Tag Archives: maranatha

The Right Man In The Right Place At The Right Time

San Juan Bautista, Alvise Vivarini, c1475

Sermon preached on the second Sunday of Advent 2020 based on the following readings 2 Peter 3:8-15a and Mark 1:1-8

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

We have a saying in our family, ‘Patience is a virtue, virtue is a Grace. Grace is a little girl who wouldn’t wash her face!’ It was often quoted when one or other of the children were eager to attain something sooner rather that wait. Of course, waiting when you’re very young can be a hard thing to do, especially if it’s something exciting that might be about to happen; but it’s no less hard waiting whatever your age.

In Peter’s letter he is faced with a congregation who are disillusioned and impatient by the non-appearance of Jesus coming in glory, definitely an event to be excited about. Even so, the ‘I want it now’s don’t get – they need to learn a little more grace. Instead he encourages them to live lives of holiness and godliness, to wait in ‘peace, without spot or blemish’. After all God’s time-relativity is different to ours. Except, there is still the need to be ready for the unknown moment of his return to the Earth.

But patience is not an attribute recognised by the writer of Mark’s gospel, as he takes us back to the beginning of the story. He starts off like a bullet train out of the station and to be honest never slows down or pause to take on water or fuel till the very end… an end that actually needed something added to it later!

His opening sentence is like a shout, a proclamation, a declaration of intent, ‘the beginning of the good news’. This is the gospel ‘of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a word derived from the Anglo-Saxon term god-spell, meaning ‘good story’. No starlit stable, no paternity angst, no migratory gift bearers, just straight into the reason that he was here on earth amongst us – to redeem us for all time.

Nevertheless, his first appearance is heralded by an unlikely character, a wild man of the desert, clad in camel’s hair and sustained by a diet of kosher protein and wild honey (locusts are mentioned in Leviticus as a ‘clean’ food). John the Baptist certainly dressed like Elijah and was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah to be ‘the messenger’ who was preparing the people of God for the long-awaited Messiah.

But why was this messenger so different from the many prophets that God had send before? What was it about this man that was attracting people to come out into the wilderness from the region of Judea and Jerusalem to be dipped in a river as a sign that were re-turning towards God – a baptism of repentance.

Well, it had been about 500 years since Malachi had stepped off the earthly stage, and since then no genuine prophetic voices had been heard.  Without a prophet, people in the land began to divide into parties and groups, each claiming the right to interpret the scriptures and lead the people.

So, the time was ripe for the long-awaited Messiah to appear, even so we could ask why this was the moment in time that God chose to do so? What we do know is that he came according to God’s time schedule, as Paul states in Galatians, ‘When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law’ (Galatians 4:4-5)

And if we were to try and put forward a reason why it was a perfect time for the spread of the gospel, we might assume that the Pax Romana, a time of peace in the Roman Empire, and great road and water transport systems, allowed for information to be passed quickly. In addition, Greek was a common language with allowed the Gospel to be communicated to a wide range of peoples, although language is no barrier to the Holy Spirit.

Today’s technological advances in global communications might suggest that now would have been a better time to reveal the Messiah, but would people be prepared to go and submit to a need for repentance from an eccentric looking, religious firebrand in the wilderness of our city suburbs? Yet alone recognise and accept Jesus?

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like one day.

2 Peter 3:8

God always communicates with us in ways we can understand and twenty first century humanity has sufficient reason to believe in Jesus. That he chose to come some two thousand years ago does not change the fact that he came and fulfilled everything that the Bible had predicted. Two thousand years ago, people were ready and able to understand just enough to get the message across; after all for the Lord, ‘a thousand years are like one day’ so it was God’s perfect time for him to come to us.

But it was not to be in the way that most people expected. He would not be a military leader. He would not crush the Romans and set up a Jewish state. The true Messiah would seem utterly defeated before he won.

Yet win he would, and John the Baptist knew this. Although his water of baptism would physically and metaphorically wash people clean from their sins, the power and glory of Jesus would lie in his ability to immerse, plunge or drench people in the Holy Spirit (from the Greek word baptizo).

For us, this drenching means that we are forgiven and brought back into a proper relationship with God; we are blessed with powerful gifts to prepare us for service and for building up the body of Christ, and we are given hope for the future, whatever that looks like and whenever it happens

As Peter says, ‘The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.’ We can’t hurry time, but this Advent we can repeat our heartfelt wish – Maranatha – come Lord Jesus. Come amongst us and be with us once again and we will welcome you

Amen

Maranatha written in the Southwick Codex

Running The Race

Run in such a way that you may win the prize

Run in such a way that you may win the prize

Sometimes phrases just seem to get stuck in your head for no apparent reason. Over the last few days it has been a quote from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.
1 Corinthians 9:24

For those whose know me well, they would agree that I have a very competitive streak – I play to win. Whether it is board games or quizzes I will look for strategies that will give me an advantage; but that doesn’t mean I cheat. On the contrary, I’m the one checking the rules to ensure that we are playing the game fairly. I suspect that can make me a bit of a pain to those who simply want to play the game for a bit of fun and even worse when I come up against another person whose aim is to do exactly the same. Self-control can sometimes go out of the window and the sulks can follow it!

The fact is that I was brought up to make sure that whatever I chose to do, it should be given the same amount of care and attention, so that you always do it to the best of your ability. As my father used to say, ‘If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well

The same should be true of our faith life. Over the last few weeks I have been learning and putting into practice new techniques for Christian meditation. I have been learning to control my breathing so that it falls into rhythm with a prayer mantra – Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus – at the same time trying to lay aside the thoughts that immediately fill your mind and run parallel to the prayer, such as ‘I don’t think I’m doing this right, because I’m thinking about the fact that I’m not doing this right!’. It has got better as I’ve practised more, but the problem is not the technique, it’s the discipline to make sure I do it at least once a day that is the hard part and ultimately the most important.

A person can’t watch the Olympics on television and suddenly get up and run a marathon in record-breaking time – It’s more likely that they’ll break themselves. Athletes require discipline to train their bodies so that they can achieve their personal best. In the same way we have to train our hearts and minds to have the strength and control to stay faithful to our beliefs – whether it’s in prayer, meditation, reading the bible or the way we live our everyday lives according to the rules

Being constant and always striving to do your best is never going to be easy, and there will be days when we just want to collapse in a heap by the side of the road and say ‘I give up,’ but failure is not falling down, but staying down. By keeping the prize in mind and reaching for our goals we can force ourselves to get up and carry on so that we might be the eventual winner of the race we have been set.

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:25-27

In the meantime, anyone for a game of Monopoly… but be aware I will be going for hotels on Mayfair and Park Lane!

Competitiveness in a box

Competitiveness in a box