Service sheet is here: 2020 June 21st service
In today’s gospel reading (Matthew 8-35 -10 8-23) Jesus sends his disciples out into the world. It is a scary place where Jesus’ message that the kingdom of heaven has come near will be opposed. This reading occurs in our calendar at a time in the UK there is a significant easing of the lockdown restrictions with shops allowed to open and churches preparing to open their doors to private prayer from Monday. There is a lot of fear as we move from ‘stay indoors; save lives’ to ‘stay alert.’
As I’ve reflected on this long and uncomfortable reading it has struck me that this reading reminds us that the Christian life is not easy. Jesus message of what the kingdom of heaven looks like in the command to love your neighbour as yourself is a hard one. It is easier to criticize, hate or just ignore those who don’t look like us, or were raised in the same culture, or speak another language. We have seen a lot of that in the news and on social media this week. Loving ourselves and loving our neighbour is hard.
Loving ourselves sounds easy but who are we really? It is a hard journey to find out who we really are and not who we pretend to be. That journey can be painful as we unearth those parts of ourselves we would much rather hide.
To love our neighbour we have to also have to spend time with that person and listen to their lives and their worries. Not our worries but theirs. This means coming out of a place where we are comfortable and moving into a place of vulnerability and uncertainty that is never easy.
In Jesus’ pep talk to his disciples he is really clear that sometimes the world outside our safe places is hard ‘see I am sending you out into the midst of wolves.’ There is a realism here. Jesus’ message of love and care will be opposed. But there is wisdom ‘be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ So educate yourself, be strategic, engage your brain but be kind and look for the best in people.
So how do those of us who are not shielding get back into the world outside our front doors? It isn’t going to be easy but we can make a difference if we keep Jesus at the centre.
The reading is here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=86340552
Is living in the middle of the story one of the hardest things we are living with? Is the uncertainty of how it all turns out for us, our loved ones and our communities almost unbearable?
This week I was in a webinar about loss and one of the speakers talked about the four responses to trauma and we are living in a trauma right now. It isn’t a sudden trauma like a fire or terrorist incident but it is overwhelming many people’s ability to cope whether that is acknowledged or not. Here are the four responses. Do you recognise any of them?
Fight – perhaps you have a short temper. Have you got cross with people not keeping 2m apart or the government or the local foxes who consistently dig up your plants? The later is me but it is real.
Flight – do you have surge of energy and are doing lots of stuff, learning a new language, doing 5000 piece jigsaws in a couple of days? This could be your flight reflex in lockdown.
Freeze – are you feeling heavy? Weighted down? How does your body feel?
Faint – this is subtly different but it is the depression and slump and both this and freeze may lead you to sleeping more or having disturbed sleep as the brain tries to make sense of what is going on.
One of the key lessons I took away from the webinar is that naming the uncertainty helps. We might try and think our way out of a crisis but it pays to listen to how our bodies are coping as that is where our stress is held. If you need to sleep, sleep. We are living through unprecedented times and we need to take care of ourselves.
In the reading from the gospel for Sunday Jesus is in the middle of the story. The text is below and it is part of what is called the farewell discourse. Jesus is reassuring his disciples that all will be well. That events will happen, that it will feel as if they are left alone but help is on its way. This help is named as another Advocate who will be with them and us forever.
This passage from the gospel of John has always struck me as desperately sad. Jesus is expressing such compassion for his followers who he knows are uncertain and in the middle of the great story that he is part of. In his kindness he tries to reassure them but we know they are going to face the pain and trauma of his death and the end of all their hopes and dreams. Jesus sees the big picture, the cosmic perspective. His followers are here on the mortal plane putting one slow foot in front of the other. In the end all will be well but that is not yet.
In this time of uncertainty can we have the courage to take care of ourselves as well as others because we are in trauma? Can we dare to hope that in the end all will be well because the Advocate, the Holy Spirit is with us? We are not at the end of the story yet. We have a long way to go which is why looking after ourselves is so important especially if looking after others is part of what we do.
So this weekend maybe take some time to be kind to yourself. Smell the flowers. Listen to the birds. Do something creative. Rest in the knowledge that God is with us in the mess. Breathe.
John 14 15-21 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
We are living in troubling times.
A BBC report last week said that more people have died in London from Corona Virus than during the Blitz. The economy appears to be tanking and levels of anxiety are rising over the lifting of the lock down however much we want to get out and hug our friends and family.
Jesus says in the portion of scripture that is set out for this Sunday (John 14 1-14) says ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’ and later in this same passage ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’ This is saying that has brought huge comfort to Christians over the ages yet we are in a new times and I wonder how we interpret ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’ in the time of Corona?
One way of looking at the anxiety might be to look at what is mourned. What is troubling the heart? My sense is that a lot of the grief in lock down is the loss of the familiar. We no longer have the patterns and routines of our lives and although we can get used to the new, we still miss the old. The temptation when lock down is finally lifted will be to rush back to the old normal whether it was good for us (and the planet) or not.
What we might be missing is the chance to stay in the uncertainty and vulnerability of our different world. It is not an easy place to be. It takes courage to sit with that which is unfamiliar and challenges a need for order and certainty. It requires a mind-set that says ‘maybe’ or ‘what if’ or ‘I wonder? That takes time to cultivate and practice to stay there.
Perhaps those of us who were certain in the old normal can learn from those who live with uncertainty and vulnerability in their everyday lives. These might be those at the margins of our society without the well paid jobs and pensions, without security and without health? These are the people Jesus hung out with after all.
At a time when there is more space because the old life is on hold might this be when we might have the courage to stop, to say ‘don’t let our hearts be troubled’ and what might we be called to do and be in the new normal.
So in the spirit of vulnerability there are no answers here just a sense that now, when there is more space because the old life is on hold, we might have the courage to stop, to listen to Jesus saying ‘don’t let our hearts be troubled,’ remember that he is the way and to ask what might we be called to do and be in the new normal.
The gospel for St Mark’s Day contains the line – when you hear wars and rumours of wars, do not be afraid. This is a St Mark’s Day like no other.
St Mark’s gospel probably written around 30-40 years after the death of Jesus. It was written to be heard as so few people could read.
We are so used to reading stories in books that we can forget that stories that are created to be heard in a group are crafted in a different way to stories to be read individually. As the storyteller you need to grasp your audience’s attention and keep it. Jesus in this gospel is active and always off somewhere and on the move. There is no hanging about with description of what anyone looks like or the flowers, it is all action and onto the next event.
If you are telling a story in a community you have a lot of distractions as the children want feeding, the dog is stealing the supper so the storyteller needs bring his listeners into the story. We sympathise with or mock those early disciples who just don’t get it. What more evidence do you need we might think? Those disciples are too thick, too preoccupied to see what is in front of them. Surely we would have been different. We are in the story.
This sense of entering into the story is really obvious when we get to the end. Mark’s gospel ends abruptly with the women at the tomb so frightened they say nothing. To make any sense of it we have to go back to the beginning of the story and the first words of that gospel ‘The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.’ The end leads us to the beginning.
This is not a gospel that ties up all the loose ends and does our theological and spiritual work for us. This is the work of a storyteller in a community. We can chew over the story with them and find out what everyone else thinks. We are invited to go back, again and again to witness the healings and hear the teaching and be present at the death and resurrection of Jesus and be with the women who are too frightened to say anything, but they must have or we wouldn’t be here today.
This is a story which is circular rather than linier, based on community rather than the individual where the story doesn’t end when we close the covers of the book. That is a challenge to the culture of the book with a beginning and a middle and an end which is put on the shelf when we have finished it.
At this time of social distancing it is worth remembering we are not at the end of the story yet. The next line in the verse at the beginning of this reflection is ‘do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come’ Yes our certainties have been overturned yet God is with us in Jesus. Perhaps it is our determination to have things neat and tidy and sorted and back on the shelf needs revisiting. Do not be alarmed.
In this time of uncertainty, the gospel of St Mark with its invitation to engage in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; to bring ourselves and our questions knowing that the answers may not be where we are looking for them is a place of hope.
Be more storyteller. Get involved with the story. Be more Mark.
Happy St Mark’s Day
We have many different ways of using words. There are times when words are so familiar that they pass us by. Amongst those are words used in many Church of England prayers addressed to God the Father which end with the words, “…through your Son Jesus Christ who is alive …”.
Notice the words, “…who is alive…”. Those words may have a bigger influence on people who are not regular church-goers than those who are. What do they mean? How can a man who died about 2,000 years ago, executed by the Romans, who were very efficient at execution, be alive today? Yet that is the message the Gospel writers wanted to tell us. There is a physicality about the Resurrection appearances. The disciples were not seeing a spirit, a ghost or an apparition but the man they had followed from Galilee. “See my hands and my feet, it is myself; handle me and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have…[Jesus] said to [the disciples] ‘Have you anything to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it before them.”. [Lk 24: 39, 41b & 42] “Then [Jesus] said to Thomas, ‘Put your figure here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’”. [John 20: 27] . “…to us…who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” [Acts 10: 41b]. “While eating with [his followers Jesus] told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.” [Acts 1: 4a].
Jesus body had been changed by the Resurrection. He could materialize behind locked doors but notice the word materialize which the shorter Oxford English Dictionary says “…cause to appear in bodily form…express in material form.” Jesus had greater powers than his pre-resurrection body had but it could still be material, able to enjoy food, drink and the company of friends.
That is the promise which Easter holds out to us. Jesus offers to us resurrection bodies like his. We don’t know how that will happen but we know that it will. The God of hope gives us hope of our resurrection so that we can live with courage in the present.
(Image from Free Bible Images)