Sunday Sermon 10th January- What was John and Jesus really offering?

The chosen hymns for this week, Down to the river to prayer: and Be thou my vision can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.

What was John and Jesus really offering?

Mark 1: 4-11

10/1/21

Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 10th January.

So we are well into the New Year.

And there is that feeling that life is just dragging on.

There is hope, new vaccines are on the horizon,

but they are saying it could take many months, of not years for enough of the world to get the vaccine that we have a herd immunity.

Meanwhile we are back in lockdown and the repercussions of Brexit are hitting and all the changes that have to take place are beginning to kick in.

There is a feeling that we are far away from a time when we can finally just relax.

So where does our hope come from in these times?


That is what we will be looking at in our reflection based on our reading today.


Mark 1: 4-11



Let us pray


Heavenly Father,

It is a new year, new beginnings, new starts.

There is the hope of something better, something fresh, a renewing of each day.

And yet, and yet we struggle to feel this in our lives.

The days are still short, the nights are just as dark, the weather is just as bad.

The struggle is maintaining the hope that the better will come, that the struggle is worth it.

May we trust in the companionship of faith, the community of being with you and with others. That through our interactions we may keep on moving, evolving, growing. Through the freedom you give us may we bring your words of hope into our hearts and the hearts of others.

Too often we need to let go of those things that hold us back, those things that corrupt our relationships, those habits that tarnish our communities.

May our actions reflect the invitation you give us to believe in a better way and seek that place where fresh starts are possible.

May that space be here, may that time be now.

This we ask in Jesus name and in his name we say the words he taught us

.

Our Father,

Which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy Name.

Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil;

For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.

Amen.


Sermon

It’s all go in that short reading.

John the Baptist appears in the desert baptising people in the river Jordon: giving folk a new chance if they repent from their sins.

The trouble with most church folk is that they just accept this.

But what right has John to do that?

Who is he to forgive sins?

Where did he get this message from?

What authority does he have to do it?

He is no priest. He has no official status.

How do we even know it works?

He is like stranger that has come out of nowhere and promises heaven on earth.


We have no sooner gotten our heads round that when BAM along comes Jesus to be baptized by John.

Why does he need to be baptized if he is the Son of God and hasn’t sinned?

While we are trying to get our heads round what is going on and wondering if maybe there has been a mistake BAM along comes God saying ‘You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.’

And then BAM Jesus is rushed off to the desert where he is tempted for 40 days.

Is that how God treats you when he is pleased with you?

I would hate to think what happens if he is unhappy with you.


Kind of scary stuff.

Kind of confusing.

Lot to get our head around.


My wife got one of those storage things. She decided that we had too much stuff. So instead of getting rid of some stuff, because there may be a time in the future when we need that stuff, she decided to store it. But this storage thing was amazing. You had a big bag and you packed it with all the stuff you could. Then you got a Hoover and attached it to the nozzle at the end of the bag and the Hoover sucked out all the air and the bag shrank to a fraction of its size.

The only trouble with it is that when you then want to get a couple of items out of this bag to have to re-inflate it and you have so much stuff to go through to get what you are looking for.


I think this is what is happening here.

Mark has so much to say, so he shrinks it all down to its very basic parts. But then when you want to get to what it means you need to unpack it and it seems like a lot of stuff to go through.


So let’s unpack this.

We are at the start of the Gospel and Mark, the writer of the Gospel, wants to make a statement right at the start of the Gospel about where we are going.

He doesn’t want us to read this like a thesis, for us to read it all the way through and then for us to come to a conclusion at the end after researching all the evidence that he has given us.

He wants us, at the start, to know what God is up to and then to see how God gets up to it all the way through the Gospel.

For Mark this is his statement of God’s work and the rest of the Gospel is about how God shows that work and how far God is willing to go to fulfil that work.


So what is God’s work?

Community.

It is that simple.

Community with God, and how that then affects our community with others.

Though normally we feel it the other way around.

The time we feel unhappy is when our community with others has gone to pot, when we feel isolated and alone, when we feel unsupported and vulnerable. Then often in that state we go to God seeking help.


Mark suggests that it is the other way round, once we are in community with God that is then reflected in how we communicate with others, how we are open to support them and feel supported by them.

With the foundation of a strong relationship with God we feel confident to reach out to others with hope and security.


So people go to John the Baptist because he is offering a second chance with God.

He is literally offering to wipe the slate clean between God and ourselves.

Sin isn’t breaking commandments. Sin is an attitude of heart.

You could keep all the commandments, not steal, not lie, not commit murder, but still be selfish and greedy and not help anyone and be arrogant and manipulative.

Sin is that attitude of heart that we do things because we are fearful and scared.

We think only of ourselves because we believe that’s what everyone else does.

Charity begins at home because only once we are sorted are we willing to think about offering anything to anyone else.


Here is a question that indicates how insidious sin is.

I was given a pack of reflective cards at Christmas and what I was meant to do was state the question on the card and reflect with others what our answers would be.

And the question was simple...How much money do we need in the bank?

Isn’t that an interesting question?

How much money would you feel you needed to feel so secure that you could be generous to others?


I want to give you the answer that I think most of us, if we were honest, would give, JUST A BIT MORE THAN WE HAVE.

For most of us we never feel we have that amount that we feel totally secure enough to give away money to others that might need it more.

The reason I say that is that we all have ideas that if we had say a hundred thousand in the bank then we could be generous.

But then you talk to people with that amount of money and ask why they don’t give more when they have so much, and you find out that they feel that they need a bit more to feel secure. They would be happier if they had a million in the bank. But then you talk to those will a million and they look to those that have a billion in the bank and presume that they would feel secure enough to be generous.

And so it goes on and on.


The truth is that we have that part of our heart that acts out of insecurity, and that is called sin. It mucks up our relationships and once they are mucked up it is difficult to admit what we did wrong. We tend to self justify our actions and be more critical of their actions and all of that creates more and more barriers between them and us and that makes us more defensive, less secure, more isolated.

And then along comes John and says, ‘Who wants a second chance? Who wants to say, ‘I know I mucked things up, I am really sorry, why don’t we try again?’’

John says, ‘We can have another go with God, and if we have God on our side to guide and support, we can take that into all our other relationships and make a go of them.’


And in the other Gospels we do have people confronting John and saying, ‘That’s Ok you saying all this stuff but how can we trust you? What if you’re just a madman in the desert ranting garbage that sounds nice?’


And that’s where Jesus comes in. In a sense Jesus is representing God in all of this. Jesus comes along and says, ‘God is for all for this.

When it comes to what God is about;

He is not about success,

He is not about numbers in churches or temples,

He is not about his followers feeling superior,

He is not about his followers looking down on other people of different social background or sexuality or religion.

God is about community; community with himself, community with others.’


In the very old days of TV advertising you would have the advertisement and then you would have the owner of the company coming on and saying, ‘I am the owner of this company and I endorse this message.’

When Jesus comes along he is basically saying, ‘On behalf of God I endorse this message of John. I am about community.’



And after that the first thing that happens is that Jesus is going to be tempted about whether he really believes it or not. All the temptations are about things that undermine community.

The pursuit of happiness out-with others;

if only I had a bit more power I would feel secure,

if only I had a bit more wealth I would feel more happy,

if only the world did what I wanted it to do I would be content.


And the truth that Jesus realised was that we have no control over any of these things.

Money and power and influence all fade away.

You could have an abundance of all of them and still be fearful and lonely.

But community, community with God, community with others, well that gives you the strength to cope with anything.


So there we have it, a new year, and to be honest it is very much like the old year.

Sure we may have some solutions on the horizon to deal with some of our problems, but then they will probably be replaced by other problems.


So that’s the choice we have.

Are we just going to chase the solutions to whatever crisis happens to be in front of us at any time, judging success as to whether we survive, even if everyone else falls?

Or are we going to make a life worth living, a life of community, community with God, community with others?


Let us pray


Heavenly Father,

We reflect on what we have done in the past.

Those hurtful actions and words that were said in anger or spite or hurt, they cloud our memory and influence our decisions. Reminders of how flawed we are and why would anyone want to care for us?

May we lay them here at the waterside and let them wash away.


We reflect on those things that diminish us, the judgements we have on others, the judgements we think they have on us, the biases and the intolerances and the bigotries, all those things that create barriers between us and them.

May we lay them here at the waterside and let them wash away.


We reflect on the dark and hard words that we use too often, the silences that have been too long, the grudges and the resentments that do no one any good but block the chance of healing and restoration.

May we lay them here at the waterside and let them wash away.


We reflect on the distance we have kept from others, the fear that they would drain us, the worry that they would be a burden to us, the insecurity that they would reject us.

May we lay them here at the waterside and let them wash away.


And as we come up from the waterside, may we see your love for us, your joy on our existence, your hope for our future, your ambition for our wellbeing, your guidance and help.

And with those gifts to inspire us, may we reach out to all with your love.

This we ask in Jesus name

Amen.



May you rejoice in the Father today more than ever before

May you know Jesus today more than ever before.

May you rest in the wisdom of the Spirit today more than ever before.

Amen



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