Sunday, May 4, 2014

Being Looked After - Peter and Jesus

St Luke’s has one.  St Peter’s Leckhampton has one … and this year we’ve had one.   And it’s still up.  But we have had May Day and this weekend is a bank holiday weekend and surely it should have come down by now.

Experience Easter with a church near you.

Easter was a full fortnight ago – we’ve moved on now.

Or was it?

Easter goes on – the resurrection appearances of Jesus go on for five and a half weeks in the accounts of that first Easter long ago.  We are still very much in the middle of that Easter period … though how long the banner remains we have yet to see!

Interesting slogan on the banner and interesting invitation too.

It doesn’t say come and celebrate Easter.

It says experience Easter.

It doesn’t say Experience Easter at a church near you.

It says experience Easter with a church near you.

Easter isn’t just an event we celebrate that happened long ago.

It is something to experience in the here and now.

In a very special way it ties in with what Karen has now invited us to move on to think about.

As Karen has embarked on her work as our Discipleship Ministry leader she has had a particular focus.  It’s one we need to come back to and keep very much in our minds.

It’s very easy to think that discipleship is all about what we must do.  But Karen felt very strongly that she was moved to begin in a very different place.

Discipleship is not about obligation … it begins with the recognition that we receive so much from God – Receiving from God is the bid idea that Karen invites us to reflect on.  The immensity of all that it is that we receive from God – the glory of his creation – the depths of his love.

The first of Karen’s themes focused on the Prodigal Son story – and reminded us of just how prodigal, incredibly extravagant God is with his love for us no matter where we stand – whether we are with the elder brother in our religious commitment, or with the younger brother in his waywardness – God’s love is there for us – being loved is with it is all about.

And now last week Karen reminded us of that care the NHS give us from the cradle to the grave and suggested that no matter how high up we may be or however we may be God’s love is there for us – which side of the cross are we on?  Was Karen’s question …

That sense of being looked after is right at the heart of what it means to be Christian, what it means to be a disciple.

Peter’s story is another of those stories that goes to the heart of what our fiath is all about.

Peter the fisherman is one who stands on his own two feet, has his own business, is set up in the world … when Jesus comes along and Peter is swept up into following Jesus … but what happens so soon after Peter is called by Jesus is that someone is very ill in his home: it is his mother in law – sick with a fever.

Jesus is there not just as the leader but to look after Peter too – and Peter knows what it is from the beginning to be looked after by Jesus as Jesus joins him and his family in his home and heals his mother in law.

You get the feeling that the disciples sense they are looked after by Jesus – they start afresh – they are dependent on him, the logic of the world they live in is turned upside down by the Spirit mystery of Christ and they find themselves learning from Jesus.

As they sit at his feet they are drawn to a different way of bulding society – not on the values of the world, but according to the rule of God in their lives.

Jesus offers them life, light, and covers the cost of their lives.

He has all sorts of ways of describing his relationship with them – one of the loveliest is the image of the Good Shepherd.

I am the Good.  The  Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me.

The shepherd imagery is one of those wonderful images that conjures up that sense of being looked after.

It works at so many levels – the beauty of the 23rd psalm in so many settings

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

The tranquillity of the peace God alone can give

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

The courage of his presence in the darkest of paths.

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

The delight in his presence come what may

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

That sense of peace and assurance that God alone can give.

The wonderful imagery is extended in Ezekiel 34 as the way |God loves reaches out to those who have gone astray – as he will seek the lost, bring back the strayed,

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

At our Ministry Leaders day we were challenged to think of the kind of leadership patterns you can see in Jesus – this was one of them – and we reflected on the different kind of sheep.  Were they woolly sheep you go aah to in a Cotswold field?  Or were they the scrawny sheep of the Forest of Dean, or the South Wales Valleys that I grew up with scavenging on the mountain side down into the towns in the dustbins …

We were thinking of Bethlehem and I recall my excitement at the sight of sheep and a shepherd – but they were outside the wall, separated from their people.   Scrawny, scavenging a living … and people devastated by all that is happening to them.

Imagery of the shepherd is not just an ‘aah’ moment – there is a strength, a protection, a challenge to justice as well.

And through the whole image a sense of ‘being looked after’.

Peter’s the kind of person you might think would not need that kind of sense of being looked after.  An independently minded person he could speak out on behalf of the others and speak his mind.

And yet, and yet … it wsa Peter who was the one who was overwhelmed when he found himself denying Jesus not once but three times.

There’s something very special about what happens to Peter as he is one of those first to experience Easter.  He is there at the empty tomb.  He is there in the upper room.  And now he is there on the shore.

Three times he has denied Jesus and three times Jesus gives him the opportunity to reaffirm his love for Jesus – Do you love me?

There is a wonderful sense as I read this story that Peter is being looked after by Jesus.

But there is a recognition that Jesus has in offering him that help.  He gives Peter something to do … and the thing he gives Peter to do is exactly what Jesus is offering Jesus.

The remarkable thing that Jesus offers is a sense not just of being loved but of being looked after by Jesus … and what Jesus invites Peter to do is to look after others.

Jesus is the shepherd to Peter in all his love … and he invites Peter in turn to shepherd.

Maybe this is a feature of that wonderful sense we have of receiving from Jesus and of being looked after – it is in looking after others that we find ourselves.

Maybe there are all sorts of circumstances that mean we are in need of being looked after by Jesus at this very moment.

Times of sadness, ill health, anxiety, troubles at all sorts of times … there is a wonderful sense of promise – the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters, he restoreth my soul.

But even in the midst of that sense of being looked after it is helpful to us as well to look after others.   We deepen our faith, our sense of God’s love as we share that love with others.

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