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A short homily for Lent 5 ” The ” Star Thrower”

Its been a long time since Ive blogged but here is a little homily I just discovered based on a story about a man and starfish.

I first put it together in 2003 when I had been incorrectly diagnosed with a major illness and faced surgery. Thankfully all was well  and no treatment was needed but I shall never forget how it felt to be told very bad news and I hope the experience made me better able to empathise with people I meet who have to face major treatment and uncertainty.

I will post the original version now although I did shorten is considerably for a Holy Communion homily this morning.

Hopefully more blogging soon!

A READING FROM HEBREWS 5:5-13

 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;  as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”  In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;  and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,  having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.  About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in nderstanding.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food;  for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness.

This is the word of the Lord

Thanks be to God.

A READING FROM JOHN 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. {21} They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” {22} Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. {23} Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. {24} Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. {25} Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. {26} Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. {27} “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. {28} Father, glorify your name.”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” {29} The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” {30} Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. {31} Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. {32} And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” {33} He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Collect for Lent 5.

 Gracious Father

You gave up your Son

Out of love for the world;

Lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion

That we may know eternal peace

Through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,

Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

SERMON: “The Star Thrower”

Bless thou, the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts that they be  of profit to us and acceptable to thee, our rock and our redeemer. Amen

There is a story in a book called the UNEXPECTED UNIVERSE about a man called the Star Thrower  and it goes like this: On a beautiful tropical beach occasionally the tide and the surf would be just right, and they would combine, and cause a lot of shellfish to be cast far up onto the beach.

Some of these shellfish were very beautiful, and so after they were cast up on the beach  professional collectors and sellers would descend on the beach and swoop up all the shells to take them home where they would boil them and clean out all the flesh of the animals inside them and then sell the shells to tourists.

Some of the shells were very valuable for they were very rare, and a lot of money could be made by a diligent collector. One morning, after the moon and the wind had been just right, and many shellfish had been tossed up on the beach, a man was seen at the far end of the beach all by himself, picking up starfish one by one and throwing them back into the sea.

Curious about what he was doing with the starfish while so many other people were busy collecting the shellfish someone went over to him and asked him if he too collected things on the beach. “Only like this”, he replied, “I collect only for the living” And throwing another starfish back into the sea he said – “See, one can help them…”

I think that this story has a lot to say to us about Jesus and about ourselves.

Jesus was rather like a starfish thrower. He spent  the  years of his public ministry moving about among all sorts of people – of all shapes and sizes and conditions.   Maybe we can compare ourselves to the stranded  starfish longing for the ocean from which we have been tossed. Instead of taking what he could from the ocean, instead of seeking to enhance  his own life, he paid attention to those in need  and He came to restore wholeness to those who lay helpless and stranded  upon the sea of life for whatever reason.

We have now entered Passiontide in the Church’s Year –  Palm Sunday will soon be with us  and we focus these days when  on Jesus’ great sacrificial work on the cross. His great self-giving in love – which Christians believe somehow restores lost humanity to the ocean of God’s love.

Jesus’ work was at great cost to himself. He never collected the securities of life we are so used to – money,  a place to live, a family, a secure future and retirement pension. As he said to a man who thought to follow him “ Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the  Son of  Man has no place to lay his head”.

Jesus renounced everything for the sake of bringing life to those around him – his family, his home, and finally his very life he lay down.  We can measure the cost of his love for us and the inner turmoil he had to face by recalling  what for me are the most powerful words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died. He spent the whole night in prayer, but it still wasn’t over for him and he had to endure the physical agony of crucifixion and the emotional and spiritual agony of believing that God had deserted him.

Lying deep at the heart of the Christian faith is the conviction that Jesus did this so that others might live, so that others might know the blessings of God, so that others might be returned to the ocean of God’s love.

Some might say – this was a tremendous thing for Jesus to do for us – but we are not Jesus- we are not God – how can we be expected to give up everything to follow him?

How are we to respond to what he did for us? How can we be starfish throwers?

The power of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the compassion of Jesus, the joy and sorrow of Jesus, are all available to us – for the asking and for the wanting, if we follow him. If we are willing to walk as he did in the way of God.

Jesus said – unless a kernel  of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produced many seeds. The man who loves his life in this world will lose it, but the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

It is so easy to be like those the author of Hebrews was writing about – while we ideally should be teachers and livers out of spiritual truth, we end up needing to go over and over basic Christian truths. And how desperately the world needs almost to relearn the basics of love and forgiveness and justice amongst peoples and nations.  Jesus knew the inner law of God – the law which states the more we seek for ourselves, the more attached we are to the life we have, the more we fail to see other peoples needs and understand them, the more we avoid the harder, more wholesome routes in life. The more unhappy and restless we can be – and nearer to a spiritual darkness.

Jesus knew that by caring for others, by putting the needs of others ahead of his own desires that many around him stranded in life would be found. But he also knew with a conviction that was unflinching that he would be raised up – not just on a cross of suffering but on a cross of glory as well.

Its easy in a world with so many conflicting values, so much violence and mistrust, to miss the beauty that there is, to miss the simple and genuine opportunities to reach out to others, to take time to spread kindness, to accept other people as they are.

There is a very real sense that in reaching out to others, in living a life which is focused on increasing the amount of love in the world, we lose our preoccupation with self and experience a living out of eternal love and life.  When we stop looking to see what we can get out of life – like the shellfish collectors – and focus what we can put in – like the starfish thrower – we are living out God’s law of love.

I like the idea of being a starfish thrower. I like to hope that much of what I do is motivated from a wish to put into life as much and hopefully more than I have taken out.

Perhaps not  suprisingly,  over the last few days I have been very self preoccupied as I await the results of tests which will determine whether and to what extent I may shortly need some stomach surgery. Its an anxious time for me and those close to me. I don’t take kindly to being potentially immobilised for several weeks – its not in my nature to have to stop and slow down to crawling point and rest.  I wonder though what God may be able to teach me through this journey? Not, by the way, that I think God has caused this problem, but that out of it there are many things for me to learn.

One thing that  seems  to be coming through loud and clear is that although we are called to follow the example of  Jesus’ self-giving, this must not be at the cost of our own health. How can we give if we do not properly look after ourselves?   I  think  there can be a danger in an over emphasis on Christian self-sacrifice so that  it becomes unhealthy.

Taking time out for ourselves, to eat properly, to get exercise, to have quality time with the people who matter to us, to take time out to be with God – in the garden, in a book, in church, in encounters with others is crucial.

I’ve  not been the best person at taking time out for myself. Now I am going to have to whether I like it or not. And I am going to have to trust other people to do things just as well as I think I can. Isn’t there something about letting go of just a little bit of pride and a feeling of being indispensable?

The again, I think I am going to have to learn better to take. Strange this – doesn’t it go against  Christian teaching – and the whole thing about self-sacrifice? I love the prayer of St Francis of Assisi – make me a channel of your peace.  All about self-giving and putting others before yourself.  But all of a sudden, I am seeing that taken too far we can end up burnt out and stranded like the starfish.

Its all about balance isn’t it? I think I am finding I need a more balanced life between giving and receiving , between putting self first and putting self last. And that if we pay sufficient attention to ourselves in a healthy and appropriate way, we are then so much better able to be starfish throwers rather than stressed and unhappy shell collectors.

I am very grateful for and will continue to appreciate all the help that many folk are offering. I hope very much in the next few months that lots of people will come forward to offer to try out various things church wise which they never have before – maybe read a lesson, lead intercessions, learn to ring bells, look out to visit someone who may be lonely, perhaps join in with a  local study course, be creative at a church fete/festival, simply be around the give invaluable assistance at events – and we have to admit it is always the case that financial giving remains crucial to all the positive work we have achieved with our buildings. I’m sure that God does love a cheerful giver!

Being a church starfish thrower – enriching the life of the church – I believe is our mission. But this must never be at the expense of our own  well-being. I’m sure that with careful thought and prayer both caring for  ourselves and caring for others go together hand in hand.

April 6th 2003

March 28, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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