Notes for a sermon preached on the 26.10.08
There’s something captivating about chucking stones into an expanse of water. Whenever you find pebbles and water next to each other, you’ll find people picking them up and lobbing them in. What is it about this that makes it so attractive? Is it the chance to show off your strength – how big a stone can you pick up? – how far can you lob it? Is it a chance to show off your technique – have you perfected the art of making the stone skim across the water? Or is it that you’re a lover of the big splash when you chuck your boulder as high as possible to produce the rock equivalent of a belly flop! I for one love throwing stones into water in order to watch the ripples that are produced. There’s something hypnotic about watching the concentric circles, each getting wider as a new one is created inside it.
It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Jesus caused a bit of a splash when he started his public ministry. Here was a man who exploded onto the scene with great authority.
· He came speaking as one carrying the words of God himself.
· He came fashioning miracles the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the time of Moses – he healed the sick, turned water into wine and ironically caused the waves to cease and the storm to still.
· He came offering forgiveness, bringing release to those who were burdened by guilt, but also concern to those who believed that only God had the power to pardon.
· He came calling people to follow him, expecting them to place their allegiance in him.
We’ve heard these words before as we’ve gone through this series, but I think they bear repeating as they summarise so well the dramatic nature of Jesus’ work:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus was a revolutionary, announcing the Kingdom of God as open, but in ways that no one imagined before.
This was a Kingdom that was open to all people, not just the Jews.
This was a Kingdom that was open to the poor, not just the rich – in fact those who were rich may struggle to get in!
This was a Kingdom where all people were valued and valuable.
This was a Kingdom where the first would be last and the last would be first.
This was a Kingdom where power was exercised through washing other people’s feet, a Kingdom where it was better to give than to receive, where sacrifice counted for more than accumulation.
Not only did Jesus come announcing this radical Kingdom, but he also demonstrated it. Unlike so many, he was not just about fine words, but was prepared to put his money where his mouth was, so to speak.
The ripples from this heaven sent stone were enormous.
· They started by the shores of Galilee, but quickly spread from this backwater to the Big Pond of Jerusalem.
· The poor and outcast celebrated.
· The blind did indeed see, and the oppressed were set free.
· The crowds thronged to cheer him on
· The religious leaders were unsettled.
· The political leaders were disturbed.
· Outrage was heard in corridors of power.
Jesus’ mission had a single objective.
Of course, as we’ve looked at over the last few weeks, this single objective was not and is not a simple one to achieve. Before we moved, I decided to clean the oven. It will only take a few minutes I’d thought, but that estimation hadn’t taken into account the impenetrable effect of layers of caked in grime that cookers attract over the years. I can now proudly announce that you can see through the glass doors and pick it up, should you so wish to, without handling greasy feet!
Over the years, humanity produced layers and layers of grim – and I’m not just talking about literal grease here. This single objective was going to cost in sweat and tears. To release us from the guilt of our deeds would cost Jesus his life. Through this might act of sacrifice the stains and filth of our world were and are being absorbed and made clean, his resurrection power bringing new life.
But Jesus had a bigger plan in mind than causing a stir in Palestine. His work was that of changing the world, restoring it to the beautiful creation that God had spoken into existence, restoring it, making it new.
There is a problem with ripples. Once the stone has impacted the water, a clock strats ticking. The ripples travel outwards, but as they go, their strength weakens, until eventually they stop and the water goes still.
Don’t for one-minute fall into the trap of thinking that when Jesus returned to his Father than he wanted this to happen. Don’t believe that Jesus went content to let the disturbance that he’d caused settle down, the waters still, and the status quo return. When he turned over the tables of the money lenders in the Temple, he never meant for them to be put back up again. When he announced ‘Blessed are the poor’ he didn’t add for three years only. When he hung on the cross, he didn’t announce this is for you only. Jesus intended his ripples to be different, to continue flooding across the world – not just Palestine – until he returns again.
And this is where we come in!
A dream only lasts while it is being dreamt, a relay race only continues as long as the batton is passed. Ripples will continue as long as stones are cast into the water.
We only have record of Jesus using the word church twice, and even then it is debated if that is the word he actually uttered or if this is a word that the Gospel writers placed in his lips to help readers of their time understand what he was talking about. People debate if Jesus invented the church, or if it is some later creation by Paul or other leader. There is no doubt though, if you read the Gospels, that Jesus had every intention of forming a people to continue his work when he left.
Follow me he demanded of Levi, Peter and Andrew, James and John. Around him he gathered his twelve disciples, spent time with them, teaching them, praying with them, laughing and enjoying their company. As their relationship develops, one day Jesus turns around to them and asks,
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
This is one of those few times when Jesus uses the word church. What actual word he uses is irrelevant though. What is important is that here we have Jesus saying that he is going to build a movement of people around Peter as his leader, the leader of the church in Jerusalem after his death, and based on the proclamation that Jesus is God’s Christ, the Chosen One. This is the Church.
And what is it that Jesus gets this movement to do?
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
In other words, Jesus wanted them to continue his work. He was training them, mentoring them to continue making the same ripples he had been making. This is the Church.
Then, as he left them after his resurrection, he left them with these words:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Just as Jesus came into this world to create ripples, make a big splash, he passed on to his followers the instruction and power to do the same. If they did that, then he would be with them, working in and through them by his Spirit.
What’s more, he instructed them to do what he had done, pass on the work to the next group, keep the ripples flowing. The Church envisioned by Jesus for today is the same as that he started with the 12, people gathering together as a family, spending time with him, praying, learning, laughing, and going out to make a difference.
The Old Testament tells of another time when God made a wave to sort out this world, the story of the Flood and Noahs’ Ark. He’s now sending a second wave, a wave of people not water, to deluge this world with his love and wash it clean. Pick up your stones, and start the ripples flowing.