others may have said – is important. But you can’t stay there for ever! Andrew has decided. It’s no longer what John or anyone else said, he now has his own position. Andrew “found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah.” (This word means “Christ.”)” Jesus has gained a disciple. First attracted by what other people said about Jesus, he has made contact, taken time, and made a decision. Now he is part of the next stage of the process – he is the one talking about Jesus and spreading the light. Simon, of course, is Peter, who will lead the apostles. Andrew will not be as famous, but will be a point of contact for others on their journey to faith (and so associated with Mission).

In just a few verses, John has taken us through the life cycle of the Church:

  • those who know encourage others to look
  • seekers make contact, and see for themselves what Jesus is and offers. It may not be their first desires, there is a need to allow time as they see what it really means for them, but many understand his importance and mission, and become disciples themselves.
  • They become, however imperfectly, those who know and, as they continue to grow, encourage others to look.

How does the light spread? By a process involving all who follow Jesus. We call it evangelism, which someone once defined as  “One beggar telling another beggar where to find food.”

Prophets (Advent 2a)

Why is it all about Jesus? – we can imagine others asking, perhaps wonder ourselves.  Other faiths and philosophies have various teachers and leaders, but Christianity is, CHRISTianity.  It centres there, reflects in different languages and cultures but always on the teaching, personality and actions of one man.  What points so strongly there?

Christians might want to refer to the New Testament, to the way the gospels are all about Jesus, and the other writings also.  I wonder, though, if we don’t miss part of the point.  Jesus didn’t just “happen”, he wasn’t “discovered” without warning.  In fact, human history is littered with pointers and hints.  Perhaps most important among them are the prophets.

Who? you might ask.  Start with Moses, who speaks for God to an unlikely group of enslaved people, leads them, and gives them God’s instructions for being a people to let the world know about God.  Go on to Elijah, again uncompromisingly for God when compromise and corruption was the fashion of the day.  Then there is Elisha, and Isaiah, whose promises of a coming King feature in every carol service.  Hosea and Amos, Haggai and Zechariah, many more – all spoke for God, sometimes of the future planned, sometimes of the heavenly view on what was happening around them.  All the prophets are different – different people (there are women as well as men), different times – but they all prepared the way, and many left promises to be remembered and recognised later as clues to authenticity.

So, as we run up to Christmas, we read Isaiah 11:1-10, looking to the promise of a coming King whose rule will be everything we hope for.  We read Romans 15:4-13, of the Old Testament encouragement and guidance to recognise and follow the one who was promised and has now arrived, and we read Matthew 3:1-12, of a new prophet after a long gap.  John the Baptist is just like Elijah, and he appears (as Malachi had foretold) to prepare and warn everyone to be ready for Jesus, who has not yet begun his ministry.

The prophets are important, for their pointing the way and preparing.  They don’t want the spotlight for themselves, but for God who is active, caring, and understands exactly what is happening.

 

Explosion (Pentecost)

You might be forgiven for not realising that this Sunday is the third great feast of the Christian year – Pentecost. The story is told in Acts 2, read today.

During his ministry, Jesus had assembled a group – 12 men, and others including women. At first they listened and watched, then they were sent on mission, to practice and learn how God could use them.  More learning followed, especially at the  Passion, with some shock as God’s plan worked out, and they all failed rather badly – which was part of learning to trust God, not least his forgiveness. Jesus is raised from the dead. It takes a while to sink in, but they come to terms with the new reality.

But then comes the Ascension – the Son of God returns to heaven, and they are told to wait.  50 days after Easter, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, there comes an EXPLOSIVE change. A violent wind – fire. The group which had hidden away in fear bursts out; Peter preaches a public sermon through which 3000 people are converted and baptised.  The Holy Spirit, known before as a welcome occasional visitor, has come to stay with believers. In time they would learn the full wonder of his character, including a gentler, transforming side. But the first impact, causing the birth of the Church, can rightly be called dramatic, powerful, even violent.

Now, as then, Christians have to learn to live with the Holy Spirit. In some ways it is a continuation of having Jesus close by – he still directs operations and gives authority – but it is different. The Holy Spirit is everywhere, but not quite like a person. The Spirit guides and makes Jesus known, but, as the gospel (John 14:15-17 + 25-27) says, he can only be received or consulted or drawn on by Christians – because others don’t see or recognise him.

At Pentecost, some of the crowd thought the excitement was drunkenness, but others heard in their own languages the praise of God’s deeds of power.  That is where we start. Not in a private party, giving rise to sneers about how we have celebrated, but in making known the God who is good, and sharing what we know of his plans for our community and our time.  Maybe it still needs an explosion -?

Commanded to love (Easter 5c)

It is funny how easily we avoid some of the most important bits of the gospel.  In John 13:31-34 Jesus commands his followers to love as he loves.  Wonderful!  We are to be loved, understood and forgiven – but how easily we forget that we must (yes, must) love, understand and forgive.

CS Lewis usefully made the point that if you try to love someone you don’t like, the best thing is to ask yourself what you would do if you did like them, and see if you can do that.  Sadly, we are good at making it difficult.  The linked passage from Acts 11:1-18 helps explain.  Peter had to face up to great barriers in going to a Gentile (the centurion Cornelius), baptising the family, and staying there.  He has some explaining to do to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem – and the issue will come back.

Not an issue for us without a background in Jewish faith?  But it is.  Every Church sets up barriers to belonging to the core group.  Even when newcomers are welcomed at the door, there are so many things to learn – a new set of words, a unique style of music, strange activities, – we could go on.  Not that we are nasty about it, or even that we understand what it is like for newcomers very often.  But this is a strange way to love the hesitant, or even the needy and hurting.  We need our Christian culture to guide us, and we need to sit lightly to it to love those outside the present group.

We’re stuck.  We can’t say, “I wish Jesus hadn’t commanded us to love”, because we would lose so much that is wonderful.  But to accept the command and try to practise it, is difficult!

Who is threatened? (Lent 2c)

Lent 2c gospel – Luke 13:31-35

We had a good look at this in Bible Study, and found plenty to think about.

Is the warning friendly, or a veiled threat? It is not clear, but Jesus’ in response suggests he is confronting evil constantly, and will not be put off that. (In the parallel passage in Matthew, 23:29ff, there is open criticism of the Pharisees, and a fuller explanation of the fate of prophets).

At the same time, Jesus’ ministry is not standing still, but moving on to a climax, and a climax in Jerusalem!

What is his concern for “Jerusalem”? I think it unlikely he is sentimental about the place. He speaks of concern for the people, and I wonder if he also laments the culture dominant in both the religious and political life of the city. If only they would hear, and take the way of peace! This is very much a Lenten concern. If only we would hear!

But hearing has to lead to more, to practical application over time and where possible in wider society. Jesus looks forward to Palm Sunday, the (“Benedictus”) shouts of the crowd as he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey (quotes from Ps 118: v26, v25 is Hosanna, while v22 will become important to Christians and quoted several times in the New Testament). That enthusiasm will be short lived, and not avoid his betrayal and death. Can we do better, without acting like Peter? (Luke 22:31-34 and parallels).

Is this passage tragedy playing out to it ending? Or does it speak of the need for reality – and if so, did Jesus have it? Certainly there is much here about human frailty and the ugly side of power struggles.