Sunday, 5 September 2021

Taking a stand - for creation






Mark 7:24-37


The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Jesus Cures a Deaf Man

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”


In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer. Amen


I felt a bit torn this morning.

The gospel we’ve just read is one of my favourites.

(You’ll have gathered I have lots of favourite gospel passages)

I love this bolshy Syrophoenician woman who argues with Jesus.

A woman who doesn’t, as would have been expected, just slink quietly away when dismissed by a Jewish rabbi but who comes back at him, giving as good as she gets, demolishing Jesus’ totally expected responses. Countering his traditional argument.

I think you know me well enough by now to know that that kind of bolshiness appeals to me.

And, of course I’d want to dwell on how it was a woman who forced Jesus to expand his horizons, to embrace the inclusiveness and infinite nature of the unconditional love of God.

It was a woman who, by standing her ground, challenged the limiting expectations of the prevalent culture and opened up new possibilities and new ways of imagining and encountering God.


But, today, we are also entering the  Creation season in our church calendar.

A season to focus on our relationship with all that God created and our place in caring for all of creation.

And it’s important to honour that too.

So, I was torn.

Syrophoenician woman or Creation?


Until it dawned on me that the Syrophoenician woman fits perfectly into Creation season.

That snapshot of someone stepping up to make a difference.

Someone who says what they see.

Someone who is not intimidated by authority.

Someone who speaks truth to power.

That’s exactly the kind of action that we need to change attitudes today, the kind of alternative thinking that challenges how we live and what we might do to honour the whole of creation as God has entrusted us to do.

And make no mistake - God trusts us with the work of God’s hands - even now, even though we’ve shown time and again how to get it so wrong.

Even though history has shown that we have, constantly, played out our misunderstanding of God’s gift of creation - by seeing creation as something we might dominate and exploit rather than something we might carefully nurture and work alongside.

Still, God trusts us to turn things around, to get it right, to work in harmony with God the Creator.

And to do that, we need more bolshy women - and folk of all genders and none - to challenge the traditional nonsense that is trotted out by those who don’t want to change their life styles.

Challenging those who have a vested interest in things staying as they are.

Those who profit through injustice.

Those who get rich by exploiting the Earth’s resources.

Those whose wealth depends on maintaining the status quo.

 If we are to challenge the effects of climate change, if we are to look out for the environment and work with the Creator in attending wisely to all that has been entrusted to our care, we need to listen to the unlikely voices - the voices of children, the voices of bolshy woman and men, the voices of people of all ages who inspire others and effect change by their relentless persistence and their refusal to be silenced or fobbed off with token gestures.

We need to listen to those unlikely voices - and we need to be those voices, 

The Syrophoenician woman was passionate about seeing healing for her sick child, she refused to settle for a standard response.

It’s that kind of passion that is called forth from us.


It’s no coincidence that the other story in the gospel passage today was about a speech impaired deaf man having his ears opened and his tongue released.

As we look around at all the signs in our world.

Signs of lives blighted and limited.

Oppressive governments crushing people because of race or class or gender.

People being silenced.

Those in power tone deaf to the voices calling out for change.

As we witness the ravages of climate change.

Countries destroyed by natural disaster and by the cost of war -  of human engineered conflict.

Our eyes and our ears have been opened.

And our voices and our hands must be released to act justly now - to speak up and to act up to change direction, to challenge leadership, to be passionate about finding a way to make a difference.

For the sake of all creation.

Even when it looks like a course has been set.

Even when it seems as though we have no power or agency.

God invites us, encourages us, implores us to challenge power, to keep the faith and to be the difference that the world needs - for us and for our children.

Let’s take inspiration today from those two stories of healing in the gospel - a woman who fought for the healing of her daughter and a man who was enabled to hear and to speak.

And let’s get bolshy about the things that matter, the things that we want to see changed today -  for the sake of the healing of creation and for the love of God.

Amen.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Encounter at the well




John 4:1-15
Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptising more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptised— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

John 4:27-42
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”

This has long been one of my favourite bible passages.
The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
A story of meeting
A story of recognition
A story of listening
And of knowing.
A story of enquiry and of challenge.
A story of desire and of change.
A story of equipping and of enabling.

Jesus, weary from his journey, sits by a well in the hot midday sun while his disciples go off to find food.
He wouldn’t expect to be disturbed.
For who, in their right mind would visit the well when the sun is hottest?
The early mornings are the time for that.
The early mornings, when the women would gather, exchange news and greetings while they took their turn at the well, filling their jars, before wending their way back to their villages.
Anyone drawing water at this time of day was probably avoiding something, or avoiding people.
So, when a woman comes along, no wonder Jesus’ interest was piqued.
We already know that her being a Samaritan wouldn’t have put Jesus off speaking to her.
Jesus was never one to stick with conventions.
But he would have been curious about her being at the well in the middle of the day.
And so he confronted her by asking for a drink.
I love that the woman was not intimidated by a rabbi speaking to her - surprised, yes, but not silenced as might have been expected.
Indeed it seems like quite a brave conversation to me.
When Jesus asks her for a drink, she challenges him - “Where’s your bucket?”
That, to me, sounds like a feisty woman.
A woman saying : You may be a Rabbi. You may be a Jew. But you still need a bucket to draw water!
This is a courageous woman.
Jesus met her courage head on and invited her to a whole new depth of encounter.
An encounter that only a woman with the kind of courage she possessed would be able to enter into.
Jesus engages her in a conversation that went far beyond the words being spoken - a conversation that resulted in transformation.
It is not Jesus the Rabbi who puts her gas at a peep.
It is the man who offers her the water of life.
That is what draws her in.
In Jesus’ offer, somehow she recognises something that goes way beyond their physical exchange, something that’s much more than banter between foreigners.
Instinctively this woman knows that the offer Jesus makes is deep and wide, far reaching enough to change her life.
And so, going way beyond her feistiness, she responds:
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.”
Somehow Jesus has turned her feistiness into faith, her courageous conversation into committed  conviction.
A conviction so great that she rushes off to tell her neighbours.
And what an evangelist she turned out to be.
At her word, her neighbours wanted to see for themselves this man who offered the water of life.
And when they did, they too were convicted, not just because of what she’d told them but because they too encountered Jesus, the source of life giving water.
Jesus brought transformation by engaging with the woman.
And the woman brought transformation by sharing her gift with her neighbours.

That’s the kind of encounter that Jesus invites us into today.
Encounter that transforms not just our lives but the lives of our community.
Jesus meets us here.
Jesus sees us,
Jesus knows us.
And Jesus offers us life giving water that transforms lives.

So what in this story is speaking to your heart today?
As you come to this well, where people gather, what is it that you need, what is your longing?

Have you come to seek solitude?
At this well, is your desire to be free from the crowds, from the anxiety, from the relentless onslaught of news?
At this well, do you seek, just for a time, some peace, some rest from the madness of daily life?

Have you come to be challenged?
At this well, on the edge of the town, do you seek wisdom for your daily living?
Do you want to be encouraged to wrestle with God’s word and to work out how you live into God’s love in your everyday?
At this well, do you seek, to sit here awhile and revel in familiar texts that underpin your life and work out what, in those texts spell transformation for you?

Have you come to draw deeply from the rich resources available here?
At this well, with its unplumbed depths, do you want to dredge up the sustenance that will allow you and your loved ones to journey on through all the joys and difficulties that you share?

Have you come to this well, in the midday sun, to be known?
Is this the place where you can be yourself?
At this well, are you able to lay down your display of strength, to lay aside the masks that get you through each day?
At this well, are you able to simply be you, knowing that you are seen and loved as you are?

Have you come to this well to be changed?
At this well, do you hear God’s word prompting you to live differently, to love differently, to be different, in response to all that you hear?
At this well, do you experience the will to change?

Jesus invites each of us here, at this well, into an encounter with one who has the water of life.
Those of us who are feisty.
Those of us who are weary.
Those of us who are hopeful.
Those of us who are fearful.
Jesus invites us to drink of the water of life and, in our drinking, be transformed.

What might all this mean today as we seek to live not by fear but by love, not in isolation but in community?
How are we, who gather at this well being called to transform the lives of our community with life giving water?
As we do all that we can, in this time of uncertainty, to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and well, may we model love for our neighbours, whoever they are.
May we model what it is to be in community, looking out for one another, sharing what we have, transforming life by acts of kindness. Always.
Knowing that Jesus transforms us to transform others.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

May we who gather at this well take that life giving water into our neighbourhood and see transformation that is the gift of God for all.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Call to repentance


Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

If only the gospel was relevant for today’s world.
If only it had something to say about the poor, the disadvantaged, about creation, or about the political climate we find ourselves in  - something we might connect with today?
In our gospel reading today, Jesus’ cousin John has just been arrested - John was critical of the ruler of the day, Herod, critical of his economic policies that oppressed those at the bottom of the heap. 
Herod’s oppression of the poor had led to the most vulnerable having nowhere to turn to, no safety net for survival. 
Those who were widowed or orphaned, ill or unable to work were dying in appalling conditions. John had spoken out against Herod’s regime. 
He was also critical of Herod’s personal life, so Herod took him out of the picture, silencing him by putting him in prison.
When Jesus heard this, he probably knew that it was only a mater of time before John would be killed, such is often the fate of those who speak out against oppression, injustice and the misuse of power.
Jesus withdrew to Galilee. 
It wasn’t a quiet withdrawal but an urgent one - he needed to get out of the way for a while or he too was in danger of being arrested. 
And, while that was a constant threat for much of Jesus ministry, it wasn’t yet time for him to be silenced by the authorities.
So Jesus withdrew - fled might be a more accurate description. 
He fled the way his family had been forced to flee with him as a baby when another Herod came looking for him.
But Jesus flight to Galilee after John’s imprisonment was also a flight into the heart of resistance.
Jesus may have taken himself physically out of the way but he knew that really there was nowhere to hide. 
And he knew that, in John’s imprisonment, the baton was well and truly passed to him.
Announcing the kingdom was now the mission of Jesus.
The kingdom that John and now Jesus announced was in stark contrast to the kingdom in which folk lived. 
John and Jesus both proclaimed Repent! For the kingdom is near.
Both Jesus and John were making it clear that the Kingdom of heaven would only be realised when people worked to make it happen, when people changed their ways and invested in transformation. 
It wasn’t enough to complain about their living conditions, they had to begin to do something to change things for the better.
Repent, For the kingdom of heaven has come near.
That’s why, with John out of the picture, Jesus immediately began to call the disciples.
The authorities probably considered that, by using force, by imprisoning John, others would be deterred from going against them.
However then, as in every age, when governments crack down, there are always folk, thankfully, who will step up.
Folk who believe that things can be better and who work to make that happen.
And so, as Jesus walked by the shores of lake Galilee, he saw ordinary fishermen who were ready to take a stand against all that was wrong in their world.
And they saw, in Jesus, someone who would lead them in their fight back.
When Jesus called them those fishermen immediately left their nets and followed.
And Jesus mission was truly underway.
From that time on, Jesus, as we read: went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Jesus and the disciples he called really did work towards making the kingdom of heaven a reality.
If only we could identify with that today...
Truth be told, even the wee snapshot we have in the gospel today is much too uncomfortably close to the socio economic and political climate in which we live.
We see daily those who have fallen through the cracks in our so-called civilised society, those who have no safety net, those who have been sanctioned by the benefits system, those forced to live on the streets, those driven to despair with nowhere to turn.
We see it in our own town and community.
And we see it across the world.
We see folk fleeing oppressive regimes today, forced to take incredible risks simply to survive.
We see persecution and imprisonment of those who dare to speak out against governments that perpetrate injustice.
And we also see others prepared to take their place.
We see folk no longer willing to stay quiet but to gather in protest, to speak, to march, to work to make a difference.
What about us?
Are we agitated enough to Repent?
Are we stirred up enough to want to change?
Will we care enough to respond to Jesus call: Follow me?
Will we hear and proclaim the message: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.
Do we believe that we can work towards the kind of justice that God wants for all God’s children in this nation and across the world?
If only the gospel was relevant for our world today, if only there was something to connect with.
Jesus said: Follow me.

Amen.


Saturday, 28 December 2019

Accomplices

Accomplices

Matthew 2:13-23
The Escape to Egypt
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
The Massacre of the Infants
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
The Return from Egypt
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Our gospel today makes for some very dark reading. A reading that, often, I’ll avoid at this time of year. This is Christmas. And, in the midst of the Christmas season, who wants to hear about or reflect on The Massacre of the Innocents? Wouldn’t we all much rather have a nice carol sing and reflect on some of the cheerier Christmas gospels?
And, to be honest, as a parish minister, for years, by the time this Sunday came around, after all the extra Christmas services, I was too exhausted to do justice to such a text, so I simply avoided it and kept the focus on stars and wise ‘men’, and anything else that avoided the brutality and the darkness that is also inherent in the Christmas season - whether we choose to overlook it or not.
This year, it rings too close to home to ignore.
And, because it echoes so closely much of what is going on in our contemporary world, there has also been a lot of splitting hairs over this text recently, with people arguing over whether the Holy Family were refugees as they fled Egypt or whether the massacre of the innocents really did happen.
The refugee status question arises as people argue over whether Mary and Joseph could be considered Refugees when, actually, their heritage was in Bethlehem, that’s why they travelled - and the occupying Roman forces kept open borders allowing folk to move from one territory to another.
Both situations which apparently would disqualify them from refugee status,
However, a young couple with a new baby who were too frightened to go home?
Surely they are Refugees by any reckoning.
And the doubts raised over the reality of the massacre arises because it was not historically recorded although the decree itself is recorded. But, today we know only too well how news of genocide, infanticide and all manner of atrocities can be suppressed - or, shockingly, not even considered news worthy in the midst of so much other chaos and carnage.
And, even if he didn’t follow through, Herod’s threat would be enough to strike terror into all those in his jurisdiction. The Holy Family’s fear was all too real.
And they were forced to flee and wait it out until it was deemed safe to return.
Reliant on the kindness of strangers.
Keeping a low profile.
A predicament that mirrors all too well the darkness in which people are forced to live today.
Being moved from pillar to post.
Relying on others for everything.
Constantly living in fear.
It was to a world just like today’s world that God chose to be born in love.
And the pace of the last week in church where we move from singing about angels and shepherds and peace and joy to the devastating slaughter and fear of today’s gospel speaks of the unpredictability of that cruel regime into which Christ was born.
The story moves quickly from the joyful scenes around the manger to the terrified cries of mothers mourning their children.
No wonder we’d rather linger with the baby in the manger.
But it’s precisely because God sent love into the world, that we cannot stay by the manger.
That love has been entrusted to us to spread throughout the world.
Our world is full of leaders who will do everything they can to hang on to power.
We see it day in day out, both here and abroad - leaders prepared to cheat, to lie, to ridicule others - all so that they can remain in power.
Leaders prepared to reward the rich who will further their cause while keeping the poor so impoverished that they have nothing left to fight with.
Leaders who will, without a second thought, quash any who threaten their power.
We see those who flee their homes, not because they want to but because their lives are in danger - we see those people ignored, threatened and treated appallingly. Many don’t survive the journeys they are forced to undertake and those who do are treated cruelly wherever they try to settle.
Still today, children are being killed by the decrees of those in authority.
The church is called to be counter cultural in all of this.
Called to resist the notion that there is a scarcity of resources to sustain one another.
Called to resist the fear that, by sharing, we will lose out.
Called to resist governments and oppressive regimes wherever they exert unjust power.
Called to ensure that love, love that takes risks, love that is messy, love that is hard, is born wherever we serve.
Love was born to break through the harshness of our world.
And we are called to keep on breaking through, to make a difference for every child of God.

A reflection:

We think of the Angels singing:"Peace on earth"
We imagine the shepherds hurrying to Bethlehem
We romanticise the notion of the stable 
complete with a little donkey
and other assorted animals keeping the baby warm.
In our mind's eye is a blissful mother
and a bursting with pride father.
We conveniently overlook the fear
and the poverty
the political unrest
the brutality of occupying forces
and the desperation of folk in that time.
And we try to do the same today.
To make Christmas idyllic
a time of indulgence and goodwill.
A season to deny reality -
be it the harsh reality of today
or of that first Christmas world.
And even when we are confronted daily
by inescapable inhumanity:
The murder of children
The abuse of power 
The sleaze of politics
The race to consume
Still we hope and pray for a different world.
But the Advent of hope, love, peace and joy
of which we speak and sing and for which we pray
demands that we get real
that we open our eyes
that we are affected
and that we move to change a world
where weapons are more valued than health care
and where oil revenue is so tightly held
that none can be spared to provide clean water for all.
Where food mountains and arms dumps grow
while people starve and are moved from their lands.
Those who sought the child's life
are still to the fore
and we have become accomplices.

We are called to be accomplices today.
Accomplices, not of those who hold on to and abuse power.
But accomplices of God who breaks into our world with love.

May it be so.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Showing up


Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

On this last Sunday of the Liturgical year, just before we head on into Advent, we consider Jesus as king, or the Reign of Christ.
Before we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we consider his death.
And so our gospel reading this morning is part of the crucifixion story.
And, perhaps, in this small part of the story that we read this morning, we get a snapshot of the kind of king Jesus was, and a glimpse into the Christ who reigns today.
And, by considering his death, we might be better prepared to welcome his birth.

As Luke tells it, Jesus is led out to the site of the crucifixion and crucified with two other criminals.
Such execution was not done quietly or privately but in company, in full view of others, with as much shame and scandal, as much public outrage and mockery as could be mustered or incited.
So, in Luke’s retelling of the crucifixion, who are the key characters?
Who are our eyes drawn to - and why?
Perhaps the first characters we’re drawn to are the two criminals suffering a similar fate on either side of Jesus.
One of them, we’re told mocks Jesus: Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.
That seems, to me, like a reasonable request.
By all accounts, Jesus, even as he was paraded through the streets on the way to the place of execution is recognised as the one on whom revolutionaries and activists had pinned their hopes. He was recognised as innocent of crime - except perhaps the most dangerous sort of crime - noising up those in authority, questioning the place and the status of those who lorded it over others.
So, even at the point of execution Jesus is recognised by the criminals on either side as a notorious agitator, one who was even thought to be the Messiah - that longed for figure who would rescue people from the throes of oppression.
So, it seems reasonable to me that one of the criminals should ask him - or taunt him - Save yourself and us! 
If ever there was a moment to show your super power, this was it!
In contrast, the other criminal apparently treats Jesus with more respect. We’re told he rebukes his companion who is giving Jesus a hard time, he cites Jesus innocence as the reason they should be more respectful, and then he asks Jesus to remember him: 
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 
And, the astonishing thing is that Jesus assures him that that very day they will meet again in paradise.
So, in Luke’s account of the crucifixion, our eye is drawn to two criminals, facing the same fate, responding to death and to the person of Jesus so differently.

We might also be drawn to the leaders-  and the soldiers who carried out the leaders orders.
Mocking Jesus, taunting him with the titles “King of the Jews”, “Messiah”, asking why he can’t save himself, offering him sour wine, dividing up his clothes.
These folk were part of the oppressive regime that simply trampled others underfoot and, literally, go away with murder.
People so used to riding roughshod over everyone, that it ceased to horrify them.
Soldiers and leaders who took their cues from those above them and played their part in a system rotten at its core.
A system that oppressed the poor and paved the way for the rich to get richer.
Sound familiar?

So there were the criminals either side of Jesus, there were the leaders and soldiers who made life miserable for any and all who got in their way.
And there was the crowd:  And the people stood by, watching.
There are always the bystanders.
However many of these bystanders were not passive onlookers.
In this crowd, were those who, time after time, had been forced to watch countless acts of violence, been forced to look on as, time after time, justice was denied.
In this crowd, were many who bore witness to pain and cruelty.
There were mourners, there was family, there were Jewish officials, there were faithful women and men who showed up to witness yet another senseless act of death.
The faithful, who, it seems, could do little to change the course of events but who refused to turn away, refused to give in. The faithful who were committed to bear witness, committed to showing up.
And sometimes that is all we can do.
In the face of injustice.
In the face of evil.
When the mob rules and we cannot change the outcome.
Still we are called to show up.
And know that our showing up makes a difference.
It would be so easy today to resign ourselves to the suffering we see throughout the world, to the poverty, the homelessness, the violence we witness here on our own doorsteps. It would be easy to look away. To console ourselves with the promises of God that the Kingdom of God will be different. To lull ourselves into believing that better times are coming. And, in the meantime, we can wait it out.
God calls us to be better than that, to be more than that.
God’s call to us is to keep on showing up.
Because God’s kingdom is here.
Now.
And when we show up with all that we have alongside God, we bear witness, we hold out a light in the darkness, we hold out hope in the present and we make all the difference by simply showing up. 
Our God reigns - not in some future, longed for paradise - but here and now. 
And Christ the king calls us, the people of God today, to faithfulness, to showing up, to bearing witness and to living out God’s kingdom now.
As we approach Advent. As we prepare to welcome again, God born among us, let’s keep on showing up - for the glory of God.

Amen.