Sunday, 23 November 2008

Servant King

Reading: John 18 v 33-37

Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.

Have you ever been offered M and S tokens if you click on to Persimmon homes’ website and encourage all your friends to do likewise.
Or been asked to send on a chain email to keep an animated figure walking around the world to raise funds for breast cancer?
The internet – a bane and a blessing.
And a source of some wonderful hoaxes.
Perhaps this is a story you have come across:
Many years ago, when Hitler's forces occupied Denmark, the order came that all Jews in Denmark were to identify themselves by wearing armbands with yellow stars of David.
The Danes had seen the extermination of Jews in other countries and guessed that this was the first step in that process in their countries.
The King did not defy the orders. He had every Jew wear the star and he himself wore the Star of David. He told his people that he expected every loyal Dane to do the same. The King said, "We are all Danes. One Danish person is the same as the next." He wore his yellow star when going into Copenhagen every day in order to encourage his people. The King of Denmark identified with his people, even to the point of putting his own life on the line.
It's a wonderful story with a powerful point. BUT - it isn't true. It's an urban myth. It's been around for a long time and told thousands of times over.
With the internet urban myths are proliferated throughout the world. Its hard these days to know what is true and what is not.
But it’s a shame this story isn’t true because it’s such a powerful story.
What an image for a king, identifying with his people. "Are you the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked Jesus. "Is that your idea," Jesus said to him, "or did others talk to you about me?"
That's how urban myths begin.
People talking about what other people have said.
Jesus was essentially crucified on gossip and rumour.
An urban myth had developed around his ministry that he was going to lead a revolt against Rome, a myth that grew out of the longing of people of that time for a warrior to come among them and resolve their years of oppression.

In his conversation with Pilate, Jesus finally does imply that he is a king. "But my kingdom," he explains, "is not of this world."
Not of this world. That's what it takes.
That's what it takes to find a King who identifies with his people.
A King of heaven, a King of kings from some place other than this world.
Pilate cannot grasp this concept of kingship.
Pilate is a politician – and politics is based on compromise.
A member of government was the victim of a road traffic accident – he died at the scene.
He arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance. "Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter.
"Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem.
We seldom see politicians, so we’re not sure what to do with you."
"No problem, just let me in," says the man.
"Well, I’d like to but I have orders from higher up.
What we’ll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."
"Really, I’ve made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the member of parliament.
"I’m sorry but we have our rules."
And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.
The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course.
In the distance is an impressive clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends, most of them politicians as well.
Everyone is very happy and in evening dress.
They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of their constituents. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.
Also present is the devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes.
They are having such a good time that, before he realizes it, it is time to go.
Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises.
The elevator goes up and up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting.
Now it’s time to visit heaven.
So, 24 hours pass with the MSP joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.
"Well then, you’ve spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity."
The politician reflects for a minute, then answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell."
So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.
Now the doors of the elevator open and he’s in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage.
He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up trash and putting it in black bags. The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder.
"I don’t understand," stammers the politician. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a club house, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time.
Now all there is a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable.
What happened?"
The devil looks at him, smiles and says, "Yesterday you were attending a campaign event. Today you voted us into power!"
There’s a huge difference between what is promised and what is delivered.
Any of you who have gone for job interviews recently will know that much of the selection process is based on psychometric testing and on presentation skills which, in actual fact reveal little about how effective someone will actually be in a job.
There are plenty of folk who can talk a good job but, when it comes to day to day management, simply don’t have what it takes.
What you see isn’t always what you get.
Jesus told Pilate: I came to speak about the truth.
And Pilate asked: what is truth?
This Sunday we celebrate Christ the King Sunday.
It’s the last Sunday of the Christian year – next week is advent when we see the Christian cycle begin all over again as we prepare to welcome the baby born to save the world – to save the world not by force but by love.
A king not of this world.
The end of a year is a good time for taking stock.
A good time for looking back and thinking: what have we achieved this year?
Stocktaking is important in our church life.
What have we achieved?
What have we done?
How have we moved on, or changed, or developed?
Is there any change?
Or are we stuck in the past?
Are the empty promises of politicians or the romantic notions of urban myths more important to us than the truths revealed by a servant king?
We claim that we want to see a better world, a fairer world, a world where all God’s people are loved and valued, where there is no war, no hunger, no refugees.
That is our dream for the world.
Yet we assert our rights over our own territory.
We claim we want to make a difference as Christ’s followers, sharing love, serving others, Christ’s hands and feet in our world.
Yet we are in dispute with our neighbour and don’t acknowledge the folk across the road from us.
We embrace an ideal.
Just don’t ask us to compromise our principles in seeing that ideal become reality.
Today, it would be easy, in our stocktaking, to focus on what the church is doing – or not doing.
But that is to deny our part in that lack of progress.
Its always easier to blame a body than to admit to our own culpability.
We are the church in this place.
If we won’t tear our eyes away from the past.
If we won’t resolve to engage with the demands of the gospel, to serve our neighbour whoever that might be, whatever that might take we might as well be perpetuating myths.
But the truth that Jesus died for, the kingdom that he serves, is not one stuck in the past, and impotent in this present age.
It’s a living, kicking kingdom that requires living kicking servants still.
The question is: do we want to serve or do we want to be seen?
Do we want to follow the truth or the myth?
Baptism this morning – and every time we celebrate it reminds us of our interview for discipleship.
Everyone of us is interviewed, in baptism, as a potential disciple for Christ.
And, guess what, we all pass the interview.
Signalling that different sort of work to which we are called.
A work that doesn’t demand that we be fully grown, accomplished and polished with the hottest of presentation skills.
But a work that demands that we offer ourselves as we are, at whatever age or stage of our journey – to be part of Christ’s body in his world today.
We are reminded in baptism that each of us does have much to offer, from the cuteness of babyhood to grey haired maturity and at all stages in between.
Part of the body, called and equipped to serve.
This last Sunday of the Christian year, when we celebrate Christ the servant king, I invite you to take stock:
Is it Christ’s kingdom we’ve been engaged in building?
Or have we been pre occupied with jostling for position and missed out on real opportunities to serve?
Do we ally ourselves with the king who is not of this world?
Or have we fashioned that king into something more palatable for our purposes.
Truth or myth?
What do we prefer?
As we look forward to the start of another Christian year, I invite you to make your resolutions:
To look again at the model of kingship that Jesus lived out for us.
A king who identifies with the lowliest of his subjects, who hangs out with the homeless and the destitute, with the anxious and the weary.
A king who’s right there for each of us.
Lets look at each other and see Christ, shining from each other’s eyes.
Lets all resolve to be live and kicking servants who can’t be relegated to the past but who are very much a part of the present and future building of God’s kingdom in this place.
Live and kicking servants who know the amazing love of God and who, changed by that love have the power to transform the world around us.
Servants who can see Christ in each other and who can be Christ to the community and the world around us.
Servants of the servant king.
Preach the gospel at all times – only if absolutely necessary, use words.
To the glory of God.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Saints alive

Sunday 2nd November 2008

Readings: Joshua 3 v 7-17
Matthew 23 v 1-12

In our Old Testament reading this morning, there is a sense of anticipation and excitement.
The Israelites, who have been wandering in the wilderness for the best part of 40 years are, it seems, finally going to enter the promised land.
Its taken an incredibly long time.
And many of them died on the journey.
But now, it seems, that after all their wanderings since their release from Egypt, they are finally going to occupy the land that was promised to them all that time ago.
I always want to be contrary when I read of God’s people and the promised land in the Old Testament.
I always want to ask – what about the folk who already lived there?
Didn’t they have any rights?
How is it OK for the people of God to stake a claim that seems to take precedence over other claims?
Biblical Imperialism, for me, raises more questions than it answers.
But the fact is that wherever God’s people went, they cleared out the people who were there before them.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, our reading tells us this morning of one major obstacle standing between the people and the land they’ve been promised. And that’s the river Jordan.
One more river to cross.
Our story tells us that God wanted to perform a miracle so that people would realise that their new leader Joshua was just as great a leader as Moses had been before him.
But for me, in this story, its not so much the miracle that God performed that stands out.
Its not so much that God caused the river to stop flowing so that all the people could get safely across.
The miracle was that, first of all, someone stepped into the river.
Its all very well believing that God can perform miracles.
Its another to step into the river and see if it really happens.
But, before God could perform a miracle, someone had to put their feet in the water.
Someone had to believe enough to get their feet wet.
It wasn’t enough to say I believe.
There had to be a stepping out in faith.
God can do anything.
But God’s people must be prepared to step out in faith to follow and to be a part of God’s miracles.
And not just in ancient times.
Today, God still relies on you and I being prepared to put our toe in the water.
Being prepared to take risks.
Being prepared to live in faith and not just talk about it.

Yesterday, as I was driving up the coast, I heard an interesting wee snippet on the car radio.
GP4S – a company formed by the merger of Group 4 security and Securicor had noticed that there was a higher than usual circulation of fifty pound notes. There was an assumption that folk were hoarding larger denomination notes against the predicted recession.
GP4Ss take on this trend was that either folk are keeping their money out of banks OR they are gathering cash rather than reverting to plastic.
So which is it?
Are you stashing your cash under the mattress? Or are you cutting up your credit cards? The interesting thing was that, at the end of this report, they did admit that their evidence was scant, based on a barely perceptible change. And yet, speculation was rife. It seems that financial analysts are determined to read all they can into the current trends in the credit crunch and are desperate to have their predictions of the downward spiral into global recession confirmed.
Doom and gloom is the only trend that makes news.
The journey I was making when I heard this news was to Gourock where I was facilitating a conference for church office bearers. The key note speaker there was talking about all the doom and gloom statistics we like to promote in the church- declining membership roles, dire financial straits, crisis of belief – all the things I’m sure you’ve heard on not a few occasions. Then he pointed out the peaks in the kirk’s history, the times when all these worrying markers actually peaked rather than troughed. Times of war, and then post war. Times of recession, times of national depression. It seemed to be that in times of need, folk turned to the kirk for support and guidance.
Do you think that would hold true for today?
Do you think that today global crisis would encourage folk to turn to the church for guidance and support?
While I am not pessimistic about the church and its potential for good or in the ability of folks like you and I to reach out with love for others, I do have qualms about the public perception of the kirk.
And I know that, for many folk, the church is the last place they’d turn.
Well, simply because, too often, the church, the folk who make up the body of Christ, have failed to practice what they preach.
You and I have talked the talk but not walked the walk.
And that’s precisely what we see Jesus railing against in our gospel this morning.
Folk who know the law inside out, folk who ensure that that law is upheld but folk who simply don’t practice what they preach.
Listen to them, says Jesus, because he doesn’t want folk to think that they can disrespect them and disregard their teaching which is sound.
Listen to them, says Jesus, but don’t live as they do.
And then Jesus tells us a bit about how we should live:
The greatest among you must be your servant.
And that brings us right back to youth church this morning.
We are all called to be saints.
To do those simple, everyday things that make a difference for others.
To be servants.
One of the many amusing things in the Americam presidential election campaign has been the way “joe the plumber” keeps getting cited. If you’ve been following the extensive coverage, you’ll have heard of joe the plumber, a real life metaphor for the ordinary guy in the street.
It seems to be that if you can make a difference for Joe the plumber, then you’re on to a winner.
This week, that has resounded for me as the same kind of line Jesus took.
If you want to be great, you must serve.
We are called to make a difference to the every day folk around us.
We are called to serve.
We are called to be saints.
We might think that that is not going to change the world.
But can you imagine the difference there would be in our world if we all lived up to our calling.
If we all served each other – the saints of God.
If WE practised what we preached, folk would flock to the kirk.
The church would, once again, be an institution that served the world around it, by serving God and by living up to its calling to be a community of saints.
The church would then be able to make a difference in the world.
We are loved by God.
God calls us saints.
Lets go then and put our toe in the water, step out in faith and serve each other. For the glory of God.