How far would you go for Jesus?

I’ve been give the task of kicking of holiday club on Monday morning by leading devotions for our many wonderful volunteers. Here’s what I’ll be saying:

 

This morning I am fulfilling something of a childhood ambition. No, my ambition as a child growing up in East Kent was not to do the Monday morning leaders’ devotions at Lighthouse High Wycombe! But I did desperately want to play one of the 3 kings in the school nativity play. An ambition which was sadly never fulfilled because, at my primary school at least, only boys got to be kings. I was an angel, a sheep, and once even an alien, but never a king.

So, when Calvin asked me to talk to you this morning, and I discovered that the story we’re looking at with the children today was the story of the 3 kings visiting Jesus, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. So here I am, at last, onstage in my cloak and homemade crown.

Except… the Bible doesn’t actually talk about kings visiting Jesus.

Ok, so the 3 wise men.

Except… the Bible doesn’t actually tell us there were three of them. And it doesn’t even tell us that they were necessarily all men – the word Magi could just as soon apply to a mixed gender group.

So what do we know about them?! We know that they had travelled a long way. We can safely assume that the journey had not been easy. No aeroplanes in those days of course. And not necessarily any camels either – that’s another thing that’s not in the Bible. And they didn’t have Google maps. They followed a star.

They went on a long, hard journey. It was a journey involving a lot of trust: trust that the star was leading them the right way, trust that God’s prophecies about the Messiah were true. It can’t have been an easy undertaking for them, whoever they were.

So why did they do it? Because they wanted to see Jesus. They so desperately longed to see the Christ, the promised saviour, that they were willing to go to any lengths. And when they finally did see him, the Bible tells us “they bowed down and worshipped him”. Because really, what else could they do?!

But what did they see? Who is this Jesus, this Christ, this saviour, Messiah, light of the world, who was worth going to so much trouble?

If you do a Google image search for Jesus, the first few pages mainly look a bit like this:

Jesus

Of course, none of us actually knows what Jesus really looks like. It’s worth seeing how different artists from different cultures have portrayed Jesus. It tells us something important about what Jesus means to different people, and in that way we can start to build up a broader picture of who Jesus is.

So, have a look at these images. Notice how each one makes you feel – which “Inside Out” character or characters it connects with for you – joy, sadness, disgust… or maybe something else. Notice which images you like and which you don’t, and which ones make you want to find out more.

[Click here to see the video.]

One of the questions we’ll be exploring with the children today is this: how far will you go to know Jesus? So this morning I want to ask you: how far will you go to help these children know Jesus?

I’m not talking about physical distance, but how far will you go out of your way? How far will you go out of your comfort zone? How far will you go to help these children really get to know who Jesus is and what he’s all about, beyond what they might have encountered before? That’s my challenge to you today and throughout the week.

And if you don’t know Jesus, if following him isn’t part of your life at the moment, I ask you: how far will you go to know Jesus? I’m not asking you to trek across deserts! But maybe go so far as to ask someone who is a Christian to tell you why they follow Jesus. See if it makes sense. Maybe go so far as to speak to God in your head, to just try praying, and see what happens. It’s up to you how far you want to go, but I can tell you this: Jesus would go to any lengths for you.

And that’s the message we want the children to get this week too. We have a wonderful saviour, a loving God, a king who doesn’t need a crown. And I truly believe, in fact I know, that he is longing to transform the life of every child, teenager and adult who sets foot on the Lighthouse site this week. How far will you go to make sure they know that too?

It’s the Good News, the best news there is, and we have a chance this week to share it with hundreds of children: they – we – are infinitely loved, endlessly forgiven, totally free in Jesus Christ. So let’s pull out all the stops and go however far we need to, to get that message across – to ourselves, to one another, and above all to the children.

Let’s pray.

 

 

 

 

Firm foundations – a sermon for Eucharist with Baptism and Admission to Holy Communion

Colossians 2.6-15, Luke 11.1-13

[Look at what the children have built with the Megablocks.]

We need firm foundations. Before we start building, we need to make sure we’re building on something solid, something which can support what we build.

[Demonstrate what happens when you build Megablocks without firm enough foundations – they fall over.]

Firm foundations are important. And, as in Megablocks, so in life. What are the foundations on which we build our lives? That’s something which both the readings we heard this morning touch on. It’s also a suitable subject for a baptism and admission to communion service.

I sometimes have the pleasure of visiting families who are preparing for their child to be baptised. I often ask “What made you want to have your child baptised?” and the answer almost always includes some variation on wanting to give them a good start in life. And isn’t that what we all want for our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, godchildren?

And it’s what God wants for us too – however old we get, we are still God’s children and God, like any good parent, wants what’s best for us. Our Bible reading today portrays God as a loving parent, always giving God’s children – us – the things that will be good for us and not harm us.

But it doesn’t always seem quite that straightforward, does it? Perhaps when you turn on the news, and it seems there is more and more violence and hatred and chaos in the world; perhaps when someone you love is ill or in trouble or no longer around; perhaps then it doesn’t seem enough to say “ask, and it will be given to you”.

That’s where foundations come in. Our first reading talked about being “rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith”. And that is what we are here to celebrate today. In baptism, Emmanuel becomes rooted in the church, fully part of the body of Christ. But that isn’t the end of the journey of course – it is the beginning. All through his life he will, with the help of God and the guidance of his family, god parents and the whole church of which he is a part, continue to be built up in Christ. His identity in Christ, through his baptism today, will become a key part of the foundations on which his life is built.

And as Ashvin comes today to begin receiving the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we can see the fruit of his journey with God so far, as he too is rooted and built up in Christ. For him, as for all of us, communion will be one of the vital ways in which he continues to be built up in Christ, as his faith continues to develop and his journey with God goes on.

For all of us, our rooting, grounding, foundation in Christ is what builds us up – in the sacraments of baptism and communion, in prayer, in love of God, neighbour and enemy, in forgiveness.

Our faith does not let us get away from the mess and chaos and pain of the world, and of our own lives. But it does give us a foundation to build on – a foundation which holds firm in every season, whatever comes our way. That foundation is Jesus, whose body we are.

Being rooted in Christ, built on firm foundations, should not enable us to rise above the problems of the world. It should not enable us to pass unscathed through the difficult times in our lives. But it should enable us to remain in Christ, in whatever situation we find ourselves, and to live as people of peace, joy, love, and hope, as signs of Jesus’ love for all people. In short to shine as lights in the world to the glory of God – as we will pray at the end of this baptism service.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives his followers the prayer we now know as the Lord’s Prayer. It is prayed in every church, in every language, around the world, and has been throughout the ages. It is, if you like, the foundation of our shared life of prayer. It has been said that if you pray the Lord’s Prayer, you will have prayed everything that is necessary. It is a prayer to use in all circumstances.

As Ashvin and the other children being admitted to communion prepared for this important step, we explored praying the Lord’s Prayer not only with words, but also using our whole bodies. We’d like to invite you to share in that now and, as we do so, to reflect on the foundations on which your life in Christ is built.

[Lord’s Prayer body prayer.]

 

Mary, Martha, and the choices we make – a sermon

Here we have the story of two sisters: Mary and Martha. Martha is busy. She’s got guests. She’s cooking the food, serving the food, doing the washing up. There’s so much to do! And what is her sister Mary doing? Nothing! Not lifting a finger to help. Just sitting there listening to Jesus. No wonder Martha is annoyed – I think I would be too. Shouldn’t Mary be doing her share?

But Jesus takes a different view. “Mary has chosen the better part,” he says. Isn’t that what we all want – to choose the better part, to make the right decisions. But how should we choose? What is the “better part”?

We all make choices all the time.

[choosing game]

Some choices are trivial, they don’t really matter. But other choices are really important. Some will even change the rest of our lives. So how do we make those important choices?

We, like Mary, need to “choose the better part”. We need to draw near to Jesus, to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying, to spend time in prayer trying to discern the will of God for us. And then, out of that contemplation, we need to choose and to act.

Good choices come from listening to Jesus.

Good choices come from single-minded – single-hearted – focus on God, without any distraction. That is what Mary is choosing when she chooses “the better part”. This is what we too are called to, and out of this devotion to God, out of prayer, all other choices should flow.

There are some big choices, some important choices – some life-changing choices even – being made here is morning. Oliver’s parents have chosen to bring him to be baptised. Steffan and Carys have chosen for themselves to be baptised. And Carys, Steffan, Sam, Leila, and Fraser have chosen to begin receiving the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

All of these choices have come from these children’s – and their families’ – desire to draw closer to Jesus, to follow God’s call to them, to live life guided by the Holy Spirit. The choices they make today are, very definitely, “the better part”. These choices to receive the sacraments of baptism and communion will, in their turn, enable these children to draw still nearer to Jesus as they continue to seek God’s will in their lives.

Learning to listen to Jesus, to focus fully on God, is a life-long journey. Choosing, and going on choosing, to follow Jesus is the difference which will make the greatest difference to every aspect of your life.

If you have not been baptised and would like to be – or would like to bring your child for baptism; if you would like to start receiving communion; if you have seen the notice about confirmation and are interested in finding out more about what that means and whether it is a choice you might want to consider; if any of these sound like you, come and talk to us. Talk to me, to Hugh, to Jackie, to any of the ministry team. Talk to us today. That applies to absolutely everyone.*

We will be so delighted to walk with you as you work out the choices which will help you live your life focused on Jesus – to live in peace, joy, love, hope.

And to everyone, all of you, at whatever stage you are at on your journey with God, I offer this challenge: How will you hear God’s voice? How will you choose to listen to Jesus? What choices is the Holy Spirit calling you to make?


 

*And it applies to people reading this online too. If this is you, find someone to talk to about it! Your local clergy will be delighted to hear from you, I’m sure. If you don’t have anyone local you feel you can talk to, feel free to get in touch online.