Control freakery

A  churchwarden – who knew me quite well – once gave me a fridge magnet which says:  Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Because worry is just the other side of the coin to control freakery – and I can do both.

Believe it or not – and some of you might find this hard to believe – I am a lot better now than I ever was at letting things be, at not worrying about things and about letting people just do things in their own way.  

I used to be a lot worse –   but one of the things I have learned is that there are many different ways of doing the same things and it usually seems to work somehow in the end. 

But I am not alone….  .  When Jesus stopped his disciples arguing on the road about who is the greatest – they weren’t just arguing about who is the most important, they were also arguing about who was second or third in command after Jesus. And Jesus tells them off.  He grabs a child, and says you’ve got to become like this …  now I know that children can be bossy and can worry about stuff – and I bet Jesus knew that too  – but I suspect Jesus wanted to say ‘get on with life and trust your heavenly parent’ – God.  

The letter of St. James  puts it much more strongly.  Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?’  he writes ‘You want something and do not have it;’  he says  –  he calls it envy and selfish ambition’   and he tells us to  ‘first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.’   in other words – be just, honest and fair without being bossy or too controlling.

But that was easier said than done –  even in St. James’s time.  We all think we’re right, we don’t like to be told that we’re wrong, we don’t like to give in or to take orders from someone else .. it’s human nature. .  And St James, St John, St Peter and St Paul – and a whole host of other apostles found that difficult then too.

We like think that the early church must have been all hunka-dory  – when all the disciples were kind and sympathetic, shared everything they had and lived in one big commune together as one happy family. 

But today’s Gospel verses and the Letter of St James tell us that it just wasn’t like that.  The early disciples argued amongst themselves about who was in charge just as much as we do,  and by the time James was writing his letter in perhaps 60 AD  –  the whole church was arguing with itself across the whole world. 

What started off as a mild disagreement between a couple of disciples on the roadside journey had grown into an almost complete split between St Paul’s gentile church in Modern day Turkey and Greece, St Peter’s church in Rome and of course St James’s church stuck back in Jerusalem.   

Paul thought he was the most important – probably just because St Paul always thought that he was right.  Peter thought he was in charge because Jesus had said to him  ‘you are Peter and upon this rock I build my church’ and James no doubt thought that he was the most important because he claims to be the brother of Jesus himself and he was now the bishop of the most important diocese in the world – the place where it had all begun – Jerusalem.   Their age-old disagreement in the first century didn’t die with them  …  Protestants still latch on to St Paul as their most important apostle.  Catholic’s still claim St Peter as the first pope and to some extent liberals still latch on to St James’s epistle as the justification for a social Gospel. 

But what was Jesus like – what would he say to St Paul, St Peter and St James –  what would he say to us:

Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’

What does that mean if you’re an apostle, or a bishop, or just a person with responsibilities and duties in this world today?   I’m sure Jesus didn’t want a church of door-mats!

So if I asked you now to take a pen and paper and write down the real message of Jesus – perhaps three things that really sum up for you what Jesus taught,  what would you write?

– be nice to people?

– say your prayers more ?

– believe the right things?

or would it be

– go turn the tables upside down in the temple?

– go preach against sin and hypocrisy down at Stratford station?

– go get yourself killed for the cause of right?

What would it be?

You might like to think about that one over the coming week!

Well I want to give you three pointers that make sense to me.

The first is that Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is already inside us  – that’s the Good News – he said.

Repent, the Kingdom of God has come, believe the Good News,

Neither say, Look here! or, look there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

so I think Jesus starts off by saying that we don’t need magic to look for miracles – we just need the power of God – call it the kingdom – call it the Holy Spirit –  but we need it deep inside us, inspiring us and giving us the strength we need – and Jesus tells us that it is already there inside us if only we open our eyes and see it, if onely we open our hearts and feel it.  

The second pointer is that this power of God is not just so that we can become more powerful, richer, more successful or more Zen –  it’s so that we can become more righteous and more holy … righteous means more justice and holy means more forgiving and prayerful.

The kingdom of God within us should not only empower us – but should also nag us to make God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven –  and that’s not all about us, it’s usually about other people.

So Jesus tells us to be merciful, not to judge others, to feed the poor, to tend the sick, to love our enemies, to be holy, and of course to share all we have with others and even give up our lives if we have to.   It’s a whole new way of living – and in the end it got Jesuskilled.

And thirdly I think Jesus tells us to believe that God’s Kingdom is always victorious  –  Good always prevails eventually – although it might take a second coming for that to happen.  

Jesus teaches that faith can move mountains, he shows the power of God’s Kingdom by doing miracles and passing on the power to his disciples and of course, he shows the power of God’s Kingdom is victorious by rising again even when they kill him.  What bigger sign of God’s victory could there be than that?

The resurrection really is the sign that no human power can ever put God down … ever.

And because Jesus just believes all this ….  he doesn’t have to worry and he doesn’t have to be a control freak ..  just to bring this sermon back to the beginning and on to a close …. instead he trust that God will sort it, that his new church will be all right come what may and he hands it all back over to us – to you and to me … and simply says to us : trust in God, believe in me, and now go live the Kingdom in whatever way works for you wherever you are ….  Work it out!

The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington