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19th June 2015 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Sunday 19th July 2015 - Proper 11
Mark 6. 30 - 34, 53-56

The Peace
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 Blessing
The leading of the Good Shepherd bring you into ways of peace and light,
Protect you through the dark valley, and keep you in love and life eternal;
And the blessing...........

Back in the day there was a Billy Joel song that I loved called Pressure. And the words go something like,

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 a shepherd.

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 people.

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....

Dear Lord,
may we rest awhile in your presence and feel your touch.
Help us to break down the barriers that separate us, one from another,
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 your world.

19th July 2015 - Sermon for Sunday Evening

Job 13.13-14.6
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 distant future.

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 the Hebrews.

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 people.

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 forgiveness.

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 of us.

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.