5th Sunday of Easter 2019

5th Sunday of Easter 2019

There is a fairly clear set of ideas in this morning’s Gospel: glory and love. Glory, as we all know, means a nice knock down argument, but don’t take my word for it, as that definition comes straight from Humpty Dumpty, who, as we know, can make any word suit his own purpose. Love is a word that is bandied about without much thought for its complexities. So not much help there. The context is the upper room, during the last supper. Jesus is with his disciples, sharing Passover together as they had done many times before, but this time they are in Jerusalem, and, as the text says, Judas has left the company to garner a group of thugs to arrest Jesus and hand him over to the authorities. Judas feels betrayed, and wants to do away with Jesus, to denigrate all that Jesus has said and done, to wipe out any memory of him from Israel. But it is at that moment that Jesus says that he has been glorified – the betrayer is on the loose, torture and death beckon, but Jesus says that he has been glorified by God. How? What we see in Jesus at this moment is humanity at its very best. Betrayal is possibly one of the worst things a human being can do to another, and betrayal to death is appalling, but Jesus, who knows what is afoot, does not run from it, nor ignore it. Instead, he welcomes the worst that humanity can do to him, so that he can do the best that God can do for humanity. Jesus will die so that we can live, and rise again, so that we can have fullness of life. And that is glory. Now, if that is the best that God can do for us, is it any wonder that Jesus should ask of us to do the same? Not for us to find glory, but for us to love one another, in the same way that Jesus has loved us. But this is more than a request – this is a commandment. It follows hard on the heels of another commandment that Jesus gave his disciples – to remember him in bread and wine, which is what we are doing this morning – two new commandments, that take our worship to another place, and our love response to a practical outworking of God’s love in the world. Which is harder? To come here on a Sunday morning and remember Jesus in bread and wine, or to love sacrificially the people who are sat around us this morning, as Jesus loved us,? I would imagine that we would automatically say “remembering Jesus” – we just have to turn up, and the rest is done for us. But to love sacrificially, as Jesus loved us, that is much, much harder. Is it possible to command love? In a human situation, it is probably not – love grows naturally, either within the family or between friends. But Jesus commands us to love one another. Then is it possible to teach love? Is it a function of parents, or godparents, or Junior Church leaders, or – heaven forfend – the vicar? How are we going to do it? The first thing to do is to open our eyes, really to look around us and see people. Not to stare, as that would be rude, but to look and recognize in the other people who fill this space that they are loved by God and redeemed by the risen Christ, and that we all stand together in God’s love in exactly the same way. That is the first step on the road, as Jesus was able to look at everyone he met and see in them a child of God, loved by God and he was therefore able to express the love of God to them in the ways that they needed – healing, teaching, encouragement, rebuke, friendship. And then we talk to all these people, and then we pray for them, and then we find the things that they like and the things that they need, and we share their burdens and grow together in Christ. And then we discover that there are people here that we don’t know, so we talk to them, and share with them, and rejoice with them. And then we discover that there are people we know who are not here, so we invite them along and go through the whole process with them – and that is what Christ means by his new commandment – a process of love that engages with others and includes them, shares freely with them and enjoys their company, whoever they are. And the ones who are difficult to love? (there are always some of them) We persevere, we remember the commandment, we put it into practice. It can be hard work, but Christ commands us to do it, for his sake, and so we must. Loving and remembering, the two practical ways that Christ gave us to build up his people and to change the world. Let’s embrace them this morning, remember Christ in bread and wine, and change the world through his love. Amen

5 Easter 2019

5 Easter 2019

5th Sunday of Easter 2019  

There is a fairly clear set of ideas in this morning’s Gospel: glory and love.  Glory, as we all know, means a nice knock down argument, but don’t take my word for it, as that definition comes straight from Humpty Dumpty, who, as we know, can make any word suit his own purpose.  Love is a word that is bandied about without much thought for its complexities. So not much help there.

The context is the upper room, during the last supper.  Jesus is with his disciples, sharing Passover together as they had done  many times before, but this time they are in Jerusalem, and, as the text says, Judas has left the company to garner a group of thugs to arrest Jesus and hand him over to the authorities.  Judas feels betrayed, and wants to do away with Jesus, to denigrate all that Jesus has said and done, to wipe out any memory of him from Israel. But it is at that moment that Jesus says that he has been glorified – the betrayer is on the loose, torture and death beckon, but Jesus says that he has been glorified by God.  How?

What we see in Jesus at this moment is humanity at its very best.  Betrayal is possibly one of the worst things a human being can do to another, and betrayal to death is appalling, but Jesus, who knows what is afoot, does not run from it, nor ignore it.  Instead, he welcomes the worst that humanity can do to him, so that he can do the best that God can do for humanity. Jesus will die so that we can live, and rise again, so that we can have fullness of life.  And that is glory.

Now, if that is the best that God can do for us, is it any wonder that Jesus should ask of us to do the same?  Not for us to find glory, but for us to love one another, in the same way that Jesus has loved us. But this is more than a request – this is a commandment.  It follows hard on the heels of another commandment that Jesus gave his disciples – to remember him in bread and wine, which is what we are doing this morning – two new commandments, that take our worship to another place, and our love response to a practical outworking of God’s love in the world.

Which is harder?  To come here on a Sunday morning and remember Jesus in bread and wine, or to love sacrificially the people who are sat around us this morning, as Jesus loved us,?  I would imagine that we would automatically say “remembering Jesus” – we just have to turn up, and the rest is done for us. But to love sacrificially, as Jesus loved us, that is much, much harder.

Is it possible to command love?  In a human situation, it is probably not – love grows naturally, either within the family or between friends.  But Jesus commands us to love one another. Then is it possible to teach love? Is it a function of parents, or godparents, or Junior Church leaders, or – heaven forfend – the vicar?  How are we going to do it?

The first thing to do is to open our eyes, really to look around us and see people.  Not to stare, as that would be rude, but to look and recognize in the other people who fill this space that they are loved by God and redeemed by the risen Christ, and that we all stand together in God’s love in exactly the same way.  That is the first step on the road, as Jesus was able to look at everyone he met and see in them a child of God, loved by God and he was therefore able to express the love of God to them in the ways that they needed – healing, teaching, encouragement, rebuke, friendship.

And then we talk to all these people, and then we pray for them, and then we find the things that they like and the things that they need, and we share their burdens and grow together in Christ.

And then we discover that there are people here that we don’t know, so we talk to them, and share with them, and rejoice with them.

And then we discover that there are people we know who are not here, so we invite them along and go through the whole process with them – and that is what Christ means by his new commandment – a process of love that engages with others and includes them, shares freely with them and enjoys their company, whoever they are.  

And the ones who are difficult to love?  (there are always some of them) We persevere, we remember the commandment, we put it into practice.  It can be hard work, but Christ commands us to do it, for his sake, and so we must.

Loving and remembering, the two practical ways that Christ gave us to build up his people and to change the world.  Let’s embrace them this morning, remember Christ in bread and wine, and change the world through his love. Amen

Fourth Sunday before Lent

Fourth Sunday before Lent

Sometimes the stars simply align, and everything just happens smoothly and easily.  On a day of baptisms across the parishes, we are given two readings which offer the whole thing up on a plate.

So, the starting point is this: which would you prefer for your child this morning: a burning coal on the lips, or abandoning the biggest catch of fish ever to walk around Israel with Jesus?  Both events are life-changing, both require huge faith, and both present opportunities for wonder.  If only it were as simple as that. 

Isaiah sees God in the temple.  Isaiah is a priest, he is going about his everyday work, and he actually sees the God he worships and adores.  Peter and Andrew, James and John are going about their everyday work by Lake Galilee, and they actually meet the Messiah they have been longing for all their lives.  In baptism, both these things collide.  These children will meet the longed-for Messiah, and will have that Christ as close to them as their clothes for the rest of their life.  We, gathered together to witness this baptism, will see God amongst us, the God whom we worship and adore, in the oil, the water, the welcome and the candle, as well as sharing him in bread and wine.  This is an extraordinary day, and we are blessed to be together to experience it.  That’s today, but the more vexed question is, “what about tomorrow?”  “What happens then?” 

For brevity’s sake, we shortened the Isaiah reading.  In a quiet moment, see where God takes Isaiah, once he has accepted the call to be a prophet – it is scary!  And what about the four fishermen?  They were promised a life of catching people – whatever that means – which would involve watching Jesus heal sick people, multiply loaves and fishes, confront the religious authorities and ultimately die on a cross – was that what they signed up for? 

Isaiah prophesied, for many long years, in the teeth of bitter opposition and impending disaster for Israel.  The four fishermen struggled daily with the sayings and actions of Jesus, still not fully understanding what was going on around them until that glorious Easter morning.

Let us not imagine that the aftermath of baptism is easy.  The promises that will be made today demand a lot of work – they call for both active and passive involvement in the life of these children – prayer, encouragement, being an example, walking together – and the Holy Spirit, let loose in these children, can be very insistent.  Whatever ideas you may have mapped out for these children’s life may be very different from what God has up his sleeve.  Are you prepared for that?

And all of us – are we fully prepared to take on what we will promise for these children?  To be welcoming, and to uphold them in their new life in Christ?  What exactly does that mean?  There are plenty of children here – do we pick these two out for special attention, or seek to encourage every single one? 

And what about this “catching people” thing that Jesus has with these four fishermen?  Is that relevant to us today?  Should we be going out and catching people for Christ?  The inference is that we should, that we, by our baptism, are disciples of Christ just as much as Peter & Andrew and James & John.  We are involved in that function of the kingdom, that outreach, that making sure that everybody knows about the love of God, in practical as well as spiritual ways.

We cannot all be prophets, like Isaiah.  We cannot all be apostles, as these four fishermen became, but we can all play our part in pointing people to Christ.  Our conversation is to be based on love and grace, generosity and welcome, as Christ’s was.  Yet where we perceive there to be wrong or injustice, we are to challenge, just as Christ did.  There is plenty of room in this building for lots more people to share these times of worship and prayer together – let’s do our bit at getting them in.

At our baptism, each one of us was called to be a disciple of Christ, in exactly the same way that Isaiah was called, if a little less dramatic, and in exactly the same way that these four fishermen were called to drop everything and follow Christ.  The call has not changed, despite the years that have followed our baptism. 

As members of the congregation here, we have been present at many baptisms – we have watched the children grow up and move on, and others have come in their place.  The promises we take at every single baptism here hold good for all of our worshipping lives, and affect what we do in terms of Junior Church, welcoming at the door, administering the finances, doing the flowers, or the readings, or the coffee, sorting out the publicity, getting people involved in the everyday life of the parish.

And above all, we are called to prayer, that over-arching activity which links us in to our heavenly Father, that keeps us close to him, and enables the Holy Spirit to spur us to a full engagement in the Kingdom of God.  As we watch, as we make promises, as we pray, as we coo over these children, may we still hold fast to our baptism, and hold true to the promises we make, so that these children may be fully supported throughout their worshipping life, and that we may fully live out our discipleship, to the glory of God the Father.

Christ the King 2018

Christ the King 2018

A few years ago we celebrated 350 years of the “Hallelujah Chorus” by singing it at the end of the service.  Preparations for this took some time at the Barn, and led in many ways to the current manifestation of the “extended choir” which pops up every now and again on special occasions.  The St Luke’s Choir just stood up and sang it….. wonderfully…

Anyway, being part of that learning was tremendous.  There is huge power in the piece, created by great harmonies and soaring lines for all the voices, but there is a bit in the middle which came as a surprise.  I don’t know why, maybe false memory surrounds such famous music – you think you know it, but when you come to sing it, there are bits that you don’t.  All the hallelujahs are only to be expected, as well as one or two lines about King of kings and the Lord omnipotent, but the section in the middle to which I refer is sung in unison:

The kingdom of this world

Is become

The kingdom of our Lord,

And of His Christ

And of His Christ

And then everyone breaks off into four-part harmony again.  Why?

Handel was a good Protestant.  Despite his stays in Italy, learning the ropes of Italian opera, he never wavered from his Protestantism, and while in London, faithfully attended his local parish church (St George’s Hanover Square), a fact of which the parish is still proud, and is one of the first things you see on their website…..  For Handel, the omnipotence of God was a given, so could be sung about in the same way as any other expression of praise.  However, the transformation of this world from the human order to the divine order is extraordinary, and is based upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to underline that point, the kingship of Christ, Handel has the choir sing about it in unison, so that no one can be in any doubt that Christ is king of all.

That is where we are today.  We have moved through the seasons, high and low, we have experienced the joys of Christmas and Easter and the deprivations of Advent and Lent.  We have slogged our way through every chapter of the Gospel of Mark, and now, as we approach a new liturgical year, we are reminded once again that Christ is king of the universe.  You may well protest that there isn’t much evidence of that, given the unholy mess that the world is in, but as an article of faith, it is worth repeating: Christ is king of the universe.

But we are good democrats, you may add, we have no need of a king.  Yes, but we are good democrats who live in a constitutional monarchy, we have made our peace with kingship and queenship and continue to hold it up as a measure of stability and idealized leadership, whether we want it there or not.  The King of Sweden may well ride around on a bicycle, the King of the Netherlands may well be a commercial airline pilot, but when push comes to shove, they are top dogs, to whom obedience is due and whose image appears on stamps and whose signature is required for laws to be enacted.

And the good people of France, who chopped the head off their own king (several centuries after we did) remain fascinated by monarchy the world over, and know exactly what it stands for while trumpeting their republican credentials and mimicking it in their presidential system.  We all know what “king” or “queen” means, and so we therefore know what “Christ the King” means.

Or do we?  And that is where the problem lies with today’s theme.  We all have our idea of kingship, of what it entails, of what it looks like, of what it means for us in terms of behaviour and belonging, but can any of that be applied to Christ?  We have a queen who famously doesn’t carry cash, who shouldn’t be spoken to until she has spoken to us, to whom we must bow or curtsey on meeting and possibly from whose presence we should walk backwards.  Apart from the not carrying cash – remember that Jesus, when he needed to pay the Roman tax, had to have someone else produce a coin for him to make his point – do any of those other things apply to Christ?  We have a queen who rides around in nice cars or gold carriages, in front of whom the roads are cleared by police and military personnel.  In Christ, we have a king who rides a donkey, in front of whom crowds strip branches from the bordering trees to make his triumphal way.  We have a queen who lives in several castles and palaces, and has several thrones on which to sit.  In Christ, we have a king who had no home to call his own, and who is arrayed in purple by mocking soldiers, once they have finished torturing him, and who is enthroned on a cross of wood.  I could go on, but you get my drift.

When we say that Christ is King, we are describing something completely different from any model of monarchy or human leadership that has ever existed in this world.  This is a kingship of love and self-giving.  This is a kingship of holiness and grace, of massive forgiveness and reconciliation.  This is a kingship that empties itself of everything to restore to us the fullness of his grace.  This is a kingship that embraces lepers, heals Gentiles, forgives those who drive in the nails into his wrists and feet, who draws the denier back to himself with love and generosity, who calls us to feast with him in bread and wine, who welcomes us into his presence at all times as we pray and as we worship.

And this is the king who sends us out to live in exactly that same way, the way of self-emptying and self-sacrifice, the way of love and compassion, the way of inclusion and of generosity.  We are supposed to be the ones by whom the world understands the kingship of Christ.  By looking at us, everyone around us should see the kingship of Christ worked out in what we say and what we do.  And that is terrifying, and challenging, and amazing, that this king should entrust to us such a mission.  But that is what today is all about – living Christ the King’s life in everything we say and do – individually and collectively.

May Christ, by his loving, gentle rule, enable us to demonstrate what love truly is, together and individually, today and always.

 

Remembrance Sunday 2018

Remembrance Sunday 2018

It seems very hard to imagine, but 100 years ago today, the guns on the Western Front, from the Belgian Coast to Swiss border, fell silent.  Soldiers put aside their rifles and the paraphernalia of war, and stepped warily out of trenches and dugouts into a world of peace. On a section of the line, an American sound recordist caught the moment the guns stopped firing, and the Imperial War Museum has posted the soundtrack on its website.  Right up to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the artillery was laying down a fearsome barrage on the enemy, but as that hour struck, silence reigns, and within 30 seconds, birdsong can be heard.  As humanity’s violence ebbs away, so the natural world reasserts itself.  As humanity’s destructive urges are curbed, so God’s way of living returns.

This morning’s readings capture that as well.  The remarkable passage from Jonah, where God changes his mind, describes a city-wide act of penitence that has world-altering effects.  But Nineveh is no ordinary city.  It was the capital of the Assyrian empire, situated on the east bank of the Tigris river, in what is now Northern Iraq.  Mosul is the nearest modern city today.  The Assyrians were renowned as the most ruthless people of the ancient near east.  They were a by-word for excessive violence and vicious destruction, so as we read that God intends to destroy them, we feel a frisson of hope – they deserve everything that they are going to get.  But God, who is always merciful, offers them the chance of escape if they repent – and they do, and God changes his mind and does not destroy them.

On this Remembrance Sunday, we read how Israel’s greatest enemy humbled itself before God, and was forgiven.  On this Remembrance Sunday, we read that a nation can turn away from violence and bloodshed, and walk humbly in God’s ways.  On this Remembrance Sunday, long-term enemies are transformed by the grace and mercy of almighty God.  That is our starting point, that is what we have to cling to from the outset: God will forgive those who repent of violence and hatred, and he will transform the lives of our worst enemies because of his love and mercy.

That is why the Allies, in 1918, fervently believed in the potential of the League of Nations.  They were exhausted by war, torn apart by grief and destruction and devastated by the flu epidemic that followed hard on the heels of the armistice.  Whole rural communities had been wiped out, city streets emptied of young men who never returned, the countries’ finances in tatters, so that even returning soldiers couldn’t find anywhere decent to live.  Peace was the only concern for the general population, and a way of living together that would not cause such a conflict again.

Alas, that hope was to prove vain, with the rise of nationalist and extreme political ideologies, that morphed from isolationist rhetoric to ideas of national purity to expansionist dreams of dominance of neighbours, and the whole awful cycle happened again.  It is that repetition within human history, that inability of humanity really to sort itself out once and for all, that leads the writer to the Hebrews to contrast that with Christ’s once and for all sacrifice of himself on the cross.  What God does once is effective for all time.  It takes humanity a lot longer to catch up.

So how do we live, how do we organise ourselves, so that cataclysmic wars do not recur?  How can lessons be learnt and past mistakes avoided?  The Syrians haven’t learnt that yet, the people of Yemen are on the end of a dreadful replaying of geopolitical violence.  Where can some good news be found, some Gospel?

Curiously, given all the passages about peace, about beating swords into ploughshares, about blessed are the peacemakers, we have read this morning the simple tale of Jesus calling Simon & Andrew, John & James, from their fishing businesses to follow him and “to catch people”.  Why?  The Gospel challenge is that it is in discipleship that the world shall discover how to live together, it is in following God With Us that we shall learn the way of God and be able to live it out.  These four rough fishermen drop everything, there and then, to follow this itinerant preacher, who promises to show them the Kingdom of Heaven.  And they have three years to watch him at work before they themselves will front the engine of the Kingdom of Heaven – the Church.  And from those three years of hands-on observation, they are expected to have absorbed sufficient for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What have they seen?  They have seen this Jesus touch lepers to heal them, he has talked with Gentiles and Samaritans about the love of God and his power to transform.  He has fed, not just a few, but thousands with enough to spare.  They have heard parables that bend their prejudices back into Godly shapes, they have stood by while Jesus went toe to toe with Pharisees, Sadducees and other religious professionals and left them speechless.  And then they have watched him turn away from violent resistance in the Garden of Gethsemane, endure torture in silence, express forgiveness as nails were driven into his hands and feet, show mercy to a penitent criminal and die in pitch darkness, acknowledged as the Son of God by a gentile soldier.  Buried in a rich man’s tomb, they find him resurrected, alive for ever, challenging them to take his words and ways to the whole world.  Ignited by the Holy Spirit, they do just that, turning the world back up the way it should always have been, and we are their successors.

Our discipleship, our close living out of the life of Christ, will be a means of maintaining peace, increasing peace, refusing the mistakes of the past.  We have to be the current Jesus, touching lepers, bringing together those who are at enmity with each other.  Our nation is split in two currently, in a seemingly unbridgeable way.  The faithful disciples of Christ must work hard to ensure that narrow-minded nationalism does not gain a foothold in our community, and that principles of inclusion and social justice are at the forefront of the way we organise ourselves.  We need to affirm visibly and practically that all are welcome here, amongst us, whatever they think, however they feel, whatever they believe, because we believe that all are loved by God in an equally generous way, so who are we to separate anyone from that divine love.  If our worshipping community is open and welcoming, refusing hatred and bigotry and challenging unjust practices and attitudes, then that openness and welcome will spill out into the streets where we live, into the places where we work, and take Christ’s all inclusive love there.

This weekend happens also to be the 80th anniversary of Kristalnacht, the day that Nazi anti-semitic violence was fully unleashed on the Jews of Germany.  Those anti-semitic sentiments can still be found today, amazingly – why, only last week a synagogue was murderously attacked in the USA, by someone spouting exactly the same rhetoric that was prevalent in Germany and Italy in 1938.  There is no place for such thoughts, let alone such actions in our contemporary world.  It was a joy yesterday to share in worship at Richmond Synagogue, as they marked on their Sabbath the centenary of the Armistice.  But to be part of that service, your name has to be on a list of guests, and the locked gate carefully opened to let you in, for fear of violence and outrage.  That happened at every synagogue in our land yesterday, and is a blight on our country.  The Jewish Community is wonderfully welcoming, sophisticated and eat together like kings, and yet there is an underlying fear in all their hearts.

The winter night shelter project is another practical way in which the faith communities are expressing their discipleship, as they welcome that too painfully seen group of people, the rough sleepers, to the 7 centres across the borough.  Lives are transformed by this project, not just saved in the cold of winter.  Pray for the project, volunteer if you can (especially if you can do a Saturday night), donate socks and gloves and woolly hats, or send money direct to Glass Door.  3 primary skools are involved in feeding the homeless guests at St John the Divine on Thursday nights & St Matthias on a Saturday night – young lives influenced in good discipleship by this project.  Therein lies the future of social inclusion, surely, and therein lies the future of peace.

It is easy to despair on days like this, to be ground down by the enormity of the sacrifice those millions of men, women and children made during two world wars and other conflicts.  But the simple Gospel message of faithful discipleship offers us a practical way of drawing all society into the loving, peaceful ways of God.  Penitence for past errors, learning the lessons of the past, and practicing inclusion and welcome passionately and realistically – that is God’s way of bringing this wonderful world into the ways of love and peace that he intends for it.

Trinity 16 1018

Trinity 16 1018

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, of a man who attends church for the first time, and gets into conversation with the vicar after the service.  The vicar asks him what he does, he replies that he is a bit of a musician, so the vicar invites him to bring his guitar along the next Sunday and play for the congregation.  When he had finished his solo acoustic account of In the presence of the Lord, the congregation realised that Eric Clapton had moved into their village.  Fully knowing who someone is can take a while.

When we read a Bible passage today, we read with at least 2000 years of reading behind us, and more if we are reading from the Hebrew scriptures.  Thus, when we hear the extract from Isaiah, it rings various bells in our minds, which set off other trains of thought, and we swiftly move from a 6th BCE prophet to Jesus being mocked by Roman guards before his crucifixion.

But take a step back, and try to put yourself in the shoes of a Jew listening to this text for the first time.  Where was it first heard?  Who was talking?  And to whom?  Modern scholarship dates this text to the Babylonian exile, a 70 year period when the majority of the Jewish nation was enslaved by the Babylonians, to work across what is now modern Iraq.  The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, their king lead away in chains with his eyes put out.  Everything was finished.  And then, as they gathered to talk of the old country, and to recite psalms together in a place that was approaching holy – by water, outside the Gentile city – this prophet got up and uttered these words.  In the first person.  Speaking with God’s authority.

Who is the servant?  Why does the servant suffer?  Surely the servant is innocent – how can this be?  Jewish theology at the time would blame the people themselves for all the catastrophes that had befallen them.  They had not kept the law, they had strayed to foreign gods, they had disobeyed God and formed alliances with Gentile nations, they had not trusted in their God to keep them safe.  But a new generation is growing up, one which was not part of those who had abandoned their God, and they surely are innocent, yet suffering.  They must learn patience, they must find again the ways of their God and walk in them, and they will be justified.  So, the first answer to the question, “who is the servant”, is the nation of Israel, reborn in synagogue worship and the rediscovery of the Law and Scripture, in exile.

Scroll forward a few generations, the people are back in their own land, and this passage is read again, in the newly rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem.  Who is the servant now?  Is everything written by Isaiah fulfilled by their return?  No, things are still difficult, Israel is not paradise – there must be a different interpretation of this servant text – there must be a servant, an individual, who will fulfil all these words – and a Messiah is born.  So, answer number two is, the Messiah.

Scroll forward again to the time of Jesus, and as his followers watch his miracles and hear his words, as they listen to him preach and teach, then watch him suffer innocently, their minds are turned again to this text, and they see in Jesus this Messiah – and when Jesus asks them about what people are saying about him, they can say for themselves that they think he is the Messiah.

Fine and dandy, you think, but then Jesus proceeds to paint a very different picture of what the Messiah is and does.  The disciples, nurtured on a messianic theology of deliverance and independence, reject what Jesus is saying, to the extent that Jesus has to use the same language with them that he used in the wilderness as he was being tempted – the disciples have become the tempter, and Jesus must resist them, and teach them the true meaning of Messiahship.

And that meaning is hard.  Jesus talks in terms of a life of suffering, carrying around with us the means of our own execution.  This isn’t remotely comforting, nor will it drive out the Romans, but it will lead the disciples into the mind of God.  As they look back, post Easter, on the terrible things that happened and then look at the resurrected Jesus, sat with them beside Lake Galilee or in the upper room, they see their God in action in the most radical way.  A God who loves extremely – they can see the marks of that love, the nail prints in his palms, the gash in his side, the imprint of the thorns on his brow – and this Jesus they thought they knew, this Messiah they thought they understood, has taken them somewhere completely different.  And now they must love in the same way, so that the whole world can understand and meet and know the God who loves them to death and beyond.

We still today have to answer the question that Jesus put to his disciples.  Who do we say that Jesus is?  He is certainly not the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” of our childhood, or the baby who never cries in the Christmas carol.  We have heard him today treat his most loyal disciple as the devil incarnate.  Last week he used the term “dog” of a Gentile woman in not so friendly banter.  According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, he would berate Amazon for not contributing properly to the nation’s wealth in their taxes and condemn the employment practices of modern industry.

Today, where would we find our Jesus?  Is there room for him at work?  If he did come to your workplace this week, how would he react to what is going on?  And how would you explain his radical love to your colleagues?  In our homes, where is Jesus?  On a shelf, with our other books about religion? And if he wandered in here, what would he make of us?  And could we possibly sit down and eat with him?

As the concept of the suffering servant evolved into a Messiah, who then overturned all those preconceptions with his death-defying love, so may our understanding of the Christ, and our image of the living God, inspire us to live and to love as he did, that this world may be transformed into his likeness and all come to see his glory for what it really is – a life lived for others.