Hello everyone! Last Sunday I led the service at Hampsthwaite Chapel. The theme was being peacemakers. The readings were Psalm 1; James 3v13-4v3 and Mark 9v30-37. I began the sermon with this quotation from ‘Bucket of Surprises’: ‘A steering committee is a group of four people trying to park a car!’ A pastor, a friend of the compilers of ‘Bucket of Surprises’ apparently said, ‘Whenever the conflict gets too much in my church I go and visit the local kennels. There’s a whole group there that’s always pleased to see me!’
Just after Jesus had spoken about his approaching humiliation and death, the disciples who had obviously not understood the implication of what Jesus had said. As the walked they argued about who was the greatest; meaning who would be ministers of state in Jesus’ coming kingdom. They had not meant Jesus to hear their argument and felt really ashamed and said nothing. He rebuked them by telling them that the first would be last and the last first; he must have felt frustrated that still they had not understood. He wanted to teach and prepare them for the future their master faced; their arguing was unworthy. However are we any different today? Could we carry on doing or saying what we do if we thought Jesus were listening? There is no ‘if’ as Jesus is always with us, even if we don’t feel he is!
James in his letter explored the theme of conflict in the early church; there should be no place for pride he warned his readers. He reminded them of Jesus’ life and how he loved and accepted those who saw their need of his help. Jesus did not promote himself intentionally; his healing and teaching made his fame spread, but he just wanted to teach and had compassion on the lost, the outcast and the sinners; they knew they were in need. Jesus levelled his criticism at the proud and self righteous Jewish leaders, as they did not recognise their need of seeking to know and do God’s will, rather than follow rules. James could see how selfish ambition and envy led to disorder and chaos; they were the enemies of unity and peace.
It is easy for us to be critical of the short sighted disciples and those of the early church, but nobody wants to either suffer humiliation or face future struggles, especially if we have had difficulties in the past. All we want is some peace and security. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand what he was teaching, so he took a child. Children are vulnerable and powerless and need to be looked after. Jesus was saying that whoever welcomes ordinary people with no influence or power is welcoming him. Jesus calls us to seek out those for whom we can do things, not those who can do things for us. Do you know someone struggling with physical or financial burdens? Let us let the love of Jesus dwelling in us express that love by meeting that person’s need.
Only as we are rooted in God and seek his wisdom can we learn to form right relationships with God and one another. We need God’s wisdom and guidance to lead us to avoid conflicts and build up true community, as we nurture right relationships through that wisdom. How then can this be achieved? James sums up how that can be done in 4v7-8a; ‘So then submit to God. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.’
We sang hymns which reflected those themes. Our opening hymn was ‘God of grace and God of glory’ which in words like this show us what to do:
‘Grant us wisdom,
Grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour’.
The hymn after the children’s talk on the same theme; ‘Make me a channel of your peace.’ The next hymns ‘May the mind of Christ my Saviour’ and ‘For the healing of the nations’ show us that the only way to be changed is to allow our Lord to show the way. The service concluded with the hymn of praise: ‘Lord of creation, to you be all praise.’ Let us be open to listen to Jesus and follow his way in all we do and say.