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Friday, 24 April 2009

Children of God

I thought that today, for once, we wouldn’t look too closely at the Gospel reading, as Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples after the Resurrection is very similar to the account in John’s gospel, which I expect you looked at last week. We certainly did at King’s Acre! The only thing I will point out is that Luke says Jesus actually ate with them – ghosts, after all, don’t eat! So that particular detail is, for the gospel writer, just another proof that Jesus really was raised. He wasn’t just a ghost; he wasn’t just a figment of their imagination. He ate some fish – and there’s the dirty plate!

We read the first chapter of this letter from John last week, too. I want to focus on the passage we read today, in a minute. It isn’t quite a letter, is it – it’s more of a sermon. He doesn’t put in the chatty details that Paul puts into his letters, nor the personal messages. Nobody seems to know whether it was really the disciple that Jesus loved that wrote the Gospel and this letter, or whether it was someone writing as from them, which was apparently a recognised literary convention of the day. But I noticed last week that right at the very beginning of the letter, or sermon – hey, let’s just call it an Epistle and have done – right at the very beginning, he says: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” In other words, the writer, too, claims to have seen, known and touched Jesus!

But to today’s passage. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

We are God’s children! You know, when you come to think of it, that’s a pretty terrifying concept. People tend to think of themselves as serving God, or as worshipping God. But to be a child of God? That’s a whole different ball-game. After all, if we worship God or serve God, that doesn’t necessarily imply that God does anything for us in return. But if we are God’s children? That’s different! That implies that God is active in caring for us, in being involved in our lives, in minding.

Many of us here this morning have had children of our own. And all of us have been children! Perhaps some of us didn’t have very satisfactory childhoods, or our parents weren’t all they should have been. The model of God as Father isn’t helpful to everybody, I know.

But I still want to unpack it a bit, if I can, as I do think it’s important. We are all children of God, so we are told. We are not servants. We are not just worshippers. “Children” implies a two-way relationship.

Actually, it almost implies more than that. It implies that God does the doing; we don’t have to. No, seriously, think about it a minute. I have a daughter – she’s grown up and married now, of course, but for eighteen years she lived at home, and for many of those years she was totally dependant on Robert and me for everything – for her food, for her clothing, for her education, you name it! When she was a tiny baby, she needed us even more, as babies do. They can’t even keep themselves clean without a parent or other carer to see to that for them.

Parents look after their children. Quite apart from the seeing to food, clothing, education and so on, it’s about the daily care – seeing to it they get up and so on. There’s a video doing the rounds on YouTube at the moment, called “The Mom Song”, where a woman sings all the things she’s apt to say to her children over the course of a day to the tune of the William Tell Overture. It’s extremely funny; do look it up sometime. And okay, so we do say the same things over and over again: Have you cleaned your teeth? Have you done your homework? Have you fed your hamster? Don’t talk with your mouth full. And so on and so forth. But it is, of course, because we care for and about our children, and want them to grow up to be the best possible person they can be.

And parents do this because they love their children. Ask any new parent – all those sleepless nights, the pacing up and down, the nappies, the lack of sleep – and yet, they are delighting in that precious baby, and will show you photographs on the slightest provocation. And that is just how God feels about us! Pretty mind-blowing, isn’t it?

And yes, God does want us to grow up to be the person he designed us to be. And sometimes that will involve saying “No” to us, as we have to say it to our children. “No, you mustn’t do that; no, you can’t have that!” Not to be mean, not because we are horrid – although it can feel like that sometimes when you’re on the receiving end – but because it is for their best. You can’t let a child do something dangerous; you can’t allow them to be rude; they can’t eat unlimited sweets or ices.... and so on. And the same sort of thing with us.

God loves us enormously and just wants what is best for us. And because we are, mostly, not small children, we tend to be aware of this, and allow Him to work in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

John goes on to comment about sin and sinfulness. It is rather an odd passage, this; we know that we do sin, sometimes, because we are human. And yet we know, too, that we are God’s children and we abide in Him. Yet John here says nobody who sins abides in God. If he were right, that would mean none of us would, since we are all sinners.

But then, are we? I mean, yes, we are, but the point is, we are sinners saved by grace, as they say. God has redeemed us through his Son. We don’t “abide in sin” any more.

St Paul tells us that when we become Christians, we are “made right” with God through faith in his promises. I believe the technical term is “justified”, and you remember the meaning because it’s “just as if I’d” never sinned. However, we also have to grow up to make this a reality in our lives. That’s called becoming sanctified, made saint-like.

One author described it like this. Suppose there was a law against jumping in mud puddles. And you broke that law, and jumped. You would not only be guilty of breaking the law, you would also be covered in mud. So when you are justified, you are declared not guilty of breaking that law – and being sanctified means that you wash off the mud! Or, to be more accurate, God helps us (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to get rid of the mud, just as we would help a muddy child to have a shower and get some clean, dry clothes.

So we no longer abide in sin, but are we washing off the mud? Are we allowing God to help us wash off the mud? That’s not always easy to do – the temptation to conform to the world’s standards can be overwhelming at times. We all have different temptations, of course; I can’t claim to be virtuous because I don’t gamble, since gambling simply doesn’t appeal to me! But I am apt to procrastinate, and can be grouchy at times! And so it goes.

And, of course, there are those who have not said “Yes” to God, who perhaps have no idea of doing so. In this model, they are not God’s children – but that doesn’t mean they are not loved! Indeed, God so loved the world that he sent his Son while we were still sinners, so we are told. God loves the worst and most horrible person you could imagine, just as much as he loves you or he loves me. Even terrorists. Even paedophiles. Jesus died for them, too. Just as he died for you, and just as he died for me.

And we, we are Children of God. We are God’s precious Children. We are not just servants of God. We are not just worshippers. We are children. And the Risen Christ calls us his friends. Amen.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Monday in Holy Week - The Entry into Jerusalem

This isn't being preached, at least, not this year! I wrote it in 1996 for our Monday in Holy Week service, and was asked to produce something for an on-line group, so looked for it and copied it. So I thought I would also post it here.

So, Jesus comes to Jerusalem in triumph.

He, and the disciples,
Have spent the night with Mary, Martha and Lazarus,
at that home in Bethany.
He loves them, so much.
Dear Martha,
never happy unless she is bustling bout doing for him,
getting irritated at Mary’s doglike devotion.
Mary, extravagant almost to the point of madness,
with the nard she was supposed to be saving for her marriage,
poured out over his head like that last night.
And her almost unfeminine interest in his teaching,
her ability to sit and listen and learn by the hour.
And Lazarus, totally unable to do enough for Jesus since he was raised from the dead.

And now it is time to move on.
Into Jerusalem.
It isn't the first time Jesus has been there.
On the contrary,
he has been there many times,
the first time being when he was a baby.
But this will be the last visit.
This time,
there won't be the teachers in the Temple falling all over themselves to enlighten him.
This time,
there won't be the vast crowds waiting to listen to him -
or if there are, the priests will soon move them on.
This visit promises nothing but pin and death.
Yet it must be done.

Long ago words echo from Zechariah:
"Behold your King comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey."

It never made any sense before.
Kings don't ride on donkeys!
Kings ride on war-horses, richly caparisoned.
Kings ride in carriages, pulled by six milk-white Arab stallions.
Kings are carried in litters on the shoulders of Nubian bearers.
A King on a donkey -
the picture is ridiculous.
Donkeys are for the elderly, for the infirm.
Donkeys are for carrying wood or peat in creels on their backs.
Donkeys are for children, for pregnant women.

And yet, and yet.
Today, Jesus will ride on a donkey.
He even knows which donkey.
It is in the next hamlet down the road.
A mare, with a young colt.
They sw it on their way to Bethany,
and stopped and said "Hello" to it.
The owner's a friend of theirs -
he'll lend it willingly enough.

So the disciples are sent off to borrow the donkey,
and, back they come with it, colt duly at foot.
And anxious owner, too, who doesn't mind lending it,
but wants to go with it.

Jesus climbs on.
Hmmm -
his feet nearly touch the ground.
Just as well, perhaps -
it doesn't feel very steady.
The mare shifts, uneasily.
This isn't her usual rider.
But she trusts Jesus, instinctively,
and lets him feel comfortable with her.

And so they set off.
A strange procession.
Jesus, on the donkey
and the disciples and followers on foot beside him.
Almost a young procession, really.
There's James and John,
Peter and Andrew,
all of the Twelve -
even Judas, looking sulky.
He still hasn't forgiven Jesus for snubbing him like that last night
when he pointed out - mildly -
that Mary shouldn't have wasted the nard like that.
Mary and Martha and Lazarus are there, too,
and the donkey's owner and his daughter.
Quite a procession.

And there are other groups of pilgrims going to Jerusalem for the festival.
Others on the road.
And somehow, nobody quite knows how,
they join up with Jesus' group.
Many of them have heard of him -
some have even heard him speak.

A group of boys rushes on ahead,
down into Jerusalem,
to announce that Jesus is coming!
The people, mostly holidaymakers,
come out to have a look.
Yes, that's him, over there, look -
yes, the one on a donkey!
Some say he's the Messiah, or a prophet.
Maybe he is.
Why not?
It is Passover, after all.

Who started the cheering?
Nobody knows.
Maybe it was one of the Twelve,
maybe even Peter.
Or maybe a child in the crowd.
But the cheers increase in volume.
"Hosanna!
Hosanna to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord."
"Hosanna in the Highest."
And they throw their cloaks into the road for the donkey to walk on.
And they tear branches off the trees to help line the route.

Now they are approaching Jerusalem.
The pilgrims and holidaymakers are still cheering.
It's a day for rejoicing, after all.
The end of the journey is in sight.
The pilgrims have been travelling for days, some of them,
ad are looking forward to getting to the inns and relaxing.
Some of them will be meeting family they haven't seen for some years.
So it's easy to cheer.
Its easy to throw your cloak in the road for the donkey to tread on.
It's easy to be carried along with the crowd.

But Jesus knows that this visit to Jerusalem will be his last.
He will not leave the city.
This crowd, which is cheering him today,
will be baying for his blood at the end of the week.
Without noticing the contradiction.

The disciples are relaxed, enjoying the attention.
But underneath there are shadows.
They know they are in danger.
They know that Jesus is convinced he will be killed,
yet has insisted on going to Jerusalem anyway.

But for now, as they enter the city, they are relaxed and amused.
Let us leave them like that,
for the storm clouds are gathering,
and they will not disperse until the day of Resurrection.