“And another thing…… !”
Something to think about from Philip James, Reader Emeritus at St Andrew’s
Swerve or serve?
“Ask me any time, I’m around”, you may have heard perhaps from staff in a hotel, or from a shop assistant, or from anyone who has left you for a while with a task. Maybe it was said by somebody you trust, that you would want to call on in a situation where you felt poorly or alone or just worried. It suggests some sort of a relationship, at least for a period of time. That itself does imply there is a trust, a willingness to work together as we need to. No doubt the words are sincerely meant.
May I remind you that sometimes in the Gospels people said words without engaging brain and thinking what it meant. Just look at Peter before Jesus’ arrest: I will never leave you, even though all the rest do; or, I am ready to go to prison with you and to die with you. Then there was the person that promised to follow wherever Jesus went. Without a doubt things were said daily by the disciples that they couldn’t keep to in the long run. Nobody’s saying their hearts weren’t in the right place when they spoke, just that it didn’t quite work out. It happens today, Jesus knows that. He lays down a challenge to us, but totally gets it that he is dealing with human weaknesses, with “Those of little faith” as he called his followers sometimes.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that one of the most striking examples the Bible gives us of someone who took service on and didn’t ‘give it the swerve’, so to speak, was a young girl given a challenge in the Galilean countryside to become Jesus’ mother.
You may have been told in the past about the hard place Mary found herself in, that it was life- threatening as well as embarrassing, even disgusting to some. In many minds she deserved to die. But you will also have noticed how once she was selected for the task, her attitude was not, “Oh dear, how to get out of this one?”, or to think about the problems, or just to run away, give it the swerve, so to speak. And she didn’t quietly forget or shut her mind to what was put to her. Instead her approach was, “Bring it on!” Mary said, I am the Lord’s servant…May it happen to me as you have said. You might like to read about it at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel (Chapter1 from verse 26.)
You could also have a look at Joseph, whom Matthew talks about; he could have found any reason to give this whole business a miss, could have imagined a little more than nine months’ problems ahead; but he went on into the unknown, prepared to be led by the Spirit.
And there you have it. They were ready to serve, up for the task. And yes, they were special people, more so than us. But to God we are all worth it, worth the love it took him to win us and to keep us.
How could we do something about this as Christmas approaches- or any week, really? Really, the least we could do is to turn up and worship him, just because he’s there. So why do some of us dodge some of those precious occasions, pass on the chance to do business with the Boss of all life? Why do we think some services matter less than others? It’s the same Good News shared at all of them, the same God who turns up. How come the Church of England defines regular attendance as only coming to church at least once a month and special festivals?
Nobody needs me to go on a rant at this point; instead I’ll get us to look to the writer of Hebrews when he says, Do not neglect to meet together. For God to keep doing his work with us, he could do with being able to move among us when we’re together and listening to him. This can be as a larger group in church or in our smaller gatherings, perhaps in Messy Church and other things that are put on. But it does involve being there in the first place! More than special times like Christmas. It’s worth trying to rediscover the way that the parents of the Saviour put themselves out there, and make ourselves available as often as possible; not leave it till next week, or put a date in our diary to think about turning up. After all, he means it when he says he’s always around.