Sermon: ‘Passion Sunday and rule of life’ by Rev Ali Marshall given on 21 March 2010

Discipleship – John 12:1-8

 I can be very predictable…there is someone amongst us who, with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes, when he sees I am preaching says, are you going to tell us God loves us? What an honour, if those who have heard me and met me leave with a greater sense that God loves them, how the world could change, how the world would change if we all knew this, not just assent to it in our head but were free to act on it….but how?


We have celebrated God’s love for each of us today as we baptised Mia, there are no exams to belong to Jesus, he stands with open arms to welcome all comers, everyone, without exception…even a delightful baby whose achievements have yet to move beyond smiling and gurgling and cutting teeth!


But  some here are not baptised,  their parents preferred to wait until they choose to respond to God’s demonstration of love, and open their own arms and move toward him, they choose adult or believers baptism

Two sides of the same coin, one emphasises God’s giving the other is a statement about our response and of course both are necessary. God gives, we receive, God offers, we must reach out and take. It is the same with the communion we are about to receive, Suzanne will hold out the bread, we choose to open our hands to receive, or not.

And so I want to talk this morning about how we respond to God

this is not about how to earn or deserve love or attention or gifts. I repeat, this is not about earning or deserving

The gospel reading shows a woman, John names her as Mary, the one who had sat at Jesus’ feet while her sister rushed around like a mad thing preparing supper and getting angry that no one was helping her with this important activity, – Just notice that Martha prepares this meal too but has learnt to offer without judgement upon others offering or lack of it, Martha helped to serve, sounds to me as if she too had learnt to sit and listen and  change …be changed or choose to change?.

Mary having spent time gently, quietly listening, receiving, now responds, with love, generosity, extravagance, breaking expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. Is her anointing a statement of his kingship, or is it a preparation for death,or a simple expression of her profound love and thanks to the man who has taught her much and now brought her brother Lazarus out of the grave?

Has she read the signs and recognised with Jesus where his behaviour will land him? Has she glimpsed the path to the cross, because today is Passion sunday, for the next two weeks we walk with Jesus through his passion, his suffering, his crucifixion. Jesus was no passive participant in this lonely painful walk, he chose this path in obedience to his Father, out of love , to remind us all that the world did its worst to him and he did not retaliate. God knows the reality of our human condition, the terrible things we can do and do do to one another, the depths of despair, the reality of pain and  all that could not extinguish God’s love for him, for us. We will see the dark side of discipleship now, the cost to Jesus of doing what His father needed, wanted, Jesus invites us to follow him , to follow him even along these dark days.

So what does this have to do with our own discipleship?

How do we want to respond to this God who loved us so much, who shows us a different way of living, that does not impose on us or others but brings out the best in folk, gives space for amazing transformation, for healing, for eyes to be opened and deaf ears to hear, for children and lepers and prostitutes, for everyone to feel accepted appreciated and valued, in the face of all this how do we want to live, what choices will we make, what change can we see happen when we work with and alongside this God, this Jesus. And the change will not usually be immediate or irrevocable ,  I am afraid much of life and much of the Christian life is hard work…perhaps not what you expected me to say

Disciples and discipline….from the same root, Jesus invites us to follow him

what might help you to do that?


If the creeds are what we believe and Jesus is why we believe then a rule of life is answering the how question.

How is God active and effective in your life…

what things keep you alive to God’s grace…where do you meet him and how about keeping a few more appointments

This is not arbitrary, not something to impose on yourself, it is certainly not about creating more shoulds and oughts but it is about your vision for your life, your values and capacity to mediate grace and serve, to act as light and yeast, things that you can experience and which God gives to the church, your community and the world through you


The pioneer of a rule of life was ST Benedict, in the sixth century, he called it alittle rule for beginners. He wrote a delightful 73 short chapters, barely more than a paragraph each on things you might expect of a saint  like humility silence and obedience and how to cultivate them, about prayer and reading and the importance of manual work but also about clothing and sleeping arrangements, about eating and drinking, care for the sick and receiving guests  IN the introduction he says “ in drawing up its regulations we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome….do not be daunted by fear or run away ….it can become an inexpressible delight of love.”


So this rule is not about legalism, not about trying to earn or deserve favour but about noticing the rhythms that work for you, when did you play this week? Have you had sufficient sleep? It is about  balance and gentleness and community…being gentle with yourself and others, looking to work together for the benefit of the whole community

Have you laughed? Have you cried with anyone as you look at the pain and misery of some parts of our world

have you prayed? What have you learnt this week, where have you changed,

in which places and doing what are you most aware of God, how do you listen? There are many more contemporary rules or rhythms, the Order of the mustard seed grew out of the experience of 24/7 prayer…the boiler room in Reading…Pete Grieg and Andy Freeman wrote Punk Monk and they challenge us to consider how to foster intentional growth and change, how to respond to God’s call to deeper, fuller living, what is it that would help us to live more authentic and consistent lives with Jesus and in our communities. Balanced, sustainable enjoyable rhythms To compose and regularly review such a rule becomes a compass in confusing times, creates habits that will hold us together through the dark and painful times so that as the message puts Jesus’ words in Matt 11…that we learn to live freely and lightly with unforced rhythms of grace

What might you need to consider for your own pattern or rule, begin with an inventory of what happens now and then plan small incremental steps towards how you would like it to be. My experience is that you are likely to be encouraged by all that you already do to nurture your relationship, like stopping to watch a sunset, or taking time  with kids to enjoy the surprise of the snow, or by listening to that colleague at work going through a hard time

        how much sleep do you need

        What hours do you really have to work….

        What do you do for others

        What have you learnt recently…..what might you find out more about

        when might you pray…whatever form that takes, and notice how prayer works best in you, when, for how long, using any particular aids….my life turned around, as a I have so often said when I recognised that I talk with God most easily and naturally when I am outside and so our two dogs are my prayer partners.

There is no one size fits all, spend some time over the Easter holiday period just keeping company with Jesus and reviewing the patterns you live by now….are they in harmony with the priorities you choose for your life, what could do with changing. God knows we do not have unlimited energy or time, he created days with just 24 hours and he rested on the seventh day and enjoyed surveying the work he had done the other 6 days. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, don’t berate yourself for what you are not doing. Just consider whether you are all that you can be, take stock of what you want of the present rhythms and limits and times of connection and see if you want to change anything. And sometimes it helps to talk it over with someone else, to be accountable to another, or to your home group.

Pete and I will be hallowed as members of the Iona community this summer…sorry that does not mean we are off to live in Scotland but we are bound to a group of people who are all trying to live  a particular rule of life,that is about praying and reading scripture, about accounting to others for our use of time and resources and about working for peace and justice and the integrity of creation… talk to us if you would like to know more. There are thousands of people living as third order Franciscans, you can be a Franciscan without becoming a nun or monk, all our local convents have associates living out in the world, married or not but connected by aspiring to live by a particular set of values..or google  the Order of the Mustard Seed.

 I wish you travelling mercies for this exciting journey of faith…

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