Saturday, 12 March 2016

Getting Ready for Holy Week

At the beginning of Holy Week, we stand with Jesus before the gates of a city.
The eternal city, a city loved and fought over in equal measure for millennia. A city where God is to be found, and it is with Jesus this week, if you dare join us as we journey together in this city of our making, that we too will find God.

As we stand before the gates of Jerusalem with our Lord, We know that once we pass through these gates, once we enter this Holy week we shall be swept up in events that we cannot control and that will bring us to the very edge of what we can bear, as we walk with our Lord  to Calvary and the tomb.

Holy tells us that God is able to change everything about us – our fear, our sin, our guilt, our untruthfulness. But to receive that change in the actual circumstances of our lives , to received the hope of life in all its fullness that is THE  Easter many of us are content to embrace without first visiting the upper room or walking through dusty and dangerous streets,  without struggling up the hill of crucifixion, we need to make this Holy week ours.

We need to see these precious few days as an opportunity to live our lives through the lives of those first followers of Jesus Christ who went on to change this world for ever and find in all the twists and turns of their lives that God is truly with us and never forsakes us.

Jesus does not steer us away from the gates and send us back into the holy silence of the desert or the peace of the countryside. He keeps us close to him as we stand at the gates, and he tells us that these are also the gates of heaven.

If you are prepared to be caught up in the drama of these next few days, if you are choose to come and be part of the beautiful liturgies that mark this Holy week, If you are prepared to walk with Jesus into the city, to the cross and the tomb, there is a joy and a mystery at the end of the path, because it is inexhaustible divine love that walks with us. We stand not just at the gates of the city of wrong, the great city where the Lord was crucified, as revelation says, but also at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. For our journey past these gates take us to a garden and in that garden the place where the miracle of life is made clear as with the rising of sun the darkness and chaos of this city is transformed by the light of the risen Son.

At these city gates, we see endless possibilities. We can enter with Jesus and walk with him to his garden of new life. Or we can enter and find ourselves caught up in the murderous crowds, and, at the end of it all, find ourselves with hands both empty and bloodstained. Or we can stay at the gates, unwilling to commit ourselves because we know that as soon as we enter there will be trial and suffering; but if we stay there, we shall never reach the garden. How much do we want to be there, where God walks with us again in the cool of the day?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

James and John ask Jesus a question

In the exchange between Jesus and his disciples that begins with James and John we have much to learn and much common ground to be found.

James and John approach Jesus with a question, a question that reveals much about what is on their mind at this time – ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ Mark 10.37

It is refreshing to see that Jesus does not shut down their request. He does not make conditions before they ask what is on their mind, he simply allows them to speak, to ask of him what it is that they want.

In this we are reminded that we can always approach Jesus with what is on our mind, he is there for us, there is no need to make an appointment, just speak and he will listen.

And when they have asked, a question that not just the other 10 disciples find distasteful but one that we shake our heads at and think “how foolish, how slow to learn” Jesus treats their question seriously. He does no dismiss their need, their desire however wide of the mark it may be, but instead he engages with them meeting them where they are and then leading them to a deeper understanding.

Jesus remains open to the request from James and John. “What do you want me to do?” replies Jesus. Maybe we should just pause there for a moment and think to our selves What would I ask of Jesus if I was standing before him as James and John were?

What is at the top of my wish list?

James and John ask to “Sit at Jesus’ right and left in his glory”. It easy to be quick in judging them, Yes it is possible to see their response as naive and their request arising from pride or lust for power. However it may have been that they simple wanted to near to their friend and Lord, that sitting at Jesus’ right and left was the fulfilment of their desire.

Can the same be said of us – do we really desire to be at the side of Jesus, not just in his glory but in his life of service and in his suffering?

When we read of the anger of the other disciples I wonder what is at the heart of that anger? Is it that they are angry because James and John seemed to be making a bid for power or privileged and they were too slow to ask first? or is it that they see the folly in asking such a question, that the Kingdom the Jesus is speaking about and building is their midst is a far cry from the earthly kingdoms that rely upon power, favour and political ambition.

We may be quick to dismiss James and John and their swift response to the question of their lord as he asks “ Are you able to drink of the cup I drink and be baptised with the Baptism I am baptised with”

We, especially with hindsight, might be tempted to judge their response as foolhardy and not thought out. For Jesus has just told them what awaits him in Jerusalem in the preceding verses of the gospel.

Jesus has just told them that the cup that is to be held out to him contains a bitter and deadly draft. But these two disciples accept without question.

However what in fact the two disciples reveal is a quality that is worth striving for, an obedience and desire to accept what ever it takes to follow their Lord. And in the light of their response we need to ask ourselves
Could we, would we, accept the cup and baptism of Jesus if we were looking at the suffering humiliation and death that Jesus was looking at?

“ You will Drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with” replies Jesus to you and me who dare to accept him as our Lord and who risk everything to follow him.
Although Jesus is unable to grant James and John a place at his side, These places belong to those whom they have been prepared”: Jesus is able to assure them, and you and me, that should we drink of the cup He drinks we will not be left drinking on our own.

As we think of the terrible violence in Syria and once again erupting in Israel/Palestine with 17 killed last week  

As we are reminded all over again of the mindless and senseless loss of life on our streets as a 17 year old was stabbed to death in West London yesterday

As we worry about what is ahead of us this week in our own lives

Let us place our hope and faith in God through his Son Jesus Christ who is our servant king and who calls us now to follow him, and bring our lives to him - as a daily offering.

Let us pray

Oh people, you shall not drown in your tears
But tears shall bathe your wounds

Oh people, you shall not die from hunger
But hunger shall feed your souls.

Oh people, you are not weak in your suffering
But strong and brave with knowing

Oh people, If you have known struggle
Only then are you capable of loving.

Oh people, be aware of the love you have

Let not your tears submerge it
Let not your hunger eat it
Let not your suffering destroy it

Oh people, bitterness does not replace a grain of love
Let us be awake in our love.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Seek the Lord and live

6 Seek the Lord and live,
 or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
 and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it” Amos 5.6

'Seek' is the key word in these verses. When we seek for something that is lost, we do everything in our power to find it. Many of the people of Israel, like Amos himself, were shepherds, and if they had lost a sheep they would do anything in their power to seek it and bring it back to the safety of the fold.

Some people have lost touch with one whom they love very much, and they will do anything to seek them out and find them. We also use the word 'seek' for some great aim and purpose that we have in life. In this way it is linked to our hearts desire and the vision, aim and purpose of our life

In the gospel reading set for this Sunday a young man is seeking the answer to his desire to gain eternal life. Jesus looks at him, and loves him, and because of that love tells him the truth, gives him the hard answer, that for him he needs to sell his possessions so that there can be room for God in his heart and mind and life.

It is challenging to ask ourselves what, or whom, we seek most in our lives. It was this kind of question with which Amos challenged Israel to take stock of where they were as God’s chosen people.

From the previous chapter of this fiery prophets words we read how keen many of the people of Israel were about their religion. They went to the famous sanctuaries of Bethel and Gilgal, famous because of what God had done there in years past. They offered many sacrifices. They brought their tithes. They made their freewill offerings so that everyone could see how religious they were. 'For so you love to do', the Lord said to them.

But God made plain through the message of Amos that He had no pleasure in what they were doing. It was only multiplying their sins, because their hearts were far from God, and while they worshipped in the sanctuaries, they were oppressing the poor and corrupting justice (2:6-8 and 8:4-6).

So now Amos challenges them about what they were really seeking, and says directly to them, 'Do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba'.

Amos is challenging the people not to go to the established temples, the places where God is known to have spoken or places where he has appeared in the past. Not to seek God in the familiar places but in the unknown in the strange places. Amos is challenging them that if they are true seekers of God then they will be taken outside of their comfort zone.

Amos is critical of those around him who show the outward appearance of piety but who do not let their faith in God change their lives and influence their choices.

Going to a place of worship has no meaning or value, unless we seek God. It is He who matters - that we should know Him, love Him, serve Him, and do His will.

'Seek Me' said the Lord through Amos. 'Seek the Lord,' said the prophet, to those around him; if there was one message that to his dying day Amos would have wanted more than any other to bring to the people, it would have been just that, “Seek the Lord and live.”

Real life is found only in seeking and knowing Him. Life otherwise is not truly worthwhile. Not His holy places, not His great gifts, but Himself, we are to seek.

As Augustine put it, God has made us for Himself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him. We may go to the place of worship and yet not have God. We may have God's gifts, we may have money, power, importance, but without God we have no real life.

How wonderful it is that we do not need to depend on going on pilgrimage to a special place of worship, that our life does not really depend on wealth or power that we have, but that wherever we are we can seek God Himself and find Him! We can live each day knowing that He is with us, that He is guiding us, and giving us strength. 'Seek the Lord and live' is the word of Amos that still comes to us.

Instead of upholding what was just, they 'cast down righteousness to the earth'. If they continued in this way, then they must face the fire of judgment as much as each of the nations of whom Amos spoke in 1:3-2:5. What is true of Israel, the chosen nation of the Earth, is true of us here at St John and St Matthias.
we are facing a time of change. At the end of the month our vicar leaves the parishes.
Some of the old ways of doing things may no longer be relevant or able to bring people to God.
It maybe that God is calling you to find him at work not in the familiar but in the unexpected?
In a few months time our bishop, Bishop Rob will come and ask  “what is it that God is calling you to do in his name in this community?” What are you seeking by way of a new priest, a new leader?
Where is God leading you as a congregation?

Let your answer be that you “Seek the Lord so that you may live”

Monday, 28 September 2015

Whoever is not against us is for us

In the September of 1999, 16 years ago, when I arrived in the parish of St John tone of the first things we did was have a PCC away day to look at what we thought God was calling us to do and be in West Hendon. It was a day of visions and dreams and yes a little reminiscence much has happened in the intervening years that I believe to have been positive.

One of the challenges was to find a strap line, a simple sentence that would sum up our first Mission Action Plan that came out of that away day all those years ago. In my mind there were two possibilities the first was the quote from Jesus recorded by St Mark that we have just heard this morning in our gospel reading: Whoever is not against us is for us”, but in the end it was the words of John our Patron that we used “I came that you might have life and have it in abundance”  John 10.10

Looking back over the last 16 years of course I think it is fair to say that much of what we have been able to achieve together, at that time a  small group of around 30 regular worshipping Adults, we have not done on our own but by making relationships and alliances with those around us who, like us, wish to join in the endeavour of living life in abundance.

As we faced the prospect of closure all those years ago we have been confident, creative and compassionate, to use the latest language of our Diocese, in embracing the challenges around us, in responding to the needs of those whom God has called us to minster to, to witness to and too whom we strive to carry the light of Christ.

It has maybe at times meant that we have worked with those with whom we might never have conceived of as partners in gospel, Muslim and Hindu neighbours and of course those for whom a faith in God in not just faint memory but non existent.

But this is the same situation that the few who followed Jesus, his disciples, faced 2000 years ago. When faced with that challenge, proclaiming the good news in a multicultural and Multifaith landscape,  the disciples displayed the all to familiar and natural tendency to retreat to the security of the known – we saw someone casting out demons in your name but we tried to stop him because he was not following us. Isn’t it interesting that when the disciples, who have been sent out to spread the gospel, see some sign of the Kingdom of God breaking into the turmoil and chaos of the world their response is to make it all about them…he was not following us!  

At a time when the strongest voices of those in the church seem to be advocating a breaking up of consensus, a demand for ever tighter definitions of who is right and who is wrong; who is in and who is out. At a time when individual choice is put above collective solidarity Jesus’ words stand as a rebuke “Do not stop him for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us”

In his tour of America we are seeing the Pope challenge the Roman Catholic church to turn from the rhetoric of division and judgement and embrace the values of the gospel that is built upon the one who forgives, who seeks out the lost and fallen and raises them up and gives live – live in abundance. This Sunday he is in a Prison in the States not to add to the judgement and condemnation of those men but to offer another narrative one of forgiveness and love.

Many of our most joyous and life filled days have been with our neighbours, The many years of being a partner with the Barnet Multicultural centre next door and organising the Barnet Multicultural days. The endless run of summer fetes, cream teas, coffee mornings, Christmas bazars, harvest festivals and the list goes on have been enriched by those who have come to join us in our live and celebration of life as God’s children attempting to live faithfully under Christ.

When we look at the text of our gospel this morning it is of direct relevance to us that the words of Jesus “whoever is not against us is for us” come as a response to the fear and exclusivity of the disciples. “Teacher we saw someone casting out a demon in your name and we tried to stop him  because he was not following us”

Someone doing good “casting out a demon” provokes a response in the mind and actions of the disciples that seeks to prevent the good from happening “We tried to stop him” . It is interesting that they tried and failed!

But why?

Maybe the clue is in the words of warning that follow the command of Jesus to his disciples not to be afraid of the “other” not to seek to control the agents of God who bring peace and health to this world but who may be from a group outside of our own making?  

Jesus warns his disciples, and he warns us, that if your eye cause to you stumble tear it out.

St Paul warns us of the power of the tongue to both build up the body of Christ and also to inflict division and pain. Jesus is using the metaphor of the eye.

We are being warned of the dangers of the green eyed monster- envy and jealousy
we are being warned of the wandering eye that can lead us down a path of betrayal suffering and the death of relationships.

It is so often our judgments born from envy and jealousy that cause the pain and division that is in the church of out time. We cannot accept that someone who so unlike us, that others who we find it impossible to understand or love are in fact also loved by God.

The divisions within the church are human made not God made. If the inclination of the church is to make a judgement about the lives of others then this is in stark contrast to the person and example of Jesus.

We need to learn that there are more ways than we can understand in which God comes to us and in which we come to God.

We should no stop anyone because they are not doing things in the way that we do things. God is far bigger than our comprehension and works in so many ways beyond our understanding: we must guard against being exclusivity of human nature that tries to turn the Church in to a club of like minded people.

As Followers of Christ we are called to work in this world of his, a world vast and complex, a world of wondering beauty and amazing diversity  with a generosity that we see in the life and death of Jesus Christ who for us while we were still sinners came that we might have life.

It is this generosity of Spirit that is a sign of the Kingdom and one that stands in stark contrast to the envy, jealousy and mean spiritedness of the world around us.

Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me.
40Whoever is not against us is for us.