We all follow Jesus. And at St John’s over the last three Sundays, we have been exploring our Mission Statement and particularly the three words which form our action points as, as a Church, we work out what it means to follow Jesus each day. Our mission statement is … I’m not expecting anyone to know it off by heart, but it is: St John’s is called by God to be his people through faith in Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit: Worshipping – Growing – Serving. Having previously thought about those three words, our final sermon this week is called: We are a Jesus community – and as this Sunday was All Saints Sunday it’s a particularly appropriate theme for the week.
Here’s what I said.
A great first line in a film can really prepare you for what is to come.
Let’s try some first lines and see if you know them.
She isn’t coming yet, Toto?
Answer: The Wizard of Oz
Slave in the Magic Mirror, come from the farthest space. Through wind and darkness, I summon thee. (Wind howling) Speak! Let me see thy face.
Answer: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.
Answer: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The hills are alive.
Answer: The Sound of Music
Some opening lines don’t quite have the desired effect. This is one of my favourites.
Greetings, my friends! We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future. That is from the film that is regularly voted to be the worst film ever made: Plan 9 from Outer Space. If you’ve never watched it you really should – it’s so bad you can’t stop watching.
And it’s relevant because today we’re thinking about the future – and particularly, as we continue our series looking at our mission statement, what it means to be a Jesus people?
In these days of film and TV, the great first line is becoming a forgotten art. And often it’s only in films and television shows with a commentary that it still exists. As soon as, for example, you hear the words These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise you know exactly what you’re going to get.
But the usual practice in TV these days – so that you can make sense of what is to come, is to begin with those words “Previously on …” and then they let you know what has happened previously so that you don’t get lost and confused.
Our gospel reading this morning is important, because it contains a great and highly significant first line. And the key word is the very first word: Then.
Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said…
Something has happened previously that we aren’t told about in today’s gospel reading. And we need to know what it is so we can properly understand Jesus’ words.
So … Previously in Luke’s Gospel.
It’s still very early on in Jesus’ ministry. And Luke tells us how Jesus goes up a mountain and prays – and he prays all night. And at soon as daybreak comes he calls his disciples to him – and from those disciples, his followers, he chooses twelve whom he names apostles.
Then he goes with the twelve down to what Luke calls ‘a level place’ and gathering the twelve and, Luke says, a great multitude of people, he begins to talk to his disciples. And that’s important. He is not speaking to everyone who has come to see him. He is only speaking to his disciples, the people who are already following him – the people who have already decided they want to be a part of the Jesus community.
And the opening scene, as it were, of this week’s episode – the very first line of the script – Jesus stands up and says to them:
Blessed are you who are poor…
Luke is telling us what Jesus is about. These is Jesus’ first speech to the newly chosen apostles – and to the rest of his disciples as well. And the fact that Luke says Jesus is speaking to the disciples – not just the twelve chosen apostles – but to all his disciples, tells us something about the message that Jesus is giving. This is Jesus setting the agenda for the Church, not a message for the world as a whole. And his message for the Church begins …
are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Think about those words of Jesus to his followers – because they tell us what Jesus’ view of his church is, what he expects his followers to be like, what it means to be a Jesus community.
Blessed are you who are poor. Not blessed are you poor in spirit but blessed are you poor, blessed are you who have little or no money, nowhere to live.
Blessed are you who hunger now. Not blessed are you who hunger and thirst after righteousness, but blessed are you who are starving, who cannot get enough to eat.
Blessed are you who weep. Not blessed are you who mourn but blessed are you who live any kind of life where you are oppressed or downtrodden or uncared for.
Like it or not, this is deeply political and subversive. This is not how the world works. And Luke goes on and shows Jesus presenting us with a challenge. For Jesus has harsh, uncomfortable, uncompromising words for those who are not economically poor or unable to feed themselves.
Woe to you who are rich – for you have received your consolation. Nothing there about those who are in the middle and reasonably comfortable – you’re one or the other according to Jesus. Woe to you who are full – for you shall hunger. And the rest of Luke’s gospel is spent showing us how Jesus has come for the materially poor and the physically starving and the oppressed. Anyone who says that the Church should keep out of politics and only deal with spiritual matters has never read Luke’s gospel or understood Jesus’ message as Luke records it.
So where does all this leave us? For we cannot avoid the reality that many – though not all – of us are comparatively well off. We are certainly rich when compared to most in our world. While there may be times when we feel we are struggling to make ends meet most of us have a roof over our heads, and manage to feed and clothe ourselves. But many in our own country today go without basics that others take for granted.
To go back to our TV theme – many programmes now end with “Next time on…” and we get to see what is happening next week.
are you who are poor … woe to you who are rich
Blessed are you who hunger … woe to you who are full
Blessed are you who weep … woe to you who laugh.
Next time in Luke’s gospel…
Well, if you read on in Luke after today’s gospel reading you will find Jesus, as part of the same speech, has a lot to say among other things about love, about forgiveness, about bearing good fruit for him.
What is “Next time…” for Saint John’s church? What is “Next time…” for our community. For church is not something we go to – it is something we are!
What is “Next time…” for you? How will Jesus’ words this morning make a difference to your life so that next week is different from this week? Can we learn to start getting a right perspective about the good things we have – seeing them as God-given and to be shared – not self-earned and to be held onto. To be shared within the Church community of which we are a part to support the work of worship and mission, as well as through our Church community as we serve the wider community.
For we are a Jesus community. And being a Jesus community, a Jesus-centred community, is our future. It must be if our Christianity is to have any true meaning. And when we are truly a Jesus community then we will know ourselves, and those with whom we worship and grow, and those whom we serve, to be truly blessed.