Saturday, 30 June 2018

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”: a sermon (Mark 5:21-43)

My talk is at least partly based on a quote that’s sometimes attributed to a former Beatle, the late John Lennon:  “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  (Actually, he wasn’t the first person to say it.  The quote was around for a few years before that, but Lennon used the quote in his song “Beautiful Boy”, celebrating the birth of one of his sons.  But even though someone else said it first, almost everyone now attributes the quote to John Lennon.)

Anyway, whoever said it first, it’s a good quote:   “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”   I’ll get back to it in a few minutes.

Our gospel lesson tells us about a time when Jesus was interrupted in the middle of doing something important – to do something else which was equally important.

Jesus was asked by a man named Jairus to see his daughter, who was ill and on the point of death.  Jesus agreed and went with Jairus to his home to see the little girl. 

Now, there’s one interesting thing about Jairus.  Mark describes Jairus as being either one of the “leaders of the synagogue” or one of the “rulers of the synagogue”, depending on the translation you’re using.  In the original Greek, the word used for Jairus and his colleagues was archisynagogus. 

To be an archisynagogus, didn’t mean that Jairus was a rabbi or anything like that, but a lay member of the congregation with a lot of responsibilities around the place. 

·        It may have been that no one else could be bothered doing anything, so “Good ol’ Jairus’ll do it”.   

·        Or it may have been that Jairus really liked being the bloke in charge of things and didn’t want to share the responsibilities.

Mark doesn’t really tell us, but the tone in which he tells the story gives the feeling that Jairus was a decent bloke.  (And that’s the thing about archisynagoguses:  ministers tend to complain and joke about the bad ones (I know I do!), but many archisynagoguses are good people, like Jairus.)

Anyway, from my almost 39 years of experience in ministry, I know that one of the keys for a minister to survive in ministry is how the minister relates to the Jairuses and the other archisynagoguses in the congregations.

Anyway, Jesus, and Jairus, and the disciples were on their way to Jairus’s house to check out how the little girl was doing when … something else happened.  A woman suffering from a debilitating gynaecological ailment decides that all she needed to do was to touch Jesus’s clothing and she’d be healthy.

That’s what she did.

Voila!  That’s what happened.

Jesus has a bit of a conversation with the lady and then it’s back on the road. 

By the time they get to Chez Jairus, the child had died.  While it’s touch-and-go for a while, Jesus does his thing.  By the end of the story, the kid was alive, awake, healthy, and eating lunch.

Meanwhile, the lady whom Jesus encountered on the road was starting to get on with her life again.

And, as we’re reminded in the song, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”   

Friday, 22 June 2018

"Is anybody there? Does anybody care?": a sermon (Mark 4:35-41)

I don’t know if anyone else here is familiar with the musical 1776.   Being a history tragic, I particularly enjoy it, as I’ve enjoyed it ever since I saw it on stage in New York City when I was in high school.  The musical is based on the political wheeling-and-dealing leading up to the United States Declaration of Independence in the year 1776 (and thus the title).

One of the great musical and dramatic moments of 1776, is a scene at a time when all the various political issues and all the wheeling-and-dealing are up in the air.  The musical’s central character John Adams is alone on stage and he poses the question (to his fellow-politicians, to his fellow-citizens, to future generations, to God, and to anyone who would listen) “Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

For any person of faith, whatever the faith, this pair of questions is the central religious question:  “Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?” 

And the two questions go hand-in-hand.  Even though the writer Kurt Vonnegut once had a character in one of his novels who was the founder of a religious sect called The Church of the Utterly Indifferent God, very few people would want to worship a god whom they believed was “utterly indifferent”.

Therefore, in today’s Gospel lesson, when the disciples woke Jesus up, during a wild storm on the lake while they were all in a small fishing boat, and they said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”, they were asking Jesus the single most profound religious question of all:  “Don’t you care?”

“Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

In many ways, the second part of the question is the primary question.  I believe a god who doesn’t care is worse than no god at all.  There would be very few people wanting to sign up to become part of The Church of the Utterly Indifferent God, … and rightly so.

“Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

At one extreme of the faith spectrum are those who worship a god so remote as to be totally removed from the concerns of our human life in any shape or form, a god who is completed uninterested in the welfare of people.

At the other extreme of the faith spectrum are those who worship a god who’s a bit of a bully, a god who will send people off to be fuel for an eternal BBQ just for getting their theology wrong (just as some politicians will deliberately mistreat vulnerable people to get cheap votes from the underbelly of the electorate).

In each of these images of God, is a sense of an “Utterly Indifferent” god who, when asked “Don’t you care?”, will blithely answer “Not really.”

For many people out there in our wider community, the prevalence of these two images of God is a principal reason for their disbelief in any god, in any form.

 “Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

All major faiths worship the God who cares about human well-being.  As Christians in particular, we worship a Jesus-shaped God, God who took human form to demonstrate the divine compassion.

“Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

The answer of the Gospel is “Yes!