Sermon for 21st October 2018 by Rev Ellen Goldsmith

SERMON for 21.10.18 

Trinity 21

OT: Isaiah 53.4-12 
Psalm 91.9-16
NT: Hebrews 5.1-10 
Gospel: Mark 10.35-45  

 

I wonder if you watched England’s football match against Spain this week – a 3-2 win!

As always, there was a lot of speculation before a match about the strategy the manager will employ, will who will play and who will be on the substitutes’ bench, etc., etc.!

 

Our Gospel Reading today made me think about this!

And you will remember from recent readings from the book of Hebrews, that in our time, God has spoken to us by his Son:

God’s strategy for the world comes to its climax in his Captain, his Son Jesus.

There are Twelve on the team – chosen to reflect the 12 Tribes of Israel.

It should be a strong team, but there are signs of weakness and dissension.

Most of the team don’t seem to understand the strategy! 

James and John – nicknamed by Jesus, the sons of thunder – are in danger of being sent off, and most of the team are carrying injuries and yellow cards!

A win is not looking very likely!

We could say, Jesus has come on as the Substitute – for the failed nation of Israel who were supposed to be God’s light for the rest of the world, and Substitute for every human being, made in God’s image but marred and falling short of God’s glory.

 

This Substitute could win the match on his own!

But it seems that even he is defeated, carried off, injured, having given his all, and dying.

And here we are quick to point out that He comes back to play another day – to win the ultimate prize of eternal life.

 

Like us, James and John were eager to get skip the injuries: the cup of suffering, and death by drowning in Baptism.

Many people will try to take on board the teaching of Jesus.  As Christians we are glad for the promise of the resurrection; but the central focus of the new testament - the Cross of Jesus – is hard to understand, and even harder to bear for any Team player.

 

Carrying the cross, calls, not just for little inconveniences from time to time; but for a life-style choice with all that’s involved in following Jesus.  It’s much, much more than saying, ‘we all have our crosses to bear’.

And it’s not particularly comfortable reading, or perhaps we should say comfortable learning:

Learning to follow Jesus has to do with being a submissive servant - even a slave, and suffering and sacrifice.

 

This is what Jesus had just been teaching, trying to explain God’s strategy, and it is so, so different from what you might expect if you think you are on the winning team.

St Mark records Jesus’ own Mission Statement in v. 45:

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Can his followers expect otherwise?

 

Well, we might say, Jesus had power at his disposal that we do not have:  this is not true.

He laid aside his majesty and was made in human likeness.

And as Hebrews says, ‘he learned obedience to God’s will - his strategy - in the school of suffering’.

It didn’t come automatically; he wasn’t a puppet.

Obedience came day by day for Jesus, in every choice that confronted him, in every human temptation to take an easier path. Every decision he made was to one end and purpose, whether or not involved suffering.

And such obedience came with many prayers and petitions, with tears and loud cries from the heart.

 

Jesus’ death was God’s ultimate strategy for salvation, for winning the world back to himself; to pay the ransom price – a price demanded by justice that sin should be punished, and the price demanded by love; Jesus gave himself in obedience as our Substitute, the Substitute for the whole world.

It is remarkable – ‘tis mystery all’ Charles Wesley says!

 

The writer to the Hebrew Christians tries to explain it in terms of priesthood.

He describes Jesus as the Great High Priest.

Priests are people who represent God to people, and people to God; they try to bring them close together.

They offer to God thanksgiving gifts that people bring as well as their sacrifices for sins; they pray God’s blessings and forgiveness on the people.

Priests are imperfect and weak, and so they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins too.

Jesus, however, was the perfect priest; he not only represented God, he was God, and he came to dwell as close as possible to the people.  He not only brought understanding of God, he brought unity with God. 

He didn’t wait for animal sacrifices to be offered – he offered himself, the culmination of all sacrifices for all time.

Jane Williams, theologian and wife of Rowan, puts it like this:

Human priesthood learns where God keeps the sticking plasters; Jesus, our Great High Priest, becomes the source of all healing!

Jesus was like the legendary Melchizedek:  called by God at just the right time, ready to serve people of faith.  Melchizedek was a priest in Jerusalem – appointed directly by God - who ministered to Abraham, the founding father of faith (Gen. 14); he offered him bread and wine, and accepted the gift of a tithe from Abraham. 

Abraham was one of the first Team players to trust God for his salvation, learning God’s strategy and passing it on to the next generation, right through to Jesus’s own parents.

 

A strategy that has, at its heart, the death of the one coming to save, seems foolish to many, and becomes a stumbling block to others.  But when we hear and obey God’s will, asking for his forgiveness, we see such wisdom and grace and power in the way that He works.

No-one is excluded on any grounds

His strategy is effective: 

Forgiveness is so powerful: more than coercion, bribery, or reasoning.

it transforms and empowers people – even the sons of thunder! 

James was martyred and John survived till old age to reflect and write his Gospel as an eye witness of the glory of Jesus, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

So there is hope for us all to be part of the winning team after all!

But we have to change the request that James and John made from: 

Jesus, do what we ask

To:  We want to do for you, Jesus, whatever you ask of us.

 

 

 


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