Mark 8:22 – 10.52 Bible Month 3. ‘There are more answers than questions’ In this section of his Gospel, Mark portrays Jesus with his face set towards Jerusalem. Jesus was on the way to celebrate the Passover and become the sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world, but there was work to do on the journey… healing, driving out demons, teaching his disciples, restoring sight, not to mention Jesus’ transfiguration and the foretelling of His death and resurrection. There is a lot for his disciples to learn and take to their hearts, and very little time to do so. Jesus’ mission continues to be urgent, the disciples learning is slow and Mark is keen to keep up the pace in his telling of that mission as the sense of urgency gathers towards Jerusalem and the cross. There are perhaps less instances of Jesus ‘formally’ teaching his disciples in Mark’s account than in the other Gospel writer’s accounts. I find that the best teachers are those who teach by example, they are role models who ask questions of their students through their words and actions. The disciples have a lot to learn and Jesus, the Word and embodiment of God is well equipped to teach them. I estimate that the New Testament writers, record Jesus as having asked 307 questions, not counting those questions he asked within the parables he told. Many of these questions were aimed at the disciples to aid their learning, some were aimed at the religious leaders and other questions to those he met on the way. I have suggested before that Jesus never asked a question that he didn’t know the answer to. In asking questions he wasn’t soliciting information, rather he was helping people to understand who he is and what he was about. I wonder, how many of those 307 questions Jesus asked you could bring to mind? Which of those questions are the most challenging to you? Mark recorded 58 of Jesus’ questions in his short Gospel. In the short section of just 2.5 chapters I’ve been asked to reflect on today I counted 15 questions that Jesus asked, including: 8:23 “What do you see?” 8:27 “Who do people say I am?” 8:29 “Who do you say that I am?” 8: 36-37 “What good is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” 9:16 “How long shall I stay with you?” “How long shall I put up with you?”9:33 “What were you arguing about on the road?” 9:50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again?” 10:18 “Why do you call me good?” 10:36 “What do you want me to do for you?” 10:38 “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?” 10: 51”What do you want me to do for you”? Jesus used these questions as a tool to teach the listener, or in our case the reader. They are not there to inform Jesus they are designed to help the listener, or reader, to reflect and learn. ‘There are more answers than questions’ One commentator described Jesus as the ‘great interrogator’. One thing that all of these questions, which came from the lips of Jesus, has in common, is that they are asked from the perspective of love. There is nothing harsh or sarcastic about them, no note of retaliation and no attempt to mislead or trick or outsmart the listener or make him or her feel small and inadequate. They are in complete contrast to the manner and content of the questions asked by the Scribes and Pharisees, or Andrew Marr, Jo Coburn or from the opposition bench during Prime Minister’s Question time, or the press during a Covid briefing. We can learn a lot about Jesus from the questions he asks and the manner in which he asks them, and in this short section of his Gospel, Mark gives us an average of 1 question in every 6 or 7 verses. He gives them so we might learn more of Jesus and that we might model his actions and love. Let me just reflect on 3 of those questions. First: 10:18 “Why do you call me good?” I invite you to consider that question for yourself. Presuming you believe Jesus to be Good, what has brought you to that conclusion? You might see this question that Jesus asked the rich man as an echo of the question he asked his disciples in 8:29 ie: “Who do you say that I am?” Both of these questions are an invitation to give your personal testimony of Jesus, of how God has changed, enriched, given meaning to your life today. Why do YOU call Jesus Good? What has the God you believe in done for you? Who do you say Jesus is? In 8:22 Jesus gave the blind man sight and in 8:23 Jesus asked him: “What do you see?” That wasn’t a trick question but many people believe it was a question with double intent; having led the man by the hand, feeling the healing hand of Jesus on him, we are told that “…he (the blind man) saw everything clearly” Jesus offers this question, (“Why do you call me good”?) to the Rich Man who came to Jesus with his own question. He asked Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is relevant to note that the rich man asked his question whilst on his knees, so one may see that as a mark of reverence toward Jesus and, as he used the word ‘good’ to describe Jesus, we may also assume that the Rich man was well on the road to believing that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. Jesus’ question “Why do you call me good?” is not an attempt to deflect the rich man’s question, it is Jesus’ means of telling the rich man that he already knows the answer. Jesus’ question is a much more meaningful answer to the rich man’s question than his practical instruction later in the passage to give his riches to the poor. The rich man needed to reflect on what Jesus meant to him in comparison to what value he placed upon his riches. It is a question of love’s priorities. Henri Nouwen once said that: “Do you love me” is the most significant question of all time. You might recall that Jesus, famously, asked Peter that question 3 times. So, I ask you; why do you call Jesus Good? What do you see in Jesus? Who do you say Jesus is? Do you love Him? Secondly: let’s look at the question: 10:38 “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?” Jesus asked this question of James and John. Mark tells us that they had both been present, along with Peter, to witness his transfiguration, on a mountain top, in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Peter, James and John had all heard God speak: “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to Him!” Perhaps the brothers were affected by the privilege of being there, maybe they felt entitled, worthy, promoted above the others into an inner, inner circle, ordered not to speak of it until after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus asked James and John this question (“Can you drink the cup …) to help them reflect on what true service means before offering his answer. The question reminds us that being a follower is a responsibility as well as a privilege, and that both the privilege and responsibility have personal costs attached to them. Very few of these questions stand alone, just as Jesus tells the rich man that he must evaluate his affections, desires and commitments he earlier asks the question: 8: 36-37 “What good is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” Perhaps you see these questions about what you value in life as pertinent to you. Many of us have taken the opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities throughout the lockdown. It has become more evident that earthly life is fragile as the daily Covid-related death toll has been announced and as our freedom of movement and social interaction has been limited. What cost or value do you put on your faith in Christ? Are you prepared to take up your cross, drink the cup, receive the baptism?And Finally: 10: 51 “What do you want me to do for you”? You may note that Mark records Jesus asking this question twice within a few verses. First he asked James and John, and a few verses later the second blind man, in this short section, Blind Bartimaeus is asked the same question. It is blatantly obvious what a blind man would want a healer to do for him, Jesus had already restored the sight of a blind man at Bethsaida and Bartimaeus was calling out for help; “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” It’s pretty obvious to those on the scene and more so for Jesus to see that the blind man wanted above all things to see. It is equally obvious to Jesus what James and John wanted Jesus to do for them. If we need evidence of that we have it when Jesus tells the brothers what their destiny in life is that they will indeed drink the same cup as Jesus Himself. Jesus was as aware of their destiny as he was of the desire of their hearts, long before they asked it of Him. “What do you want me to do for you?” is the question most frequently asked by Jesus. In this section of Mark’s gospel Jesus asks it on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. Jesus is always asking: ‘how can I serve you?’ That is a model question for each of us. “Friend, stranger, the person in your church or community whom you don’t understand or relate to or agree with…. How can I serve you? If we are to model Jesus as Mark presents him to us we need to ask that question in the service of Jesus and others. And the question remains for us to ask ourselves; “what do we want Jesus to do for us?”. What do you want Jesus to do for you
Bible Month 2; Mark 4.8 “other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain…”
On the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration as President of the United States I sowed ten Shirley tomato seeds in pots in my greenhouse. I was beginning to think Spring was surely just around the corner then. Little did I know that Spring would not really happen and it would be cold until late May then burst straight into a season of Summer heat. Of my ten seeds only two germinated. So much so that by about late March I sowed some more seeds, a different variety, and they did much better.
I won’t bore you with what happened to my brasillicas or my kale but as Jesus’ parable of the sower reveals, the type of soil and all sorts of other factors play a part in determining the outcome of the horticultural process. Some seeds grow really well, others struggle in various ways, it all depends on the type of soil and the weather conditions not to mention the husbandry skills of the grower.
So, I wonder what sort of soil you are? Because I think this is the essential question behind Jesus’ parable. How receptive are you to the seeds that are sown, to the words that you hear?
Jesus’ parable then moves on to explain what each different type of soil or conditions mean, this is technically what I was taught not to do when reflecting on a text when long ago I studied such disciplines in the University of Lancaster Religious Studies department. I was taught to let the parable speak for itself, not allegorize so every detail is explained. Leave the message for the hearer to work it out for themselves.
Let me approach the thrust of the parable a different way. How receptive are we, you and I, to new things/ new ideas/ new messages from God directly or through others? And I use a story to illustrate it. Many years ago someone once said in a Worship Consultation in one of my churches that the worship wasn’t Methodist. What they meant of course was that they had not experienced some things before. In fact, nothing we did could not be found in or permitted by a Conference authorised book, but the key thing was, it wasn’t in their book, it wasn’t in their experience! (and needless to say I don’t think they ever thought of looking in such a book to find out). Acknowledging that we hadn’t done that before or like that, is a different statement altogether to the one they rather rashly made in the meeting. One of the things that has struck me over the last eighteen months of this pandemic has been the variety of things we have sung in on-line worship. I have sometimes teased Bruce by exaggeratedly saying “I did not know any of the hymns you chose today!” I have churches who say this to me every time I go. They are from a different book to the one they regard as the norm for starters. I tend to choose from Singing the Faith because that is the latest Conference authorised book. And that is important to me as one who tries to live in full connexion with the Conference. But for many this is not their norm. What is normal for us varies of course. My dad used to say that when he was young (1950’s) at his local church, Skinningrove in the Loftus & Staithes Circuit in this Darlington District they sang out of the Sankey Book each week at the Guild mid-week meeting but always out of the 1933 Methodist Hymn Book on Sundays. There was a principle there that I fear some of our churches have lost sight of. We have churches and preachers for whom other books are the norm, often because they sit lightly to official Methodist things, or perhaps don’t really understand them. And many don’t come from a Methodist background anyway, there isn’t anything wrong with that but the significance of something authorised by the Methodist Conference for use doesn’t cut much ice. I fear that that which was obtained as a supplement has become the first choice of books, the default norm. That is not necessarily to say everything in other books is bad. But in the book “Singing the Faith” we have a range of items from traditional hymns that sometimes catch out those of us who sing hymns almost from memory because the words have been changed to meet the times we live in, they also contain new items from worship songs, to items from our communion within the World Church and the Ecumenical wider Church catholic we are part of. So, for example we have items from Graham Kendrick and Bernadette Farrell in our current book, items from independent evangelical groups at one end of the spectrum to Roman Catholics at the other. We now have hymns about climate change, justice and ecological issues that we did not have before. The John Bell type of items that we need if we are to serve the present age and not a past one. We also have items at the back of the book entitled “liturgical settings” with short responses for use in prayers or versions of prayers and other ancient texts like the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, set to music so they can be sung. We have always had this kind of thing in our repertoire but they often went un-used. And many did not even know they were there. The previous book Hymns & Psalms had psalms and canticles pointed and set to Anglican chant for singing, we had a Gloria setting. Hardly any Methodist churches used them, but some did. The first time I went to Cambridge Wesley they sang a psalm as part of the service. The book prior to that (and I am showing my age now because I was brought up on the 1933 MHB had a similar selection of chants for canticles and psalms, but also music for singing the responses to the commandments to use in conjunction with the 1936 Book of Offices Communion Service, including settings by composers like Merbecke and others for the words “Lord have mercy upon is and incline our hearts to keep this law”. It also had set out the words of the Gloria and Agnus Dei, with an assumption that such an items could be sung to any setting you might care to use. At the said church meeting where my sister in the Lord told me what we did was not Methodist I could have taken her upstairs to where the choir music was housed and showed her dozens of settings for canticles, that the choir had obviously used in the past. But she chose to forget that or didn’t acknowledge it.
When Donald Soper was President of the Conference he chose to use Morning Prayer from the Book of Offices as the Conference Service liturgy and it caused a bit of a stir. I am sure there were many who said it wasn’t Methodist! But it was included in the Conference authorised book. You see Methodism is supposed to appreciate both the formal and the informal, the written liturgical style as well as extempore prayer. Not just one type. He also chose to preside at Holy Communion everywhere he went as he travelled round the Connexion. And that caused a bit of a stir too!
So, I wonder what sort of soil are we? What sort of soil are you? How receptive to things that are new and unfamiliar to us are we? Do we have a pre-conceived idea of what Methodism should be like? What Church should be like? What worship should consist of? And if any of our responses to those sort of questions produces negative reactions we might want to ask ourselves if the seeds that might be being sown find a receptive place to germinate and grow in our minds and hearts or whether like the parable they shrivel up and die or are in danger of being classified like seed falling on stony ground.
How receptive are we to new ideas or ideas that might be different from our assumptions? A long time ago I won a place at University to read History, so I tend to read everything through that lens, and I happen to believe that there is pretty much nothing under the sun that is new- it will have been tried before somewhere. But in the life of the Church our experience is often narrow. We know what we do at our chapel and think every other place is the same. Of course, as in every walk of life, we only know what we know, our experience is the determinative key factor, we tend to think we know what church in a Methodist flavour is like. Some find much of it bland, that there isn’t much diversity of styles. The initiative “New People New Places” is encouraging new churches for new people based on the recognition that new people are unlikely to be attracted to many of our existing forms of church because much of what we do is from a culture that is alien to many. Most churches would welcome new people warmly but the new folk might struggle to comprehend what it was all about and we might find it hard to explain why we do things the way we do. Coupled with all this is the need we are recognising most crucially that we need to do re-planting, re-seeding, do better at making known the gospel message in all sorts of different ways in order that people can hear the good news and respond in their own way. “Take seeds of his spirit, let the fruit grow, tell the people of Jesus, let his love show”
Acts 2.8 How is it that each of us hears in our own language?
I was once making a funeral visit for an elderly man in York who had come from Swaledale originally. His daughter wanted the Twenty Third Psalm read in Swaledale dialect, a version that his god-father Kit Calvert had written. The son in law felt unable to do it as he would be too emotional, so I offered to do it. Now I am not from Swaledale, but I am North Riding of Yorkshire born and bred. Anyway, I must have made a fair fist of it because later when the son-in-law sadly died, I was asked to do it again.
Hearing words in our mother tongue is important. I once went with some friends who were all at theological college together to a wedding in Northern Ireland and a group of us travelled up to Stranraer in Scotland to catch the ferry to Belfast for the wedding in Portadown. We arrived at the ferry terminal and a man on duty directing the traffic spoke to me through the car window. I hadn’t a clue what he was saying, so I felt unable to know to respond, so he said it again, but I still was none the wiser. He was of course speaking English but with such a strong Scottish accent I could not make out the meaning of the words he was saying. He was speaking my mother tongue but not in a way that was anything like my mother’s accent!
On the Day of Pentecost the crowd assembled in Jerusalem from every corner of the Roman Empire and they heard the message in their mother tongue. They were baffled that amidst the cacophony of sound they each heard in their own language. The spoken word is complex and perhaps none is more complex than the English language with inconsistent spellings and pronunciations. We have hundreds of different languages in our world and then within that there are accents and turns of phrase which are particular to different places. I was picked up the other week by a fellow superintendent who said he had learned a new phrase from me, which was “keen as mustard”. A similar thing happened when I once said of John Wesley that his intention was to “ginger up” the Church of England. Often when visiting families to prepare for a funeral they will tell me something the deceased person used to say, a little phrase that everyone who knew them well would be familiar with. And I use it during the service by making reference to it.
Hearing the message in our mother tongue, in a language we can understand and relate to is crucial. Because failure to do so means the message might not get through, goes unheard, not understood, it loses its effectiveness, and its sharpness is blunted. This is why at the time of the Reformation so much commotion was concentrated around having the liturgy in the vernacular. In more recent generations, missionaries travelled far and wider across the world and often had to translate the Scriptures into the mother tongue of those to whom they went or learn another tongue and preach in it. “How shall they call if they have never heard, the gracious invitation of God’s word?” (770 HAP)
For some years now the Methodist Church has been concerned that we speak of God in ways that makes sense to people, use less jargon, and out of date terminology and perhaps theology, but rather make an effort to use words that are easy to comprehend. This is not always an easy task. No longer to we speak of “the propitiation for our sin” that we used to in the 1936 Book of Offices Service at the Comfortable Words, for example. We have a tendency to use words and phrases that are familiar to us and someone from another country or from a different culture might not know what we mean. The Gospel and God’s message indeed God, is for all. And sometimes it is the way we announce the message, the words we use, that is the problem.
Let me give some examples and I realise I will ruffle some feathers, but my task is to challenge, provoke and disturb as well as comfort. Always referring to God as “Father” is not helpful to everyone. If your experience of Father is not a good one, thinking of God as the being like our dad was might not be helpful and another image, metaphor is needed. When the Methodist Worship Book came out in 1999, the phrase from Ordinary 2 Holy Communion referring to God as our “Father and Mother” caused a stir. Sometimes the translation of the Bible causes problems. Not everyone can relate to male pronouns so “mankind” can be regarded as non-inclusive to some people so we should refrain from using such terms. Not everyone is a “he”. At my ordinands’ testimony service my female colleague objected when the Chair of District chose the hymn “A glorious company we sing the master and his men”. Essentially we need to watch our language. That’s why I use NRSV, generally speaking. Most of the translations used in this circuit seem to be non-inclusive and sometimes they are paraphrases not even translations. Shortly Neil Richardson, a former President of the Conference, is going to give a lecture to the Methodist Sacramental Fellowship on atonement theories based around the theme of “minding your language” when speaking about such things. Atonement theories are theories not undisputed truths, they are interpretations and explanations. The Methodist Book of Offices service did not included the word “satisfaction” to describe the atonement in its Holy Communion Liturgy when it took the BCP as its baseline. I am not sure the latest hymn book committee knew that when they permitted some hymns to be included in Singing the Faith! Sometimes it is our theology that needs attention and we are very slow at changing that. We need to be careful we don’t get trapped in a time warp. We don’t really grasp that the reason why churches keep changing their liturgies and their hymn books is because our understanding of God keeps changing and we become aware that some of the things we used to sing, sing with great gusto are no longer appropriate.
On the Day of Pentecost according to Acts 2 different tongues were heard. To change the metaphor, we could say there was expression through different colours, different flavours. Now I think that when we think about the life of the Church, we see this made manifest in different expressions, with different emphases but essentially proclaiming the same gospel. Over the past 50 years the various denominations of the Church of God have encountered one another and have been learning things from each other, from other branches of the Church in our own land and from the World Church. A former superintendent of mine once said when they considered the life of the circuit we were both stationed in at the time that it all was much of a much-ness, and rather grey in colour. The churches appeared very similar to each other in terms of what the flavour of the worship was and how faith was expressed and made manifest. There was little diversity, little creativity and little imagination. And we need to experiment with other colours, so like a diamond the many colours shine in God’s sun light with the flavour of things so that there is a feast not a collation of blandness. Some people think there is only one Methodist way of doing things and they are of course, wrong. Most of us only know what we know, we do not know the things we have no experience of. We may believe all Methodist Churches are like the one we go to and they will most certainly not be. It may equally be the case that some thing we think are Methodist ways are not in fact Methodist at all. And against a backcloth of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that we are supposed to believe in, the ecumenical movement of the last fifty years has exposed us to all sorts of things from other traditions that can enrich us. So in our Conference authorised hymn book we have material from all over the world, from traditions of the whole Church, from every age. And similarly in our Conference authorised liturgies within the Methodist Worship Book and additional material we have a rich seam of resources which hardly ever gets tapped because we tend to stick with what we know.
And when we speak the message we need to speak it in ways that make sense to people. That means attention to the context and so how we present it in place A might be different from when we present it in place B. We need to celebrate diversity not dumb it down so everything is a mess of pottage based on the lowest common denominator. We need to let the colours sing, to let the flavours be savoured and the glory be God’s.
In the world of today, where everything seems to be in jargon, initials, acronyms and new words for old concepts seem to be coined with every passing week in order to reach people we have to be tech- savvy, we have to “use all the means” we can as John Wesley said in a different context. I confess that I do not come easily to smart phones and other devices, to apps and downloads, to chat and facebook and facetime, I am more comfortable with a fountain pen, and hard paper copies of documents, but I do see the importance of them all. God allowed the people gathered in Jerusalem from every known nation of the world at that time to hear the good news in their own language and we must strive to make that same good news of the kingdom known to people in our world in ways that they can relate to without diluting the message. We are tasked as John Wesley put it “ Do all the good you, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can to all the people as you can, as long as ever you can”.
Acts 4. 5-12/ John 10.11-18 Names are important. You know how cross you can get if someone gets your names wrong. I enjoy watching various farming programmes and Countryfile, especially those with a orphaned lamb to rear who usually gets given a name. Both in our reading from Acts and the gospel there is a significance given to names. In Acts 4 we hear of Peter having healed someone in the name of Jesus and he draws out the power of using Jesus’ name for this miracle. Christina Rosetti could write in similar vein “None other lamb, none other name, none other hope in heaven or earth or sea” (HAP271) In the gospel for today Jesus speaks of being the good shepherd who knows his sheep. I have told the following story before, but I like it… I was once part of a choral workshop made up of people from all sorts of choirs and choral groups across North Yorkshire and I was introduced to someone, not by their name but by their role. The person introducing us said this man is the choirmaster of Kirkbymoorside Parish Church. “Oh”, I said , “my great great grandfather is buried in your churchyard”. “What was his name?”, the man asked. “Christopher Humble”, I replied. “And what is your name?” he enquired. “Christopher Humble”, said I with a twinkle in my eye. You see names are important.
My hunch is that those with small flocks have names for each sheep and this was probably the case in Jesus’ day. I know that when my grandfather had only Shorthorn dairy six cows each one was known individually by the family, including an appreciation for their personalities and characters. And this might be the context John is painting of the flock that Jesus has. There is something important here. There is a pastoral message here that we need to get to know people. Their names, of course, but also what makes them tick, their story, their family ties etc. I remember a minister once telling me he wrote down the name of the family dog on the index card of his membership files, so he could call the dog by name when he visited. I have never gone down to that level of detail. The good shepherd knows their sheep, he knows their names and he knows their little foibles, their ways. We need to make sure we have adequate pastoral systems in place for caring for people, for really knowing them, meeting their needs, helping them grow and develop. For ministers with multiple congregations to look after this can be difficult. However, the pastoral ministry is wider than just the ordained. We need teams of people who offer effective pastoral care and we have many who give of their time and talents in this regard. It is a calling and a real ministry.
It is, however, not just about little flocks that Jesus speaks here, though he seems to have only had twelve in his flock! He also says “I have other sheep, not of this fold. I must bring them also”. A reminder to us that God in Christ does not just love those whose names are recoded in our books. He loves all, all are precious to him. His scope and reach is broad and wide, not small and narrow. “For all, for all my Saviour died” as our catholic Arminian theology teaches us. Someone said recently of Prince Philip that he made it his business to speak to every single person in the long line of Duke of Edinburgh award scheme winners and others he was meeting. He became a master of small talk and banter. Each person is of course an individual. They have their own interests and points of view. We must make every effort to enable them to flourish to feel valued.
But when using shepherding imagery we need to recognise these individuals are also part of a herd, a flock. The Church of God is a corporate entity. Missing gathering together is something countless people have said to me during the last year. We must make sure when we do gather we do so with a real purpose, which I fear has not always been the case. And Jesus is at pains to say he has a much bigger flock than we might at first think. Who might be the “sheep that are not of this flock/ fold”? People who belong to other churches? (Sometimes we have been a bit prejudiced against those who do not belong to our flock). Or does it mean those people who don’t belong to any church? Because Jesus sets out a vision of one flock with one shepherd. It sounds all-inclusive. No one is left out. Way back in 2003 the Methodist Conference voted for An Anglican-Methodist Covenant. And I was there as a member of the Conference that year. We voted for full organic unity and to remove as a priority the remaining obstacles. We have not progressed much with it. Each church carries on with its own stuff in its own way without much regard to the other party. We probably have added more obstacles rather than working hard at removing the existing ones. And, of course, even that vision is narrow. One flock, one shepherd is surely broader than just Anglicans and Methodists being united. The word oecumenical means literally “the whole inhabited earth”. That is as wide a definition as you can imagine. Prince Philip was one who initiated the work of St George’s House in Windsor which allowed people of different faiths to meet together and dialogue. Hans Kung a Vatican 11 RC theologian has just died at the age of 93. He was kicked out of his chair at Tubingen catholic faculty because he was too radical, but he began a Global Ethics movement with a keen inter-faith dimension based on the premise that there can be no peace in the world unless there is peace between religions. The Good Shepherd is always anxiously striving to bring others into his fold using every means he can to do so. As we re-emerge from lockdown we need to strain every sinew we have to make sure our churches remain outward looking, missional, open to all.
Read Hymns & Psalms 750/457 MHB “Thou Shepherd of Israel and mine”. It is a hymn that invites us to aspire to gather with the other lambs of Christ’s flock on his bosom. Being united in him who is our Shepherd.
PALM SUNDAY Mark 11. 1-11 : A SURPRISING JOURNEY The account is familiar enough to us. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt, having sent two of his disciples to find it and fetch it. The colt has never been ridden before. It is not broken in. Now I know very little about horses, but I know they don’t usually easily take to been ridden. My maternal grandfather had a knack for breaking in horses and was the one other farmers sent for when they were trying to get a young horse used to the strap round their neck and reins and break it in. In Mark’s account (and the gospels all have their distinctive flavour of this account) there seems to be a passionate concern that the colt a young foal of a donkey has never been ridden before. No other person has ever sat upon it. It is as if the colt has been saving itself, or its owners have, for this special divine mission. Only the purest animal will do for the task. Jesus is the first one to ride it. And so, it is surprising and amazing that he does so without it appearing to resist, it does not become a bucking bronco scenario and try to toss him off. He obviously had a way with the animal. He is calming, makes it feel at ease. It rather feels like this is its purpose, to transport Jesus into the city on that festival day. The crowd in a fit of excitement cut down branches and wave them, throw their cloaks on the ground to make a kind of royal road for Jesus to ride along, for they are welcoming their Messiah, the King, the one they are pinning their hopes on. And they shout “Hosanna”. Now hosanna means literally “save us”. I wonder what the crowd meant by that phrase. Probably different things. In our world today we are hoping the measures we have put in place about hand washing, social distancing, wearing face coverings and now the vaccine roll-out or all these things that together are going to save us from the pandemic of coronavirus. Jesus comes to save us but perhaps not in the ways the crowd were expecting, or by the means he endured later in the week. They could not possibly have foreseen the cross and his passion. They think he is coming to set things right, which he does of course, but not in the way they expect, they think he is coming as King to boot out the Romans, make their nation great again. Their minds are full of power, glory, politics, hopes, perhaps even revolution (lets not forget one of his followers was a zealot- Simon the zealot, a member of a revolutionary party or group), the people were hoping for a brighter future, pomp and circumstance, certainly not betrayal, pain, suffering and death. Many a time in history politicians have hailed their programme as something that is going to save the nation. And usually the idea comes a cropper out after a short time, because promises are undeliverable, as something does not go according to plan and another programme has to be created quickly, downgrading the previous extravagant hopes. In the crowd that first Palm Sunday, the folk are pinning their hopes on Jesus. Well, we know Jesus has saved us by his life, death and resurrection. We can confidently put our trust in him for this life and the next. He is the “Saviour of the world” as we proclaimed in the canticle we shared in with its repeated petition “save us and help us”, just like the crowd who cry “hosanna”. The crowd also cry out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” words that have come into the liturgy of the Church at every eucharist in what we call the Sanctus and Benedictus in the middle of the prayer we say over the bread and wine, perhaps reminding us that each time we celebrate Holy Communion we gather for a festival as pilgrims, just as the crowd did that day Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. Whether we always have the same degree of excitement is another matter! In Mark’s version of the incident there is a special focus on the coming kingdom of David. There is a very purposeful looking forward, and expectation, an intentional hopefulness. The crowd are kingdom focused and have an eye to the future. And Jesus does nothing to thwart their perceptions. He goes along with the sentiments, he laps it up. He seems to accept it, but whether he had other thoughts in his mind we do not know. I wonder whether we are always kingdom focused. And whether we always have an eye to the future. We can easily slip into only being concerned about the present, or even nostalgia for the past. In our worship and our life together in the Church we can easily become focused on the here are now or perhaps the past and restrict our thinking around our views, the views of those present and miss the thing that God is seeking to reveal to us about what God has planned around the corner- the new thing or things. Our perceptions can easily be limited by our smallness of vision. We might look around at the folk and miss the great cloud of witnesses with whom we join our prayers and praises. Perhaps part of the surprising journey is to realise the other folk who are also journeying. We do not journey alone. The crowd have a focus on what is coming next. It is not here yet, but it is on its way. Like the train we can hear but not yet see, pulling into the station. As we plan for some of our churches to re-open, we might be guilty of missing something really significant if we just think it is going to be as it was before. We need to realize we are in a different world now, that we are not returning to what was familiar. In stark terms what of all those in your community who have yet to hear the good news of the gospel, what are our plans for evangelising them? How do we share the good news of the gospel with them? And the account ends with a sting in the tail. Jesus goes into the Temple and he looks around, then leaves, as it was already late. He looks around. He takes it all in. He looks and sees, he takes notice- of what we are not told-but we can guess; the people, the systems, the furniture, the smell, the atmosphere, the traders, the animals, the worshippers…In some ways that should be what we have been doing for the last twelve months, looking at our churches and thinking through what has been going on, what God is calling us to do and to be in the future. I am not sure we have done enough looking around yet. We need to be getting on with that