25 February 2018 – Were You There as a Spectator?

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Rev’d Jonathan Gale

I once knew a parishioner many years ago who was renowned for his leadership and hard work in the parish. He got on like a house on fire with the Vicar too, so all was well.

Then I began to realise something. This man would move heaven and earth when he was working on something he approved of, but when someone else came up with an idea which didn’t quite fit with his approach, he either quickly killed it or actively disapproved, whether it was something his friend the Vicar supported or not. This man did not have a servant heart.

Eventually he left the parish and though initially his energy and commitment were missed, gradually we noticed something. People began to come out of the woodwork with greater involvement and commitment because they didn’t fear being disapproved of.

Whilst Postmodernism has poured cold water on the concept of greatness, some men such, as Abraham Lincoln, remain great in the eyes of many.  One of the things that characterised Lincoln was his humility. He had grown up in a log cabin and his simple roots were ever at the heart of his dealings with other people.

Greatness is often accompanied by humility. The Medieval church knew this well and some of the world’s most talented men were monks who gave themselves to service, sometimes of the most menial kind.

On the opposite end of the scale was Mohammed Ali who is reported to have said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.”

Bishop John Patterson tells a story that comes from a book published by Bishop Cowie prior to his attendance at a Lambeth Conference, entitled “Our last year in New Zealand”.  He recounts a story involving Bishop John Coleridge Patterson, first Bishop of Melanesia.  The Bishop was working at the headquarters of the Mission in what is now known as Mission Bay.

An earnest young man from England sailed from the UK to Auckland in order to offer himself to the Bishop as a candidate for ordination for eventual work in Melanesia.

On arrival in Auckland he enquired as to the whereabouts of Bishop Patteson and was told that he was building his headquarters at Mission

Bay.   Accordingly the young man hired a boatsman to take him around to

Mission Bay.  The tide did not allow the boat to get in close to the shore, so the young man stood up and hollered for someone to ‘give him a back’.  Eventually one of the men working on the fencing rolled up his trousers and waded out to carry this fellow to the shore.  Once on dry land, he enquired for the Bishop, whereupon the carrier introduced himself as the Bishop!

He was put to work on the fencing and after three days he admitted to the Bishop that such a physically strenuous life was not for him.  The Bishop agreed that he was not cut out for the life of a missionary priest and advised him to return to England.  He did that and on arrival in England had the gall to send an invoice to the Bishop to cover the cost of his travels.  Bishop Patterson paid the amount from his own private resources, and quietly thanked God for a good outcome!

Sometimes our crosses come in the form of other people and carrying them is our Christian duty, but God will sometimes relieve us of them once we’ve learnt what we have to learn.

Jesus was so badly beaten by the soldiers that we read, As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.

We know very little about Simon of Cyrene. He may have been forced to carry the cross but it seems as though he bore it willingly. I can’t see one of the Sadducees or Pharisees agreeing to carry the cross. Far too self-important.

I wonder what we would have done under the circumstances? Crosses were associated with more than criminality. They were believed to be cursed. Would I have willingly carried the cross for Jesus? I suppose were I compelled I may have, but I can’t be sure. I can’t see myself doing so willingly.

And yet Jesus tells us to take up OUR crosses. What does this mean? It certainly doesn’t refer to some ailment we might have or unfortunate circumstances we have to put up with. So what does it mean?

Yes, it possibly refers to putting to death those characteristics in us that are ungodly, but that thinking came out with Paul at a later date. What could Jesus have meant?

After telling his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him, Jesus says,

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Jesus poured out his life for others, and not only on the cross. I think the thing that characterises Simon, this man who silently got on with the humiliating task of carrying Jesus’ cross, was his preparedness to get his hands dirty. He has gone down in history as the man who was prepared to help the Son of God is his hour of greatest need.

Unlike Cain, he was his brother’s keeper. He took pity on Jesus and helped him. It really is worth asking in what ways I can do that today? How can we help the Kingdom of God whether we like the idea or not?  Are we prepared to get our hands dirty for Jesus and what might that look like?

A while ago I was presented with a bible that had belonged to Martin Sullivan, a Kiwi who was the Dean of St Paul’s in London, along with a book he had written, A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to St Paul’s.

I found this snippet: I am reminded of a visit to the Holy Land. With a group of people we were trudging up the Via Dolorosa in the steps of Christ as he carried his cross to Calvary. Monks were ahead of us chanting a litany, engaged in a deeply spiritual exercise. Tourists were chatting and taking endless photographs. The open stalls and shops gave off a stench from food good and bad. The heat was trying to a degree. A few of us were obliged to stop for a few moments whilst the procession halted. At our feet was an open drain, stinking to high heaven. One of my companions, a devout man, came to me and said, ‘Let us get out of here and go into that church for a time of meditation.’ What could he have been thinking about? Did he imagine that Christ was crucified on some altar between two candles? It was in this narrow street that he sweated it out in the middle of a stench that made the one which afflicted our nostrils almost a perfume, carrying his cross, surrounded by a raging mob, with the green phlegm from their throats sticking to his beard.

In the epistle this morning we hear Peter saying,  And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

Pouring yourself out for other happens in the dirt, dust, sweat and noise of the wrong side of the railway tracks, as it were. It is not easy, and yet we are challenged to do so.

Paul says to his fellow Christians in Philippi,  But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you (Philippians 2: 17)

Mother Teresa knew this. Her ministry, she said, was a joy.

I remember my Mum saying more than once that the greatest motivations is not the promise of luxury, but rather the challenge of sacrifice. She quoted Winston Churchill’s promise of “blood, toil, tears and sweat” in this regard.

What is your motivation? What is it that rocks your boat? I’m not talking about the pleasures we enjoy in life, I’m talking about the deepest of motivations, the things that give our lives meaning.

Jesus says life comes from taking up our crosses and being prepared to serve – as did Simon of Cyrene. In fact he says if we don’t, we’ll lose our lives. The ultimate question is, do we look on as spectators while others serve, or do we roll up our sleeves and join in building the Kingdom of God?

Our Crosses

I’m going to ask that we each take up our little home-made crosses now. If you don’t have one, perhaps the sidespeople could hand out the extras.

Could you please pair up. It doesn’t matter who you pair with. Let’s take a moment now to find someone as a partner. Everyone got someone?

Now, we are going to say something together which is in the form of a promise. It is a promise of servanthood – which is the life Jesus calls us to. You are going to hold up your cross in your left hand.

Please look at your partner and repeat these words after me:

“I stand before you as a follower of Jesus.”

“This cross is the symbol of my faith.”

“I want to give it to you today.”

“It is my promise that I will serve you and all my fellow Christians.”

“Please take it up now”

(swap crosses)

“It is what I live by and it is my promise to you.”

“The Lord bless us as we learn to serve.”


Readings for today:

  • Genesis 4: 1 – 10
  • 1 Peter 5: 5b -11
  • Mark 8: 31-38