Author Archives: David Wilmot

`Doubtless Thomas`

I suppose it`s fair to say that it was the Romans who did the deed.  But it was the people of God who really crucified Christ. All of which explains why the resurrection stories have an air of reconciliation about them; we might even say re-purposing or re-tooling. Yes, there is a `sending`; a mission to the wider world but first and foremost the Lord comes to his fearful people to put them on track. This of course, is why the gathering in the Upper Room is so evocative. Because we know that the Lord also comes to us in our place of fear, isolation and confusion; the place where we brood and fester. And he comes with his word of peace.

The more obvious and shall we say `individual` examples of this are the Lord`s encounter with Peter; who had denied him three times. Last week we heard about Mary Magdalen; who wanted to cling on to how things had been with Christ in the past. Today we hear about Thomas. The Lord comes to this man we have labelled `doubting Thomas`.

Now, we don`t know why he was absent when the Lord initially came to the disciples (perhaps his family were visiting him for the Easter break?!) but we might easily imagine that he was one of those who needed to grieve alone. However, dropping out and isolating yourself can often lead to all manner of illusions can`t it? We sometimes us that phrase, “You need to get out more” don`t we?

Now, Thomas has become something of a poster-boy for a lot of people hasn`t he? Time and again I hear people say “I`m a bit of a `doubting Thomas`, Vicar”. However, whilst I have a lot of sympathy with those who have honest questions; I am rarely convinced. because candidly, in my experience, whenever I answer one of their questions there is always another; and then another and so on. When you offer them an opportunity to really explore what they are struggling with; somehow, they never have the time. What I mean is that, all too often, `I`m a doubting Thomas` simply becomes a badge that they wear or even a shield to prevent God getting too close.

To put it another way, these `doubting Thomases` simply want God on their terms. That of course, was Thomas`s problem. Notice how he tells the other disciples “Unless I see….” He is setting the terms. And here is the root cause of the crucifixion. It was religious people trying to dictate terms with God. The God who showed up in Jesus of Nazareth simply didn`t fit the bill. But this is when the Lord brings about a change in Thomas. It`s there in the wounds. It`s so ironic that Thomas demanded to see the wounds of Jesus. Yes, he wanted physical proof but the Lord insists that Thomas takes an extremely close look, doesn`t he?

The point is that the wounds are much more than boxes you tick in some dispute about whether it all really happened. No, the wounds are the marks of love. They are a sign of what has been done on the cross for you and I. What Thomas and other `doubting Thomases` ever since, struggle to acknowledge is that it`s always safer to keep Jesus as a matter of debate or as a problem to be solved. Because if you have to look into the wounds then God becomes personal. When I look into the wounds, I can`t fail to see the fruit of my own rejection of the God who wouldn`t dance to my tune.

But Jesus comes to Thomas and to the other frightened and bewildered disciples; not with a spirit of vengeance or anger. He comes with words of peace and forgiveness… he comes and bids us look into the wounds; not that we should be guilt-ridden but more deeply aware of what he has borne for us. You see, when Jesus comes, he comes as our Saviour and this is what the average `doubting Thomas` is actually running from. They would much rather have a Jesus who is a sort of Guru. They want someone who will support and affirm their spiritual quest. Unfortunately, it doesn`t work like that. As someone said, `we don’t grasp at the divine life or control it; we receive it”.

The story goes that the Devil once appeared to St. Teresa of Avila. He came disguised as the Risen Jesus. “Away with you!” she said. “You are not my Lord”. How can you tell?” asked the Devil. “Because you have no wounds”, she replied. I suppose you might say that we don’t get Christianity without a Cross. We don’t get Easter without Good Friday- though some try. We don`t get Jesus on our terms- but on his. We recognise him by his wounds.

I once knew an old man who really understood this. Sunday by Sunday, I would see him at the Communion Rail. I would hand a piece of bread to him with the words, “the Body of Christ”. He would always reply, “was broken for me.” Or as Thomas says. “My Lord and my God”.

Amen to that. 

Mothering: It`s complicated.

A well-known comedian tells the (probably apocryphal) story, of how he came to understand that his relationship with his mother was more complicated than he had realised. He said that when he was a boy, he had skinned his knees while playing outside. Coming into the house crying, his mother told him that she would put some antiseptic on his wounds. It was at that point she said, “Now this won`t hurt a bit!”. He said, the contrast between what she said and what actually happened, meant that “things were never quite the same after that”.

Now, I mention this silly story as a gentle way of directing our attention away from some of the unwarranted sentimentality which submerges a day like today. Yes, of course, it`s good to send hearts and flowers to show our thanks and appreciation to our mums. But we all know that parenting, friendship; in fact, any context in which we seek to love another, is far from straightforward.

Now, the woman who helps us reflect on these things today, is called Salome. We heard about her in our Gospel reading this morning. She`s the mother of James and John and today, we heard about how she came to Jesus with a special request for her boys. Sure enough, it was more complicated than she had realised. The first thing to notice is that Salome is effectively a woman at prayer; and she is a model for us. Matthew says, “The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him”. So, simply put, here is a mum, devoted to her boys. She wants the best for them; and she simply comes to Jesus.

Now, what makes me smile, is how Matthew initially describes these boys as “the sons of Zebedee”. But when Salome talks to Jesus, she refers to them as “these sons of mine” doesn`t she? Notwithstanding any rivalry with Zebedee(!) we might say that this just points out how very heart-felt things are for her. And of course, the depth of this prayer is again emphasised when we see that she has literally `brought` the boys with her, hasn`t she?

So, to this extent, Salome is a model for what we mean when we talk about `bringing` people to the Lord, in prayer. But of course, that phrase, “these sons of mine” has another implication to it. We don`t know whether James and John put her up to it but no matter whose idea it was, speaking of “these sons of mine” might indicate that her ambition for them was perhaps a bit too controlling; or a bit too pushy? And I think the whole story, in a sense, hinges on this point. Yes, Jesus goes on to speak about how their request; which so irritated the other disciples because it was so self-aggrandizing, was totally out of place in the world according to Jesus. But before that, this proud mum and her boys are simply told, “you don`t know what you are asking”. Now, that`s an interesting answer to a prayer, isn`t it? So, what`s going on?

Well, I remember some years ago, having quite a difficult conversation with a young but rather possessive mother. I found it very hard to explain to her that her child didn`t actually belong to her. I know that sounds abrupt but it was so hard to help her see that as parents we hold our children on trust; and that our task is to care for them and nurture them. But path they are to take is not ours to determine or control. They have to work that out in conversation with the Lord. Unfortunately, this woman was having none of it. But I think we can all recognise how this often becomes the root of many a complicated parent-child relationship. So, maybe what Salome discovered in her prayer (in her coming to Jesus), was just how difficult it can be to surrender our loved ones to the Father`s will and give up our desire to determine their future?

Now, let`s be clear; in a very real sense, Salome gets things absolutely right. After all, the very first thing she does is turn her love for her boys into prayer. I mean, the Lord asks her what she wants and she brings him her heart-felt desires for them. But what I`m getting at, is that it was there on her knees before the Lord; in fact, it was because she went on her knees before the Lord, that she heard him speak of a different vision for them. We might say that it was before the Lord that Salome had those desires and her love for the boys re-ordered. She was invited to relinquish control. She heard a word about them and their future with the Lord, that was very different to what she had imagined.

Yes, Jesus`s words can sound a bit like a rebuke but they`re not. Jesus is simply opening her eyes to a bigger picture; to the Father`s will and purposes which it isn`t for us to know. But, here`s the thing. Having brought the boys to Jesus in prayer, Salome is able to hear Jesus assure her (and them) that they will indeed accompany him. But how would things unfold?

Well, at this point Salome didn`t know that James would be one of the first to be martyred for his loyalty to Christ. John lived to a venerable old age as author of the Gospel, the Letters and the book of Revelation; much loved and revered by the early Church. So, in other words, she didn`t know that her first son would meet a violent end, early in his life; and the other would die of old age. One served God through one moment of sacrifice and the other served God through a long life of many sacrifices. All of which indeed, begs the question, that when we pray that our children and grandchildren will come to faith whether we really know what we`re asking, doesn`t it?

So, there`s a great deal to ponder in this short passage. But the heart of it for me is simply an invitation to turn away from any images of prayer which imply that it`s a sort of slot-machine, where we ask and the Lord either says “yes”, “no” or “wait a bit”. Because one other outcome of prayer is the gift of seeing things differently. Seeing those whom we love or dislike and God`s purposes for them, somewhat differently. Because the outcome of Salome`s prayer was to see differently and therefore to love differently.

We might say that Salome`s heart was in the right place. She was devoted to her boys. She was on their side and wanted the best for them. But it was only in prayer that she had her eyes open to what that best might be. And this, as I say is the complicating thing about all attempts to love. Whether it`s parenting, friendship or even love of those we struggle to like. At the end of the day, to love is to seek their highest good; and we often don`t know or can`t conceive, what that is.

Simply put, to love is to remember that the Lord has a vision for these people which is far greater than their usefulness to me. As Salome demonstrates to love means being with them. Being for them; that is on their side. But ultimately it means surrendering them, entrusting them to one how knows and loves them (and us) more deeply than we might ever know.

“Nicodemus: When the penny drops”

This morning, we heard about a Pharisee named Nicodemus, (John 3.1-17) who comes to Jesus under cover of darkness. Now, the fact that it was dark allows St. John to set the scene for us with his usual aplomb.  What I mean, is that John, (you may recall) proclaims Jesus as the `light of the world`. And so, very cleverly, he`s hinting that this conversation is happening on several levels.

Firstly, Jesus is speaking with someone who not only waits until it`s dark outside because he`s embarrassed to be in Jesus`s company; and secondly, what we`re meant to infer is that Nicodemus is someone who, to all intents and purposes, was blundering around in the dark. Nicodemus needed, in other words, to come to the light. But of course, John is saying, “this is the journey we all need to make”.

Now, let`s be clear, Nicodemus is no fool. He`s a highly respected figure in the community. But clearly, on that more fundamental level, this `teacher of Israel` is totally at sea. We might say, he`s entirely clueless about the ways of God and the real nature of things as Jesus speaks of them. And to make matters worse, Jesus doesn`t mince his words, does he? “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” he says. So, if like me, you have memories of being laughed at in school for getting the answer to a question completely wrong, then it`s easy to sympathise with Nicodemus, isn`t it? It`s easy to recoil from the Lord who seems so very forthright.

But this is probably why John recorded this story anyway. Perhaps to emphasise the seriousness off things. You see, elsewhere in his Gospel, John tells us that the Lord, “came to his own and his own received him not”. And this rejection also works on two levels. Yes, there is the outright malice which nailed the Lord to the Cross. But Nicodemus exemplifies that second feature which we again might call an `utter cluelessness`. It`s that deep seated ignorance of the things of God among God`s own people for goodness sake.

Which is why this is such a good theme for this Lenten season. We might say that this incident with Nicodemus is an invitation for us to pull our socks up; and to pray with the Lord`s rightful expectations of us. I still laugh at a sketch from Monty Python`s flying Circus; that comedy series from a good many years ago, where a man going into a cheese shop. He asks for some cheddar and is told they have none.  He then proceeds to ask for an incredible list of cheeses; and each time he`s given an excuse as to why they have none for sale. The punchline, as you may anticipate, is when the customer says: “You do sell cheese here, don`t you?”

Well, this to some extent, illustrates what`s going on here. I mean, the Lord comes among his own people and they haven`t a clue what he`s talking about. It`s as if he`s saying, “You do, `do God` here don`t you?”  There is a chasm here. There`s an air of tragedy here. The God who these people worshipped and professed to follow comes into their midst and there is either outright rejection or utter bewilderment. I mean, it comes especially hard when Israel; the one called to be a light to the Gentiles (the whole world) is effectively declared to be darkness itself. That`s what Jesus `s words about hiding the light under a bushel basket were all about.

However, having said all of that, we can turn things around. That is, we could see Nicodemus as a friend and ally. I mean, here`s Jesus describing the Lord God in ways that seem designed to disconcert the likes of Nicodemus. “Wind blowing where it wills” “You need t be born from above” I ask you! It gets us all riled up even now, doesn`t it? But here`s the thing. Might it not be that any real encounter with the Lord is going to be experienced as stretching in this way? Isn`t this why so many of Jesus signs involved the restoring of hearing and sight and limbs made well so that someone can follow? And can we not see that Jesus is opening a window on a whole new world (literally!) so naturally speaking we`re going to struggle?

No, we can`t get there on our own. We can`t do it all for ourselves. We need- as Jesus insists – the intervention of his Holy Spirit. But let`s be clear (and this is made explicit in the Gospel reading) Jesus isn`t in the business of condemnation. Simply put, this encounter points out how something vital has been missing in the faith of Nicodemus and his people. `Vital`, not just in the sense of being `essential` (though that`s true). No, I mean `vital` in the sense of living; immediate and energised. Rather like we talk of a body having `vital signs`.

You see, poor Nicodemus gives the impression that God is some kind of historical artifact. Yes, he`s big on keeping the rules (he`s a Pharisee after all). But as he says to Jesus, in the signs that he was doing (the water into wine, for instance) Nicodemus had begun to get a glimpse of something more.

So, he cautiously sidles up to Jesus by night. But instead of warm reassurance, he`s met with this inflammatory language. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above”. In other words; “Teacher of Israel, have you never realised that you need to lay yourself open to the work of his Spirit in your life; if you are ever going to become part of the Kingdom?” Poor Nicodemus gets both barrels. But here, as I say, he stands for us. We who haven`t yet stepped into the world according to Jesus.

But here`s the good news. You see, I think Nicodemus shows us the way forward. Because the real blessing is that Nicodemus didn`t skulk off back into the night. Again, he heard the Lord`s words not as judgement or condemnation but as an invitation. Now, Nicodemus, the disciple, doesn`t seem to have had a blinding flash of light. I get the sense that his new birth into the Kingdom actually took some time. But we know that it happened. Notice how Jesus reminded Nicodemus of that Bible story where Moses lifted up a serpent on a stick for the healing of the people. He said, ”Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”.

Well, Jesus would give Nicodemus a very visual aid. You see, we all remember that after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea (a secret disciple of Jesus) went to Pilate, to ask for the Lord`s body, in order to give it a burial, don`t we? Well, we sometimes forget, I think, that Joseph was accompanied another secret disciple: by the name of Nicodemus. Again, despite getting both barrels from Jesus, Nicodemus didn`t skulk off back into the night; or shrink from the hard things Jesus had told him.

No, he took courage and he learned to live with the astonishment and the incomprehension which accompanies an authentic faith. He kept company with Jesus until the truth of what Jesus was saying was finally revealed to him. Where? Well, on Good Friday. It was on Good Friday that the penny dropped for Nicodemus. Because, Nicodemus saw the Son of Man lifted up. Nicodemus went to the cross and the grave; and from there he was born anew. So, it`s to the foot of the cross that we ned to go if we are to be born anew. Nicodemus illustrates the kind of Lenten journey we all need to make. So, let`s all agree to meet up on Good Friday, shall we?


This is my Son… Listen to him

When my Father told me that Derby County were the best football team in the land, I believed him. And that`s the way it is, isn`t it? In our childhood state, we believe all manner of things “because my Dad says so”. And we do so because essentially, we think much more about the one who`s speaking than the things they say. “He`s my Dad”. He`s my Dad, after all.

Of course, it doesn`t stay that way. The time comes when we think a bit more about what they are saying than who is saying it; and we begin to think and to question. We develop what we call “a mind of our own”. And so, over time, I was no longer so sure about Derby County. I discovered Manchester United.

Now, we refer to it as becoming an adult, don`t we? There`s nothing inherently wrong in all of this; but of course, setting ourselves up as the judge of all things in this way isn`t without its pitfalls. I mean, I was thinking about how our Lord wrestles with these things in the Gospels. So, time and again, we see him talking to the crowds. He tells them a lot of things about the Kingdom, the mercy and reign of God and it`s clear that his very `adult` hearers, hear a lot of things they like; especially when he takes a poke at the Pharisees. For a while, he gathered quite a following. But of course, (and this is the point) they are always measuring him. And it`s part of the humility of the Lord that he allows it. Again, they liked a lot of what he said. However, we sense that they were listening only to what he said. They weren`t so sure about who he is. And that`s where they come unstuck.

In John`s Gospel, Jesus tells us (John 6.53-56)” ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Again, this is the Jesus that said a lot of things people liked. This is the Jesus that ticked so many boxes. But this? This is the point where the game is up.

No, his disciples (no less!), in their incredulous state complain, “‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” (John 6.60) Essentially, this was crazy, unthinkable, even disgusting stuff. Jesus no longer measured up. And so, they walked away. But we can tell that Jesus understands the game. Because, he doesn`t retract anything of what he said. He doubles down and asks the twelve if they`re going to leave as well.

So, at the heart of this incident is a choice. They (and we) are called to decide: “Are you going to continue to measure me by what you find acceptable?” Are you going to continue to judge everything I say, one thing at a time; taking the stuff you like, leaving the rest behind?” Or are you going to believe me because I say it?

Of course, it`s Peter who responds for the twelve. He says, “‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6.68-69) Notice how Peter homes in on Jesus`s identity. “the Holy One of God”. Peter seems to get it. Because it`s Peter who now abandons himself to the mystery of a God who won`t make sense on his terms. It`s Peter who effectively says, “I really don`t understand what you are saying or how it works but I believe you, because you say so” .

I believe that being your disciple is not about what I can fit into my head; since a lot of what you say simply won`t, anyway. And it`s not about picking and choosing what I find acceptable or what I can figure out. No, it`s all about you”.

Where`s this going? Well, I`ve been wondering whether this is what Peter had learnt on the Transfiguration mountain, in the mist? A voice came, ” ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’“ (Matthew 17.5). Again, it`s who Jesus is that matters. “I believe because he says it”.

How very different the faith of so many of us here would be if we would stop over-thinking things. How different it would be if we stopped trying to figure it all out in terms of our own making. If we begin by fretting over creeds and doctrines; we`re beginning in the wrong place.

How would it be, if instead, like Peter, we simply allowed ourselves to fall in love with Jesus? I`m suggesting that faith blooms (really blooms!) when we move from wresting with what we can believe; or what we find acceptable out of a range of Christian things; to believing a person.

So, for example, on one level, when Jesus says “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” it is utterly preposterous! The question is, “What happens when you listen; not so much to the words but to the one who is saying them? I would suggest that everything changes. So, perhaps it`s about time we simply learned to take Jesus at his word.


Holding it all together

I suppose it`s fair to say that the last few years have been a bit turbulent! And so, as I turned to this morning`s New Testament reading I was reminded of what comfort I had taken, in the darker moments of pandemic and the like, by those words of St. Paul. Speaking of Christ, he says: “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together”. (Colossians 1.17)

That someone (anyone!) might be holding things together, mattered a great deal to me in moments when it felt as though everything was falling apart! So, I find this a very welcome passage of scripture today. Again, I find myself warming to the way Paul turn our attention to some foundational things.

Today of course is known as the Feast of Christ the King. It`s a relatively new `marker` in the Christian Year; it was begun by Pius XI back in 1925. As a commemoration of course, it is well placed because it brings the Christian Year to something of a climax. But the reason behind it is somewhat defiant. In days when Mussolini was on the rise the Pope wanted to remind the faithful of what we might call our higher loyalty.

So, today, we`re asked to give our attention to the fundamental back story which Christians have to tell and which, under pressures of various sorts we are likely to forget. The Colossians, to whom Paul was writing, of course, knew all about living in a pressured and alien environment; and this is made clear from the first few verses of todays reading. In the midst of their world, where things seemed to be falling apart, Paul is praying for them, isn`t he? He prays that they may be given strength. He prays that they might have the gifts of endurance, patience and even joy.

But what we need to notice, is how this is far more than tea and sympathy. He`s offering far more than warm words. No, he`s asking them to remember that in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ something fundamental has changed. Something has happened which means that in their uncertainty and, on the face of it, precarious circumstances, they can draw on some deep wells. He tells them that the source of their strength will be the power of God. Their endurance, patience and joy will come from knowing that they have an inheritance. Like the Israelites who were delivered from slavery in Egypt, they have been rescued. They`re no longer under “the power of darkness”. They`ve been “transferred into the kingdom of his beloved Son”. (Colossians 1.13) In short, they are now subjects of a new world order. It`s characterised by knowing ourselves to be, again, as he says, “redeemed and forgiven”. So, what Paul is essentially doing, is helping some disorientated Christians get their bearings again.

He`s reminding them of precisely who holds all things together. Of what the real state of play is behind the bluster of tyrants and nations and what the Prayer Book calls, “the wilderness of this world’s temptations”.  And all I can do this morning is to suggest that you take away those few verses and let the depth and significance of what Paul is saying, take root in you. Hold on to them, especially in days when it seems things are falling apart.

But notice, in particular, how the second part of today`s passage is basically a hymn. It`s a song of praise to Christ for all that he has achieved and begun. Paul is not just singing to keep up his spirits. As we might say, “whistling to keep up morale”. No, he`s saying that we can experience the strength, the endurance, the patience and even joy of God in the midst of our troubles when we enlarge our vision of who Christ is and what he has done. This, is why songs of praise are so important. A material change comes over us when we realise something of who we are dealing with:

This Christ, says Paul, “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1.15-17).





A Shadow of the Real Thing

There`s nothing new in people misunderstanding what the Christian faith is about. In the early days, when people heard us talking about “this is my body; this is my blood”, we found ourselves accused of cannibalism!

Nowadays, of course, the misunderstandings are less graphic but if people think of us at all, my sense is that the prevailing view is that we deal in what has been called a giant `reward-punishment system`. Simply put, the assumption is that we believe ourselves to have been created by an otherwise absentee `God` and the object of the exercise is to keep our nose clean long enough to get into a place called `Heaven` when we die. At very least we have to justify ourselves sufficiently so as to avoid being consigned to the other place!

In this scenario, Jesus is thought of as an otherwise good bloke who was basically misunderstood. He died prematurely but Easter reminds us that heroic living gets its reward and it will all turn out right in the end.

So, when it comes to Worship, Church and the like; these are the optional things the extras depending on how keen you are. There are many who are content to `live a good life` as they put it; without all the trappings. There are others who seem to regard Worship as an insurance policy (fire insurance, we might call it!) just to keep `on side` with the deity.

Still others, of course, the more sophisticated ones, treat it all as a way of cultivating our spiritual persona. As long as the preacher agrees with me it gives reassurance that I`m on the right track. It meets what I call my `spiritual needs`. And in this religious market-place clergy like me, are there to keep us entertained or enforce the rules. As someone put it to me the other day, “You`re here to check up on us aren`t you?”.

Now, this is a bit of a parody, of course but there`s enough truth here to convince me that something has gone sadly wrong. Especially when, as we heard in that Gospel reading, the Lord defines his Mission and what we`re about in very different terms. Listen again to what Jesus says: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news”. In contrast to what I`ve just been saying there`s something here which is energising, filled with hope and possibility, isn`t there?

But time and again, as never tire of saying, I think it boils down to what we might think of as the direction of travel. In other words, the faith that bears the name of Christ is not about religious ideas or philosophy; it`s simply an announcement. We call it `Gospel` or Good News. For those who first heard Jesus it carried two particular meanings. In the Jewish world it was about God`s final victory over evil and the rescue of his people. For Roman ears it was a word used for the birthday or accession of a new king. So, when you bring these things together and you get both liberation and regime change. To `Gospel` is to say, “the facts on the ground have changed”. That`s the essential claim we`re making.

So, far from focussing on us and our striving to get to some `end` point called heaven; we`re actually talking about hearing and responding to the fact that this `heaven`, God`s sphere of influence, the Kingdom (as Jesus calls it) has in fact come out to meet us. It embraces the poor in Spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and so on.

So, to those who say, “Why doesn`t God do something?” Jesus says, the “Time is fulfilled”. The waiting is over. The revolution has begun. “Behold! Look! Very truly I tell you!” he says. This, then, is what`s happening; this is what`s being inaugurated in the life and ministry of Jesus and we, we`re called to get on board. The word Jesus uses, is `repent`.

It`s a word that literally means change your mind; drop your agenda for living and trust me for mine. It`s worth pondering; I wonder what attitudes and behaviours you need to drop, repent of, to make you more available to the Lord and his Kingdom? Pray with that today.

You see, all it takes is a little word “Yes”. And the great project in which we are `caught up` (we don`t get to make this up for ourselves) is the call to holiness. The most interesting thing about you and I is not what we`re doing but what the Lord wants to do in and through us; as he goes about reclaiming his creation. And his whole desire that we should become Christ-like; chips off the old block, if you will. The Christian, as Paul says is `in Christ`.

Now this, of course is what we celebrate; this is what holds our attention in this season of All Saints. And sure enough, this is the one thing the saints all have in common, isn`t it? They became what we might call `windows onto the divine`. Yes, clearly, they did many good and transformative things; for which we`re grateful. They showed the world a better way. They lived and died as if they belonged to another world; the world of God`s Kingdom.

But the point is that they modelled and demonstrated what it`s like when a human life is lived in relationship with the Father. And all the emphasis is not on the `performance` so much as the `transformation`.

You see the one thing that stands out for me in that perhaps unfair parody of faith I`ve just shared with you, is that it`s such hard work. And I wonder what we`ve been doing all these years to leave people with the impression that faith should be so full of anxiety and striving; of fear and looking over the shoulder? No, it isn`t easy. To repent, to let go and to live one`s life from a different centre than our own self-interest; to live a life that contradicts the patterns and values many take for granted and to consider them `sin` (a second-best way of living) feels like losing.

That kind of downward mobility doesn`t seem like good news at all! But Jesus insists, “those who save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will save it”. Here`s the way of the Cross. The way of self-giving love is paradoxically the way to life; life as the Kingdom of God would have it. This is how we participate in and reveal to others what the life of Heaven looks like in the here and now.

Now because I don`t want to `witter on` about these things I didn`t say anything about how the parody of faith is always an individualistic thing. For all manner of reasons; Church, that is anything `communal` is nowadays avoided. 

Yes, it goes without saying that collectively speaking, we Christians have much to apologise for and (here`s that word again) `Repent` over. But I would argue that the Church for which we need to apologise is simply what you get when you have an overly anxious, judgemental, self- justifying and consumerist view of faith.

But let`s turn this around. What kind of Church do you get when you begin to take Jesus seriously? What do you suppose happens to a Church when we start to accept his view of the world and what he`s about?

What if, as Jesus says, God`s time is now. If his very alternative way of being a world is dawning. What if we say “yes” to his call to repent; to let go of our ego-driven self. What if we say “yes” to his transforming work and become the bearers of some really good news. What then?

My parody of faith is perhaps exaggerated and even unkind. But the point is, what you believe; what narrative or picture you have of the faith will colour your attitudes and behaviour; the person you are becoming and the kind of Church we are becoming.

might say that the saints whom we remember at this time of year understood that faith, in this sense, is an inside job. If you begin with that parody of faith which is full of brittleness and striving; the results are obvious. But, if you begin with the graciousness which falls from the lips of Jesus, the result can only be very good news indeed.

“We shouldn`t apologize for being a bit wierd”

The first time that I was fortunate enough to travel by air, I found the airport and the whole process of departures, checking-in, baggage and boarding passes extremely confusing. Basically, it felt like being in another world where everyone else seemed to know what was going on except me! All of which was very unnerving to say the least.

Of course, it`s experiences like this which make us want to ensure that someone who might be new to the life of the Church and the way we do things around here, doesn`t experience the same sense of uncertainty or exclusion isn`t it?

And yet, I sometimes wonder whether this sense of entering a totally different world isn`t actually a pretty good picture of what it means to have an authentic experience of the presence of Jesus? In other words, I sometimes wonder whether we apologize too much for instance, for the trappings worship, and fall into the trap of making things too familiar, too much like a `world` Christ is calling them to leave behind?

You see, whenever I ask people, “What do you think Jesus teaches?” they`ll respond in all manner of ways. However, very few will home-in on the one thing which, it seems to me, completely preoccupied Jesus. That is, what he calls `the Kingdom of God`. Right at the beginning of Mark`s Gospel we`re told exactly what was at the heart of Jesus`s teaching. Quote, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1.14-15).

To coin a phrase that we often hear these days; we might say that Jesus is heralding `regime change`. In his life and ministry, God`s way of being a world; God`s way of being human is breaking in. But notice, right from the outset, Jesus takes it for granted, he assumes that not everyone is going to get it straight away. He realizes that some of us will be totally at sea. In fact, because of the way we`ve been formed; our sin and ignorance, we won`t necessarily want to get on board with this `new way` of his. But the reality of what`s happening is not determined by our acceptance of it and Jesus is adamant that the Kingdom is coming….

Jesus tries to open up this completely new way of understanding ourselves and the world by igniting our imagination, doesn`t he? But even here, his parables and stories, his table fellowship with all those people from the wrong part of town, leave people disorientated. Whilst some are outraged and astonished at how he overturns convention; others are overwhelmed to discover that even they in all their mess are somehow included in the heavenly embrace. Still others are left scratching their heads and wondering “what on earth is he talking about? How can it possible, for instance, to live in such a gracious and forgiving and healing way?” But we find ourselves as perplexed as poor old Nicodemus.

And then, of course, we come to all of those miracles. Far from being `party tricks` or attempts to impress the credulous, they better thought of as `signs`. They are moments in which this deeper reality, as it were, hove`s into view.

And this seems to be a consistent picture which the Lord gives us of his Kingdom. Doesn`t it? This Kingdom, this new age is both irresistible and yet somehow, hidden. Which is where we come, this morning, to all this talk about seeds growing secretly.  Putting it simply, not only is the Kingdom coming. Not only is it receiving a mixed response; (listen again to the parable of the sower! Mark 4.3) but those of us who do seek to get on board should never imagine we`re in control of it.

This morning we`re told, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how”. I recall the writer and pastor Dallas Willard saying that this text saved his ministry. He pointed out how easy it is for the `professionally religious` to fall into the trap of thinking that we can do God`s work for him or maybe build his Kingdom for him.

But this isn`t just a salutary message for managerial clergy. For all of us, this is quite a liberating message. If from the outset we`re told that we`re not in control of things. That the things of God are not ours to shape and manipulate, then this changes the whole dynamic, it colours entirely, what `being a Christian` might feel like and look like. If we took this to heart we wouldn`t fall into the trap of packaging and marketing the faith; assuring people that what we`re selling will `meet their needs`, give them a `spiritual` high (whatever that means), provide community, entertainment or meaning; all of which we smother with the word `relevant`.

But that isn`t to proclaim the Gospel. That makes us the purveyor of `religious goods and services`. Yes, if we`re good at it we`ll gather a crowd; for a while at any rate. But foolishly thinking that we have to make things happen effectively insulates and blinds us to the Kingdom.

But Jesus doesn`t talk about any of this. He simply announces the Kingdom. Something has been set in train; something irresistible, something irrepressible. If you will, God is becoming King. We don`t set the conditions or terms. God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself and it`s time to get on board. Seek first the Kingdom; yes, then the other stuff follows.

So, when Jesus says, “Repent”, he means “drop your agenda for living and trust me for mine”. And be ready for the change. As anyone who has been through a `Citizenship Test` will tell you, when you transfer your allegiance, you come under different authority. A lot of stuff gets left behind. You don`t fit in THERE anymore…. You`re learning a new language and culture. You discover a different way of being in the world. And it`s Baptism which marks our entrance into this new world; where we become a “citizen of the kingdom”.

But notice how the symbolism associated with Baptism pushes the message forward. In this country, in the Baptism of a child, we make a lot of fuss over the Christening robe. But sometimes the prettiness of it obscures it`s true significance. To be Baptized, as Paul says, means literally to `put on` Christ (Galatians 3.27) and let obedience to him shape the person we are becoming. When you start with the Kingdom; this change of citizenship, then the difference in being a Christian has firmer foundations. We begin to ask what our home, our work, our church, look like when God is allowed to be God?

In short, I sometimes wonder whether in our completely correct desire to appear friendly, we`re making people feel too much at home? Offering them little more than a religious `tinge` to the life they`ve already decided upon?

So, think and pray with that fourth Chapter of Mark`s Gospel and all that Jesus teaches about the in-breaking Kingdom. Our call to announce it. What it means to receive or reject it. This emerging reign of God which is beyond our control or understanding… and say yes to it. Of course, we don`t want to alienate anyone. But as someone said, ”We shouldn`t apologize for being a bit weird”.