How to be Church…
‘Church’ is so many different things to so many different people.. To some it is a building, a place we gather to pray and worship, a place for activities and social events. To me, above everything else, it is ‘the people of God’.
We see ourselves as ‘Disciples of Jesus’, loved and empowered to share God’s love with the world, but a particular church has no monopoly on goodness. One church community has no corner on the ministry of healing and liberation. In the Gospels, Jesus continually urges the 12 disciples not to draw dividing lines between themselves and others, and not to feel threatened by other successful groups and ministers. We see a prime example of this in the story about the disciples’ failure in an exorcism and their reaction towards a minister, not in their group, who then performs a successful exorcism. Professional jealousy reigns supreme!
At times, perhaps inevitably, even the people of God need a swift reminder as to how they should be living their lives, individually and communally. We all need to remember that the radical freedom of God’s Spirit is not the property of any individual or group. God rejects any undue ill-will towards people who do not belong to our circle of believers. Jesus challenges us to to examine our view of others as competitors or rivals in the reign of God. As disciples, we need to nurture the gift of graciousness and generosity. We should resist the general human tendency to draw the circle of friendship far too narrowly and to secure our own positions by excluding others.
In our Gospel reading today (Mark 9.38-end), Jesus let’s the disciples have it! He uses symbolic, hyperbolic and deliberately scandalous language to challenge the disciples’ denial of the fact that he is about to suffer and die. They cannot grasp the paradox of losing life to gain it. So Jesus uses mystery and awe coupled with arresting metaphors to force the disciples into serious reflection about what Jesus’ life and ministry is all about. Jesus is forcing his followers to broaden their minds and understand what God’s Spirit offers to humanity. Jesus wants the disciples to seriously reflect upon God’s love and what God wants from them.
So what is Jesus focusing on?
To serve as Christ serves means recognising and caring for those who are the focus of Christ’s care. Hospitality is to be practised freely and minimal requirement. Even a cup of cold water given and received is not unnoticed or unrewarded. Such hospitality is part of Christian servant hood and is done and received ‘in Christ’s name’. Jesus proposes a radical servant hood of all believers. We need to be able to receive ‘charity’ as well as offer it. Some disciples entertained ‘holier-than-thou’ delusions. Jesus insists that it is not important to be recognised by others, but to recognise others. The desire to receive recognition can corrupt our best intentions and blind us to the accomplishments of others. Basically, Jesus is pointing out that the smallest, unrecognised act of kindness is as important as a public recognisable act.
Care for the Weak
Instead of criticising and judging others outside of their circle, the disciples are invited to engage in a bit of self-criticism. Recognise the good outside, but also look for the bad ‘inside’. Jesus asks the disciples to look at themselves. Is there anything they say or do that is a stumbling block to fellow believers, particularly the weak and young? Anything that prevents community solidarity must be dealt with. Christian solidarity demands concern for the well-being of the ‘Little ones’, the ‘least of these’ who have nobody to advocate on their behalf.
Jesus is serious about sin. However, his teaching is not about self-mutilation but about self-mastery. Nowhere in the Gospels is Jesus’ language more vivid or emphatic. Self- discipline is everything. The disciples are urged to keep their distinctiveness and not adopt the standards and ethos if the world. Salt and fire represent the characteristics of Christian discipleship to preserve, heal, refine and purify.
In our Gospel today, Mark insists that the good ‘outside’ should be appreciated and the bad ‘inside’ should be dealt with. In all situations, it is imperative that Jesus’ community works for conflict resolution and the re-establishment of unity and peace. An inclusive and caring community, which is serious about its mission of hospitality, will not have much time for petty games and rivalries.
Today, we welcome Christina Rees as our new Curate at St Peter’s. She brings a wealth of ministry experience with her and will continue, along with her husband Chris, to help our church community to focus on what Jesus demands of us all. Inclusivity, care, hospitality - may St Peter’s Church continue to quietly get on with helping to build up the Kingdom of God, may God’s blessing rest upon our sister churches in Sheringham and our collective ministry and may God bless Christina and Chris, and all of us, as we journey on in God’s love.