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Sermon for 13 March 2016


Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4-14, John 12:1-8

I spent yesterday morning in Diocesan Synod. The Synod is the Parliament of Canterbury Diocese; it’s the place where the vision and strategy of the church in this part of the country is developed and approved. It’s a bit like a PCC for the whole Diocese. And it’s part of what’s called the Synodical structure of the Church of England - which provides an elected Council of this sort at every level of church life - parish, Deanery, Diocese and National.

Sounds dull huh? 

And I can tell you, it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my Saturday morning.

It was brilliant. It was put together with wonderful care and attention. There were probably 250 people from around the Diocese there. And a real buzz of excitement about the future. 

One of the speakers was Head of Ministry for the Church of England nationally. He said a couple of things that struck me. We’re tired of the language of decline in the church, he said, There’s a new conversation starting and he went on to say that this conversation, which is about growth and risk and creativity and mission and discipleship, this conversation is like water going down a hill. There may be some things that get in the way, and block it for a while, but in the end, you can’t stop it. The water is travelling down the hill, and hope is flowing again.

And he said this new conversation is taking us back to our fundamental task as Christians - which is the redemption of the world in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s our job - to work with God to redeem the world. To restore it to the way it was first made. That’s what God announces in the reading from Isaiah - I am about to do a new thing and as a result there are going to be rivers in the desert and ways in the wilderness.

And our job is to be the engineers who build those new ways and who clear the blockages across the new rivers. The church is the community that God has called out from the world to be a blessing to the world - those who work to bring peace and mercy and justice; to build communities that welcome the stranger; to provide food to those who are going without; to be a friend to the lonely. 

And the gospel today is all about people who are blessing those around them. People who are redeeming the world, and restoring it to the way it was meant to be.

There’s Lazarus, who is throwing a thank you party. A celebration of getting his life back again. In the previous chapter of John’s gospel he dies and is buried, when Jesus turns up and gives him his life back. And Lazarus’ response isn’t just to get on with his new life - he throws a party - his way of blessing his friends in response to the blessing he has received.

And the food at this party is cooked and served by Martha. We know Martha was good at that kind of thing - we’ve met her already at another meal, when she was busy bustling around getting everything ready for Jesus. And her sister Mary was there on that day too - sitting down beside Jesus and listening to him, when Martha snapped at her to come and pull her finger out. 

And now here she is again, blessing Jesus and the other guests with her skills in the kitchen, waiting at table and serving them all. And there’s no complaining this time, not even when her sister does something crazy. 

And what Mary does really is crazy. She blesses Jesus by anointing him with perfume - massively expensive oil. In todays money it cost perhaps £15,000, but she did it anyway, using it to anoint her Messiah - and Messiah means, The Anointed One. She anointed the anointed one with everything she had, and she didn’t spare her shame either. In a traditionally gendered culture, women didn’t touch men, and women certainly didn’t let their hair down in public, and let’s be honest, wiping someone’s feet with your hair is weird isn’t it? It would be shocking today - but back then it was a disgrace. But she didn’t care; she knew that the clock was ticking for Jesus, and she wanted to bless him with her best, even if it cost her her dignity. 

And surrounding all this blessing, all this generosity and kindness is Jesus. And he doesn’t just bless others by doing things, he is blessing. A living blessing to all those that turn to him. 

He blesses Lazarus by giving him his life back - even though it is going to cost him his life. A couple of verses before our reading for today starts, it’s made very clear that it’s when he raises Lazarus that the Chief Priests and Pharisees decide that they’ve got to silence him. The price Jesus pays to bless Lazarus with life, is his own death.

And he blesses Mary by affirming her and accepting her crazy, undignified gift of perfume. 

And in all of this he reveals himself as the source of all blessing, the one that Paul talks about when he says I regard everything I have as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus. Jesus is the one from whom all blessings flow.

And I see that at work in our church community here. I see blessings received from God being shared with others.

I was talking to someone in our church community yesterday. She volunteers at the Hospice in the Weald, and one of the thing she does is to massage those who are nearing the end of their lives. She talked about massaging the face of a young woman, just 31 years old. She told her she was beautiful, and with great compassion, she gave that young woman dignity and love. That’s blessing someone. That’s redemption at work. 

And I was here at Cafe Toddlers on Friday. It was packed with Mums, Dads, Grannies and their little ones, and community was being built, and friendships were being made, and the church was hosting it. That’s blessing people. That’s redemption at work. 

And it was Alpha on Tuesday night, and I asked whether anyone wanted to be baptised. And two people said they would. Two people who want to turn to Christ and to follow his way and to submit to his rule. That’s how we bless people. That’s redemption at work. 

And it’s the time of year when we start to look ahead to the Annual Meeting - our APCM - when we set a vision for the next 12 months, and we’re working hard on that vision at the moment. And we’re not quite there yet, but we have a pretty good idea of what we think we’re called to this year.

And part of that is a bold new vision for growing our ministry to children and young people. And more of that at the APCM.

But we think there’s something else that we’re all called to. Two years ago we spent a year Getting to know God and each other better. Over the last 12 months we have focussed on God’s Calling and this year we want to encourage everyone to be a blessing to a person, or a group of people. More on that soon, but in essence we are going to invite you all to consider who you might choose to look out for this next year, in a deliberate way. It might be your immediate neighbours; it might be a couple of families that you know in the school playground; or someone you see in the shops or on your dog walk every day. 

And then ask God to show you how you can be a blessing to them. Certainly that means to pray for them, regularly and deliberately. It might mean some practical help of some sort, it might mean an invitation to something that we’re running at church, it might mean starting off by getting to know them. And just imagine what might happen, if every one of us here today began to deliberately bless 2 or 3 or 4 people - imagine what God might do with that. Imagine how the kingdom might grow. Imagine how the world around us might be redeemed. 

The water is running down the hill, hope is flowing, and God is doing a new thing.        Amen

Posted: 13/03/2016 at 18:01
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