Epiphany 2b – Sunday 15th January 2012
Mark 1: 4-11
I was recently staggered to read an article in my local newspaper about an initiative under way at our town’s college. A campaign has been launched to encourage students to achieve 100% attendance and improve punctuality. The message goes on to say that not only does the day begin better on time, but you achieve more if you’ve started the day with breakfast. To this end, the college are offering free tea and toast between 8 and 8.30am each week day. And for those who manage to achieve 100% attendance they will be entered into a monthly draw to win one of four £25 gift vouchers.
I might seem a little bit old fashioned here, but in my day (and we’re going back some!) the only reward you got for showing up on time was a green tick in the register. In my day it was an obligation, not a suggestion, that you turn up on time. Am I the only one who is thinking we are pandering to a generation that feel like they are owed something? Or am I just getting old? I know one of my favourite TV programs is Grumpy Old Men but that’s just a coincidence.
Is it also just a coincidence that the reading in the lectionary this week is ‘Come and See’?
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When he got there, he ran across Philip and said, “Come, follow me.”
Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!” Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.”
But Philip said, “Come, see for yourself.”
In this day and age we need to have our churches filled with Philip’s. People who will say to friends and family, work colleagues and strangers, “We’ve found the Saviour, come and see”. You can say what you like about advertising campaigns and endorsement slogans, but the best way to sell something is by word of mouth. By personal invitation.
And many churches are embracing this philosophy – like it’s something new. In some ways it is, because for many years we have had a ready made audience, a congregation that turned up week after week. But now churches are struggling to see faces in a sea of empty pews. So we need to return to being Philip’s. People so energised by the power of the message and the presence of the Saviour that we want to bring other people to meet him.
Jesus didn’t offer free tea and toast. He offered free grace and eternal life. And those incentives and ideas we use to bring people into church are pretty similar to the methods employed by the college. They have a product they believe in and want their students to benefit completely from it. We also have a product we believe in, a Saviour we have entrusted our lives to. We should be as enthusiastic, we should be as passionate – as our local college tutors, as Philip.
Upon rereading my blog I noticed I said twice ‘In my day’. That is often a phrase that goes hand-in-hand with the thought that someone else is getting something for nothing. And perhaps I am the world’s worst for it. Don’t we begrudge people for what they have, almost to the point that we think they don’t deserve it? And this is especially true in the church. “Grace? You don’t deserve that. What have you done to earn it?”
None of us deserve the grace that Jesus offers. But he holds us in the palm of his hand, he cares for us with an undying love. Despite the disdain we hold for others, despite the barriers we erect, despite the people we are – his grace is all we need. That is the point of the Gospels, and that is the point of this Sunday’s reading. This is the meeting place of the God who intimately knows us and loves us. Amazing.
Anyway, got to go, I’m parched. I know somewhere where they serve a good cup of tea and a crisp slice of toast – for free! Wonder if they have any Marmite?