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The challenge of choosing the way of God – The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)

Sunday 1 March 2020 – Lent 1 – 10am Choral Eucharist

Genesis 2.15-17; 3.1-7 & Matthew 4.1-11

‘So what happened after you were baptised by John?’

Jesus was sitting with a few of his disciples talking about old times. As always they were asking him questions. Usually their questions were about things he had said or done that they did not understand but this evening they were asking him about the story of his life. He had told them what he knew of his birth from his mother and father. They had asked him about his earliest memories and he told them about the time he stayed in the Temple in Jerusalem when his parents had left to return to Nazareth. He had been talking to some interesting old men so intently that he forgot his family were leaving that day. He described the look on his mother’s face when they eventually found him, a mixture of fury, relief, confusion and exhaustion …. he said he still felt guilty about that incident. Then he told them about his baptism in the Jordan by John.

The disciples were enjoying having Jesus to themselves for once, usually there were crowds of people milling around.

Young Mark asked the question about what happened after his baptism. He had it at the back of his mind that one day someone would have to write some of these things down. Fortunately, Mark had a good memory and a good eye for detail.

‘Even as I climbed out of the Jordan’ Jesus said, ‘I was not sure what I was going to do next. I suppose I could have stayed with John and his disciples as I worked out what to do but in the end I felt I needed to be on my own so I wandered out into the wilderness. I should have been scared. I had not prepared and the wilderness is a dangerous place, but I wasn’t scared at all. I felt strangely calm. It felt like it was the right thing to do, the right place to be.’

‘To start with it was awful. I couldn’t sleep and as I wasn’t eating I was hungry all the time. But after a few days, none of that seemed to matter anymore, I got used to just dozing from time to time – in fact I began to feel closer to God than I had ever done before.’

‘When I was little I remember watching my dad in his workshop.’ Jesus was enjoying this, he seemed to be wandering off the point of the question but his disciples didn’t want to stop him. ‘My dad was very strong and very clever. He never panicked – he always found a way to repair whatever people brought him whether it was a plough or a chair. It seemed to me he could do anything. And best of all, when he had finished work for the day he would pick me up and take me outside to play or to tell me stories or to teach me how to do some woodwork myself. He made me feel safe and he always made me feel loved. Once, when I was about 5 years old, he picked me up and it felt as though someone had poured a bucket of love over me. It’s a funny way to describe it, but that’s how it felt, I felt drenched in love. It didn’t happen that way again, but it didn’t need to, I understood something deep inside that could never be taken away from me. As I wandered or sat in the wilderness I had exactly the same feeling about God, I felt safe, secure and drenched in love. I knew deep inside that I wasn’t just the child of Mary and Joseph, I was also God’s child, God’s Son.’

‘When there are no people and there is no food and there is no pressure your thinking becomes very clear. I finally realised that my calling was to let others know that God is like a loving Father who holds each one of us and showers us all with his mercy, forgiveness and love. I began to wonder how I was going tell, or better still, show people something of God’s love and power.’

‘I thought about asking God to help me turn some stones into bread. That was very tempting, not only would doing something impossible show them the power of God, but I could practise while I was in the wilderness and have something to eat. I thought long and hard but every time I thought of doing it the words I heard as I walked out of the Jordan after my baptism echoed in my head. ‘You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ I had never done any ‘tricks’ before in fact all I had done was to be the son of Mary and Joseph and God still loved me ….. God didn’t want me to do ‘tricks’.

‘One day I climbed to the top of a high rock. I could see for miles. It felt as though I could see the whole world. I thought about the powerful people in the world, the politicians, the merchants, the people with influence and I wondered whether I should seek fame and notoriety in one of those ways so that people would take notice of me and listen to things I have to say. A powerful wind blew as I looked down on the world, I felt confident that I could succeed in politics or in business, then, in my mind, I went back to the Jordan and heard those words again ‘You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ I never sought success and power before, I just helped my dad mend ploughs and tables …. and God still loved me …… he didn’t want me to seek worldly success and power.

‘I can remember sometimes seeing people being crucified by the Romans. It was horrible to witness but strangely compelling, people like to see the drama of suffering and danger. I wondered about climbing to the top of the temple and throwing myself off. People would notice that, and I was certain that God would somehow protect me and keep me safe. People would come and listen to me then, the man who God saved. As I worked out how I might accomplish this remarkable feat the same words began to echo in my mind again. ‘You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ The most dangerous and dramatic thing I had ever done was to dive in to the Sea of Galilee near where we lived from a high cliff with some of my friends. I was about 14 and a few of us were just messing about playing ‘dare’, that’s all I had done and God still loved me .….. he didn’t want me to play ‘dare’ anymore.’

The disciples shifted uneasily. Jesus could tell something was troubling them.

‘Thomas, have you got a question?’ Thomas was usually the one who asked the questions nobody else was brave enough to ask.

‘Errr …. ummmm….. I think I understand all that, but ….. but …..’

‘But what?’ Jesus challenged Thomas. He knew he’d spit his question out eventually.

‘Well, you know you said you decided not to do a ‘trick’ with the stones and the bread?’ Thomas was ok once he started. ‘Well, we all remember you feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, everyone had plenty to eat and there were twelve baskets of food left over …. wasn’t that a bit of a trick?’

‘Well,’ Jesus began to explain. Thomas interrupted.

‘And you said you didn’t want to get people to listen to you by being successful and powerful, well we can all remember you standing on the mountainside teaching and telling stories and there were thousands and thousands of people there, all listening, all hanging on your every word ….. you were pretty successful and powerful that day weren’t you?

‘Well,’ Jesus began to explain, Thomas interrupted again.

‘And you said you didn’t want to play ‘dare’ anymore. Well, we can all remember sailing across the Lake one night in a storm and you walked across the water to us and then you invited Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the waves with you. That looked a little bit like you were playing ‘dare’ then!

All the disciples looked at Thomas amazed at his candour and his courage … they turned to see how Jesus would respond. He was chuckling. He went over to Thomas and embraced him, still laughing.

Still smiling, Jesus sat down. It was late now and they were all getting tired. ‘I fed the five thousand because they were hungry. I taught and told stories to people on the mountainside because they were hungry for teaching, I didn’t ask them to come, they just followed. I came to you in the storm because you were frightened and I invited Peter to walk with me to show what he was capable of, not to show off what I can do. All these things that I have done and everything that I have ever done, every miracle, every healing, every bit of teaching, every story I have ever told has all come from love, a love of others, simple compassion, a desire to feed the hungry. If I had done things the way I thought about doing them in the wilderness I would have been doing them simply to show and to exert power – that’s the ‘way of the world’ and I won’t have anything to do with it. I go the way of God and the way of God is love.

Often, when Jesus spoke, the disciples didn’t really understand. But they understood this. They all began to settle down to sleep. The way of God is love. They slept well because at that time they had no idea what would happen to Jesus when the ‘way of the world’ collided with the ‘way of God’.

 

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