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”