Sunday, March 30, 2014

Receiving from Jesus ... the tale of a mother and her two sons

It’s very hard putting things into order of priority when it seems as if everything needs to be done at once!

It’s been great putting in place our new way of doing things at Highbury.  It means that my role as Minister changes too … our hope is that we can build up a very real sense of a team ministry sharing in supporting each other in ministry within the church.  Already, it is good to see how things are happening in the various parts of the church’s life.

At the heart of all we do is worship and prayer … Shirley shared with us her feeling that we need to have a space for prayer – so we need to get away from thinking that the room just outside the door to the dining room is the Minister’s vestry – where only the Minister goes.  We want it to have the feel of a space where anyone can go to share in prayer.  Before a service it’s a space to come together and share in prayer.  After a service sometimes something has been said, something has come to mind that means it would be good to pray with someone – that’s a place you can go to.   It’s the beginnings of something different around our worship.

Diana and Lorraine had taken forward our pastoral care right at the heart of the life of the church: one of the things they have been working on is to build and develop our visiting scheme and to be alert to the need to put people together with other people who are in a position to give very real support and care.  One area where that is so valuable is in bereavement – a week on Tuesday the evening that will focus on pastoral care will have a speaker from Cruse Bereavement Care – he will be sharing with us ways we can build up the support we offer in the event of bereavement.

With Carolyn I have been working on a different start to Easter Day with an Easter Experience for all ages – join in at any time from 8-00 on Cleeve Hill through 9-00 to breakfast and then places to tell the Easter story, make the Easter Story, pray the Easter story before our Easter Comunion begins at 10-30.

Mary’s priority as youth ministry leader is to build up the Cooler Group with its focus on really sharing what it means for young people to come to faith and the difference that makes – one of her priorities is to get to know the current team of Hy_Tec leaders and what’s going on there – very much for our prayers this week.

Jean is focusing on Mission and Outreach and next weekend we have a focus on that international dimension of mssion with the Wheealathon and the Souper Soup Lunch.

All things happening at once … and things that are part of the way we can build up the fellowship of the church.

P[lease remember all those Ministry leaders in your prayers particularly this week as Thursday sees the first of our meetings together.  The start of our building each other up as a ministry team within the life of the church.

Did I say all of our Ministry Leaders.

You will  have noticed, the more observant, that I have missed one out.

That brings me back to those priorites that I was talking about a moment ago.

While lots goes on, it is not just necessary but positively helpful to prioritise things as well.

That’s part of what we did when we set about putting together our vision of Highbury as a pace to share Christian friendship, explore Chrsitian faith, enter into Christian mission with Christ at the centre and open to all.

We identified three things to prioritise.

Number 1 was Renewal and Gifts – that’s something that constantly needs our attention, but it was also where we began a year and more ago.  We felt that the way we orgnaised things, the way we thought of ministry in the church needed renewing – and we have been hard at work putting things into place that will  renew the way we do things and harness the gifts of those who belong more effectively.   That’s priority number 1, and now we have put things into place we mustn’t forget it, we need to continue to pray that God’s spirit will touch what we do and will be a force and a power for rnewal.

The next priority we identified was the need for us together and for us individually to grow in our faith, in prayer and as disciples.  That was what prompted us to identify a specific Ministry Leader for Discipileship.

And it is what has prompted us to draw on the wonderful gifts that Karen has in making that whole area of personal faith the next priority now that we have renewed our structures.

So Karen has been working on putting together a course which begins on Tuesday – the Prodigal God course that looks.   Karen shared her thoughts in the preaching last Sunday and will be returning to her theme at the end of next month in the next in her series.

It would be very easy, Karen suggested, for us to expect our Discipleship ministry leader to show us things to do to develop our faith, to work at them with us.  But Karen felt very strongly moved not to go down that path.

She shared with us last week very movingly her conviction that actually growing in faith starts as we are aware of what we can receive from Jesus, it b egins as we are aware of Being Loved.

So often we have it drummed into us what we should do … but no, we need to begin as we are conscious of Being Loved and aware of all that we can receive from Jesus.

Karen focused on the story of those two sons, that story we think of as the story of the Prodigal Son, but she went on to suggest that it’s a story of two brothers – the younger one who goes off the rails, and the older one who is so attached to his way of being religious that he loses sight of the love of God.   And the whole story is about the extravagance of the God who is so prodigal with his love – the Prodigal God.

Karen asked us to reflect on three questions.

are you like the younger son?
 are you like the older son?
 are you eating at the banquet?

So, what did you make of those questions?  Are you like the younger son?  Are you like the older son?  Are you eating at the banquet?

I want to turn this morning back to Matthew’s Gospel and on to two stories that I hope will take our thinking further around this whole theme of receiving from  Jesus and Being Loved.

The first is the story about another two sons and, this time, their mother.

You can read that story in all sorts of ways, but what struck me as I read it this week was something about that mother that I see not just as a parent, but also as a son, as a friend, as someone who is concerned for other people.

The instinct this mother has is that she wants to fix it for her two sons.
Not once, not twice, but rhree times in the last few days Jesus has spoken to his disciples about the death he was going to experience at the hands of the authorities in Jerusalem.  He had spoken of the cruelty of that death, of the mocking, of the flogging, of the crucifixion.   But it was a death that would not hold him, for he had also spoken of his resurrection.

That was what prompted this mother to take Jesus on one side and ask of him a favour.   Maybe she knew difficult times were ahead.  Maybe she was conscious of the uncertainties of the world.  Maybe she knew only too well that what Jesus was going to experience his followers would too.

So she wanted to make sure that the two most important people in her life would be all right.  She wanted to organise things for them so they would be fine.

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’

It’s the instinct of every parent.  It is the instinct of every carer.  We know exactly what course of action should be taken.

And it is the hardest lesson of all for any parent to learn, for any carer to take on board – much as you may know exactly the right course of action to take it is not possible to organise someone else.

That’s the point of the enigmatic response Jesus makes, it seems to me.

Jesus turns to them – and asks them a question.  It is a question that they respond to.

But far from fixing it – it means that they will not escape those horrors but will have to share them with Jesus.    No easy answer.  No ask from the troubles.  No quick fix.  He is not able to give the guarantee the mother wanted.

The tendency is for us as parent, as son, as friend, as carer to want to fix it for other people.   The reality is that we have to let people go – we have to let them take their decisions, live with their decisions.  We have to put them into the hands of God.

The story of these two brothers is quicly followed by another story – this time of two blind men.

It is subtly different.

Notice how they speak for themselves.

There is no one to organise things for them, no one to fix it so that it will be all right.  They have to speak kout to Jesus for themselves.

More than that notice how Jesus engages with them and wants to respond to the needs they know they have for themselves.

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

I wonder whether for us to grow in our faith and to grow in our prayer we have to learn the lesson of that mother and realise we cannot fix it for other people and no one else can fix it for us.

We have to learn the lesson of those two blind men and realise that actually we can approach Jesus directly ourselves.

We too can call out to him …

‘Lord, have mercy on us,

And the wonderful thing is that he will stop and listen to us.

And as he does so he will  ask us what we need.

Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

That’s what we need to ask ourselves.  What is it that you want to ask of Jesus?  What do you want Jesus to do for you?

For you.

Not for someone else

For you.

Maybe share with someone in prayer – maybe quietly, maybe in that Prayer space …

Maybe we too want our eyes to be opened so that we can see …

Verse 34 is wonderful –

moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes.  Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

In that prayer, having asked that question, bring a picture into your mind of the immensity of the love God has not just for the world, but for you – sense Jesus filled with compassion … and then sense him reaching to touch you at the point of your deepest need.

Receive from him the blessing of that healing, that wholeness he alone can give – something that’s not the same as cure, something that goes much deeper.

And then follow him.

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