Sermon on Mark 3:13-19 (Lesley)

English: Jesus calling Simon Peter and his bro...
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Mark 3:13-19

Jesus Appoints the Twelve

 13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Jesus chose twelve people to be his apostles, to be his closest band of disciples, those who would do what he did. Those who would learn from him closely, like the disciples of a great artist or a great violin maker; those who would watch and listen and listen and watch and become like the one that they were following.

There is a great tradition of rabbis doing this, of training others to follow in their footsteps, but first they had to make it all the way through school.

The Jewish people sent their boys to school. They would memorise the Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy…. all off by heart. This was called Beit Sefer. At the age of 10 the best ones would stay on at school, those who had managed this feat. However, most would go off and learn their father’s trade at that point. I think Jesus was still at school aged 12, because we learn about his visit to the Temple, when he was left behind, and how amazed the rabbis were amazed at his questions and his understanding. Presumably he was asking them about the scriptures.

Those that stayed would go on to memorise the rest of the Hebrew scriptures – Genesis all the way through Malachi, off by heart. This was called Beit Talmud. They would stay at school until they were fourteen or fifteen, and then most would go and learn their father’s trade. However, the very best, who had accomplished this would carry on with their learning. I imagine it was many, a tiny percentage.

These few would go and find a rabbi and become a disciple – I disciple doesn’t just want to know what the rabbi know he want to be like the rabbi is. This was called Beit Midrash. Now the rabbis had different understandings of the scriptures, different interpretations, and that rabbi’s teachings were known as that rabbi’s ‘yoke’. So if you wanted to follow a particular rabbi, you wanted to take on that particular ‘yoke’. So, aged fifteen a boy would find a rabbi and go for an interview. He would be grilled, and at this point most would fail, however, if they were really impressive, then the rabbi would say ‘come and follow me’. And then the kid would leave his family and his village and his friends. Each rabbi would travel, and go from town to town, teaching the scriptures, followed by his disciples. By the end of the day the disciples would be covered in whatever the rabbis would have stepped in. And so there was a saying ‘may you covered in the dust of your rabbi’.

I believe this is what happened to Jesus. I don’t think he was ever a carpenter. He was the best of the best of the best at school – he knew and understood the scriptures like no other lad. I believe he left Nazareth aged fifteen, and he was a disciple until he was thirty, which is the age at which they were expected to find their own disciples.

However, when Jesus called his disciples, he called fishermen like Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John. People that were no longer in school – they were learning their father’s trade – they were not the best of the best of the best.

In this passage Jesus chooses the twelve for three purposes:

1. to be with him

2. to send them out to preach

3. to drive out demons

There could only be twelve that were close enough to observe Jesus closely enough to become like him. To live with him, listen to him, watch him, be with him…. To do what he does. And then those twelve would make disciples, passing on the message, the “yoke”.

This has passed on to us now. We are called to be with Jesus. We have the ability to be with him through the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Scriptures. But we also need to learn from each other, learn from those in whom we can see God acting. In each community of Christians we all have gifts and we can learn so much from each other, if we are close enough and real enough and open enough.

It is a tremendous honour to be disciples of Jesus. Let’s see if we together can be covered in the dust of our rabbi Jesus, let’s see if we together can be transformed such that we can know Jesus and do what he does.

Amen

Note: much of this comes from Rob Bell’s Nooma video “Dust”

Sermon – John 1:43-end (again) – Lesley

Byzantine icon of the cursing of the fig tree.
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John 1:43-end

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,* you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

The operative phrase in this passage is “Follow Me”. It is an exciting passage, right at the beginning of John’s Gospel and Jesus is calling his disciples…. but what is ha calling them to?

They are called to be part of a loving, growing, spirirtual community, centred on Jesus.

As we are. The ripples that started way back then, distant in time and space have come and overtaken us too. We are called to part of the same loving, growing, spiritual community… and we call it “church”.

Church is not a building

Church is not services

Church is us – this community – we are church.

Church is exciting – Jesus said we would see great things – church is healing, it is challenging, it changes us.

Church is a place where we are free to be ourselves.

Let’s face it. Nathanael was a bit mouthy. What would I say to my kids if they said “Aldershot, can anything good come from Aldershot?”

No guile, but tactless too.

But Jesus commends him, he knows him, he loves him, he speaks words of affirmation over him – in Christ’s church Nathanael is free to be himself.

I was on retreat at the weekend and I think God was challenging me about this.

How authentic am I? Am I free to be myself in church? Are others?

I began to get a general feeling that things go unsaid….

I watched a film the other day where a twelve year old boy called Gabe in Manhattan finds his first love and the film is beautifully observed, all the pain and trauma he goes through. And his parents are divorcing but living together with Gabe in an apartment, and Gabe turns to his dad for love advice, he says:

Gabe: Dad, what’s the deal with girls? I mean, why are they the way they are?

Dad: You’re talking to the wrong man.

Gabe: Well, how come all love has to end?

Dad: Let me tell you something about me and your mom. Once upon a time, we really loved each other, but as time went by, there just got to be all these things, little things, stupid things, that were left unsaid. And all these things that were left unsaid piled up, like the clutter in our storage room. And after a while, there was so much that was left unsaid, that we barely said anything at all.

Gabe: Well, why didn’t you just say them then, dad?

Dad: I don’t know, Gabe. I kind of wish I had.

In the end his dad does say some things and the marriage is restored. But it got me thinking about myself and in particular the way people are in churches, is there a lot of stuff unsaid, and what would happen if we said some of it?

This can affect our marriages, our churches and our relationships with God. I became a Christian when I was 14 and I was full of joy, full of hope, delighted to be part of the community that is the church. But I had a no-go area where I wouldn’t let God in, a bit like some couples have no-go areas, subjects over which they always fight,so they don’t go there…. But it can be like a disease, slowly infecting the rest. And that was how it was with me and God… slowly I lost my joy until when I was 19 I was really just a nominal Christian… until I had a spiritual experience where I could confess this thing, for it was something about which I was deeply ashamed.

And in our communities we have a magic gift that Jesus gave us to help our communities, our marriages, our relationships heal…

..and I’m not going to say the Holy Spirit, although we have that too

..it is the teaching on forgiveness.

Central to Jesus’ teaching.

Central to the Lord’s Prayer

“Lord forgive us our sins” and that is what we need so often, it is what I needed as a teenager

“as we forgive those who sin against us” – this is what heals our communities.

Forgiveness is like having broken glass in our hands (clench fist)

It hurts so much we can’t look at it, we can’t open our hand…

And if anyone comes near to us we go “Grrrr” because it hurts so much.

But to get better we have to unfurl our fingers and look at the wound and take out the pieces of glass, and sometimes we need someone to help us…. And forgiveness can take a long time, it can be a long and painful process because there may be many shards in there and it is no good to just get one shard out and leave the rest in…

But then it feels so good when we can use our hand again.

And this community, this church is meant for fruitfulness….

If we go back to the passage we find that Jesus says that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree, and as it is John’s Gospel we can probably take all the details as symbolic in some way. The fig tree represents Israel in the scriptures. The unique thing about the fig tree, unlike all other trees, is that the fruit appears before the leaves. My mum had a fig tree and although the fruit appeared before the leaves, it took all summer for the fruit to ripen. But the point is that as soon as you see leaves on the fig tree you can look and see the fruit ripening too.

I believe the fig tree is a sign of Israel because the Jews were not just meant to be showy about their religion, not just observe the feasts and worship and pray, but they were also to bear fruit – to love one another and reach out to the poor and the widows etc.

Hence when Jesus sees a fig tree without fruit he curses it. Our religion, our feasts, our festivals mean nothing without us bearing fruit and loving one another and the stranger in our midst.

So what does it mean to you, to us when Jesus says “Follow me”? What is he calling us to?

And are we free to be ourselves, in our churches? Are they, are we loving like Jesus sufficiently that we can be known and loved as we are?

And do we forgive, do we need to know that God forgives us? Do we have areas where we need to forgive others?

And can we be fruitful as a church? Can we respond to the call on our lives to love God and love others too?

Amen

Sermon – Mark 1:4-11 (Jennifer)

Jesus baptism site - River Jordan 015
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Mark 1.4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

 The baptism of Jesus.

 Aren’t there times when we all feel like a fresh start

– a new beginning.

Our New Year’s resolutions – slim down, eat less, exercise more,

Give up smoking,

These are relatively straight forward,

though sometimes difficult enough to put into practise

But what about those more difficult issues

Life isn’t perfect, we’re not perfect.

We make mistakes, we have regrets,

There are time when it would feel wonderful to leave all these behind us – in the past –

and start again.

One of the great comforts and joys of the Christian faith

is that we know and love a God who by his very nature is forgiving

who allows us

encourages us

to let go of past failures and begin again.

And because this is what our God is like,

this is how he would have us be as well.

‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’

During every regular act of worship there is an opportunity to remember our failures before God

accompanied by assurance of His forgiveness.

When we are very troubled we can seek a private opportunity for the consolation of confession.

And indeed the very moment of the start of our life in Christ is a moment of new beginnings

Of turning away from evil – towards Christ

Of being washed clean in the waters of Baptism.

For each of us these are very personal, precious moments

moments between me and my God.

But just think, as we say the words of confession together,  aren’t we also to consider our failings as a community,

To bring these before God and to find a better way.

At the time we read about in today’s Gospel it seems that a vast number of the Jewish nation were seeking a new way.

People went out to John in the Judean desert from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.

Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the river Jordan.

Not one or two people, but almost the whole nation.

There’s practically no reference to any form of baptism in the Old Testament

So at this time baptism was a very recent development.

We know that the Jews of the Qumran community, made famous by their writings we call the Dead Sea Scrolls, living beside the Dead Sea not far from John,

attached great importance to ritual washing.

They viewed the Temple worship of Jerusalem as corrupt.

And refused to take part in the Temple sacrifices.

They compensated for this by immersing themselves daily in a communal bath – in a spirit of repentance for cleansing of sin.

It’s not really surprising then to find John the Baptist,

just up the road,

demanding Israel’s repentance,

signified by a once for all baptism in preparation for the coming judgement of the Messiah.

John was what we would now describe as a “hellfire preacher”.

He demanded total immersion from his followers,

which symbolised that inward purity and repentance which would deliver them from immersion in the coming river of fire.

John was thought to be the last of the old prophets who preached about the coming day of reckoning,

and who visualised it as something utterly terrifying.

The images of purification are always of refiner’s fire,

as though the badness and evil could only be burned out of people’s souls.

Hence the medieval images of Hell.

The people revered John’s preaching,

and although some left him to follow Jesus,

he still had plenty of disciples of his own at the end of his life.

In fact his following continued long after his life,

some, called Mandeans, survive to this day.

So John’s baptism was a turning to God baptism

‘a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’.

A conversion baptism

– this link between conversion and baptism remains constant throughout the New Testament.

Jesus was one of those who came to John for baptism by total immersion.

And this seems to have been a transforming moment in Jesus’ own life,

for it was after this that he began his own ministry in Galilee.

Indeed, St.Mark, with his characteristic immediacy, starts his Gospel with this very moment in his account of the Life of Jesus,

he doesn’t record anything before.

At this moment St.Mark describes the heavens as “rent asunder”, torn apart,

using this identical phrase again at end of Jesus’ ministry,

when Jesus is hanging on the cross and the curtain of the temple is torn apart.

At the same moment a dove,

a symbol of the Holy Spirit borrowed from Genesis,

from the creation of the world when God’s spirit hovered like a bird over the waters,

is seen hovering over Jesus.

It is tempting to suppose, as many modern commentators do, that this experience awakened in Jesus a consciousness of his unique relationship to God, and of his vocation as Israel’s Messiah.

This may be so, but it is not a safe interpretation.

– it is a conjecture inspired by a modern desire to enter into the psychology of the religious experience of Jesus.

In the texts we’re never given any hint of the way Jesus’ mind works.

This is not what the Gospel is dealing with.

The message to us here, lies in that Epiphany word – Manifest

God in Man made manifest

Manifest – to reveal – to show clearly

For this moment of baptism is primarily about revelation.

Here we have revealed before us

Jesus the Son of God.

And look at the wonderful trinitarian imagery

God the Father in heaven

Sending his Son Jesus into the world

Empowered by the Holy Spirit coming in the form of a dove

Here we have God’s supreme fresh start

That which we find in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let us pray

Lord of all time and eternity,
you opened the heavens and revealed yourself as Father
in the baptism of Jesus your beloved Son:
by the power of your Spirit
complete the heavenly work of our rebirth
through the waters of the new creation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sermon – John 1:43-end (Lesley)

English: Icon of Jesus Christ
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John 1:43-end

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,* you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Do we really think that we are ok?

Do we feel lovable?

Do we feel worthy?

Do we feel acceptable?

In this Gospel passage the most obvious attribute that Nathanael has is his scathing prejudice against the town of Nazareth and all that comes from it.

But Jesus saw Nathanael differently.

He says ‘Here is truly an Israelite with no deceit’.

Or guile, sometimes the word ‘deceit’ is translated as ‘guile’ – sly or cunning intelligence.

Now the listeners would know this was a compliment – their forefathers didn’t have a great foundation in being free from guile – Jacob stole the birth right from his brother Esau, and his grandfather Abraham passed his wife Sarah off as his sister. In fact the whole human race is tarnished with guile as Adam tried to blame Eve in the Garden of Eden and Eve tried to blame the snake.

I guess the fact that Nathanael was willing to speak his mind about those who come from Nazareth has the flip side of not being cunning or deceitful.

Jesus saw the positive side. He saw the worth in the man. He accepted him immediately. He enjoyed the encounter.

Taken aback Nathanael asks how Jesus knows him and he replies that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree. Now John’s Gospel is alive with signs and symbols, so the fig tree probably means something… there are a few possibilities:

Being under the fig tree is a phrase used by the Old Testament prophets to be an image of peace of the day of the Lord, in Micah 4:3-4 it says:

They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.

So in that case perhaps there is a suggestion that Nathanael is secure and at peace in the Kingdom of God.

The fig tree also represented Israel,why this should be, I don’t know. But the unique thing about the fig tree, unlike all other trees, is that the fruit appears before the leaves. So there is a suggestion that all the religious observance, all the worship and incense and ceremony and the like, is like the leaves – it isn’t the important thing – it is only the aftermath of the bearing of fruit.

In this sense, Nathanael is a true Israelite – he doesn’t have all the tidy morality or the embellished piety that we might expect of a believer – he just comes up with the fruit – “you are the Son of God” he declares to Jesus.

Did we expect Jesus to chide Nathanael for his prejudice or to commend him for his lack of guile? Do we expect God to condemn us for our failings or to spot that which is commendable in us? It seems to me that God loves us just as we are, and in being loved we change into better people, like Nathanael changing from cynic to believer in the space of a few minutes.

It is a bit like the story of the wind and the sun arguing about who was the greatest:

“We shall have a contest,” said the Sun.
Far below, a man travelled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.
“As a test of strength,” said the Sun, “Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man.”
“It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat,” bragged the Wind.
The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.
Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.
The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.
Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.

Can we see God as the sun? Shining love upon us until we feel safe enough to remove the protective overcoats and masks and coping mechanisms? When you come to Jesus in prayer remember that it is the real you that the Lord loves. Amen.

Sermon – Luke 2:15-21 (Jennifer’s Christmas I Sermon)

English: Our beloved Lady Saint Mary with Her ...
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Luke 2.15-21

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Wonders of the Universe!
Dr. Brian Cox!
What an amazing series,
And we were able to watch it again this week.

I enjoyed it possibly even more than the first time through.
It is just one of those subjects that compel us to return again and again.

The sheer magnitude of the numbers, of space, time, matter,
just blow our minds.
They are beyond our comprehension.

One of the joys of this series for me is the way Brian Cox and the team behind the programs use illustrations from our planet earth,
Familiar television images,
to make more comprehensible the wonders of the universe that are so hard for our imagination to grasp.

The picture of a glacier breaking up into the sea
To illustrate the forward motion of time.

The way space/time is curved by the gravitational pull of the fabric of the universe illustrated by the beautiful peaks and troughs of a snow covered mountain range viewed from above.

One of the wonders of Our God that we celebrate at Christmas time is that the Creator of the Whole Universe comes to live among us here on this little planet earth.

What’s more, he is born as a vulnerable little baby with only an animals’ manger for a cradle.

The paradox of our faith, God becomes human.
We just can’t get our minds round it.

2000 years ago, when the angels appeared to the shepherds and told them to go to Bethlehem to see “the Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
The shepherds didn’t wait.
They didn’t doubt their own senses, but went straight away to Bethlehem and found the baby.
The meeting with baby Jesus had such a profound effect on them that they couldn’t keep it to themselves but spread it to the whole town.
Everyone was amazed.
And it wasn’t the encounter with the angels that set the shepherds talking to everyone they met,
but the encounter with the baby.
You might have expected the visit by the angels to have filled the shepherds with such awe and wonder that they couldn’t help worshipping God.
After all, it isn’t every day that you’re visited by a heavenly choir who relay a direct message from God.
But although you might easily see a baby every day, it was actually the baby that set the shepherds aflame for God.

So even at that time,
when Jesus was newborn and completely helpless and vulnerable like every other newborn baby,
incapable even of smiling because he was so young, there was still something so special about him that it made the shepherds spread the word concerning him and return glorifying and praising God.

The shepherds could perhaps be described as the first evangelists, as they were the first people to tell others about Jesus.

Mary, by contrast, said nothing. She treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart,
which is perhaps fairly unusual behaviour for a mother.
Many mothers can’t wait to sing the praises of their children, and tell anyone who will listen all about their child’s remarkable qualities.
But for Mary it was too important and too deep to be casually tossed around in idle chatter.
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart, using them as the precious basis for all her future thought and way of being.

So Mary too was changed by her encounter with the baby.
When the baby was eight days old, Mary took him to be circumcised as the Law demanded, and at his naming ceremony named him Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us –
Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us
Just like those incomprehensible wonders of the universe are made more real for us by illustrations from our familiar earth,
So we find that the Supreme Mystery that is Our God
is made more real for us
by the Birth, Life, Death and Resurrection of a simple man – Jesus of Nazareth –
someone just like us, familiar to us all.

And there is more –
Jesus is not simply an illustration of what God is like,
he is God with us.

Just as we have come to appreciate more clearly the physics of the material universe and use these powers to enrich our lives,

So as we, like Mary, treasure up all these things
and ponder in our hearts
The Word made flesh and dwelling among us
The name of Jesus, God with us, gives us power,
power to become the adopted children of God, and call him Abba, Father.