Not fitting in and weakness

Not fitting in and weakness – two themes to ponder this morning from the readings, themes that are subtly connected – not fitting in and weakness.

Not fitting in – is something that most of us have some experience of. Whether it is starting a new school or new job or joining a new group, or even coming to church. We know that sense that we don’t fit in. We don’t know anyone. We don’t know the rules.

But eventually we adapt, we form new friendships and we do fit in. And generally in life we like to fit in. And what is true now was true in the time of Jesus. Jesus in the Gospel this morning is back in his hometown. He goes to the synagogue on the sabbath just as he always has.

But this time something changes. His teaching is different. He has an authenticity and wisdom that astounds those present. And from being someone who fitted in ‘they took offence at him.’

It’s interesting that this trip to the synagogue precedes the sending out of the disciples in the second half of our reading this morning. They, you recall have witnessed what happened in the synagogue.

And Jesus sends them out by two and the Gospel makes it clear that they will not fit in everywhere, that some will take offence at them.

As followers of Jesus today this experience of not quite fitting in is around for us sometimes. For though we generally want to fit in there are times when it can come into conflict with what we think Jesus would have us do.

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Giving thanks… whatever

Many of us have had, either one or both doses of a vaccine that we hope and pray will lessen the continued impact of Covid-19 on our lives. Those of you who have not yet – soon will.

And its clear that the vaccine has made all the difference, and though the virus will continue to evolve the vaccine works. Those who developed, manufactured, delivered and administered it deserve our thanks.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that charities like Christian Aid identified this moment in which we want to give thanks and donate money to support those less fortunate then ourselves.

But if we feel the need to give thanks for the vaccine at the moment just imagine the response of the poor woman described in our gospel this morning who has ‘endured much under many physicians’.

Just imagine her desire and need to give thanks for the miracle she received from Jesus just by touching ‘his cloak.’

Then there’s Jairus whose daughter who is at ‘the point of death’. He pleads with Jesus to come and though he arrives too late to everyone’s ‘amazement’…‘she got up.’

What would Jairus have wanted to do in response to Jesus giving him his daughter back? Surely from that moment on he would’ve been for ever thankful and spent his life telling others of the miracle that happened that day.

But Jesus says ‘tell no one’. He does so because he knew that his teaching could so easily be distorted by these acts of love, for faith in him is more than miracles. It was and is about transformation of life, a way of living and loving that changes everything.

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The Kingdom of God is…

‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God’ asks Jesus in our Gospel today. To answer his question he uses a parable to help his listeners understand because it’s not a kingdom as we often think of it. Nor is it a place, as we understand place. Nor is it just a fantasy or an idea that makes us feel better.

It is so much for when we pray ‘thy kingdom come’ we are praying that God’s reign over all things will in time be established.

What that looks like is beyond our imagining except every now and then we get little clues. For example, in those random acts of kindness and love from both friend and stranger that surprise us. These help us believe that what we hope and dream of, what we long for might just come true.

They are to use the imagery of our Gospel little mustard seeds of the kingdom, gifts through which we contemplate what is to come. And yet the imagery Jesus plays with in this parable is not just about the future. It’s about what was to happen next for those first followers of Jesus.

For they in a way were tiny seeds, frightened people, fragile and precarious living in a hostile culture. But they became so much more for from tiny seeds came the church that has ‘”put(s) forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”’

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Living the Transfiguration

Train from Leeds to Edinburgh. Edinburgh to Glasgow. Glasgow to Oban. Ferry from Oban to Craignuire. Bus from Craignure to Fionnphort. Ferry from Fionnphort to Iona.

It would have taken less time to get from Leeds to Paris than from Leeds to Iona. But when I boarded the ferry for the short crossing to the island. Tears ran down my face. And I had a strange sense of homecoming.

Whilst I run the risk of being an Iona bore – I know this is not the first time I’ve mentioned my pilgrimage there. It is relevant for today because Iona has become for me a place of transfiguration because I don’t think I really got what it was about until then.

For it seems to me that this moment described in our Gospel this morning in which Jesus is revealed with startling clarity is not just a singular event but part of an ongoing revelation given to invite and encourage us to see things differently as we go about our daily lives.

And that’s why I began with Iona because there I learned about this. For there the normal pace of life is suspended; you stop rushing about and take the time. To truly see the person before you. To savour the bird song. To appreciate the light. To see more deeply. To listen.

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Goodbye and Hello with my Dad as guide

Alleluia Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

It will come as no surprise to you that these words have taken on fresh significance for me this year. Words that proclaim Christ’s victory over death.

Faced as I have been with the death of my Dad I’ve been left asking fresh questions about the resurrection. About what it means for me and what difference it makes as I say goodbye to someone who has helped shape the person I am today.

That saying goodbye has taken place over the last months of his life. Sometimes that goodbye was spoken of and at other times it was observed.

Though he was still Dad bit by bit, day by day we said goodbye; to conversations once had about all sorts of things, to his laughter and smile, to his mobility and appetite for both food and life.

It wasn’t easy journey but it never is, as so many of you know having walked alongside loved ones as they’ve come to their final days.

It is the hardest thing in life to say goodbye to those whom we love most something Mary, Jesus’ mother knew as she stood at the foot of the cross to say goodbye to her son.

We can only imagine her anguish and pain though we know something of it through goodbyes we have had to say.

Yet even if you’ve not said goodbye to a loved one recently, we all know there are times in our life when we say goodbye.

Perhaps to a relationship, to a child leaving home, to a job, to a school, to not being as young as we were, to hair in my case. Goodbye is part of life.

Yet what the story of my life has taught me thus far is that though there are goodbyes, the God in whom I believe in is one who offers us hellos too.
Indeed on this day we celebrate and give thanks for the God who reveals through the resurrection of Jesus Christ that goodbye is not the last word we shall say. For goodbye leads to hello.

And God’s hellos sometimes arrive in surprising ways. Scrapbooks for example, something that my Mum is a great compiler of. Through them I have remembered afresh the story of our life with Dad. They have been a hello amidst the goodbyes. Helping us rediscover the man who led such a rich and full life.

There are hellos amidst goodbyes in the Easter Story too. Mary Magdalene, and Mary head to the tomb of Jesus, it was part of their saying goodbye. Perhaps they chatted on the way, they remembered the good times their tears were tempered by laughter.

They arrive to ‘see the stone rolled back.’ The angel serves as God’s hello ‘He has been raised; he is not here.’ What were they to make of it ‘terror and amazement’ seizes them and they are ‘afraid.’

‘He is not here.’ My Dad has died. His body is still here, yet I believe, I know that ‘he is not here.’

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Graceful Judgement

It’s the stuff of fire and brimstone. The words we have heard this morning are just the ammunition a preacher needs to frighten his listeners. It’s what captivated the imaginations of medieval artists who depicted the words they heard on wall paintings in churches. Just take a trip to Easby near Richmond or Pickering and see just how vivid the images are.

Nowadays we tend to treat those wall paintings as historic artefacts, something to be gazed upon with curiosity and so we don’t take them too seriously. That might even be true when we think about judgement as a whole. If that’s so then our readings this morning invite us to think again.

In Hebrews we heard that ‘all are naked and laid bare to the one whom we must render an account.’

And then in our Gospel Jesus when asked ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ speaks of both the commandments but also more. His questioner is sent away ‘shocked’ and ‘grieving’ because though he has followed the commandments it isn’t enough.

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More than Meets the Eye

If you’ve ever listened to Saturday Live on Radio 4, you’ll know that every week someone gets to choose their inheritance tracks.

These two tracks comprise one song or piece of music they cherish, usually because it reminds them of a particular time, place or story together with a track they would like to pass on to the next generation.   For both we hear why they have chosen them.

Listening to it recently, with Elliot Peter Christie’s baptism in mind, made me ask what would be the inheritance track of my faith. What words rather than a song would I want to pass onto him that might accompany him through his life?

I decided that for me, the one thing, the one phrase, in a slightly obtuse way, about the faith so central to my life, would simply be this, that there’s more to life than meets the eye.

There’s more to life than meets the eye.

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What’s it to be; Paranoia or Hope?

‘It’s sometimes been said that if someone came up to you in the street and whispered, ‘They’ve found out! Run!’, nine out of ten of us would.’ These are the words which Rowan Williams began his Enthronement sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003.

I want to begin there because I think that by the time Kind Herod reached the end of his days he had come to embody the kind of paranoia that sees people out to get him at every turn. When he thinks that every conversation in hushed tones is part of a plot to overthrow him.

And so stripped of all his defences, mindful of the choices he made to protect that power, I think we can be pretty sure that if Herod were in the shopping centre at Crossgates and someone crept up behind him and said run – he would.

We meet him this morning as he begins to hear rumours about Jesus, another threat to his power. No doubt the order he gave to murder John (to preserve his popularity after a foolish promise) has worried him, so in his paranoid state he thinks ‘John whom I beheaded has been raised’.

History tells us that the traits which defined Herod have defined despotic leaders ever since. Even today we can look around the world and see those who will do almost anything to protect their power. But in some small way we all know a bit of what it is to be paranoid, to be anxious and fearful to think that others are talking about usand plotting our downfall.

In contrast to Herod’s paranoia that defines the Gospel St. Paul in our Epistle gives a different vision for life. A life lived ‘so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live to the praise of his glory.’ Paul invites us to live in hope.

And as we think of his words I think we know enough about Paul to know that he wasn’t immune to worry and anxiety, those things which left unchecked lead to paranoia, rather his security wasn’t bound to what other people thought of him. Continue reading “What’s it to be; Paranoia or Hope?”