John 1: 35-51
Last week was the last Sunday of 2017 and we looked back.
Today is the first Sunday in 2018 and we look forward.
And here’s the thing that got me.
There is so much to worry about.
Does anyone have a scooby what is going to happen in the Brexit negotiations?
Syria has been in a civil war since 2011 will that war finally end?
Or what about what might happen in Israel/Palestine?
Or what about our own country? We will be getting more austerity and that will affect hospitals and schools and social services. How will that affect us?
Or in our own county of Clackmannan? We are getting stuff told to us about what might be happening in the budget, about what services might need to be cut, that can be very scary if your quality of life depends on these services.
Here’s the thing.
I think we make two fundamental mistakes.
We worry about the things we have no control over.
And we don’t work at the things we do have control over.
I think this passage is fundamental in helping get our priorities right.
Because here is the thing; the disciples were worrying about all kinds of things that they had no control over, and they could never guess how things were going to work out and hence had no way to prepare for the way things would work out.
They would be worrying about the Roman occupation. The political intrigues of Herod Antipas and marrying his brother’s wife.
They would have been worrying about taxes and the Roman garrisons. The possibilities of war in the land.
They could never guess that over the next three years they would see miracles like water being turned into wine, blind men seeing, cripples walking, those with incurable leprosy being made clean, even the dead rising.
So if they didn't know that was ahead, why were they worrying about what was ahead, they could never have prepared for it?
And if that seems a bit farfetched then look at what we talked about a couple of weeks ago when we celebrated Ian’s 100th birthday.
The world as it is today is nothing like the world Ian was brought up in.
They were worried about their future.
They would be worried about whether the Great War would end. The war had started in 1914 and was meant to be finished by Christmas. It was now three years later and would the war be finished this year?
Then there was there Russian revolution and politicians were terrified that something similar might happen over here. Especially as the cost of the war was crippling the country and would lead to a great depression.
There was a flu epidemic going on and although it was being censored to try to keep up morale during the war people could see friends and neighbours dying from it. Over 100 million people worldwide would die from it. And the thing about something like that, there is always the fear that it will come back.
So in 1917 people looked forward with a lot to fear, but they could never guess what the future would be like so couldn’t prepare.
Like the idea that someone could reach the top of Mount Everest. Or run so fast that you could run 100m in less than 10 seconds. Or run a mile in less than 4 minutes.
If you had been told then that man would one day float in space or walk on the moon they would never have believed you
If you told someone in 1917 who was living in a typical house with a outside toilet and a single coal fire and using oil lamps for lighting that in their lifetime they would have central heating and double glazing and not only have the cinema in a box in their own house, but could talk to people all around the world, could visit people on the other side of the world on holiday, that they would be playing computer games with people that they couldn't see millions of miles away. They would never have believed you.
If you had told someone in that time who had no free hospital services that there would be drugs to help you survive cancer, that they would do heart procedures without cutting open the body, that there was the possibility of doing surgery on a foetus when it was still in the womb, that they would be a time when there would be the possibility of changing the genetic makeup of a body so that diseases like Huntington's chorea could be cured they would never believe you.
If there was no way that you can imagine it, then how can you prepare yourself for it, so why worry about it?
So what about us?
We have uncertainty in jobs out there. With all the cuts backs is there any job out there that is safe.
It used to be that if you worked in a bank then you had a job for life. Soon we might not have a bank in the Hillfoots.
Council workers used to have some security of work. But with all the cutbacks I am sure a lot of them don't feel safe.
We have uncertainty in the churches. Clackmannan will be made vacant, Menstrie will be made vacant, Dollar has been vacant for about two years. As I mentioned a few times last year, within 5 years the Church of Scotland will lose 50% of its ministers due to retirement.
We have plenty of things to worry about.
But what is the point if we have no control over it?
And you know what; it is never the thing that you predict that is going to catch you unawares.
All those disciples worried about stuff and it was a waste of time.
The people of the past worried about stuff and it was a waste of time.
Trust me. If we live our lives worrying about stuff that we can’t predict and have no control over then it is a waste of time.
And not only is it a waste of time, it stops us from doing stuff that we do have control over.
You know what one of the greatest epidemics in the western world is?
Age UK believe that over 1.2 million pensioners will be suffering from loneliness this year.
Those feelings of isolation and abandonment are not restricted to the old and are probably the cause of the high suicide rate among young men in Scotland.
Yet this is something we can do something about.
That is what this passage is about.
None of those disciples knew what was going to be ahead in their future, they could never guess the way their life would turn.
But you know what, it didn't matter, because they had such strong bonds with Jesus, and strong bonds with the other disciples.
That’s what they kept on doing, just slowly creating new bonds with others. And those bonds just weren’t new bonds, they were bonds that supported and encouraged and strengthened them through some really tough times.
Imagine feeling that the whole of the British government was against you, that the tax man and the police and all the surveillance of the whole of MI5 and MI6 was working against you, that they were looking for you to make one mistake and they would fling the death penalty at you. In fact they might not wait for you to make a mistake; they might just try to arrange to have you assassinated. How insecure would you feel?
And yet at one point that is the position the disciples found themselves in, not with just a country, but with a whole empire. How could they cope? Well they knew that they had Christ on their side, they knew they had the fellowship of the disciples.
That’s all God has ever asked of us.
Go into all the world and make friendships that make a difference.
How do you do that?
By doing what you like...with others.
It is having a strong faith with God that gives us the courage to reach out to others.
And then to offer them the same friendship that God has for us, to them.
Is it easy?
No, but it is do-able.
Where-as trying to protect yourself from the uncertainties of the future is not do-able.
So how hard is it?
I want to use my evangelism as an example.
The week before Christmas one of my squash partners asked me when the Christmas Eve service was. So I told him and he said, ‘Oh yes that's become one of our Christmas traditions.’ I didn't want to disillusion him by telling him that the Christmas Eve service the year before was the first time he had ever come to church. As traditions go it isn't all that established.
Think about that success rate.
It’s taken me 17 years and the best I can do faith-wise is to get him to come to church once a year.
As evangelism goes it’s not a great record.
Financially the church doesn't even benefit, the only time he puts money in the collection is the only time the collection doesn't go to the church. In fact when you take into consideration the heating and lighting costs for the service the church makes a financial loss on my evangelism.
But my friendship is 17 years old. When I was in hospital he was one of the first people to come and visit. During my recovery he would come up to the manse and take me out walks.
How could I not recover when people like that were on my side to help me?
I thought my friendship might save him, but the truth is that friendships are mutually saving.
Every time we reach out to someone else it is as much for our sake as it is theirs.
That’s what Jesus was trying to explain to us.
There is no way we can prepare for what is ahead of us.
But we can work on our relationships.
Our relationship with God; our relationship with others.
And with those relationships, it doesn't matter what we face, at least we know we don't face it alone.