Trinity 11: Who do You Serve?

As I read the passage from Exodus (the Old Testament reading set for this week), there is a sense of familiarity with our own cultural climate: Joseph’s family had grown and his descendent became numerous, God had certainly blessed Israel’s inheritance. As time moved on, though, Joseph was forgotten. The way in which Joseph served Egypt and Egypt’s king, the way he had heard God’s warning about famine, and had governed Egypt so that it would thrive in such difficult times, had been forgotten. All that Pharaoh knows is that these Israelites are numerous, too strong and many for his liking. Pharaoh feared the strangers in his land, even those who had been born there, whose parents and grandparents had been born there, Israelite-Egyptians who knew no other home. But Pharaoh was scared that should an attack come, the Israelites would choose to fight against Egypt instead of with Egypt.

So Pharaoh listened to his fear, he spoke fear to others and put fear into practice as he chose to oppress the Egyptians forcing them into slavery, treating them bitterly and ruthlessly; but God continued to bless Joseph’s descendent, and despite their forced labour, they continued to grow. The fear in Pharaoh grew to dread, oppression to hatred, slavery to murder.

But this isn’t a story of men in power or even corrupt men in power, or how fear and power can corrupt men. This story is about the women who refuse to be corrupted: the women who fear God more than Pharaoh, the women who value life more than they fear death. When Pharaoh hits upon his plan of ethnic cleansing, wiping out the Israelites by killing off the newborn boys, the midwives refuse to play. The midwives, ordered to kill all newborn boys, instead fulfilled their vocation of aiding women to bring life into the world, and when they were challenged, claimed that the Israelite women were too strong and too quick to need the help of a midwife.

This is also the story of the mother who refused to let her son be murdered: the woman who looked upon the child she had given birth to and saw that he was ‘good’, just as God, at creation saw humanity as good. This is the story of the woman, who when she realised that her son had a voice that demanded to be heard, built him an ark and launched him out on the waters. This is the story of the big sister who kept watch and kept her wits, so that she was able to offer her mother to be her baby brother’s wet-nurse, thus keeping the family together. This is the story of the Egyptian princess, who despite the decree of her father to all his people to kill Israelite baby boys, chose to keep this one as her own child and to raise him as a prince within the Pharaoh’s own palaces.

This is a story of people, of women, who have chosen love over hate, who have chosen perseverance over oppression: this is the story of faithfulness, of keeping faith in the God who had saved them from famine and would now save them from slavery. Each of these women chose to serve God: not hate or fear or dread, and certainly not the Pharaoh.

Who do we choose to serve?

In the gospel passage we are reminded of how Peter recognised in Jesus something more than just a good teacher or religious leader, something more than a rebel with a cause of justice, mercy, peace and love. Peter recognised in Jesus divinity ‘you are the Messiah’, he says.

You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

It is in this understanding, this knowledge of the divine and recognition in Jesus of someone worth not just following but worshipping too, that Jesus will build his church. Peter’s faith is the rock on which we all stand when we choose to follow Jesus, when we recognise that Jesus is the only one worth living for, worth living our lives for, living them in accordance with his guidance and direction and purpose. Just as the midwives chose despite the dangers, just as Moses’ mother chose God despite her fear and dread, just as the princess chose love instead of the hate that her father was breeding.

And what of us? Who do we choose in a culture of fear of being overrun by immigrants? Who do we choose when our healthcare seems to be breaking under the strain of refugees? Who do we choose when our own children can’t get a place in the local school, or struggle to find a job? Who do we choose when English isn’t the most common language we hear spoken? Do we choose, love or fear? Do we listen to the midwives or to the Pharaohs?

Paul encourages the Roman Christians living in a time of fear and persecution, to hold on to the calling that Jesus has placed upon their lives, to keep listening to God:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Read it here.]

The midwives refused to be conformed by the commands of the king of Egypt, they continued to worship God, to serve God, and to bring life and hope to the suffering Israelites.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • How do you think you would have responded if you were a midwife in the time of Pharaoh?
  • What enabled the midwives to act for good?
  • Why do you think Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses?
  • How do you think Pharaoh would have felt when he discovered what she had done?
  • Are there times when you have been asked/ordered to do something that you have felt uncomfortable with?
  • How do you remain faithful when under pressure?
  • How do you choose what is good and Godly when other voices speak louder?
  • How can we support each other to be ‘living sacrifices’ for God an not to be conformed by the world about us?

Something to pray:

Great and wonderful God,

we thank you for your gracious call to be your people, your children, your Church; to live and work together as the Body of Christ, bearing witness to him through our words and deeds.

Remind us today of the responsibilities that involves but also the privilege, the challenges it entails but also the rewards, the expectations it brings of us but also the promises it brings from you.

Come now, and equip us to honour your call, to your glory. Amen       Nick Fawcett

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Trinity 10: Let them eat dog food?

I am always a little stumped by this passage. It was one of the first that I ever preached on, when I was first beginning to explore where God was leading me, a female Gentile. In preparing for that first sermon, I imagined Jesus with a cheeky glint in his eye, a smile and a wink for the woman to let her know that he wasn’t testing her, but those around him. They surely would expect Jesus, a Jewish teacher, to turn this unclean woman away: he isn’t really challenging her, but them, and the proof of this is in his ultimate meeting of her request and the healing of her daughter. Read it here.

But over the years I have looked at this in many different ways. The parable of the lost sheep, after all, is a story in which the shepherd doesn’t go searching for other people’s sheep in order to give them a better home, he goes searching for the rebellious sheep from his own flock who has gone astray. Jesus seems serious about the statement that he is not here to look out for outsiders, for Gentiles.

Today, however, I notice for the first time that this episode is taking place in Gentile territory. Jesus and the 12 have taken refuge away from Jewish eyes, and are taking a break on her turf. She is a desperate mother and he has brought himself close to her home.  Jesus wasn’t a stranger to travelling through Gentile areas, for him it was a place of relative safety, a place where he could rest and spend time teaching his disciples without the Pharisees and others seeking him out and trying to entrap him. Certainly his reputation has gone ahead of him: this mother has faith in him to heal her daughter, she refers to him as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. This encounter also comes directly after Jesus has been preaching and teaching about what defiles a person, what makes them unclean – he shakes up the old standards of insiders and outsiders: If eating food that isn’t Kosher, or from bowls and dishes that have not been ceremoniously purified, doesn’t make a person unclean, then surely spending time with Gentiles doesn’t either.

Jesus refers to the woman as a dog. It still isn’t a pleasant term to call a woman. It was a common racial slur, but the woman turns it around, she uses the term to mean a ‘lap dog’ or ‘favoured pet’, and even they get to eat the titbits from their owner’s table. Jesus is moved by her passion as she pleads for her daughter, for her healing and for the right to be accepted into Jesus’ kingdom, welcomed at his table.

Today we meet at Jesus’ table: we who should be the outsiders, the dogs begging for crumbs, are welcome. At the Lord’s table we find healing and hope and a sense of belonging. Jesus calls us, invites us, to meet with him there. And as we do so, we remember this story, this woman’s bravery? Courage? Wit?

We do not presume to come to this table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.                                                       1662  Book of Common Prayer

What are we seeking as we enter church each Sunday? Do we come with any expectations or with a sense of entitlement? We so often take for granted the mercies which have been bestowed upon us, the mercy which bids us welcome; do we perhaps need to remind ourselves of the humility of the Canaanite woman who came begging upon her knees?

Something to watch:

 

Something to think about:

  • What is the most unusual invitation you have received?
  • Have you ever been turned away from somewhere because you didn’t ‘belong’ or fit in?
  • How do you receive the invitation to meet at the Lord’s table?
  • Do you feel like the welcome guest, the favoured pet, or an unwelcome outsider? What made the difference?
  • Why do you think Jesus treated the woman as he did?
  • What do you think made her respond in the way that she did?
  • How do we extend Jesus’ invitations to others?

Something to read:

The Desperate Mother

Something to Pray:

Gracious God, remind us as we worship you that you see not the outside but the person beneath; that you look beyond the appearances to the thoughts of the heart. Save us then, from empty show or superficial piety, and teach us to approach you instead in faith and humility, knowing that your love extends to all who truly seek you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen                                      Nick Fawcett

 

 

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Trinity 6: Wheat and Weeds

Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven has inspired architecture and art, exercise machines and farming equipment, literature, film, music – classical and pop, and even the naming of tourist attractions; but for Jacob, the original ladder opened up a ‘thin space’ between a troubled man cast out from his family, and the God who loves him. Read it here.

Jacob, the second born twin, had been so desirous of the blessings and birthrights of the elder that he had schemed and plotted util he had finally outwitted his brother into handing them over. Now having received the blessing that should have belonged to Esau, he is on the run; stuck between a rock and a hard place, he chooses a stone for a pillow and falls asleep.

As he sleeps, heaven opens and Jacob receives the blessing he had so longed for: not a stolen blessing, not a hand me down blessing, but one direct from God,

all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring

Genesis 28: 14

Everything has changed for the twin brothers. Esau, bereft of his blessing and inheritance turns his back on his father and all that his father stands for  – as his blessing stealing brother is charged to go and find a wife from good stock, Esau heads out in the opposite direction and seeks his wife amongst the Canaanites of whom his father disapproves, and so ends up marrying the daughter of Ishmael. Ishmael, the cast out son of Abraham, thus grows his kingdom of firstborn cast outs. Read Esau’s story here.

Many years later, Jesus is to tell a farming parable

The disciples struggle to understand, after all, this story is about farming  and the disciples are fishermen, tax collectors and zealots…

Jesus explains that just as weeds grow up among the wheat, so in humanity the godly and ungodly grow side by side. Esau and Jacob were twins – sharing the same upbringing, and yet they couldn’t be more unalike. As they mature and time goes by, it becomes clear that these two boys have hearts that yearn in different directions, and yet they needed each other when they were young, perhaps more than even they realised. At this point in the story they share only enmity, but in the future they will become reconciled, before going separate ways once more. Just as two brothers before them had grown together before being separated in anger, Ishmael and Isaac. Read the parable here.

The farmer has to show patience with his crops. How frustrating it must be to water and feed the soil that both wheat and weeds will feed from, knowing that only the wheat will provide a harvest of value, yet the sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. So too in life. When evil seems so persistent and acts of terror and horror are committed without God seeming to bat an eyelid, our hearts cry out at the injustice of it all. Does God not care? Send down your justice ‘Oh Lord’, we cry.

The psalmists would offer laments of despair calling for enemies to be destroyed in the most hideous of ways, ‘smite them, Oh Lord’, they cried. Perhaps the zealots among the disciples would have understood this parable the most – they after all, were all for direct action to rid their nation of the oppressive occupation of the Romans.

But Jesus speaks patience. Time will come when it is right to harvest both the wheat and the weeds. To do so too soon would risk uprooting the good and wholesome wheat needed to feed and provide for God’s people. Once it is harvested, then is the time to cleanse the wholesome from the unwholesome, the evil from the good.

When we look around us at our fractured world, we see those who seem at ferocious enmity with the rest of humanity, those who care only about the wealthy and shun the poor, those who value others only for what they can give. All will be weeded out, but in God’s time.

When Jacob woke from his dream, he took his ‘pillow’, anointed it with oil and set it up as a pillar – a marker, a reminder that in this place he had met with God. A reminder that even when life looked desperate God was still in control.  Even when he feared the anger of his brother, God’s blessing was upon him.

Something to think about:

  •  Have you been to a place named after Jacob’s ladder dream? Do your experiences match Jacob’s?
  • Have you experienced a ‘thin place’ where it feels as though there is no distance between heaven and earth?
  • How do you think Jacob would have described his experiences of the ‘thin place’ he named Bethel ‘House of God?
  • Who do you think was the wheat, and who the weed in the relationship between Jacob and Esau?
  • What would have happened if the two had been separate at birth to prevent them from fighting?
  • Do we need weeds in our lives?

Something to watch:

 

 

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Trinity 5: Beloved birth-right?

Jacob and Esau are twins, but there is nothing identical about them. Esau is the rugged outdoors type and earns the approval of his father who admires his hunting prowess and the game he brings home. Perhaps the failing Abraham sees in his elder son a younger more virile version of himself?

Jacob, however is more of a mummy’s boy. He prefers to stay at home and enjoys cooking and the company of women. He is no ‘sissy’ though, he is the thoughtful one, the plotter, the schemer, the one who will take Abraham’s inheritance on and become a great man of God.

From his birth Jacob had chased the inheritance, the rights and even the responsibilities of the eldest son. Esau, however, had taken them for granted. Now as Esau comes home from a day’s hunting, ravenous, he sells his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Read it here.

Thus Esau despised his birthrights.

Genesis 25: 34

In turning down his birthrights, his inheritance as the eldest son, Esau was also revoking the blessing that Abraham sought to confer upon him.  In rejecting the blessing, he was also rejecting not just the rights and the wealth that would come to him, but also the responsibilities that would come with being the Patriarch, which in this family also meant turning away from the blessings of God. Esau sold his relationship with God for a bowl of broth.

Later Jesus was to talk about this lack of value placed upon religious birthrights in the parable of the sower. Read it here.

 

There seems to be little in the way of ‘broadcasting’ when it comes to sowing seed in modern farming practices. Everything is very much more precise, and precious seed would not be wasted by being flung into areas in which it could not thrive and grow and be fruitful. Not so in Jesus time, and not so with the gospel message – the story of God’s love as it has unfolded over the centuries and will continue to unfold as Jesus teaches and preaches on his way to the cross. The gospel is for everyone. God’s love is for everyone – but not everyone will receive it. Some will for only a brief time, as they soon get bored, or lose hope when life gets tough. There are some though for whom the gospel has always been their ‘birthright’ but it has come to be despised. It has seemingly lost its value, its relevance, and other things have become more important.

Throughout God’s history peoples have been drawn close to God and then rejected him, either through deliberate rebellion, or simply through apathy. Each time God has called his people back with messages of love, even when they have found themselves in the trickiest of situations. Now Jesus has come in person with stories and parables of those who had turned their backs on God being welcomed back (The Prodigal Son, The Lost Sheep ). This parable though, is a warning. It is a reminder of the birthright that Esau threw away. It is a wake up call to all who will hear. God’s love, just like the seed is broadcast liberally. God knows that his love will not always be received, but he showers his people with it anyway. He knows that sometimes the evil one will snatch away the understanding of this gift of love, he knows that sometimes the evil one will sow seeds of doubt that will throttle the seeds of love. God also knows that there are times when his love will seem to be received and to grow, only for it to whither when life gets tough. Others though will not only receive God’s love, God’s blessing, the heavenly inheritance but will let it grow within them so that it can be poured out in gifts of love to others too, just as a mature plant will produce even more seeds. But God sows his love anyway.

The question is, what kind of seed will we allow to grow within us? Will we value God’s love or let it wither?

Perhaps this question is all the more pertinent for those of us who have been born into loving, faith-filled relationships. Will we honour the inheritance we have received from our parents?  Will we recognise the spiritual birth-right that is ours for the taking, or will we be distracted by the instant gratification of a ‘bowl of soup’?

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • What is the most unusual thing you have inherited?
  • What is the most valuable thing that you have inherited?
  • Do you think Esau was right to gamble his inheritance in that way?
  • Do you think Jacob deserved to receive the blessing?
  • How could things have been different?
  • Do we take our inheritance and blessing for granted?
  • Are there times when we have received God’s love like stony or shallow ground?
  • What can we do to support each other?

Something to pray:

The Sower

Spirit of God you know our hearts; stony, distracted, shallow; and our blindness to our predicament.

Awaken us we pray;

where the heart has become hard, unyielding in the face of need and deaf to others’ pain, give compassion;

where the heart has become distracted, seduced and consumed by an idolatrous world, give sorrow;

where the heart has become shallow; cluttered by trivia adrift the world’s noise, give silence;

where the heart has become small, its imagination lost deadened by cynicism, give hope;

bearing fruit for your glory. Amen

Patrick Woodhouse

 

 

 

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Forgive us our trespasses…..

This is not so much a testimony of what God is doing in my life right now, it is more of a confession. I confess that I am angry, and have been angry for a while.

I am angry that the lies of the Brexit campaign were listened to and believed and the referendum vote swung on those false promises. I am angry that we seem to have been sent into a European freefall as nobody bothered to put together a plan of action as to how we would exit should the referendum have indicated this to be the wish of the British.

I am angry that young people have been targeted in ‘religious’ campaigns of hatred. I am angry that young, vulnerable and marginalised people have been ‘groomed’ and used as pawns in such ‘suicide missions’.

I am angry that the voices of residents were ignored regarding the safety of their homes. I am angry that cheaper, but more dangerous decisions regarding cladding, were taken by a wealthy council. I am angry that too many lives have been destroyed in preventable circumstances.

I am angry that despite our emergency services, our firefighters, police officers, nurses, paramedics….coming out in force to serve even when they were due to be off duty, have had their pay capped, again, by those who already earn more than they do. I am absolutely furious that  our elected members of parliament cheered at this.

I am angry because this is wrong. I am angry because I didn’t vote for any of this. I am angry because I feel powerless.

But I am called to forgive, knowing that I too have been forgiven. I am called to forgive because anger in itself does nothing and benefits no-one.  To forgive doesn’t mean that it is acceptable or ok that our society is suffering from a severe lack of responsibility. It means that I choose a different path. It means that I choose love not hate.

I can let that anger eat me up, or I can let it go, and use the energy to campaign for better outcomes for those affected, and a better future where such tragedies can’t happen again.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean giving up or giving in. It means giving.

Jesus chose to forgive me. As he hung from that cross he knew that I would make mistakes, and that some would be shameful and costly, but he loved me all the same and he died for me all the same. The fact that he also rose again, means that forgiveness brings not just healing, but hope for the future too.

So today I ask Jesus to forgive my anger, and help me to forgive others, so that instead, I can use that energy to work towards a better, more loving, future for everyone.

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Trinity 4: Heffalump Grump

One of my favourite stories when my girls were tiny was the story of a ‘plump little prince’…

20170706_135824-e1499358072423.jpg

The plump little prince was in a hump… a terrible hump… a heffalump’s GRUMP.

“Oh dear!” cried his mum.

“Oh dear!” cried his dad. “Whatever could ever be quite this bad?”

“BAAAAH!” Went the prince. And the GRUMP got worse.

Hiawyn Oram and Lindsey Gardiner

 

No matter what the plump little prince’s parents do to try and appease his grump, it just gets worse. Until they fetch Gran.

“Aha!” said his gran. “In the case of a GRUMP…. as big as a heffalump’s heffa-sized hump…I’ll choose him one toy, this raged old bear, with buttons for eyes and a chewed left ear. Then I’ll sit him down in my warm safe lap. The perfect place for a GRUMPLESS nap.

And I’ll sing him a song of all being right, as I rock him gently and hold him tight.

And, as any GRUMP will, if you know how to treat it…the GRUMP disappeared, it vanished , it beat it.

In this week’s gospel passage everyone seems to be in a grump. Read it here. The Israelites are acting like children in a heffalump grump, and nothing can appease them from their grump. They are grumpy when John is serious and they are grumpy when Jesus parties. It seems to me as though these ‘children’ simply need a nap.

The burden put on the Israelites of Jesus time were cumbersome, and they were not from God. The Pharisees and religious leaders had reinterpreted the rules of Moses in order to clarify them – what does it mean, for example, not to work on a Sabbath? The essence of Sabbath is to find rest, to be restored spiritually by spending time in worship, to be restored socially by spending time with family, and to be restored physically by refraining from the everyday chores and duties and burdens. These extra rules though have become yokes of slavery defining for example, how far one can walk outside before it is deemed as work and as breaking the Sabbath. This was true of each of the commandments which ended up being multiplied into a burden of regulations that were impossible to keep.

When Jesus and John turn up, both devoutly religious but expressing their faith in such contrasting ways the Israelites are confused.

Jesus is frustrated that the Israelites cannot see beyond this, that they accuse John of being a demon and Jesus of being a glutton. But he also sees why. He sees the burdens they carry, and he does not recognise them: these burdens do not belong to God or his people, no matter what those in authority say.

So he seeks to lift the burdens from them, to replace the yoke of slavery to the law, to a yoke of guidance, walking in tandem with Jesus himself. And he sets an example of grace, not caring when his hungry disciples pluck heads of grain to eat as they walk through a field, despite it being the Sabbath: he knows that they aren’t farming, they are restoring their bodies with food (Matthew 12:1-2); And when he is presented with a man with a withered hand, he heals it: this is what Sabbath is for – restoration and recreation (Matthew 12:9-13).

If we are feeling burdened in our journey of faith, then perhaps we need to check out what it is that we are carrying. Who has placed the burden upon our shoulders? What does the burden consist of? Or maybe we need to reconsider who we have yoked ourselves to? A yoke (not to be confused with a yolk), was the instrument by which oxen were harnessed together to increase their strength. A skillful driver would know how to harness the right oxen together, and would know how steer them to enable them to perform to the best of their abilities.

It is the same with us. When we are burdened and driven hard, when we are weary and in need of rest we become blinded to the good that God is and has for us. We become grumpy and miserable and unable to praise God. When we find ourselves in a spiritual hump, when we recognise our behaviour as being like that of children whining, we need to stop. We need to take our Sabbath breaks, our time for rest. And once we have rested, we need to be sure not to pick up the same burdens, or to allow ourselves to be yoked to godless strivings. We need to have the courage and the confidence to break free.

Something to listen to:

Something to think about:

Before engaging too hard with the thinking cells, spend tome time ‘holy dozing’: find a quiet place, make yourself comfortable, and be quiet for as long as you can….. rest.

  • How weary do you feel right now?
  • What are the things that burden you? Can you name them and lay them down?
  • How many burdens are good for you to carry, and how many are too heavy for you?
  • How can you get rid of these burdens?
  • How would it feel to live without these burdens weighing you down?
  • Which burdens do you need to carry?
  • Can you yoke yourself to Jesus to help carry them?
  • Are there others who could hep you carry these burdens?
  • Are there others who need your help with their burdens?

german_head_yoke

Something to pray:

God of our life there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down: when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening: when our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely and our souls have lost their courage. Flood the path with light, we beseech you, tune our hearts to brave music; give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us n the road of life to your honour and glory. Amen

Giles and Melville Harcourt

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St Peter’s Day

This week has seen the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. There is a twist in the long plot of Harry Potter (SPOILERS!) where it is discovered that Harry may not have been ‘the one’ after all. The prophesy was a little vague, the child born in July we assumed to have been Harry, could just as easily have been the hapless Neville Longbottom:

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the 7th month dies.

Both Harry and Neville’s parents were members of the original Order of the Phoenix and had defied Voldemort three times, and both had been born at the end of July – the prophesy could have been about either of them, but Harry is the one who has been marked out.

In a sense the same could be said of Jesus and prophets who had come before him, especially John the baptist who was born less than a year before Jesus. Both had miraculous births, which had been foretold and both would find themselves sacrificing their lives. Read today’s gospel passage here.

When Jesus asks who people think that he is, the names of two former prophets spring to everyone’s mind. The fact that these two have already died, seems to hold no barrier to their beliefs, but that Jesus could be ‘the one’ was a huge stumbling block for everyone.

When Jesus asks Peter:

Who do people say that I am?

Peter replies,

Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

Matthew 16:14

Those in the John the Baptist camp, would have seen the similarities between the two men, related by birth and born in what we would term the same ‘academic year’. Both preached about the coming of the kingdom and the need for repentance, both had their own disciples and followers, both caused a stir in the status quo. But John had been decapitated – his death, though, was not a public execution, perhaps there were those who didn’t believe that John had really died, rather that he had taken on a new identity. After all, John had come to prepare the way for the one who was to come, one greater than him. Perhaps with family likenesses of the face, all John  needed to do was have a shave and change out of his camel hair attire and he would have been the spitting image of Jesus, and vice versa?

Those in the Elijah camp would have been reminded of the promise of Elijah’s return, and indeed, Jesus will shortly be ‘transfigured’ and as he does so Elijah (and Moses) will appear alongside him. There were other similarities between the two great preachers, both were able to perform miracles, heal the sick, multiply food and raise the dead. In Jesus, the Israelites were seeing the stories they had been told since childhood come to life, and with prophecy of Elijah’s return to herald the Messiah, excitement was growing. The Elijah camp were looking in the right direction but couldn’t see what was in front of them.

Those in the Jeremiah camp could see the similarities between the teachings and actions of the prophet and the rabbi before them, as John P Parsons writes:

The prophet Jeremiah clearly foreshadowed the prophetic ministry of Yeshua our Messiah. Both Jeremiah and Yeshua were called to deliver the judgement of God upon sinful man. Both lived in a time of political upheaval and unrest for Judah. In a sense both were ‘prophets of doom’ who became ‘enemies of the Jewish state’. Both condemned hypocrisy and foretold disaster unless the people turned away from their sin and turned to God with all their hearts. Both were ‘weeping prophets’ who lamented over the City of Jerusalem. Both were misunderstood and persecuted by the people of their day. Both rejected the Temple worship as corrupt and beyond repair. Both condemned the ‘religious’ reinterpretation of the Torah….

http://www.hebrew4Christians.com

Those who saw in Jesus John, Elijah, Jeremiah or any of the other prophets were looking back to a golden age and placing in the things gone by, a hope for the future, a hope for their present.

Peter, however, saw something new. Peter didn’t look back to what had gone before, but was looking forwards to what can be, to what Jesus can bring, and is excited to be a part of it. Peter looks at Jesus and knows that he isn’t history being repeated, he is the future present, he is the Kingdom come.

And as Jesus hears these words from Peter he rejoices, ‘by Jove I think he’s got it’, to borrow from Pygmalion. It is this new understanding, this fresh approach to faith that will form the bedrock of the new way of faith in God. Peter may be headstrong, he may jump in with both feet without thinking things through, but he does so with a passion, a love for God that is true and his eyes fixed upon a vision of the future restored by the Messiah’s, by Jesus’ presence in it.

We are challenged by Peter’s visionary thinking. Humans have a tendency to look back to a golden age. An age when  the sun shine all summer long and the harvests were plentiful, when there were enough jobs to go around and it always snowed at Christmas. Perhaps we look back to a golden age when nobody had to work on Sundays and marriages never crumbled to divorce, when churches were full and children were happy and obedient. Politicians win elections by promising to make their nations ‘Great’ again. But was it ever so?

Truth is, life has not been perfect since Adam and Eve shared a forbidden picnic.  When we look back, we do so with rose tinted glasses, blocking out the things that we don’t want to remember. The world will only be perfect again when Jesus returns to restore it. In the meantime, we are left with as much brokenness as there has always been, but we are also left with hope and a sense of purpose. Just like Peter we are challenged to build God’s kingdom in the here and now: to love as God loves, to serve as Jesus serves, and to worship as Holy Spirit does.

Something to watch:

 

Something to think about:

  • What moment would you look back on as being your ‘golden’ time in your walk with Jesus? What makes it ‘golden’ in our memory?
  • Is it possible to make every age a golden one? How?
  • If there was something you could change within your worshipping community to make it golden again, what would it be?
  • What do you think that would achieve?
  • How can we look forward as Peter did?
  • How can we look towards, and act towards, ‘Kingdom come’?

Something to pray:

Loving Lord, once more we would confess our faith in you, acknowledging you as the Messiah, the son of the living God, the one who sets us free and brings us life.

Help us to honour you not only in words but also through living faithfully as your people, your Body, your Church, working for and witnessing to your kingdom n word and deed.

Receive our worship, receive our faith, for your name’s sake. Amen.

Nick Fawcett

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