Sunday, 24 August 2014

Living it up

Matthew 16:13-20
Peter Confesses Jesus as the Christ
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

I'm sure many of you have heard today's gospel passage read countless times. And many times you'll have been asked to consider: Who do you say Jesus is?
One of the things I've been reflecting on this week is - how much easier it would be if we didn't see Jesus as the Christ, the son of the living God.
Somehow, Jesus being like John the Baptist or one of the prophets takes the pressure off us.
Because that Jesus is more like us. Prone to mishap. Full of mistakes. Not perfect.
And that kind of Jesus is easier to live up to.
It's once we see Jesus as the Son of God, that we run into trouble.
Because that allows us no leeway.
That Jesus, the Son of God, demands much more of us.
We've been discovering, as we move through Matthews gospel, how Jesus reveals the nature of God.
A God who is compassionate.
A God who weeps when people suffer, through depression, through injustice, through war and violence.
A God whose heart is broken in the pain of the world.
Proclaiming Jesus the Son of God demands that we, too, try to be like the one who reveals God to us.
Proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God demands that we are compassionate, that we hurt when others hurt.
Proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God demands that we follow Jesus' example, we push boundaries, upset those in authority and stop at nothing until justice prevails and until peace becomes a reality.
No wonder we are slow to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God.
Because that proclamation changes our lives.
That proclamation is not just about who we say Jesus is.
It is also about who we are prepared to be.
That is why Jesus put Peter on the spot.
Went from "Who do people say I am?" to "Who do you say I am?"
Jesus wanted to know if Peter was ready to step up, ready to be handed the keys of the Kingdom.
Peter's response demonstrated that he was ready.
"You are the Christ, the son of the living God."
Jesus was satisfied by this response that Peter got it - that not only did he know who Jesus was - but that he knew what it meant to be a follower of Christ, the Son of God.
We know that Peter didn't always get it right.
Far from it.
But, often, the reason he fell short was because he was always prepared to step up.
Peter doesn't hang back- in anything.
And so we read in the gospels of his failures as well as his triumphs.
And anyone who is willing to try to serve God will have times when they don't get it quite right.
But God honours intentions - those who try rather than those who hang back for fear of getting it wrong.
Our response to Jesus question: "Who do you say I am?" is a call to action.
It is not enough to profess Christ.
Our actions must mirror our words.

But the gospel is not a call this morning for is to feel bad about our response to Jesus' question.
It is not a call for us to focus on all the times we've managed to get it wrong or failed to witness and serve Christ as we should.
Rather, it's a call to remind ourselves why we do what we do.
Why, in our everyday, we do certain things in certain ways.
Why we are so affected by the plight of others.
Even why we despair at the state of our world.
And why we hope and believe that things can be different.
Because we know that Jesus is the Son of the living God, we are moved to believe in and to work for peaceful and loving communities here and throughout our world.
We are moved to pray for and believe in justice for all God"s people - and to do whatever we can to make that a reality.
Jesus, the Son of the living God demands that, even and especially in the darkness of our world, where light seems scarce and where hope is fragile, that we who confess Christ as Lord keep hope alive and keep on working for peace and for healing for all God's children.
You are the Christ,the Son of the living God.
A statement of faith and a call to action.
Foundation stones and building blocks in the kingdom of God.
I challenge all of us this week to think deeper about our profession of faith.
Whether that profession be, as in baptism, I believe in one God, Father, son and Holy Spirit, or whether it be You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
I challenge us all to think about those professions of faith and how they affect how we see the world today.
Through the lens of hope.
Because as soon as we profess faith, we are also embracing hope.
The hope that all the darkness and evil that we see in our world, the hope that all the injustice and suffering can be overcome by a God who works through us to bring love into the world.
Our profession of faith opens us even more to grieve for all that is wrong in the world but, in our grief, to have hope that the power of God's love will have the last word.
And that, in the meantime, you and I can make a difference every day by living in that love, not just proclaiming faith but living it out.
We, who profess faith here are compelled and empowered to live out that faith in the world we serve every day.
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

An abundance of miracles

Matthew 14:13-21
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand 
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Our gospel began "Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself."
What Jesus heard was that his cousin, John the Baptist had been killed. 
Killed by Herod.
You may remember the story: Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist because John had been calling into question the propriety of Herod being with his brother's wife. Although he had John the Baptist imprisoned, Herod was frightened to kill him because he was afraid of how folk would react - they saw John as a prophet.
But, on his wife's birthday, Herod enticed her daughter to dance by promising her she could have any favour she wanted. And the daughter, Salome, at the urging of her mother, requested the head of John the Baptist on a plate.
A gruesome tale.
So John the Baptist met his end.
This was the news that Jesus had just received.
That his cousin, the man who had prepared the way for him, the man who had led him to the waters of baptism had been murdered.
Jesus response was to withdraw - to seek some space in which to mourn his loss.
And so he took a boat out on the water, seeking some quiet, to be alone with his grief.
I can't think of a better place to get away than taking a boat to a desolate place.
That may not be your idea of retreat.
Indeed, the very idea of retreating might be alien for you.
But, when I want space to think, and, especially, when I want space to mourn, water does it every time.
Be it still water or roaring water, I can find calm and healing by streams, rivers or oceans.
So Jesus, needing space to mourn, takes a boat and goes off to a desolate place.
Clearly not desolate enough!
Because crowds of people manage to follow him, not on the water, but on foot.
So that, by the time he came ashore, there was a great crowd of people waiting on him.
No gentle re-entry for Jesus!
Straight back into the fray!
I'm sure many of you know that feeling all too well.
I know I do!
But Jesus, when he saw the crowds on the shore waiting to greet him, was filled with compassion.
And right away, he began to minister to them, healing the sick. 
As the people hung around, soaking up that ethos of care and compassion, the day wore on.
The disciples wanted to bring what must have been a long and tiring day for Jesus to a close as evening came.
But that was not to be.
Jesus compassion was far from exhausted.
And he had something special in store, not just for the crowd but for his disciples too.
The author of Matthews gospel is keen, throughout the gospel, to point out to us the nature of God as mirrored in the actions of a Jesus.
In the story of the feeding of the 5000, we are confronted with the overwhelming compassionate nature of God.
A God who is affected by loss, who mourns, but who, even in the midst of grief reaches out - who sees the need of a hungry crowd and reaches out to heal and to feed.
But, in this story, we are also confronted by an enabling God.
A God who equips ordinary people to respond to need and to feed those around them.
When the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowd away to find food, Jesus counters their demands with the challenge: You feed them.
Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
Of course the Son of God could have done that himself.
But the nature of God is to enable us to care for one another.
We, who pray for miracles in our daily lives today are often charged and empowered to bring those miracles to fruition.
As you know, earlier this year, I was lucky enough to spend time in New Orleans with some awesome colleagues. 
There are many special foods in New Orleans, but one of my favourites was the po'boy.
This took many forms but was basically a baguette or sub sandwich filled with all sorts of loveliness - a fried shrimp po'boy with Cajun spices was probably my favourite.
But the origin of the po'boy intrigued me.
Legend has it that two brothers who went to New Orleans, working on the street cars before opening a coffee stand in the famous French Market, decided to support their former colleagues during an industrial dispute just before the Great Depression.
The street car workers, striking for fairer conditions as were other transit workers through the States, were fed bread and whatever fillings were to hand by these brothers allowing them to hold out for fairer working conditions.
The sandwiches were known as poor boy's sandwiches - and became the po'boys that are an inventive and varied speciality today.
Sadly, the Great Depression resulted in the fight being lost but the "poor boys" continued to be cared for.
Ordinary people working miracles, reaching out in compassion to feed one another. 
Whatever else is going on in the gospel passage we read today, a passage that has so much in it when we stop to examine it again, a passage that reveals something new for us every time.
Whatever else is going on, let's be mindful today of the nature of God that we find reflected there.
A God moved with compassion.
A God who enables ordinary people to respond and to effect change.
Our call as disciples today, is to reflect those facets of God to the world we serve.
To respond with compassion.
To reach out with the gifts that we have, feeding one another, enabling one another, effecting miracles in our everyday.

And, just before we leave the story today, what about the leftovers?
Not only were people fed that day, but there was an abundance.
An abundance that Jesus had folk carefully gather up.
Isn't that the essence of grace.
That when we share, there is always more than enough.
Grace knows no limits.
It grows in the giving - both in what is shared and in the giver:

The bits left over,
what of those?
Pieces left strewn around,
no longer required.
A plethora
of scraps,
yet Christ leaves none discarded
but calls for all to be gathered in,
saved and treasured.
Baskets filled with an extravagance-
excess cherished.
that can only be imagined.
A hungry crowd,
a boy's packed lunch,
a great big picnic.
People fed
and still enough
to go on sharing
the blessing, 
and grace of God.

Thanks be to God

(The image is of the "tea van" meeting pilgrims on Iona with a welcome cuppa)