Sunday, September 17, 2006

Thoughts for today

A long post, so you might not want to dive into it!

We are starting a series of talks on 'Jesus and...' and this is my introduction for the theme, about 2500 words, so quite a trek - took about 30 minutes or more to deliver. I don't claim to be a great preacher, or to be a fanastic theologian, but offer this to anyone who might be interested...

Team Evening Worship
September 16th 2006

Jesus and people

Welcome to our new season of Team Evening Worship, and as you (I hope) may know we are embarking on a series of ‘Jesus and…’ – getting back to the real heart of our faith as we look to Christ and try to know a little more about him in order that we may know him more. Tonight’s thoughts are based around ‘Jesus and people’ – I would like to say it was deliberately cryptic choice, but to be honest it was the only thing I could think of to describe the very broad approach I want to take for the next twenty, twenty five minutes or so because I want to say something about the what happened when Jesus encountered people and when they encountered him. It’s not something I can pin down to one Biblical passage, so excuse me if we do a bit of hopping about through our Gospels, and excuse me if you have heard some of this in the past few weeks as we have gone through various stories in our Gospel readings in our normal Sunday services which may crop up again.

But before I dive in I just want to say something about the theme of ‘Jesus and..’ Why come to such a theme – surely everything we do and are as Christians is about Jesus and about our relationship to Him. Well, absolutely, but as I talk to people (both Christians and not) we have a certain two dimensional picture of him. Perhaps it’s the tradition of the way we read our Gospels in Church but often there is a kind of storybook character that people identify with Jesus. There’s also the misunderstanding that somehow Jesus was something ‘different to us’ – a kind of superhuman, a perception I have spent a lot of hours in the pulpit trying to dispel. The Biblical witness and the teachings of the early Church are quite clear on this – Jesus wasn’t God pretending to be human, Jesus was human: hungry, thirsty, angry, sad, confused, tired, dependant on a life of prayer and needing time to be alone with his Father God to give him the wisdom, grace and strength he needed to fulfil the mission God had given him.

We don’t have a picture of Jesus who is ‘out there’ – someone or thing distinct and separate from us, but a Jesus who is in here, in the thick of things, going through the stuff we go through, knowing what is like to feel pain and sadness, to laugh and cry. And in the Gospels, though they don’t seek to be autobiographical in the way that we have autobiographies today, we have a picture of a full human being, someone who we are called to be like. Jesus is ‘one of us’.

So as we go through these meetings in the coming weeks, keep in mind that those who recounted these stories are trying to show us something of our saviour who calls us to follow him – not as a disembodied spirit, nor a superhuman, but as one of us seeks to draw us closer to himself that we may see him as he is, and know him more and more.

And if we bear that in mind then our coming weeks should surprise us, disturb us and challenge us. And we begin with our consideration of what happened in the stories we have when Jesus interacted with people.

Other weeks we will, I’m sure, consider the teachings of Jesus and what he said with regards to certain issues, but I would contend that we gain a fuller picture of Jesus when we see him with people, and we’re now going to consider a few of these encounters.

Again, my apologies for any repetition, some of these stories are so well known, and pop up again and again in our cycle of readings. I hope that through the Spirit we will be blessed with some new insight into some of these readings, even if I do end up saying some things you’ve heard me say before.

Who is this Jesus? Well we know that he was a teacher and preacher, someone who through the Spirit of God healed the sick and cast out evil spirits, who performed great signs of the power of God. But looking at some of these stories we can see more than what might be obvious on the surface of things.

First of these well known stories is the time Jesus meets a rich young man. Mark 10.17 (matt 19.16)

Unusually, though this story is found in Matthew and Mark, Mark (normally thought of as the more sparse Gospel) has a lot more detail. We are told the young man fell on his knees before Jesus and calls him good to which Jesus response ‘why do you call me good? no one is good – except God alone’ Of course because we know that Jesus is God in human form this is a point at which Jesus is stating something about himself – perhaps trying to elicit faith from the young man by saying ‘you have seen something about be, now act on that’.

Then Jesus recites the commandments to which the young man responds ‘I have done all this since I was a boy.’ We are then told in Mark something that falls out of Matthew’s telling of the story ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him’. He then goes on to challenge him to sell all he had and give it to the poor – something we know he couldn’t do, and he ‘goes away very sad’.

So what do we learn from that encounter? Well, I’m not going to go into the issue of wealth because that will be the focus of our thoughts in a couple of weeks. But in that encounter we see three things which I want to draw attention to…

One is that Jesus intimates something about himself, something that we have to recognise to really respond to him – that he is God. This is something that informs our encounters with him today – we begin with the premise of Jesus divinity. Alongside this, of course, we hold on to his humanity, and we must never separate the two. In encountering Jesus we come face to face with God in human form, and he shows us what it is possible for us to be, fully human, and fully alive in the Spirit of God.

Secondly in this story we see Jesus’ encounter in terms of a loving relationship, Jesus looked at him and loved him. We don’t read that Jesus had pity on him, or thought he was a nice chap. We are told that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Likewise that is how Christ looks on us – with eyes of love, total and utter love. If we think of those we love, and how we see them – even in our own imperfect way love should make us think the best for others, to look at them not with judgement but with mercy. But that love was not a soft love, not soppy or weak, but a tough love that was willing to ask tough questions. Which leads me on to my third point.

Jesus knew what this man needed, he knew what prevented the young man from enjoying the fullness of life that Christ proclaimed. He looked in love on that young man and met him where he was. Jesus didn’t give a blanket statement about ‘well, what everyone needs to do to be a true follower of mine is…’ He said ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. I don’t think Jesus was trying to say something about riches in general (though Paul may disagree with me on that next week!) but about the effect his riches had on that young man.

And that’s my starting point for these talks – that our relationship, our encounters with Jesus have these foundations – we see Jesus as both man and God. That every encounter with Jesus comes from a place of his love for us. And that Jesus meets us where we are, with concern for our particular circumstance, needs, desires, distractions, hopes and fears.

The second passage I want to look at carries on from this. Luke 8.43 -48.

The story takes place in the middle of another story – which I don’t want to go into – of the daughter of Jairus who is dying. Jesus is on his way to see the daughter of Jairus’ and a woman with twelve years of haemorrhaging touches him and is healed.

Now in order to get the full picture of this we need to think about what having menstrual bleeding for twelve years would have meant to this woman. She would have been constantly unclean in Jewish society, excluded from worship and untouchable by anyone who wanted to take part in any Jewish religious ritual. We see the same in the parable of the good Samaritan, when the Levite and the Priest who passed by on the other side on their way to the temple didn’t stop to help in case this man was dead and they would have been excluded from taking their part in worship.

So this woman hears that Jesus is coming to town and she snatches, in secret, a touch of the hem of his garment. Nothing ostentatious, she probably wanted to keep it quiet, keep out of the limelight – because of course for many years she would have been avoided and unwanted in many ways, certainly by those who were of a religious inclination.

But she doesn’t have the chance to slip back into the shadows as Jesus calls out ‘who touched me’. And when she confesses he affirms her own faith and blesses her with his words ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you.’

And from this I want to draw two particular points.

Firstly that Jesus, although he is busy – in fact is on an urgent errand – stops and takes time to talk with someone who has been excluded from society. He doesn’t do the tele-evangelist thing and say ‘whoop, another one healed, lets move on’ – he takes note of this woman, and lets her know he is taking note. Again he gives her what she needs most, this time a word of affirmation (rather than the challenge given to the rich young man). If we look through our Gospels we see example after example of Jesus touching the unclean, the leper, showing love to the unlovely and the outcast, giving people what they need even when they don’t know it.

Secondly Jesus works with her faith, he affirms that it is her faith that has made her well – not magic, not his own special power, but her faith. He says he feels the power go out of him but then goes on to say ‘your faith has healed you’. He states the partnership that makes this miraculous event possible – when faith and Jesus meet, great things can happen.

So we have further messages for us – Jesus has time for us. He wants to affirm us and to take note of us. I know some Christians who seem to act as if they are bothering Jesus when they pray, and without saying it they give an attitude of ‘un, well Lord, I know I’m a worthless worm, but if you would just graciously turn to me for a moment…’

That’s not the picture we get from Scripture, we have the picture of a God who loves to have his children come to him, who loves it when we want to be in his presence – a God who always has time for us. In the example of Jesus we have one who longs to hear us, and for us to encounter him.

Also, of course, we have an encouragement to trust, to have faith in Jesus. To turn to him with our faith to work in partnership with him so that he can do great things in and through us.

And thirdly Luke 19.1-10 – Jesus and Zaccheus. I don’t want to say a lot about this because it is pretty self evident what is happening here – and we see again this aspect of Jesus encounters with people that means he takes note of them, he affirms them, he meets them where they are.

Zaccheus was obviously seeking, he climbed up a tree for goodness’s sake! And Jesus responds to his seeking by inviting himself to tea with him – a meeting that is so life changing that Zaccheus does exactly what the rich young ruler couldn’t bring himself to do – he gives away his money, repaying any he had defrauded, giving to the poor.

We see here evidence of what is perhaps the most important point and a theme which runs through the record of every encounter we have with Jesus – after an encounter with Jesus people are never the same again. The result of meeting Jesus is transformation, life is never the same. For those who reject Jesus they go away sad or angry or bitter. For those who come to jesus and hear his words they go away changed, given this extraordinary gift of love and faith that comes from Christ.

it’s not too much of a leap to consider how important this should be for us. We should long to encounter Jesus, in our prayers, in our Bible readings, in worship, in all people that we meet (even the scabby and unlovely) and we should be prepared to be transformed by that encounter (as much as we can be prepared to be changed!).

But it is not only about what happens about when we encounter Jesus. All of these stories of Jesus give us examples, inspirations, challenges as to how we should act with those who we meet – for we have Christ within us, as St Paul says. We are called to be Christ-like in our encounters with others – and even in this relatively short study of three encounters we have plenty to live up to! We are called to meet people where they are, to see them as valuable in God’s eyes and to love them unconditionally, we are called to reach out and touch (physically and emotionally) the untouchable, we are to affirm faith in others and to bring faith to them, we are called to open ourselves and others up to the touch of grace and transformation that comes from God in Christ, through the power of God’s Spirit.

I hope there’s enough there to be going on! As we see more of this startling, exciting, challenging, disturbing, transforming, loving, life giving, life affirming saviour who we follow may we be changed by him and grow more like him. Amen.

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