John 10 – Big Brother Is Watching You

Notes from a sermon preached on the 23.11.08

Slogan from 1984 shown on powerpoint slide

Over recent years we have seen an explosion in the way technology is being used for the good of society:

· Talk of identity cards
· Speed cameras
· Government computer databases

But what are these trying to do?
What do they achieve?

Sometimes it feels as if these things are not really what they are explained to be.

(Slogans of The Party in 1984 – shown on powerpoint slide)

What is described as looking after us can sometimes seem as if it watching us, tracking us. More concerned with controlling us, or exercising power over us, than caring for us.

Easy to be cynical, but ours is an age that has become uneasy with the exercise of authority.
All to often authority can be wielded as a means to
· gain status
· gain wealth
· control others for your own ends

On all levels
· Government – only in it for themselves
· Organised religion – cause of wars, child abuse, stern dogma, after our money
· Science – play at being God, but no responsibility or real knowledge, so much they can’t change/do/cure
· Health Service – love the individual nurses etc. but too much bureaucracy

For a great example of this, can I point you to the great British institution of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’! Here the public has been responding against the panel and their power/authority etc. and voting for John Sergeant. The panel are saying who they believe is best – and its not John Sergeant – but the public have taken a liking to John and a disliking to the way the panel exercise their power…

Maybe the other reason for our reaction against these figures, is the feeling that like The Prisoner, that we are treated as simply numbers in the system, targets to be obtained, opinion polls to be placated.

I am not a number, I am a free man
– Number Six, in The Prisoner
(shown on powerpoint)

What do we want from those that have influence over our lives?
· We want them to be in it for our benefit, not theirs.
· We want them to use the resources they have at their disposal, effectively, making the best of what we have given them, but at the same time, we want them not to be wrapped up in efficiency drives that they don’t see the personal stories involved.
· We want them to be able to make a difference, and not simply be a talking shop.
· We want them to be able to relate to us, to be in touch with the common man
· At the same time, we want them to do what is right, even if it goes against public opinion

We’re not asking much are we! And that’s the problem.

Do you remember the Old Westerns on TV. It was easy wasn’t it to tell who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. If they wore black hats, they were the baddies. If they wore white, they were the goodies. But the real world isn’t like that. The real world isn’t filmed in black and white. In the fallen colour world we live in, there are no black and white hats, just various shades of grey. There are no such things as pure motives, only mixed ones. Technology is as good as its designers make it to be, and can be used and abused. Our leaders are constrained by their abilities and the nature of the world we live in.

Are there those who can fulfil our criteria? To be honest, it’s impossible.

Religious leaders are not exempt. When I look at myself honestly, I know that there are times when I do things for the right reasons, and times when I do not. There are times when I treat people as people, and I fear times when they become ‘bums on seats’. There are times when what I do is a calling, something I’m passionate about and totally committed to. There are also times when it is just a job…

The hired hand doesn’t always do what is right.
Her temptation is always to do what will please her employers.

The worker won’t always stick at the job.
For him the temptation is always to put himself first if there is a risk to his health or well being. ‘I don’t have to take that!’ and out you walk.

Who has the moral purity and power and knowledge and insight to be able to be the kind of leader we crave? Not one of us, that’s for sure. To say you could is to invite mistrust – only a crazed maniac would believe that, and who would trust them!

And yet there is this yearning in us for such a figure, an inbuilt desire. Maybe that’s why Barak Obama has attracted such a following, the feeling that he fits this mould. We know such people will let us down, and yet we hope that they might be different. Only a god could live such a life – and when we make these people gods, we only go on to be disappointed when they turn out not to be. I’m not knocking politicians and other leaders – I’m just suggesting that we need to be more realistic and reasonable about what we expect from them. I’m sure most of them are in it for the right reasons, but like us they are non-perfect people operating in a non-perfect world.

It is no wonder then when Jesus came promising to be such a figure, that he provoked such a mixed response. Some sat up when they saw what he said and did. Here was the one they’d been looking for! But not all were impressed. He may have done good deeds, performed miracles, and yet to claim he was a leader who would always put those he lead first, a leader who cared for those in his care above himself, a leader that treated people as individuals not numbers. That’s too much! They knew from experience how difficult it was to lead. They knew the temptations and pitfalls. And then when he began to criticize their leadership, that was just taking it too far. He may have opened the eyes of a blind man, but this was just arrogance. Actually it was more than that, it was blasphemy – only God could live up to that standard.

The scope of what he was claiming also concerned them. Not only did he claim to be able to reach these high standards, but also to care for more people than they. He spoke cryptically, not really making it clear who he was talking about. Was he implying that he was concerned for more than just the religious people? Was he talking about those who didn’t practise their faith? Those whose behaviour didn’t match up to their beliefs? Was he even including those who didn’t give a damn about God? Actually, maybe he was even speaking about those who weren’t even Jewish…

I wonder what I’d have made of Jesus? I wonder what you would have made of him?

What are the claims that he makes? Here are some of them:

I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of…

I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary…

No one can steal them from out of my hand…

Words are cheap. Anyone can make big claims. The test is in the keeping of them.

· He promises that we are precious to him. Sheep are these days maybe an object of ridicule – who here wants to be compared to Flossy?! But to those he was talking to they were of great importance. Sheep brought them milk to drink and meat to eat. Sheep brought them wool for clothing. Sheep could be sold to enable them to live. They were a vital part of the economy.
· He promises that he will provide for us rest and fulfilment.
· He promises that he is unlike the leaders that have gone before.
· He promises us life to the full – starting today and lasting beyond the grave.
· He promises that he knows us each by name and will treat us as individuals, attentive to our personal feelings and needs.
· He promises that he will protect us from those who seek to harm us.
· He promises that he would even go as far as giving up his life if it was required for us – freely, out of his own choice.

Leaders come and go, making incredible claims. But their words are cheap. If they could but keep one, maybe we could trust them to keep the rest? Maybe then we could really believe they are the one we’ve been waiting for…

Image of the crucifixion shown on powerpoint with the text:
If they could but keep one…


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