Hi... Very tired. Late to bed on Saturday night/Sunday morning writing the sermon enclosed below.
We had the Strawberry Tea on Sunday afternoon, a great event. Numbers were down a little bit because of the weather I would have thought. Nonetheless good fun and many congrats to all who put in hard work to make it happen... nice costume Maureen...!
The weekend away is getting closer. Full details become available a week on Sunday plus a request to make full payment asap. It should be a great time. We will be thinking together in the teahcing time a little about prayer. Hopefully that will tap ito a need in all of us.
Bad news this w/e. Cynthia is back in hospital. She is not doing so well having has another stroke. Her speach is reduced to one sylable noises. She is the most determined person I think I know but she seems really quite frightened right now. Sara May is also in hospital suffering with pneumonia. Healing please God for both...
Anyway here is the text of the sermon...
I am confused. At the Christmas celebrations we hear again how God’s promised Messiah would bring peace to the earth. During the annual nativity play here or in any other church, we tend to hear of angels on the hillside proclaiming glory to God and peace on earth to all whom he favours. Yet in this morning’s Gospel Jesus throws that all up in the air.
‘Did you think I came to bring peace to the earth?’ says Jesus in this morning’s Gospel. Well yes actually Lord, we did. Yet what we hear of in Iraq or Afghanistan, in London or Bolton is far from peaceful communities or nations. Quite frankly it’s crap and it’s not what I thought you had in mind.
Like I say, I am confused. I cannot easily reconcile the Christmas message and the message of John the Baptist with that of Jesus here who seems intent on undoing all the good work of rebuilding families and communities. I am not sure how to hold together the images of peace from the Old Testament of lambs lying down with lions and swords becoming ploughs with what is going on in Baghdad or even in my own head or my own life.
In this morning’s Gospel Jesus, to the disciples, to the crowd and therefore to us, is trying to get people to really understand what his life’s work is about. He has not come as some sort of divine UN soldier to the world. His ministry is not some sort of Godly diplomacy. Jesus is frustrated here in this morning’s Gospel and he is frustrated still that people, us included, somehow have this idea that he came teaching niceness, politeness, conflict avoidance and therefore peace making - a kind of spiritual quiet life.
Yet Jesus is all too contemporary here in Luke’s Gospel - ‘what stress I am under!’ he anguishly cries. How could he preach peace, perhaps especially inner peace, when he in that frame of mind. It is clear here that Jesus here did not reach the serenity of the Bhudda. Siddhartha Gautama found enlightenment beneath the Bo tree. Beneath the olive trees, Jesus embraces the cross. He knew that what lay ahead of him, the baptism he will be baptised with, will cost him everything. He knew that through it, we too could know death to our old lives, our old ways and habits, our old lifestyles and be offered resurrection life now which costs us nothing.
Like I say, I am confused and I am now wondering what it actually is that Jesus is offering us. He is not coming to hold society together, to heal family rifts and wounds. He not offering a cessation of violence in Darfur or Zimbabwe. Neither is he offering me freedom from the break neck speed of contemporary life where work is a means to liesuretime, where child rearing feels more and more like child care where parents stuff every waking hour with activity after expensive activity. Neither is he promising some way out of the cycle of sleepless nights as my mind races thinking about the people I have seen, the people I have not seen or the things left undone. Nor does he offer release from the weight of a crushing throwaway remark that I carry round my neck like a medal.
For pity’ sake cries our exasperated Lord, make a choice! Decide whether you are following me or not. Don’t follow me because you like the sound what might be on offer - eternal life, forgiveness of sins etc. I am not wanting Sunday only followers and none of this is for sale. You have the ability to try to work out what the weather will do, and yet you cannot, or perhaps worse still, will not use the same skills to try to work out where you ultimately stand in faith. In other words if you have come marching to me for world peace, if you have come crying to me for inner peace then you will leave disappointed, because that is not what faith in God through Jesus Christ is offering us.
And yet the paradox of this morning’s Gospel is just that. It is a call to each one of us by Jesus to come near to - para - the glory of God - doxa. All that is on offer to us from God through Jesus this morning is the same that he offers each one of us every day - the opportunity to discover for ourselves that we are loved unendingly and eternally by God. Once we begin our search there for answers to the questions that life throws at us, then and only then do we discover that God’s peace and presence in us and amongst us challenges us to pray and work for justice in the communities and countries that long for it. Then and only then do we discover that God’s peace and presence in us and amongst us begins to unsettle the frenetic racehorse that is our lives both physically and mentally, causing us to be bucked off out of the race and finding stillness and much needed space to think, to pray, to be.
Yet, I must not dumb down the scandal of what Jesus offers. God’s offer in Jesus is so shockingly different, so radical, so life affirming that many people would rather drive the offer away than allow it to change them. They would rather their family was split down the middle than welcome God’s love that unites all things.
God makes that same offer to us this morning - to continue our exploration of his eternal love for us in Jesus. It is a love that will make us unpopular. It is a love that offers us only an agenda for change. But it is a love that will bring the peace we and our brothers and sisters worldwide long for. My friends this offer confuses and in some sense frightens me because of what it asks of me - to let go and to let God have His way - and it is is an offer I do not want, but I know that it is an offer that we cannot refuse.