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Rev Jesse Zink preaching at St Neots Deanery Evensong March 17th 2013.

On March 17th Rev Jesse Zink, Assistant Chaplain at Emmanuel College Cambridge, preached at St Andrew’s Church Great Staughton on the theme of Faith at work.

The text of his sermon is as follows. Thank you to Jesse for letting me reproduce it on Paxtonvic blog

.Mark 6:7-13, 30-44

Romans 7:14-25.

 

 

 

Let us pray. The crowds gathered around and Jesus said to his disciples: “You give them something to eat.” But they answered him: “We can’t do that!”

            May I speak in the name of one God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

             The athletic company Nike used to have as its advertising slogan, “Just do it.” The slogan was usually emblazoned over a picture of finely-toned athlete about to perform some incredible feat: “Just do it.”

            It is a slogan that pretty well sums up the ethos of the time in which we live. The world we live in tells us that our worth is best measured by our accomplishments. In my work as a doctoral student, I know that in order to keep my supervisor happy, I need to keep reading more books, writing more words, and applying for more grants. Before I studied for ordination, I spent some time as a news reporter. In that job, I measured my success by how many stories I had written or how many interviews I had conducted. What we do defines who we are—this is why when we meet someone for the first time our first question is often, “So, what do you do?” And the lesson our world is teaching us is that the more we do, the better we are. This is why when I ask friends how they are doing, they say, “Oh… crazy busy!” In my experience, clergy and church leaders are especially prone to thinking this way. Ministry becomes about doing more stuff for more of the time we have available to us. This is the world of the Nike slogan—“just do it.” Every word is laden with meaning. Do: as in, get the job done. It: whatever the job is, do it already. And, most seductively: just: why can’t you just do it already? Everyone else is.

            If our reading this evening from the Gospel of Mark had a title, it might be that Nike slogan: just do it. Jesus sends out his disciples, commanding them to proclaim his good news and spread his message far and wide. And, indeed, that is exactly what the disciples do. The reading tells us that after being commanded by Jesus, they went out and proclaimed exactly as they had been instructed. As a result, they are able to cast out demons and cure the sick. Jesus said, “just do it” and they just did.

            Then they come back to Jesus. They are so excited about their success that they gather around him, eager to tell him all about what they have done. You can almost picture the scene, all these returned disciples gathered around Jesus shouting over one another, “You’ll never guess what I did: I cast out a demon!” “Oh yeah, I cured a sick woman!” “Oh yeah, I cast out a demon and cured a sick man!” They have accomplishments and they want to boast about them.

            Jesus invites his followers to come away with him to a quiet place for a little while. But as they try to draw away, a large crowd of people follows them and Jesus teaches them. As the day is coming to a close, his disciples say to him, “Send them away and tell them to find food for themselves somewhere.” Instead, Jesus says to his followers: “Send them away? You give them something to eat.” You can almost hear the incredulous tone in Jesus’ voice. You mean you who just told me all about your wonderful deeds of power and might cannot find a way to feed all these people who are here? Why not? Why can’t you just do it already?

            And this is the moment when the disciples come up short. They realize that they cannot feed the thousands of people. Instead of being able to “just do it,” they realize they just can’t.

            I wonder if you have ever experienced a just can’t moment in your life? Has there ever been a time when you realize that in fact you won’t be able to do everything you’ve committed yourself to? Have you ever looked at your to-do list and wondered how you will make it to the end of the day? The just can’t moment is the moment when our carefully-constructed ideas about the course of our day, our career, our personal life, all come crashing down around us. “Just do it”? I just can’t.

            The Apostle Paul knew something about both just do it and just can’t. He was raised as a strictly-observant Jewish person and so knew the Jewish law—which is contained in what we now call the Old Testament—backwards and forwards. The law is a very good thing.  It is a product of God’s love for us and it is a way God wants to show us to live with one another in a healthy, fruitful, and mutual way. The law is so good that much of what Jesus had to teach us, he borrowed from the law. Jesus’ two big commandments—to love God and to love our neighbour as ourself—first appear in the Old Testament. When Jesus tells us to care for the least among us, he is borrowing heavily from ideas that were already expressed in the law God gave. Paul was raised to follow this law closely and he did. He was told to “just do it” and he did his best. If everyone could “just do it” when it comes to the law, the world would be in much better shape than we are right now.

            But what Paul realizes is that he can’t always “just do it.” This is what we hear him explain in his letter to the Romans this evening. “I do not understand my own actions,” he writes. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. When I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” What Paul is learning is another twist on just do it. It’s not that he is overcommitted or has bragged too much about what he can do, like the apostles. Instead, he is realizing that no matter how much he wants to do the good things that are contained in the law, he cannot. He just can’t do good. Perhaps you have experienced this as well. You can see the right thing to do, but for whatever reason you find yourself being drawn away from it, unable to actually accomplish it. It’s like you can see the target you’re aiming for, and then at the last minute you swerve away from it and fail to do the thing you’ve tried to do. God says, “Here are all these great ideas about how you should live,” and Paul says—we say—I just can’t. That, more or less, is what Christians believe it means to be human. No matter how hard we try, when it comes to what God is expecting of us, we just can’t do it on our own.

            The good news about the Christian faith is that it honestly acknowledges this “just can’t” reality. To be a Christian, you don’t have to pretend to be super-human, completely capable, and uber-competent. You don’t have to have a list of accomplishments that stretches to the floor. You don’t need to measure yourself by what you can do. You can stop staying, “just do it” all the time. Instead, the Christian faith is a faith that takes our failures and inabilities and transforms them.

            We see this is a number of different ways, particularly during this Lenten season. For instance, on Ash Wednesday, we took ashes—the kind of thing we want to dump out and get rid of—and imposed them on our foreheads. In a sense, what we are saying is that God has a use for even our failings and imperfections, the times when we just can’t, the moments we want to forget and get rid of, just like we get rid of ashes. God is right there in those moments with us. When we imposed the ashes on our foreheads a few weeks ago, we did so in the shape of a cross. People who get executed are usually not remembered as great success stories in life, people who were able to “just do it.” The cross is, perhaps, the ultimate expression of “I just can’t.” When we see Jesus on a cross, we come to know more fully than ever before, that God knows deeply and intimately what it means to just not be able to do it. But of course the cross is not the final word. The great good news of the Christian faith is that saying “I just can’t” is not the end of the story. There is always a new beginning, a new start, a fresh way of looking at the world. In the cross and resurrection, God is saying to us two things: “I know what it’s like not to be able to just do it but here, let me show a path a new life.” God takes our failings, sweeps them together, redeems them in the cross, and makes us new. We say, “God, I just can’t.” And God says, “I know. Here, let me show you a path to a new and different life.”

            The challenge becomes sorting out just what that new and different life is and how we live it. After all, just because we can’t do the things God wants us to doesn’t mean they’re not still good. It actually is a hurting world that we live in and the Christian message of peace and reconciliation is as relevant today as it has ever been. There really are hungry people to be fed, prisoners to be visited, sick people to be cared for, and lonely people who need relationship. But the first thing that each individual Christian is called to is the recognition of our dependence on God, our inability to demonstrate our love for God in action, and our failure to always do what it is God desires for the world. Christians understand that in order to change the world, we need to change ourselves first. Only once we have said, “I just can’t” can we begin to move forward in the power of God’s love. Only once we have acknowledged the death of our beliefs about our abilities can we move forward into the resurrection life God is calling us to.

            This is more or less what happened to those disciples of Jesus. Although they seemed pretty capable when Jesus sent them out this time, in just a few chapters, Jesus is going to tell his good friend, Peter, “get behind me Satan.” Peter will deny Jesus at his trial. And when Jesus is crucified, the majority of his closest friends and followers will be nowhere to be found. They will have run away in fear, a fear that only deepens when they hide in an upper room together and worry that the same people who killed Jesus will be coming after them as well. Forget about just doing it; these guys just can’t.

            But, of course, we wouldn’t be here this evening were it not for those early followers of Christ, people like Peter who came to understand the depth of God’s merciful and forgiving love for him and became a critical figure in the building of the early church or people like Paul who realized that no matter that he just couldn’t do it, God still had a use for him in spreading the teachings of the gospel around the Roman Empire. The church is not made up of perfect people who can always do everything exactly right and on time the first time. It’s made up of people who just can’t, but who also know that just not doing it is not the core part of their identity and that God’s transforming love is always drawing us into a newer, deeper, and fuller way of living.

            When I was growing up, a lot of people wore Nike gear emblazoned with the logo “just do it.” Christians have a different logo, the cross. The cross is a logo that says we are not measured by our ability and our actions. It is a logo that acknowledges the truth that sometimes we just can’t. When we see a cross, we are turning to God and saying, “I just can’t.” And we hear God say in reply, “I love you anyway. Let me show you a new life.”

            Amen.

 

 

 

 

March 25, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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