Rev. Shirley’s last Sermon as our Curate
Hebrews 1. 1-4, 2. 5-12 and Mark 10. 2-16
It just takes a few opening lines of a song like Asimbonanga to stir something within me and take me, in a manner of speaking, back to Africa. I see the big bright orange skies of sunset; I smell the sharpness of the scent of the veldt in the early morning and hear the zing of a thousand crickets. I am African, and part of me always will be but I’m not there. The other foreigners here may well identify with this dual existence, at times an inner conflict.
I am, like you, a citizen of the United Kingdom, not by birth, but through ancestry. This country is now my home, I say yoghurt and not joughurt, I speak of miles and pounds, I know who’s who (more or less) in Westminster, and I support the English cricket team – even when they play South Africa.
This dual citizenship is not something unique to foreigners. If you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour, then you too have a dual existence; that of the United Kingdom, and the Kingdom of God. It is the Kingdom of God on which I speak today. I used to sing a chorus in youth church: ‘we are heirs of the Father, we are joint heirs with the Son, we are children of the Kingdom, we are family, we are one.’ We live in this world, but we know we don’t belong here, and this creates conflict within us. It would not be strange for us to sometimes have an existential crisis and say, I don’t know who I am, I feel lost sometimes, I am confused, where is God in all this? Where is his Kingdom?
We can be like that little fish in the Pacific, who said to his father,
‘I want to see the ocean!’ ‘But it is all around you’ said Dad fish. ‘Oh no,’ came the reply, ‘this is water’.
The passage we read in Mark’s Gospel, of Jesus welcoming the children and blessing them, is the one Bible passage on which I have preached more than any other, because it is usually chosen by parents for their child’s baptism service. And in this service, we welcome the baby, toddler or child into the Kingdom with these opening words: Our Lord Jesus Christ has told us that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven we must be born again of water and the Spirit and has given us baptism as the sign and seal of this new birth.
If a parent or visitor to the service were to ask you, what or where is the Kingdom of God, what would you say?
Jesus said to his followers; ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’; he came to establish it and Jesus is the key. In her book ‘Whispers of Love’, Francine Loose talks about everyone on earth who has ever heard Jesus’ name will fall into three categories of how they perceive Jesus. She calls it the three ‘Ps’.
The first is profaned; for many people that is all the name of Jesus is – a profanity, a swear word.
The second is peripheral – on the edge of things. So, they are happy to think of him as included in a Christening or Christmas. But otherwise, they live their lives as though he doesn’t exist.
The third is precious. Jesus is precious to those who call him their Saviour. Peter, when he was arrested by the Jewish authorities told them: ‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12)
Maybe, if we are looking for a dramatic entry of God’s Kingdom here on earth, could it be when the massive curtains to the sanctuary in the Temple were rent from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross? Could it be when Jesus burst from the tomb? However, we perceive the coming of God’s Kingdom, it is here – in the hearts of His people. It is evident in the things we do for others because we care as Jesus cares for us; it is in giving to the foodbank, cleaning the church, giving money to the parish, helping the homeless, visiting a poorly neighbour, sitting with the broken-hearted, praying and sharing the Gospel. This is Kingdom work, this is evidence of the Kingdom,
But I want to say here that just as you, as a citizen of the United Kingdom and indeed, this world, do not work exclusively, but take time to enjoy it- walking on the beach, watching the birds, or marveling at the videos we see of splendid mountains or the sheer awe-inspiring pictures of the earth from space, there must also be times when we just sit quietly in the presence of God. We need to put aside our labours and enjoy listening to the sweet music of a choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus, or sit in the quietness of an old church, or imagine Jesus sitting beside us as we read the Bible.
Yes, we have Kingdom work to do, things we were born to in our rebirth, but because we are also citizens of this broken world, life is complicated and can be very taxing and difficult. Do you recall what the angels sang at Jesus birth? ‘Peace on Earth’; not peace will come eventually, but ‘peace on earth, goodwill to men’. That peace has come to us; it just gets drowned out quite easily.
We need to pause to hear the sounds from the Kingdom that feed our souls.
I may pause what I am doing when I hear Asimbonanga, and connect with that other bit of me, those good memories, but on subsequent visits to South Africa, it is increasingly foreign to me. I feel like an alien, I no longer belong there.
Similarly, the more we dwell in God’s Kingdom, the more we feel out of sync with the world. Let me put it to you another way. An elderly Eskimo was trying to explain some aspect of life to her granddaughter:
‘We all have two wolves inside us; one that is kind and good and seeks happiness around it. The other is mischief-making, enjoys conflict and is not scared of inflicting pain.’ The child thought for a moment: ‘Which one is stronger Grandma?’ The old lady looked at her and answered: ‘The one you feed the most.’
Look around you and observe what occupies people these days: what movies are out there, what gaming our children are being enticed into, the dangers of social media, the hurts that are inflicted daily, what harm threatens good mental health. This is a battleground, like it or not, and it will not end until that time when Jesus will come to reign and, as Paul says to the church in Philippi, ‘every knee, every knee, will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.’
Steep yourself in the Word of God, prayer and fellowship with others, and don’t be afraid if you feel as though you are swimming against the tide.
It will not surprise you that I shall end my final sermon to you with the words of a song:
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you. Alleluia.
God bless you all.