Standing in for Jesus and why its important to understand where your cup of tea comes from

So, for the next few weeks in our services we’re looking at the ideas raised by Karl Martin in his extremely good book ‘Stand’- one of the most helpful and challenging reads I’ve had in a while… and somehow or other my opening sermon ended up with more than a nod to Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’… It made sense to me at the time, and at least a couple of people connected with the idea…

Anyway, here you are- apologies that this is something more of a set of notes than a full script, but hopefully you’ll get the gist. As always, you can listen here or else read the text I was preaching from here

In the radio series, and later the book, the TV series and the film) Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy the main character is, at one point, trying to get an alien computerised kitchen to make him a cup of tea… after each of his attempts to describe tea it serves him a cup of lukewarm pale beige liquid that is not unpleasant, but is not tea- the machine just doesn’t understand what tea is, and so it can’t make tea… If our faith means what we say it does- that it really means it in the same way that when someone says they’d like a cup of tea- they mean they’d like a cup of tea rather than a lukewarm cup of something… and so we, as we live our lives, need to know what our faith really means… Because it seems that for many Christians we’ve lost something- or maybe we’ve never had it… And so, for the next few weeks (from now until the end of August), we’re going to be looking at the Christian life afresh, to encourage ourselves to take hold of it anew and wrestle with some of the questions our faith poses to life today… and we’re starting that today by looking, where else, but at Jesus. Who he was, and what he did and said. And this may seem obvious, but I’ll say it anyway- we’re doing this because Jesus is supposed to grow in us- we’re meant to be transformed to be more like him… so we’re doing ourselves a favour if we work out what that looks like… Through this time, in the next few weeks, why don’t you commit to reading one of the Gospels (you’ve probably read them all before, but once again- this time with feeling!)- you can choose your favourite, you can choose to venture into the depths of John, stay short with Mark, reach the minorities with Luke or explore the history with Matthew, but whichever one you choose, as you read it, think to yourself ‘that, there, that is who I am supposed to be’…and pray that God would help to do that…

And so, the Beatitudes… In Matthew’s Gospel this is the manifesto of Jesus… at the start of the collection of teachings that we call the sermon on the mount, this is what Jesus presents as what it looks like to follow him- to be blessed; if we want to be more like Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel this is where we start…

The poor in spirit… not those who’re convinced they have everything… in the me me me world those who’re following Jesus aren’t shouting the same things… instead of boasting about ourselves we’re relying fully on God- for our salvation, our hope, our purpose…

Those who mourn… When I meet families who’re grieving, every family is different, but they are all struggling to hold it together in the face of something that has gone wrong in their world- Jesus calls us to weep with them, and also to weep over all that is wrong in the world- and then to act. To feed the hungry and house the homeless; not to berate them for their foolish choices or consider whether they are deserving…

The meek… will inherit the earth… Jesus turns everything upside down: those who wouldn’t ask for the world on a plate are the one’s who’ll receive it- it’s not about what you can claim, but about what you’re given, and we know that often those who’re most deserving of trust and responsibility are those who do not seek it out. Being meek, by the by, is not to be confused with being a doormat- Jesus never said that… this is the same Jesus who stilled a storm with a word, drove the moneylenders from the Temple and silenced the teachers of the law and all the Pharisees… being meek is not being weak, its just not being showy.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… If you want something enough, you’ll work for it- you’ll hunger and thirst for it… if its not worth that much to you, you just won’t… Jesus asks the question- how much is this worth to you? If you want it, it will be yours.

The merciful… God is love, and God’s love for us is shown in mercy- because we don’t deserve it. As we show mercy to others, we show them the love of God… we are being like Jesus, and will be gradually made more like Jesus. When we show mercy, this is an outworking of putting others first, a demonstration of both meekness and reliance on God, because it often means saying ‘I will trust God for this, rather than my own sense of justice’. This lies at the heart of our own salvation, it lies at the heart of who Jesus is and what he did, and why… we need to get this into our hearts-

The pure in heart… Purity. Holiness. Devotion. Putting God first and then looking at life through that lens… time, money, interests etc… not letting the shiny things and the noise of the world be at the centre of our lives.

The peacemakers… not the enforcers of tolerance or the protectors of different opinions, but those who do the long and painful work of making peace- that means listening to all sides, recognising and challenging truth and lies in ourselves and others… etc

Those who are persecuted for righteousness… There are those who won’t like this stuff- they’ll feel challenged by it… whenever someone gets focussed on God, there are those who feel threatened because it makes the rest of us look bad, and we feel a little guilty, so we try to dissuade them, to patronise them (probably without realising it), to stop them… because when we stand next to someone who is becoming more like Jesus, even though that’s exactly what we say we want, it can unnerve us… but if we choose to live as if these things are actually true- the promises and the challenges… that’s when we’ll find out just how true they can be.

These things are all directions- intentions as much as they are anything else- because of God’s mercy we don’t have to be all of them at once, or immediately…

 

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