Epiphany 3b – Sunday 22nd January 2012
Mark 1: 14-20
I went to a football match last weekend. A football match at which I could sit back and enjoy the game.
You see, it wasn’t Leicester City. Leicester are my hometown team and I follow their fortunes with bated breath. Living 100 miles away I don’t get to as many matches as I would like to, but this season I have managed to see them on 9 occasions – where they have won 2, lost 4 and drawn 3 games. And all through those games I’m nervous and anxious. I’m fretting, I’m shouting, I’m singing – my son says I even occasionally swear! I’m up and down out of my seat, I’m kicking the ball, heading it towards the goal, putting my head in my hands, jumping in the air with joy, throwing my programme down in frustration. I tell you, at the end of the game I’m more exhausted than some of the players!
But last weekend I went to Old Trafford, the home of the current Premiership Champions, Manchester United, to watch them play Bolton Wanderers. And I sat there quite relaxed. Soaking up the atmosphere – one of 75,444 spectators in the stadium. My son and I had great seats right behind one of the goals. I enjoyed watching the silky skills of Giggs, Welbeck, Nani and Valencia. I gasped with the crowd when Wayne Rooney missed a penalty. I cheered when Paul Scholes scored the opening goal. I felt vaguely happy walking back to my car after the game that I’d seen a good game and enjoyed myself.
It’s not like that with rotten Leicester City…
And I have heard other people describe aspects of life like that too.
The other day I asked someone if they’d enjoyed a special dinner they’d cooked for their family, and they replied that they’d been too busy to enjoy it.
And it’s not too surprising that some people view church in the same manner. Sunday School teachers, sidepersons, committee members – all too busy giving they miss out on receiving.
But it’s more. The church itself is a barrier. The institution. The structure. The people. The programmes. The tradition. It stops people receiving, or even hearing, the offer of grace that God so lovingly bestows on us. People are anxious, aggrieved, aggravated – and the church cannot smooth the road, open up the path.
How different from those first encounters between Jesus and the disciples – Andrew & Simon Peter, James & John. Without a moment’s thought they dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. All that Jesus said was, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” There must have been something about his presence, he must have given off an aura, a charisma that was impossible to resist. They must have seen a great hope, a great expectation in his words, in his life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting the disciples on an impossible pedestal. I know only too clearly how human they were, how many times they would get this faith thing terribly wrong, how often they would become the barrier and stumbling block to God. I fear that the disciples would be mortified by the veneration they have received from the church – in the words of the great hymn, “To God be the glory…”. And we are so similar to those first disciples.
We need to rediscover that Jesus of old. The one untainted by our misrepresentation, our preconceived ideas. We need to be enthralled by his charisma, to give ourselves wholeheartedly to him, to resist seeking him just for power and prestige. And in turn, we need to offer God’s love and grace to others in a pure and honest way. For some it will be too late, they are too disillusioned by what they have seen. But still others are listening, are wanting to hear, waiting to follow.
Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
If we can accept that invitation, if we can be still enough to place it on our hearts, if we can avoid complicating that message for others then there is still hope for us all.
I see Leicester are playing again tonight. I can feel another song coming on!