Parish Of Opawa St Martins Blog

September 30, 2015

Jesus sighed

Filed under: Sermons — Administrator @ 12:49 pm

A sermon given by Marla Hughes

I) Introduction
A) Stage directions
1) [9:38: 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.” ]
2) After verse 38: “Jesus sighed”
3) They don’t get it. Once again, the disciples just don’t get it.
4) Link into previous readings in Mark
a) The preceding verse reminds us that Jesus had been telling them, “welcome others” and here what are they doing? Excluding
b) Not their only error
(i) Not following “us” — not YOU, or God, but “us” they want to be the leaders; disciples still don’t understand their role is to follow
(ii) The person they tried to stop – the upstart — was casting out demons – something the disciples had just been shown themselves unable to do
c) No surprise if Jesus sighed – or even groaned
II) Inclusion and exclusion
A) Jesus’ message of inclusion
1) Teaching by word and example that the kingdom of God is now coming to all
2) preaches to gentiles, heals and feeds them
3) message of Inclusion of the poor, outcast and marginalised
4) Whenever you draw a line between who is in and who is out – Jesus is on the other side of it
5) And to be his disciple is to follow Jesus
6) But Jesus’s sigh is not just for his disciples, it is for all of us – all those who say we believe in and follow him — as the Irish Benedictine priest and scholar, Wilfrid Harrington, reminds us – we need to be honest and to see ourselves in these flawed disciples
B) Why?
1) Circumstances
a) Mark’s church in a time of persecution and intensifying conflict – late 60s, just before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. We see an element of that in some of what Mark says in his Gospel
b) But this is not what is emphasised here – instead it is that obstacles arise from within ourselves
2) Our “inner demons”
a) When you read Mark it is easy to note his focus on getting rid of demons
b) At the time demons were real – no longer the case
c) But we still speak of having our inner demons — Demons harm and impair us, they sicken us, they block our ability to live fully and serve God
3) What things do this and how?
a) Diverse things
b) Fears? Of those different from us?
c) Desires – for riches and possessions? For prestige?
d) Immersion in our secular culture and all it offers – its enticements, its distractions
e) for power? Our society now is very big on telling us what counts as important
f) we have A desire to conform – to avoid standing out
4) disempowerment of others
a) most nefarious and subtle methods
b) for elusive security – through scapegoats and blaming the victim
c) It is easy to side with the powers that be – if we have a lot, they will give us more; if we have little, they dangle us a fishing line of hope.
d) All we need to do is accept and internalise the values of those in control –stay on the right side of the powerful, wealth is the measure of a person and do what you need to do to get ahead – not very different from what it was 2000 years ago
e) If you challenge the prevailing ethos, you are an outsider, likely to get in trouble with the [Roman or today] authorities, or even sometimes with the church
f) Your religious beliefs can even serve as part of your security net, part of the problem, keeping yourself safe while excluding others
(i) If the most you can do is to try to uphold your individual moral code — keep yourself pure but let others suffer
(ii) You never question the prevailing ethos – do not, under any circumstances pick grain or help lift your neighbor’s cow out of a ditch on the Sabbath –
(iii) or stand up for those who after 5 years still have no repairs on their houses or who are poor and are told, well, too bad, put your infants in care and go out and find yourself a minimum wage job that won’t even pay for the childcare
5) All of these things are giant stumbling blocks to our love for God
6) And Jesus condemns all of them!
7) They prevent us from being his disciples, from serving others

C) Harming others by exclusion
1) Our Gospel reveals that Jesus warned the disciples in no uncertain terms not to drive others away
2) Shock!
a) [“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. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off”]
b) The word used in Mark 9:42 (and 43) is skandalizo – and we still have a word in English that is parallel “to scandalise”; but the meaning then was broader, and various Bible translations here (and elsewhere where it is used) translate it as to make stumble, to offend
c) Or even to Shock! So Jesus to make his point, perhaps, here by shocking us with his images, with a few verses we might prefer to skip over – cut off your hand, tear out your eye
d) Maybe it is to say: This is serious business – if what you do is harming others and driving them away, you are failing as disciples
e) your eye sees yourself as elevated about others, your eye cannot see that that person is God’s beloved child; your hand hits, your foot kicks a person; your eye looks in the mirror and sees yourself, not others
3) when we treat others with this lack of regard
a) we deny them a voice;
b) we take away their dignity, their mana
c) we label them, based on our preconceptions and prejudices
4) [See this in our OT reading, where those selected to help Moses deny that others may also have a role to play, something to say – Moses must call to their notice – Would that all God’s people were prophets! notice the content of the message is not at issue, it is the fact that others even dare to speak, without “permission”]
5) In doing this we remove others’ hope for something better
6) Any in it we deny the fundamental command of love…love your neighbour as yourself;
D) BUT…
1) We even here have a message of hope
2) If we “cut off” those things in us that impede us – change is possible
3) we can rejoin the path of discipleship
4) and freed of our blockages we will be able to serve
III) Tie in to the Gospel’s larger message
A) Discipleship
1) Mark’s gospel is told as a journey: with Jesus, then and now
2) The way of discipleship –a journey, to something new beginning to emerge
3) Not about just something internal, not about “me and Jesus” — but about a new world, a new way of living and interacting with others
4) discipleship is evidenced in interaction with others
5) the reign of God is proclaimed in Jesus and is coming into being — grounded in love for others, demonstrated in service
6) Not easy; the road led to the cross
B) Living into discipleship: the proof of the pudding ..,
1) James
a) Compatible with James: As we read through Mark, We also have come to the end of James’ lovely little epistle
b) I have seen people nodding in past weeks as James words were read –
c) His advice is a pastoral message for the ages –
d) don’t make distinctions based on wealth or status, like Mark
e) Don’t spread rumors, curb your tongue;
f) but instead listen to each other, be gentle and care for with each other
g) Pray
(i) And today James tells us to pray for each other…
(ii) In prayer, James tells us, we voice our belief in transformation and renewal –
C) Secrets
1) Many note that in Mark Jesus talks about the gospel message as a “secret”
2) But this is not the basis for a line between the ins and outs, the included and excluded
3) the disciples are included, but often do not see or accept Jesus’ message while the excluded are the ones who call out to Jesus
4) So I ask you to think about two things —
a) One, I’ve already considered – reflect on what prevents each of us from grasping the gospel’s secret
b) Two, part of the secrecy is the process; remember our journey is lifelong — some things are evident now, and others will only become so
5) Living in hope
a) Yet we live in hope — what we cannot fully see or understand we are called to embrace
b) How can we do this ? It is given to us by someone we love and… are learning to trust
c) For The “secret” is also a promise for the future; like a surprise party we sort of know is being planned for us
6) God’s kingdom’s seeds were sown with Jesus, and have ever since been coming into flower … if we look with eyes that will see
7) In the beauty of life — spring trees and flowers
8) In our relationships of love and friendship; in acts of kindness
9) In those sent to guide and assist us:
a) Fr Lawrence
b) Pope Francis
c) Each other
10) We are not aimlessly alone, climbing a mountain without a guide, for the Father has drawn us to the mountaintop; Jesus is with us, and we are aided in our journey by the Holy Spirit, ever present in the world, in us, and – as Jesus ever reminds us – in each other as member of the church
11) Open your eyes and your hearts — God Knows what you will see!

September 13, 2015

Who is Jesus?

Filed under: Sermons — Administrator @ 2:07 pm

One of the central themes of Mark’s gospel is the question of identity. The question Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” is one of the main reasons Mark’s gospel was written and the main question Mark is setting out to answer. The disciples are in the position of putting together a big jigsaw (in fact it’s more like one of those wasjigs in which you have to work out the picture as you go along). Jesus is giving them more pieces of the puzzle to work with and they have the job of figuring it all out. Every now and then they get some pretty big clues. The Transfiguration is one of them as will be the crucifixion on Good Friday. The passage before us today is another.

In fact there are a complex series of themes that are beginning to come together as Mark tell sus his story of Jesus. This passage is when Jesus begins the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. The journey begins and ends with two bookends, as it were. These bookends are both accounts of Jesus healing a blind man and giving the gift of sight. What Mark’s is doing is showing us that the Christian life is a journey of faith, a spiritual journey, in which God helps us see more clearly who Jesus is as we go along. Mark’s gospel is sophisticated story-telling and first class theology.

Let’s take a look at this new piece of the jigsaw. The journey to Jerusalem begins with this now famous moment when Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah, which is prompted by Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” As any leader will know, identity is always a sensitive issue and if you tamper with it strong emotions are triggered. At the moment our government is leading a debate about whether we should change our national flag. That tells us that symbols we hold in common are one of the ways we build identity; in the case of Christchurch the Cathedral in the Square is another one of them which is partly why there are strong feelings about the future of that building. Our family stories are another way that we use to form our identity. On one of the TV channels there is a programme called “Who do you think you are?” that traces the ancestry of celebrities so that they, and we, find out where they have come from and therefore help us understand more about who they are now. We might also define ourselves by our relationships: I am the son or daughter of…, the husband or wife of…, the father or mother of…

When it came to Jesus the people had started projecting various identities on to him. They were saying that he was John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets. These are unsurprising connections for people to make. Jesus was baptised by John and shared much of John’s expectations about the coming of the Kingdom of God. Elijah was a prophet of ancient times who had mysteriously disappeared by going up to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:1-12). Another ancient prophet, Malachi, said Elijah would put in an appearance at the end of the world. It is testament to how effective Jesus was in telling people about God. Clearly people saw that God was speaking through Jesus in a powerful way.

But Mark wants us to see that there is much more to Jesus than any of these popular ideas. For the first time in this gospel, Peter calls Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ of God. The word, Christ, or Messiah means “the anointed one.” All through the bible priests, prophets and kings were anointed with oil. King David is a famous example, but there are plenty more if you comb through the Old Testament. To be called, “the anointed one” signals that Jesus is chosen by God. He will be the fulfilment of the hopes and dreams of Israel; a leader who would restore justice and hope. In Jesus’ day, this was also a subversive title. Even speaking it would dangerous, because it would be a threat to the Roman rulers and their Jewish collaborators.

We know then, that God speaks through Jesus, that he is ushering in the kingdom, bringing about a “regime change” to use Rowan Williams’ phrase, and that Jesus is taking his disciples on a journey will require faith and courage. It always seems to be the way that if you are a follower of Jesus, you will be on the edge of your seat a lot of the time. It’s an adventure and you never know what will be around the corner. But Mark needs us to see that there is even more to Jesus.

Because from now on as Jesus journey’s with his disciples, he is going to show them the true nature of his mission. He is to be a suffering Messiah. That is why we have the passage from Isaiah that is read in Holy Week paired with the gospel reading today. Jesus was the first person in the history of Israel to identify the Messiah with the suffering servant that Isaiah spoke about in ages past. This will mean that the way of Jesus will be the way of the cross. Instead of being a heroic leader who will liberate the people from the occupying Roman army, he will lay down his life to liberate us from sin and death. That is the journey that Jesus came to fulfil. It will take the disciples years to get their heads around it. This will be a piece of the jigsaw that they will ponder for a long time, and it will be after the resurrection before they make sense of it.

Jesus promises us eternal life if we follow him, but the journey will look all wrong in the eyes of the world. The road to eternal life means losing the life we have. Jesus faced rejection, he had to stand up for what he believed in. He had to speak truth when no one wanted to hear it. He found himself swimming against the prevailing tide of trends and values of his time.

If we are pondering the identity of Jesus, the flow-on question becomes the identity of his disciples, you and me. If we are followers of Jesus, who are we called to become? Well, Christ is our identity. Our task is to grow to be like him, to be shaped by his identity. And that means embarking with the disciples of old on a journey to discover who Jesus is. It is a journey that will call us to give up being at the centre, or being in control, or being the boss, or being the one who is always right, or whatever our compulsion is. The gospel calls us to be present to others, to make ourselves available, to focus our love beyond ourselves, to live for others. That is what Jesus means when he says that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

If we do that there will be no identity crisis. We will not be groping in the dark wondering whether our life has meaning or purpose. We will not need to identify ourselves in terms of our postcode or profession or even familial relationships. We will be followers of Jesus. We will be on a journey, and that journey will have us on the edge of our seats, even if we don’t want it to. It will be exciting because we will be seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus and from the perspective of God.

So if anyone asks you who you are, you can reply, ‘I am a child of the most high God, the brother or sister of Jesus Christ, and I am an heir to eternal life’.
And if you have any identity confusion left at all, that reply should clear it up completely.

May 9, 2015

Funeral for baby William

Filed under: Sermons — Administrator @ 11:59 am

You might notice a rainbow theme coming through the funeral service today. As we were preparing for this service we thought of the fact that William was a baby, and that means we need kids songs (one of which mentions of which mentions all the colours), balloons with all the colours of the rainbow, the story of Noah and the rainbow to be a sign of God’s promise of hope when the circumstances of life are overwhelming.

Little William died before he was born. At the moment we don’t know why he died. Sometimes when babies are growing inside mothers tummies, things don’t work out the way they are supposed to, and that was the case with little William. You can see that happening in nature sometimes as well. Think of a garden, even those tended by the most skilled gardeners. Sometimes there is a plant that looks like all the others, but it either just doesn’t produce anything to eat that year, or the flower doesn’t unfold. That can happen in God’s family as well. A child is conceived, beautiful and precious, but it never reaches the point where it can be born alive. So little William has gone back to God, the source of life from which he came. But he is still precious, a child of God, a bearer of a unique image of God. He is utterly loved.

William’s death raises lots of questions. Where has William gone? Why did this have to happen? Will Jesus be looking after him?

These are normal questions that come to us in times of tragedy like this and no harm can come from talking about these questions with God. We are not here necessarily to answer the all the questions today. We are here to mourn. We mourn the death of a child who was only a few weeks away from being full term. We weep, just Jesus himself wept when his friend Lazarus died. Even if we have answers to our questions in our heads that rise so naturally at times like this, there is still no adequate explanation for this loss. It is painful.

I believe it is painful to God as well. God created the world intending it to be a good place. At times like this, some people say well meaning things, but wrong things, usually in an attempt to be comforting. They might say that William’s death was God’s will, or that God wanted little William in heaven earlier than usual. So let’s be really clear that the death of William is not God’s will. If anyone says that this death is God’s will, don’t believe them. I am sure that while God loves William he did not want to be welcoming him into heaven now. God does not will the death of babies or the pain that inflicts on parents (and older sisters) and grandparents and friends. No other child will ever replace William. Today, God weeps with us.

What are we to say, though?

It is important to say that God is still for you, Anna and Peter, Charlotte and Hannah. God is with you in the midst of this and will be alongside you as you go through it. So are all the saints. In some Christian traditions there is a prayer called the Litany of Saints which is sung both at Easter and at times of death. It calls on Mary, St Mark, St Joseph and St Anne by name, and just about every saint in the whole company of heaven, to pray for us. And we know they will pray with understanding, because they too have faced the death of loved ones. Mary especially knows what is like to witness the death of her child. St Anne knows from the point of view of a grandmother. Today we ask for the prayers of all the saints. We know that God understands as well, because even God has faced the death of his/her child, and God will be with you.

The experience of the biblical writers over and over again, as well as the saints, is that God is love. My faith in that remains unshaken. Little William was loved utterly by Anna and Peter while he was in the womb. Now he is being gathered in the arms of Jesus where he will continue to be utterly loved. In his life he will know nothing other than love. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me! Do not stop them…” and he gathered the children in his arms and blessed them. That is what Jesus is doing for William now. He will be fully known to Jesus and fully loved; he will be in heaven with Jesus and Jesus will look after him. This is the season of Easter when we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. Jesus’ rising from the dead is what gives us confidence that William has new life also with God that can never be snatched away.

Today, the rainbow is God’s symbol of hope given to us. Let us hold on to that hope, cling to it even. Hold on to the hope that God is with us as a healing presence, and allow your tears to wash away the pain in the days and months to come.

April 3, 2011

The meaning of Lent

Filed under: Sermons — Administrator @ 9:32 pm

A reflection on Lent from the Taize Community.

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