Friday, January 11, 2008

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you

This Sunday we shared in the sacrament of baptism with Tabi. It was a wonderful celebration of the free gift of God's love given by grace to each and everyone of us. It was at the same time a challenge to us all to ask ourselves whether we have made that grace our own by responding to it in faith. What difference does this Christian faith make to us? was the kind of question at the back of our minds as we reflected on 1 Peter 5:7, a verse that one of the senior members of the church shared with 6 year old Tabi.

It’s a bit ironic.

It’s Tabi’s baptism service … but now she’s not with us any more.

That’s actually to miss the point! Tabi and all the children are doing exactly what we are doing – exploring what it means to be followers of Jesus. They are doing it at their level as the Bubbles and Splash groups meet in the second part of our service.

And this baptism service is actually for all of us … it’s not about Tabi. It’s about the difference Jesus can make as he comes into our lives and as we belong to him and we belong to each other.

What difference does our Christian faith make?

First of all, our Christian faith breaks barriers down. We meet together across the age divide and in our church family there are all sorts of different people. It matters to me that the generations mix together – and here at church they do that in quite a unique way. After our Remembrance Sunday service our 102 year old Margaret was at the door with another of our six year olds, Megan. I got them talking to each other. What a remarkable moment. And today, a greeting from Ivy, someone Tabi hasn’t actually met … but who is as much part of our church family as anyone else.

To belong to a church family is to belong to an extended family that breaks down all sorts of barriers. Next week we won’t be here. At 10-00 (note the earlier time!) we shall join with friends from St Luke’s over at St Luke’s. Mixing with another family. That extended family reaches right round the world and brings together people of all races and of all nationalities.

It took time to sink in for Peter. He was steeped in a way of looking at the world that saw it in terms of us and them. His was a world of stark divisions. He didn’t really want to have much to do with the occupying Romans. And then he had a vision. And when the very next day he was invited to the home of Cornelius, a Roman commander, he saw the light.

I could now realise that God treats everyone on the same basis. That’s the remarkable thing about belonging to Jesus and belonging to each other. We are called to be a worshipping people who seek to do what is right and good and make a difference in the world. As we worship and do what is right we are acceptable to him no matter what race we belong to, what background we come from, who we are.

All of this is possible because belonging to Church is all about belonging to Jesus Christ, the Jesus Christ who went everywhere doing good and healing people. God was with Jesus Christ … and our task is to witnesses for him … to share the wonderful good news that through this Jesus we have access to a power beyond ourselves to help us live our lives, and in this Jesus we have a wonderful forgiving love that has the power to renew and strengthen us.

Acts 10:34-43

34 Peter began to speak: “I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis.
35 Those who worship him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know of the great event that took place throughout the land of Israel, beginning in Galilee after John preached his message of baptism. 38 You know about Jesus of Nazareth and how God poured out on him the Holy Spirit and power. He went everywhere, doing good and healing all who were under the power of the Devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything that he did in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem. Then they put him to death by nailing him to a cross. 40 But God raised him from death three days later and caused him to appear, 41 not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death. 42 And he commanded us to preach the gospel to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God has appointed judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets spoke about him, saying that all who believe in him will have their sins forgiven through the power of his name.”

I don’t know how you feel. I sometimes feel that the youngsters out there are growing up into a scary world. It’s more than a little un-nerving being a parent today.

I have a sneeking suspicion it has always been the case. When that 102 year old was six the storm clouds were gathering over Europe and the First World War was beginning to loom over the horizon. That was a scary world.

In church we hear each other’s stories. When you listen to all that generation has been through … it’s a scary place, this world of ours. And it always has been so.

It’s special to have that greeting from Ivy today. She’s one of those special people, and there are many of them in our church family and in every church family to go to visit. You might think you do pastoral visiting in order to make other people feel better. The funny thing is that often the opposite happens – you feel all the better yourself!

Ivy is one of those who has drawn on a remarkable strength from her faith in the face of what has been and is a scary world. She has verses she draws on.

One of those verses is in a letter written by Peter when he was a great deal older and in many ways, perhaps wiser. He wrote to Christians everywhere … and his letter very much speaks down through the ages to us in church today.

Make no mistake about it his was a scary world. By the time he wrote this letter a good number of his close friends had been executed in the cruellest of ways simply for following Jesus Christ. He himself, so tradition has it, was to die at the hands of the Romans not long after writing this letter.

And yet, in his older years. He had a very deep and very strong hope. It was a hope that was rooted in Jesus Christ. Peter knew that Jesus had come alongside him in all his suffering and had suffered himself even to the extent on the cross of feeling abandoned by God. That’s pretty severe!

But Peter also knew that Jesus rose again from the dead … and that resurrection released for Peter a very real and very powerful sense of hope. His letter touches on moments of deep suffering. But it is shot through with an indefatigable hope

1 Peter 1:1-5

To God's chosen people who live as refugees scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 2 You were chosen according to the purpose of God the Father and were made a holy people by his Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be purified by his blood.
May grace and peace be yours in full measure.
A Living Hope
3 Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope, 4 and so we look forward to possessing the rich blessings that God keeps for his people. He keeps them for you in heaven, where they cannot decay or spoil or fade away. 5 They are for you, who through faith are kept safe by God's power for the salvation which is ready to be revealed at the end of time.

It’s towards the end of that letter that we arrive at the verse that’s so special to Ivy. On Wednesday, as I was preparing for this service, it was the single verse we were invited to read by Josephine Muchelemba who belongs to the church we are partnered with through the Council for World Mission in Zambia.

She was writing in our new CWM book of daily devotion.

I came back to it repeatedly through the day … at our Hy-Way meeting in my visits, not least to Ivy herself in hospital, and as we met together to sift the applications.

It’s a verse that I’ve linked with the greeting from Ivy for Tabi.

It may not be of such importance to her at the moment … but maybe in years to come.

It’s certainly a verse for all of us as parents.

It’s a verse for all of us too.

1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

What a wonderful thought! Anxiety – a state of mind that at times I guess gets the better of most of us.

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Josephine Muchelemba quotes the verse slightly differently. The difference is not insignificant.

“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

I guess we each have specific anxieties. As they begin to pile up so that’s what leads to anxiety as a state of mind.

Maybe the way to cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you, is to take each of the anxieties that trouble you, in your minds eye one at a time and cast them on him, because he cares for you.

What a wonderful thought.

The prayer Josephine Muchelemba finished her reflection with is not a bad one for us to share as well …

Dear God, help us to put you in control of our lives. Amen.

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