Do we know the ending? Words for Palm Sunday 2021 at Adel Parish Church.

palm sunday

Do we know the ending? Words for Palm Sunday 2021 at Adel Parish Church.

Have you ever noticed how many stories there are in the Bible where we never hear the ending? In school recently we thought about Jonah – sitting in a huff outside Nineveh because God forgave the people…and Jonah couldn’t cope with that.

At the Lent course we looked at the rich young ruler – hearing from Jesus that to gain eternal life, he should sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. We often assume it was step too far for him – but all we’re told is that ‘he went away grieving…’ We never find what he actually did.

And there’s the elder son in the tale of the prodigal. Left sulking outside the party his father throws for his little brother. I like to feel he came to his senses and joined in…but who knows?

Today’s story of course is not like that. We’ve ‘done’ Holy Week many times before; we’ve just heard the whole thing again. We know the story and the ending…

…or do we?

You could say that what happens to Jonah and the older brother doesn’t really matter…the city of Nineveh and the prodigal son are both saved whether or not they go on sulking. But maybe they matter because they give us the chance to enter the story…to put ourselves in their shoes…and to see whether the ending we imagine, or wish for, is faithful to our role as followers of Christ.

In a way, we know the ending to today’s story. We know what happened to the disciples…to Jesus. But we don’t know what the ending is for us.

Because this is more than a story…it’s an invitation to new life…an invitation to an encounter…to see where the story leads us.

I suspect we’re very different people to who we were last Easter. And we bring all of that to the story this year. And as we stand in the space between the way things were, and the way they might be, we have more need than ever of this story that challenges us to leave things behind and put our trust in something new.

So, if there are still places left, and you’re able, come to church for our services this week. If not – use the reflections in the ‘Lent at Home’ bag, and the online services. Enter the story ready to discover a new ending, and a new beginning for your life in Christ.

A pause on the way…words for Adel Parish church, Refreshment/Mothering Sunday 2021

A pause on the way…sermon for Refreshment/Mothering Sunday 2021, Adel Parish church.

Today we arrive at Lent 4. It’s been quite a journey so far. We began in the wilderness, wondering how we could make this Lent meaningful, in a year that’s been a bit like one long Lent.

Then we were invited to follow Jesus, first looking carefully at just who it is we are following. Then trying like him avoid the easy fixes, recognising that this journey leads to the cross.

Last week, Jesus proved an uncomfortable travelling companion…armed with a whip of cords, and angry at how we get distracted by unimportant details, and forget our destination.

This journey’s definitely more serious hike than Sunday afternoon stroll.

As a family we’ve always enjoyed hiking. When our children were quite small, they would cheerfully walk quite long distances. But we had to make sure there was a proper stop in the middle…preferably beside a stream. Here we shed our loads for a while, and ate lunch. But more importantly the kids loved to throw stones in the river, try to dam the stream, or if the weather allowed, go for a paddle. It was important to forget for a while the miles still to be travelled, the hills still to climb.

I think the same applies to our spiritual and mental journeys, and the church seems to agree, since today – mid way through Lent – we arrive at Mothering Sunday…or Refreshment Sunday as it was before the newer celebration took over.

Historically this was a day of relief from Lent fasting. It was also a time when people were encouraged to return to their ‘mother church’. Centuries ago, young people barely out of childhood left home to work in big houses or on farms. On refreshment Sunday they had the day off, to worship at the church they grew up in, and visit their families.

I can imagine the wonderful relief of that day…no longer having to be adults…bearing responsibilities…they would go home, be fed and in a way, be children once again.

I can imagine it because I remember when I first started work…was first a mother, going home to my parents for a weekend. Walking through the door, I was somehow able to put down my responsibilities for a bit. I might take some work, or a baby with me…but we were cooked for, outings planned, decisions made. Obviously difficult stuff didn’t go away, but for a while I didn’t have to be teacher, mother, homeowner…I could just be me.

Sometimes those young people going home would pick wild flowers from hedgerows to present to their mothers, sometimes they would be allowed to bake a simnel cake to take as a gift. Perhaps it was from this that our notion of ‘Mothering Sunday’ grew.

In many cultures…many families, mothers bear much of the burden of work and responsibility. They’re often the ones who take our burdens for a while when they seem too much. So, it seems right that we keep this day, that we try for a day at least to allow mothers to lay down their burdens and just be themselves.

But I rather like the idea of Refreshment Sunday, as a reminder that we all need, now and then, to lay down our burdens and just enjoy being ourselves. It’s an idea that runs through our scriptures, from the institution of the Sabbath, to Jesus taking his disciples aside to rest and recharge after they’ve been out proclaiming the coming kingdom.

We don’t all have a mother around, or the sort of relationship that allows offloading of burdens. But those qualities are not confined to mothers. Jesus didn’t send the disciples back to their mothers; he took charge and responsibility for a while, giving them time just to be.

We can do the same for one another. Sadly, inviting someone round for a meal is still a little way off. But even just a phone call where we say ‘How are you?’, really meaning it and ready to listen, can give someone a ‘refreshment Sunday’…a chance to lay down their burdens for a while.

And there’s the idea of keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest. It gets a bit of a bad press in the gospels, as Jesus and the Pharisees wrangle over whether healing counts as work. But Jesus’ never challenges the importance of Sabbath, only its rules and regulations. Anxiety over keeping rules brings extra burdens to a day which should be about the opposite. Work is forbidden so that we’re free from responsibilities. Difficulties won’t go away, but for a day there is nothing to do but be with God.

Clergy are encouraged each year to take time out for a retreat. Not a holiday, but time away from the parish to be spent wholly on nurturing and refreshing our relationship with God.

In 2020, for various reasons, I didn’t manage this. I’ve missed it. It’s a time to put the responsibilities of the parish aside for a few days…a time just to be with God as myself.

Maybe for you, this is Mothering Sunday…you may be lucky enough to receive some gifts, or be treated however lockdown allows…you may be the one doing the treating…allowing someone a rest from the chores and responsibilities of motherhood. If so, enjoy this special day.

For some, Mothering Sunday is a reminder of difficult relationships, a time of grief. If this is so, may today for you be Refreshment Sunday. You might reach out to someone you know who needs to be asked how they really are, to share their burdens for a while, or to someone who will do the same for you.

And for all of us, let’s make the most of this space in our Lenten journey. Let’s carve out a bit of ‘retreat’ time, to spend with God, without any agenda but to be his beloved children.

Who is the Jesus we are following? Sermon for Lent 2, Adel Parish Church

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Who is the Jesus we are following? Sermon for Adel Parish church, Lent 2, 2021.

Mark 8: 31 – end

I’m very fond of St Peter…he’s such a real, three-dimensional character. I particularly love him as portrayed in this film…’The Miracle Maker’…which I used in school.

In the film we first meet Peter as St Luke introduces him…the weary fisherman returning from a night’s fishing with empty nets, only to be told by a carpenter of all people to go back out to sea…in broad daylight. I love the way he rolls his eyes, but grumpily goes along with Jesus; his astonishment as the nets fill so full they can barely haul them in; his fear and fascination as he says to Jesus, “go away, Lord, for I’m a sinner.”

And throughout the film he’s there in the thick of the action…leaping impetuously in, foot in mouth…always struggling to understand but drawn magnetically by the person of Jesus.

And so we see him in today’s gospel. Just a few verses earlier, it’s Peter who acknowledges, ‘You are the Messiah’. And yet here he is rebuking the man he’s just announced as divine! Here’s Peter telling Jesus, he’s got it all wrong…a Messiah can’t be rejected and killed.

Foolish maybe…but Jesus’ response seems a little harsh, ‘Get behind me Satan’.

I wonder, did that well-meant intervention take Jesus back into the wilderness, to those temptations? Jesus spent those 40 days in the wilderness working out what it meant to be Jesus the Messiah, wrestling the temptation to be the Messiah the world expects.

Surely no one would follow a weak, starving leader…so he was tempted to provide food for himself, to gratify his own desires. Surely a credible leader needs to move in the ‘right’ circles, have power over others…so he was tempted to take everything, to have everyone kneel before him. Surely a Messiah needs to appear divine…so he was tempted to stand high above everyone…and just to make it obvious, have angels catch him as he leapt.

If you’ve given something up for Lent…you’ll know 40 days is a long time. That time in the wilderness was a tough battle for a man genuinely tempted to turn from the cross and be a different sort of Messiah. So perhaps Peter’s well-meaning intervention, just as the danger builds up and the cross looms, is a temptation Jesus doesn’t want. ‘Get behind me Satan’

In Lent we try to work out what it means to be followers of Jesus, but perhaps like Peter, we first have to work out who Jesus really is.

One reason I love Peter so much is that in his mistakes he just voices what others are probably thinking – but too scared to say.

For the disciples, realising Jesus is the Messiah, then being told he must suffer, be rejected and killed, was a massive adjustment to their expectations. We come to it after 2000 years of knowing the end of the story…yet we still rebuke Jesus…try to make him into the sort of God we expect.

If he can feed 5000 with one small picnic, why are so many hungry? If he can save Jairus’ daughter, why not our children, why not all those we’ve lost this year? If he can calm the storm, what about the storms of natural disaster, war and violence which rage today?

I’ve asked those questions…and been asked them…and struggled with them. Peter is just voicing our misunderstandings. We too struggle to understand how Jesus’ suffering, rejection and death, can somehow be what saves us.

Jesus refused to put himself in the centre. He chose to give not take; to heal not injure; to show mercy not vengeance; to forgive not condemn; to love not hate. He chose it because this path allowed God to work in him and through him…overcoming even death, and giving us a way back to God.

This week Jesus invites us to, ‘deny yourselves, take up your cross and follow me.’ To do this faithfully, we must put aside our ideas of what a saviour should be like, and look properly at the one who calls us to follow.

I suspect we won’t understand…I don’t think Peter ever really did…but like Peter we might step out in faith…because we find in these choices, so counter cultural and difficult to grasp…fulness of life we find nowhere else.

Looking at what Satan offered Jesus, we recognise things that promise so much…but lead to death rather than life. The temptation to attend to our own creature comforts before we consider the needs of others, leads to the inequality we see all around us…and research tells us that in unequal societies, everyone is less content.

The temptation to be important…powerful, causes us to see others as expendable…only important as they feed our importance. Just look at the oligarchs and dictators of the world to see this writ large. And the person so desperate to be at the centre ends up isolated, paranoid, driven by fear and hate.

The temptation for our religion to be an outward show of holiness…rather than a relationship with the living God.

What Jesus offers instead, is the promise that if we’re ready to take ourselves from the centre…to deny ourselves…lose our lives as we plan them…then we will gain life in all its abundance.

Probably not wealth, or even better health…but the discovery Peter eventually made that in following Jesus we can give everything up only to find it given back in a new and more beautiful form. A faith community willing to do that can surely be a blessing to the whole parish.

In a moment we’ll sing that wonderful hymn ‘Will you come and follow me?’, which asks…

‘Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?

‘Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?

‘Will you use the faith you’ve found, to reshape the world around?’

A pretty good prayer for today as we seek to recognise Jesus as the Messiah he really is – and still deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.