It seems to me that there is always a danger that we risk turning our faith into something that sounds so spiritual and religious that it doesn’t have much to do with real life.
For those of us who are attracted to Christianity, perhaps it goes back to the way we choose to read the Bible.
I am guessing that this reading we have this morning will be at least partly familiar to many of us here this morning.
Certainly it starts off almost implying that religion doesn’t have much to do with the sorts of lives that most of us find ourselves living. And if you read it casually it sounds as if the only thing that matters is that Jesus wants us to focus on him and he will sort out everything for us.
“Let not your hearts be troubled” That is good – except that I suspect in real life sooner or later troubles seem to loom very large in most peoples’ lives. It doesn’t matter how rich you are – how much exercise you do – or how nice the family house might be – or even how many times we attend Church – sickness does eventually come to visit, loved family members or friends can and do die and if your families are anything like there are worries with the family.
Well perhaps Jesus is a Talisman. After all when Thomas says
How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Unfortunately that bit is sometimes taken out of context and used to enlist Jesus into the gatekeeper of so called only true Church. By implication it is used to argue that the only way to be a Christian is to believe in exactly the same form of Christianity that the street evangelist of the moment happens to follow.
But did you notice Jesus is very clear that it isn’t a list of beliefs he is on about. What is it that John records:
“The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.”
Those works were anything but removed from the real world. Ministering to those in trouble – is not the same as withdrawing from the world.
Standing up to the hypocrites, spending time with the tax collectors and lepers, offering friendship and hospitality to those of little account – this doesn’t sound like avoiding reality and living a heavenly life disconnected from the world. And yet Jesus in effect says look at these works and recognise in them the nature of God.
This is actually why worship is only part of the story. Jesus’ works had much to do with the real issues of his day – and we don’t have to look too far to see that the real issues of our day also demand our attention – and not just our prayer.
What was it Jesus said: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these……
So when we encounter one of those more dreadful periods of history, what then should we do.
If we are merely cynical we might of course throw up our hands in horror and ask in a cross or despairing voice “where is Jesus today?”
There is on the other hand a rather more constructive approach. Let me illustrate with one man’s response to trouble. I wonder if there are any flag experts amongst us today. Where is this flag from? (hold up a white flag with a Red Cross in the middle – a cardboard replica would do). No not a country – …an organisation … the Red Cross.
Let’s go back in history. One day in 1859 in Northern Italy at a place called Solferino a vicious battle was fought for 16 hours between the French and Austro Hungarian Armies. Casualties were high on both sides and at the end of the day the armies had withdrawn to regroup as best they could.
A 31 year old Swiss businessman, Henry (Henri) Dunant, passing through on a business trip, unintentionally happened upon the aftermath of the slaughter and suffering. Because it was the first battlefield he had encountered he was understandably horrified. He said later it wasn’t so much the dead bodies everywhere, it was that there was no one to care for the wounded and the dying. He wrote: “With faces that were black with flies that swarmed around their wounds, men gazed about them, wild eyed and helpless”
And where was Jesus that day? Well as it happened, straight away Dunant set about mobilising and organising the people of the town nearby. Churches were used as hospitals. Young children fetched water, while women washed and dressed the wounds, and the dead were given respectful burials.
Henry Dunant was surprised at how easily ordinary people could be organised to help and were so willing to make a difference. As a consequence he wrote a book about his experiences in which he suggested nations should organise such groups of volunteers to prepare in advance to help reduce the suffering in times of war.
With the assistance of some prominent citizens in Switzerland he set up an international organisation to do just that, and so that they might be readily recognised as neutral volunteers they wore the insignia of what we now know as the Red Cross which was of course the Swiss flag with the colours reversed.
The Red Cross has had a huge influence ever since and even the Muslim countries have taken up the idea, although of course their organisation had to avoid using the Cross which had been used as the symbol of their enemies in the crusades – so instead they called their version of the same organisation, the Red Crescent. Both organisations provide proactive assistance in times of disaster, assist those beyond the borders of the organisations, and their healing and humanitarian record is impressive indeed.
It is significant that when in 1864 the twelve nations who set up the idea of the Geneva Convention to limit the behaviour of nations at war, that each of the twelve also set up branches of the Red Cross.
I am not sure how great a deed needs to be before it is what Jesus might have had in mind when he talked of deeds greater than his own. What I do know is that in 1901 the founder of the Red Cross, Henry Dunant, was one of two people to be awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize and four times during its history the organisation itself has also received that same prize.
What however we can be rather more certain of is that when you think what Jesus stood for with his own healing ministry, with his encouragement that his followers should help those in need, and his insistence that his followers recognise even enemies as neighbours, surely Henry Dunant was enacting the Spirit of Jesus’ message.
Of course our works are most unlikely to match what Henry Dunant was able to achieve with the Red Cross. Nevertheless the ways we deal with the problems that come our way are also the way we reveal what drives us. We are the message. Perhaps John was onto something when he drew the attention of his readers to this aspect of Christ’s gospel.
Remember again Jesus’ words: 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.
Surely supporting or initiating such works is a significant part of the way we live our response to the challenge of living the gospel in the real world.
Worth thinking about surely.