Reflection – 12 July 2020

Here’s my reflection for Sunday 12 July

The online worship session will start at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week .

If you want to join in just email me – newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com – for details. We’d love to see you.

Mark Taylor

Call to Worship

To the fisherman Jesus said:

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.

To the tax collector Jesus said:

“Follow me.”

To the rich man Jesus said:

“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor,

and you will have treasure in heaven;

then come, follow me.”

At the last supper Jesus said:

“Follow me.”

To you and to me and to all of us Jesus says:

Follow me!

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
The one and only Christ,
You called many people
From many walks of life –
To leave their own ways and follow you;
To be your disciples;
And to prize people as something to seek, find and restore.

Lord Jesus,
The one true leader of every church,
We choose to stand as one church – your church –
And to lift our focus from our differences and divides.
We will leave our own ways and follow you together;
Support each other as we seek to be your disciples;
And work together to focus on fishing once more.

For we must act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly together
Before you – and each other.
For the sake of our worship of you,
Our love for each other,
And the future and freedom of all those still living in poverty.

Lord Jesus,
We ask for your Spirit’s help with this
For we are quick to focus on ourselves, our labels and our differences
Rather than the same nets in our hands, and the same leader before us.
Christ have mercy – in your precious name which unites us all. 

Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

The theme for the next two months is ‘leaning into God’.

Today I want us to think about how some New Testament people committed themselves to God.

But first – who can recognise these three people?

They are an American folk group from the 1960s

They had hits with ‘Leavin’ on a Jet Plane,’ Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’.

They were Peter, Paul and Mary.

And by happy coincidence it’s Peter, Paul and Mary I want to talk about a bit today.

But not these ones.

Let’s have our first reading

Reading 1 Mark 1:14-20 – Jesus calls four fishermen

After John had been put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee and preached the Good News from God. “The right time has come,” he said, “and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!”

As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net. Jesus said to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people.” At once they left their nets and went with him.

He went a little farther on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in their boat getting their nets ready. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called them; they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus.

Of course there’s no mention of anyone called Peter, Paul or Mary in this reading – but I’m sure some of us know that the Simon that Jesus calls in this story is later renamed by Jesus as Peter after the Greek word for Rock – Petros.

So here’s Jesus wandering along the beach and he comes across these four chaps Simon, Andrew, James and John. All fishermen. And he says ‘Come with me – follow me’. And they do.

Now as a recruitment strategy this leaves something to be desired I think.

When I was at work I recruited quite a lot of people to all sorts of jobs. I had to go to the Personnel department for advice every time. I had to provide a job description – what exactly was it that I wanted them to do – and a person specification – what skills, qualifications and attributes did I want them to have that meant they’d likely be able to do the job.

And then there’d be a selection process. An application form to fill in, long listing and shortlisting – and then an interview of the best candidates. Sometimes there would be practice exercises to do – show me how you would prioritise these things in your in-tray. Show me how you can contribute to or chair a meeting. For important jobs the selection process might be over two days.

Usually after all this effort and time you ended up with someone good. But not every time. Sometimes you still ended up with a donkey instead of a racehorse.

So what was going through Jesus’ mind when he chose these 4 chaps do you think.

What’s the Job Description –

  • to help me teach a nation and later the world about God.

Now what skills will I need them to have to do that?

  1. Good at public speaking
  2. Advanced qualification in theology
  3. 5 years experience of working in the temple
  4. Ability to assimilate and explain new ideas.

Where should I go to find the right people?

I know – the beach

What selection process should I use?

I’ll just walk along and pick the first four likely lads that I come across and ask them if they want a job.

My HR adviser would have had an apoplexy.

Let’s listen to our first hymn

Hymn: Will you come and follow me – John Bell

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Time for our second reading

Reading 2 Acts 9:1-20 – The Conversion of Saul

In the meantime Saul kept up his violent threats of murder against the followers of the Lord. He went to the High Priest and asked for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he should find there any followers of the Way of the Lord, he would be able to arrest them, both men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem.

As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?”

 “Who are you, Lord?” he asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said. “But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.”

The men who were traveling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but could not see a thing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. For three days he was not able to see, and during that time he did not eat or drink anything.

There was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. He had a vision, in which the Lord said to him, “Ananias!”

“Here I am, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord said to him, “Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying, and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again.”

Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and about all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem. And he has come to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who worship you.”

The Lord said to him, “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.”

So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. “Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me—Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” At once something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized; and after he had eaten, his strength came back.

Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus. He went straight to the synagogues and began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God.

So we’ve heard about Peter. And now we’ve got Paul as well. But strangely this reading doesn’t use the name Paul either – it’s all about Saul. He changed his name to Paul after this experience on the road to Damascus

And this recruitment process is even stranger than the last one. Because Saul was downright hostile to Jesus’ message. He was all for setting off to arrest Jesus’ followers. And by this time Jesus had been crucified and was no longer of this world. Saul’s experience of the risen Christ was by way of a vision, not an encounter with a man on a beach.

So if choosing Peter was unusual, selecting Paul for an important role in spreading the word seems downright bizarre.

So that’s Peter and Paul – what about Mary?

Time for our third reading

Reading 3 Luke 8:1-3 – Women who accompanied Jesus

Some time later Jesus travelled through towns and villages, preaching the Good News about the Kingdom of God. The twelve disciples went with him, and so did some women who had been healed of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (who was called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had been driven out; Joanna, whose husband Chuza was an officer in Herod’s court; and Susanna, and many other women who used their own resources to help Jesus and his disciples.

We don’t know very much about Mary Magdalene. Some traditions suggest that she may have been a prostitute but there’s nothing in the Bible to support that idea. Even if she was it would fit quite well with what we know about the people Jesus chose to spend time with – he was very happy in the company of people others saw as undesirable.

But from what this reading says Mary was someone who used her own resources to support Jesus and the disciples. She was a financial backer. She’d chosen Jesus rather than him choosing her.

Peter, Paul and Mary. All very interesting (I hope) – but what’s it got to do with us?

Lets’ think about Peter and Paul as a pair. They come to know each other well and to work together. The book of Acts tells us quite a lot about this and one thing that’s entirely clear is that they didn’t see eye to eye. In fact they argued and disagreed a lot. One of the things they disagreed about was very important – was Jesus’ message just for the Jews or was it for the Gentiles (the non-Jews) too? Although the biblical accounts differ Paul tells us that at one point he rebuked Peter for failing to have full fellowship with gentile followers of Jesus.

Thinking about Peter and Paul tells us something really important about the ways we can work for Jesus.

We’ve already seen the first thing – that they were both unusual choices for the job. But arguably they turned into the most influential Christians there have ever been. The Roman Catholics claim that the Popes are the spiritual descendants of Peter. Paul was the most influential early writer about the Christian faith – you could argue the most influential ever. It has been argued that what we have as the basis of our faith owes as much to Paul’s writings as it does to Jesus himself.  I think the message for us is that Jesus can use anybody – absolutely anybody – to work for him. No-one is ruled out. You don’t have to have particular skills. The way you’ve behaved in the past doesn’t matter. You can still do valuable work.

And I think the second thing is important too – you don’t need to agree with everybody else. Paul and Peter didn’t agree about the gentiles – so they split the work up. Peter was allotted the Jews as his missionary project and Paul the gentiles. Each was able to use his own perspective to communicate the fundamentals of the message to a different audience. And everybody gained from the arrangement.

What of Mary – what can she teach us? 

Again I’ll suggest a couple of things.

Firstly – there’s nothing to suggest that Mary was chosen by anyone at all. Instead it seems that she did the choosing. She chose to follow Jesus, she chose to support his work using her own money (as did the other women mentioned in our passage). She’d been impressed by what she’d heard and what she’d experienced – impressed enough to contribute to Jesus campaign. And impressed enough to follow him around.

Secondly – Mary’s role was different to Peter’s and Paul’s. So far as we know she didn’t do any missionary work. She didn’t write half the new Testament like Paul did. She didn’t found a dynasty of church leaders like Peter did. But what she did was so very important. This itinerant preacher and his band of followers were wandering the Palestinian countryside for years preaching and teaching. They didn’t have jobs. Without people who were prepared to finance them they couldn’t have done what they needed to do. What Mary’s story is telling us is that there are lots of ways to commit to God’s work.

We are moving into a new era for our church life. Very soon, if it hasn’t already happened, the church members will be receiving letters from the Deacon’s with a proposal about how Martin and I can take on more responsibility in leadership. We’ll be happy to do this if that’s what the members want. We think that we might be a good partnership. We know that, just like Paul and Peter, we don’t have the same views about everything. We think we bring slightly different perspectives and skills that will work well together. There are things I’m hopeless at that Martin will be much better at and other things that Martin isn’t comfortable with that I’m happy to do.

But what’s also important is that we know we can’t do everything that needs doing for church ourselves. We will need the support of the Deacons, the members and everyone else if we are going to reach out in the way we want to in order that we can make the message about Jesus more widely known. This is where the example of Mary is so important.

It’s certainly not because Mary is a woman. It’s because Mary had something different to contribute. And every single person has something to contribute. You might not have recognised what your skills and gifts are. We’ll be very pleased to help you find out what they are! One thing everyone can do is to offer prayerful support.

So I hope that our consideration of Peter, Paul and Mary has taught us something about how we all might ‘lean into God’; how we might all deepen our relationship with God, and how we can recommit ourselves to God.

Let’s have our second hymn 

Hymn: Hear the call of the Kingdom – Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend

Hear the call of the kingdom
Lift your eyes to the King
Let His song rise within you
As a fragrant offering
Of how God rich in mercy
Came in Christ to redeem
All who trust in His unfailing grace

Hear the call of the Kingdom
To be children of light
With the mercy of heaven
The humility of Christ
Walking justly before Him
Loving all that is right
That the life of Christ may shine through us


King of Heaven we will answer the call
We will follow bringing hope to the world
Filled with passion, filled with power to proclaim
Salvation in Jesus’ name

Hear the call of the Kingdom
To reach out to the lost
With the Father’s compassion
In the wonder of the cross
Bringing peace and forgiveness
And a hope yet to come
Let the nations put their trust in Him

King of Heaven we will answer the call
We will follow bringing hope to the world
Filled with passion, filled with power to proclaim
Salvation in Jesus’ name

Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,



We pray that you will use us to reveal you to this world. May our lives be instruments in your hands to reveal your glory. Use us to touch lives with your transformative love and power.

We pray for Heaven to invade earth.

We forgive those who have wronged us. We are free in the name of Jesus. We pray for you to fulfill your will and purposes in our lives every day.

Empower us to make a difference in the lives of others through our actions and prayers.

We thank you, Lord, that we can change the world with every person who crosses our paths.

Your will be done.

Amen.

The Grace

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Be with us all, now and forever more.

Amen.

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