Sunday 19th July 2015 - Proper 11
30 - 34, 53-56
Christ the Good Shepherd comes with peace to those who are near,
to those who are far off.
The peace of the Lord be always with you...
The leading of the Good Shepherd bring you into ways of peace
Protect you through the dark valley, and keep you in love and
And the blessing...........
Back in the day there was a
Billy Joel song that I loved called Pressure. And the words go
You have to learn to pace yourself
You're just like everybody else
And now here in Mark's Gospel,
we get a glimpse of the sort of pressure that afflicted Jesus
and his closest friends, once word got around of the extraordinary
power of the young Rabbi from Nazareth.
So even when Jesus is desperate
for some time to spend in quiet reflection with his disciples
- time for them to come to terms with the mission on which he
had sent them out. When he too could discuss with them all that
had happened to him in the days and weeks since they had all
been gathered together - even in the face of that need, there
is little chance for them to enjoy much peace together. The pressure
of public ministry intervenes. Even in the days before social
media; before the paparazzi; before rolling 24/7 News broadcasts;
even then we are told that "many saw them going and recognized
them and they all hurried there on foot from all the towns and
arrived ahead of them."
And here is where I am forced
to admit that Jesus had a lot more patience than me - because
his reaction on seeing the crowds waiting for him on the shore
was not to turn tail and sail away to the other side of the lake!
No, he has compassion on them and sees them as sheep without
So he puts aside all thoughts
of retreat and quiet reflection and plunges back into the hubbub
of teaching and preaching and above all of healing these needy,
desperate, people. His sheep; his flock.
Can you imagine what it might
have been like to be in the middle of that crush as people leant
forward to try and grab the cloak wrapping the shoulders of one
extraordinary man? You have seen the frenzy of crowds at a pop
concert - I imagine it might have been a bit like that. Everyone
desperate to touch - to stroke his tunic - even finger the fringe
at the hem of his prayer shawl?
But consider the power of touch:
the way it connects one person to another. It reaches across
the divide of our individuality and helps us to know our common
humanity. The touch of a lover, the cuddle of a baby, the shoulder
of a friend - even (dare I say it) the very British handshake
at the time of the Peace (!) - all act as a bridge between two
But the touch of Jesus is the
bridge between two worlds, heaven and earth.
Have you ever said of an unexpected
gift or a bunch of flowers, "that was so touching!"?
We cry at a film or a piece of music and say, "we were so
moved." Is that not because the gap between us and the mysterious
other has been bridged - however briefly - and for a moment we
have felt connected to something so much bigger than ourselves
and our selfish wants and needs?
Well perhaps when we pray,
that is another form of bridge, a bridge connecting us to a greater
reality, taking us from the finite reality of this world, to
the infinite possibility of another?
If we are fully human - and
the best human we can be, the sort of human that God intends
us to be, then touch is very properly important in our lives.
And like all important, God given gifts, it is to be used carefully
and never imposed on another without their consent, but just
think of how a hug brings comfort and a hand held can give courage?
When was the last time you gave the gift of touch to another?
If we are to emulate Jesus
in our lives - to lead lives that are 'distinctively Christian'
, to try and follow the Good Shepherd in our relationships in
life; whether at work, at school, in the family or with our friends,
then we have to allow ourselves to touch and to be touched; to
be moved with compassion for our fellow human beings, for our
animals, for the wonderful world in which we live.
It can be a big temptation
to make salvation something spiritual, something non-material,
other-worldly, not to do with us here in the messy reality of
our lives. But the Christian gospel of incarnation absolutely
argues against that. If we will not be saved in and through our
actual, physical lives, we will not be saved by Christ at all.
We cannot get away from the fact that Jesus - who cares for us
like a Shepherd the sheep - chose to share our existence in order
to break down walls of hostility and distrust between us. He
chose to touch us and be touched by us. The only way in which
these our bodies can be built up into the Temple of God is if
we will hold hands - touch each other - and stand, body to body,
together as we pray....
may we rest awhile in your presence and feel your touch.
Help us to break down the barriers that separate us, one from
Let us draw near to each other; to touch and be touched, and
in that simple action, let us feel your healing, saving power
moving between us now and when we go out from this place into
July 2015 - Sermon for Sunday Evening
Hebrews 2. 5- end.
I am very privileged, because at present - after our morning
worship here in church - there is a small group of us - four
or five people at most, who are meeting together to prepare for
possible confirmation in the Church of England in the not too
It is a lovely group - people
across a very wide range of ages - and we have some cracking
discussions, spurred on by our study of the Bible and in particular,
looking at the promises and statements of the Baptism service
- since these are the ones that they will be called to affirm
for themselves as and when the Bishop confirms them.
Well today we reached the subject
of sin and forgiveness. Which is jolly handy as I hadn't come
up with a subject for this evening at the time - but in the light
of our readings tonight, I think we could do worse than look
at some of the questions we were wrestling with this morning.
And those of you who took part earlier on, may have a head start
on the rest of us!
Let me start by reminding you
what it said at the end of the reading from Paul's letter to
Therefore he (Christ) had to
become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that
he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service
of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the
So - what do you think is the
(or a?) definition of sin??? Those outside the church seem to
think we talk about little else, so I would be interested to
know what you actually think?.........
I always feel that sin is not
so much any action or deed as such - rather it is anything that
separates us from God and from the love of God. Anything that
stops us being the best human being we can be - the sort of human
being that God created us to be.
So I don't think you can necessarily
come up with a list of misdemeanours and say - "That's a
sin" - unless it is obvious that such an action would of
itself cause hurt or damage to another human being or animal.
It follows that if we are all made in God's image, if we do something
to hurt or betray another human being we are in part hurting
or betraying God too...
No, sin and morality may be
related, but they are separate concepts.
Similarly with repentance and
Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop
of Chelmsford, has suggested that if we were asked to sum up
the Christian faith in a single word, it might be (not love alone)
but forgiveness. And I kind of get where he is coming from there.
Jesus may have preached solidly
about loving our neighbour as ourselves, but forgiveness sometimes
feels a whole lot more difficult than loving.... would you agree?
He says that the Bible - in
all its many books - including the Book of Job that we also heard
this evening, encompasses a huge sweep of history, telling of
how human beings - if left to their own devices - get things
wrong. It begins with Adam and Eve but goes right on down the
centuries and millenia, and includes even the great heroes of
David and Solomon etc., They managed to mess up in pretty spectacular
ways from time to time. And yet God stayed faithful to his promises
to them! And then finally, God sends Jesus to be the Christ,
the Messiah, to put all things right.
And Jesus understood himself
to be the one whose own life was to be sacrificed for the sins
of the world. He struggles to come to terms with what is being
demanded of him, but finally he accepts the challenge; the opportunity,
and submits completely to the Divine will.
So Jesus goes to the cross
and yet is able to forgive - or to ask forgiveness on behalf
of, both his fellow prisoners crucified beside him and also the
soldiers who are tasked with hammering home the nails.
And the resurrection of Jesus
is the ultimate sign that there is now complete reconciliation
with God - which is open and available to everyone. Jesus embodies
and shows us a new way of living - a new way of being human.
We can gain access to this wonderful new life by repenting /
turning around our lives and our habits, but it is quite clear
that God's love for us is totally unconditional. The offer of
new life is there for us whether we choose to repent or not.
Because God never forces, never co-erces us. He invites us to
follow him, to have our lives turned around as we repent, but
he also waits on us - for the moment to be right for each one
And learning to forgive and
to accept that we are forgiven in our turn and loved and delighted
in by God is something that may take a lifetime to accept and
to understand... to believe that we are indeed "little lower
than the angels". Sadly I think some people never do come
to understand this. They remain with their backs turned resolutely
towards God and their eyes staring in the opposite direction.
But if we can just accept his
loving invitation. If we can turn our gaze towards God; if we
can put him and not ourselves at the centre of our existence;
if we can re-orientate our lives to live as Christ wants us to,
then we will be able to enjoy our days on this earth and the
whole of our heavenly existence yet to come.