Saturday, June 07, 2008

Not a Miserable Park Keeper!

Well, so much for promising some trivialities about my twin joys of tea and Camper Vans... here's another sermon!
It's my offering for tomorrow which is an all-age baptism service where the guests will probably outnumber the regular congregation. It's turned into 'not a children's talk' but I am planning to have some print-outs of feet with space for a name and 'follow me' for the younger children to be filling in... or something like that! Anyway, here it is (comments gratefully received):

Sunday 8th June 2008 – ‘Follow Me!’
Matthew 9: 9-13, 18-26

I’m reading a book at the moment called, ‘Fat, 40 & Fired’ by an Englishman in Australia called Nigel Marsh, who, as the title suggests has turned forty, put on a bit of weight and been made redundant but he calls the resulting year, ‘The year I lost my job and found my life.’
He goes on an intriguing journey of challenging himself and rediscovering the things he most loves in life – not least his wife and four children. Of all the bits of the book I could quote to you this morning it’s a few lines that come up as he speaks of their new home city of Sydney that I want to read you:

“The love affair started on our very first visit to the country, when we came to look for a house before my job started. We were walking in the Botanical Gardens behind the Opera House when we came across a sign: ‘Please do walk on the grass’. I did a double-take and looked closer. Sure enough, the council had erected a sign saying, ‘Please do walk on the grass’. Underneath, in smaller letters, the writing continued: ‘And talk to the plants and hug the trees. It’s your park, it’s here for you to enjoy. Have fun.’ I was stunned and have never really been the same since.”[1]

And as I read that I thought – ‘that’s how God wants us to see the world’ – walking on the grass, enjoying what’s out there, living life to the full, as Jesus put it. But how often when God, or perhaps even more – his church is mentioned in the media is it more likely to be as a miserable old park keeper, chasing the children away from where they’re having fun; rather than the one that says, ‘walk on the grass, enjoy the plants and the trees, I made them’?

If you haven’t yet realised it, then understand today, that God isn’t the miserable old park keeper, but the source of all that brings deep satisfaction and delight in this life – the one who put all that beauty out there for us. Yes, of course, he has given us some guidelines and boundaries that enable us to live alongside one another in safety and respect and most of all love. We’re well aware of the need to give our children guidelines and boundaries, it’s the job of any responsible parent, so why not God? To take the picture another step on – no-one could enjoy the park if a few came along having a chain saw party and cut all the trees down because that’s what they really felt like doing, or even if they shouted from the rooftops that it was their right!

And in both of our Bible readings today there’s a call from this God to us. In the Old Testament reading from Hosea the call is: ‘Come, let us return to the Lord; he will heal us, he will bind us up, he will revive us, he will raise us up to live before him.’ Because ultimately, God – the Lord – wants us to walk through life with him and on into eternal life – what we call heaven. He wants you to walk through life with him, understanding him to be the one who heals you, binds up your wounds, revives you and raises you to be with him. But there are really hard words intermingled there too. These were addressed to the people who had experienced God’s presence and special blessing but who had turned away from him, had done evil and as a result had experienced what’s spoken of too – being torn and struck down. Sometimes only hardship causes us stubborn humans to turn back to God and cry out to him. All the way through the Old Testament there are examples of the people turning away from God and living evil lives opposed to how God has called them to live. (And his rules aren’t there to spoil our fun, but to ensure it doesn’t get perverted – and they’re summarised as ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself’. How we treat each other and how we treat God, really matters.)

But in those times of hardship, when the people cry out to God he responds according to his nature and character – not as the miserable old park keeper but as the one who heals, binds up, revives and restores.

That’s what God’s like.
And what he’s like has been made even clearer for us in the life and death of Jesus; because Jesus is what we call ‘God incarnate’ – God having taken on human form to live among us and ultimately to die in our place so that we can go through death into life – and that life’s the unspoilt one, the unseparated from God one.

And so, having heard that call in the Old Testament, ‘Come, let us return to the Lord’; we now go to our second reading from the New Testament to hear Jesus’s words: ‘Follow me.’

‘Come let us return to the Lord’ and ‘Follow me’; is that what God is saying to you today, whether you’re as young as (N) being baptised this morning or as old as… some of the old vicars on that board?!

Jesus said those words, ‘follow me’ to Matthew who was certainly not an approved follower or dinner guest for Jesus to hang around with according to the religious people of the day.

But that’s the point, Jesus came to call all us ‘sinners’ all us who mess things up and need a new start to follow him. The church is full of people who’ve heard that welcome invitation and responded to it, not full of people who are so good in their own right that they have no need of God – far from it!

So Jesus was God on earth who we often call ‘the Son’, then dead on a cross, then alive again through the power of God and seated with him in heaven; is also by the same nature the one who heals us, binds up our wounds, revives us and raises us up. We saw a couple of examples of just that further on in the gospel reading where Jesus restored to life the daughter of the leader of the Synagogue and healed the woman who reached out to him and touched his cloak.

‘Follow me’ – two simple little words, but what do they mean – what do they require of us?

Well, in any game of ‘follow-the-leader’ the followers need to do the same as the leader, and in the church we follow-the-leader. The call is to be like Jesus and to reflect his compassion, his service, his life that ignored the social conventions to hang around with the ‘right kind of people’ but instead spend time with the ones who needed him.

It means that in our lives he is Lord, he is king, he is the boss and we offer ourselves so that we become people who get involved and heal, bind up and revive in God’s name.
It means offering him all we are, getting involved and being willing to share what we’ve been given – our time, our energy, our talents, our money – not just living for ourselves, but for others. In this church we do that by supporting projects overseas such as the Ebenezer Children’s Home in India and Mother Mercy (Orphanage) in Kenya; by being on the BarNBus team on Wednesday nights that’s in the car park for the teenagers of our community; by caring and praying for one another; by trying to make God’s love known in the way we act and speak wherever we are through the week; by looking out for the weak and vulnerable in our community; by giving to the work of the church – the more we give the more we can make a difference; by working with the children both in and out of the church in the children’s group and youth group and holiday club. There's even the potential for such things as local sports teams, hosting debt counsellors, serving in the community forums, standing up for the voiceless and challenging prejudice if we start to get creative. The more we are willing to follow and offer ourselves the more we can do for the people God has placed us among. The next ‘in Touch’ will be out very soon which will contain more ideas for getting involved.

And even when we decide we want to live this life we still get it wrong and we still need help – and God gives it – what he calls us to do he enables us to do because when we do set off following him he gives us a gift; and that gift is his Holy Spirit – God living in our hearts helping us to be Christ-like and do the things he did.

In the baptism in a few minutes we’ll be praying for (N) and his parents and godparents as they make promises on his behalf to help him grow up as a follower of Jesus. And one of the things we do is to give (N) a lighted candle that represents the light of Jesus in the world. And as we do that we say ‘shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father.’ That’s what it means to respond to the call ‘follow me’, both for (N) as he grows up, and for all of us – to shine as a Christ-light in the world.
Think seriously about how you answer that call today.

You may be here as a visitor today having never heard that call before; you may be here having been a churchgoer for many years but have never responded ‘yes’ to that call; you may have been a faithful, following Christian a long time who’s being challenged to think afresh about what you offer back to God; you may be a young person who’s grown up in the church but has never said ‘ok Lord’ for yourself?

Jesus says ‘follow me’ – we each have to decide how to respond and whether we’re going to ‘walk on the grass’ and live life to the full!


[1] Nigel Marsh, 'Fat, 40 & Fired', p76 (Piatkus Books Ltd 2006)


At June 08, 2008 1:21 am, Blogger RevAnne said...

I like it. Almost wish I had a baptism so I could use parts of it. It's really very good.

At June 08, 2008 1:27 am, Blogger Diane said...

I like how you use the illustration and work in stuff from the baptism. really good!


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