The Revd Margaret Legg
It must have been 10 years ago – stopped by a man who recognised me. I was having a bad hair day, over worked – rudely asked him: ‘Do I know you?’ He walked away, disappointed. The next day it dawned on me who he was – my assistant, from back in the ‘70’s, when I was the Personnel and Training Manager in the then, St Ermin’s Hotel in Caxton St. by St James Park tube station. A kind and gentle soul. We had not seen each other for over 20 years. I have felt bad about this ever since – how could I have been so rude? In hope I look out for him, to make amends. Haven’t spotted him yet. If you’ve ever been in the same boat you may be familiar with that regret. Call yourself a Christian Margaret – didn’t Jesus give us a new commandment to love your neighbour as you love yourself? 0 out of 10 then.
Well, today Jesus is rude, not to a former colleague but to his own mother, so that’s all right then! Or is it? Jesus might well have been having a bad hair day. In Mark’s gospel Jesus has been working full pelt since his baptism. We’re only in Chapter and Jesus has called the disciples, committed literally hundreds of healings including specifically Peter’s mother in law, a leper, the paralytic on the stretcher lowered down from the roof. He’s also got up the nose of the Pharisees and scribes, breaking the law by eating and healing on the Sabbath and forgiving sins (which only God could do).
It’s the 9th time that Mark has reported enormous crowds, or that Jesus had no privacy, or was too busy to eat.No wonder people think he’s burnt out, potty and rude to his mother. Whenever we’ve been short with colleagues, cut our neighbours or just couldn’t be bothered, if we can put it down to stress, knowing Jesus did just the same, well then that would be alright. Only it’s not that he’s either rude or out of his mind!
God welcomes everyone who does his will. Except that on this occasion, it does not include the scribes, who cannot recognise God at work. It’s the devil they say! They deny the holiness of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit working within him and confuse goodness and evil, which Jesus finds unforgivable. They place themselves outside God’s family.
God’s family is wider than our nearest kith and kin. This is a hard lesson (one of many) for Mary, who has come with Jesus’ natural family in a gesture of protection for him. This is one thing that attracts me to St John’s – it’s signed up to inclusive church… So no comfort there for me – it’s clearly not alright to exclude!
In our Old Testament reading, Adam and Eve have not kept God’s commandment – have eaten from the forbidden tree – and are hiding in shame/fear/regret. Just as I feel. God searches out Adam, the man to whom he gave life. We heard how God missed the close fellowship for which he created him, and which brought joy to them both. God seeks out each of us, individually and equally, always and everywhere, offering us love, friendship, forgiveness and communion. He knows how we are, how we go astray and still bids us welcome.
The choir sings today an anthem that sums this up beautifully – George Herbert’s poem ‘Love’ :
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat.
So the baptism today of Aria will, I am confident, delight God. Aria’s parents, Stefan and Dani, have accepted his invitation to Aria to become part of his family, officially. And this smiley baby will grow up knowing she is loved not only by her own mum and dad by the wider family of God. Aria will come to realise that as a follower of Jesus, trying to do his will and doubtless not always succeeding, God will always bid her welcome.