Not all Beer and Skittles

John 18:36

StMarksIn my previous employment, coming towards to year 2,000 when there was a fear that the computers would simply crash due to how they were set up years before with the maximum year of 1999 installed, my employer must have spent tens of millions in updating all things P.C. to be year Y2K compliant.

In all seriousness that with the fear and hype going on at the time, to ensure all would be O.K. at the conclusion of that New Year’s celebrations: midnight 31’st December 1999 it was responsible management.

Yet as we know it all went off without a hitch and with the “wisdom” of hindsight I did amuse myself when one of the tech. guys speaking to us in middle management about all they’ve done also ridiculed the companies and countries that had not spent those millions and had the action plan that if anything did go wrong-they would just turn back the clocks.

It really did after the fact seem amazing to me that with all the technology we have that it couldn’t have been tested to be virtually 100% sure that the old systems were O.K. and gave me that same sense of irony as to when computers were first making their way in society we were being told that when we are all on board with such a great tool that the outcome will see us with so much extra leisure time on our hands that we won’t know what to do with it all. .

The promise of a life of all “beer and skittles” that not only never seemed to eventuate, but in many cases-in some sections, mostly-resulted in people having longer working days with less leisure time.

Do not get me wrong, I mostly like what technology has provided and since the dawn of time our world has been living in a world of advancement. Faster and more efficient methods of travel. Thankfully greater medicines and people of expertise that extend our lives. Mobile phones and social media that allow us to share our love with those we love no matter the location. Air conditioners in the heat, heaters in the cold and mechanisms to keep us safe from those with mechanisms to hurt us.

Yet somehow, in this we put pressure on ourselves in order to look and feel up to date and see our free time slaughtered on the altar of self-betterment and consumerism.

The need to be on a constant life of personal advancement of self and riches.  From good, to better, to best though falsely tricks us into thinking we are better educated, better skilled, and better moral people than ever before.  But are we?  Are you a better person than your parents, or their parents, or there parent’s parents?

Are we better than the people of past centuries, and if so what does that say about God?  Who after he had created humans, ‘…saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’?  Are we now, by our own effort, better people than God could ever make us?

In today’s Gospel we see the same scenario going on were Jesus is where He is, standing before Pilate because the Pharisees and the teachers of the law felt he got in their way of moral improvement as seem through their statements “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus responds “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” …” In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”  Jesus agrees that he is a king, but his kingdom is not outwardly recognizable.  It is not of this world.  It is not a kingdom defined by social, ethical or material advancement.  Jesus’ kingdom is about loss and not gain; about his disciples dying to self and taking up their cross.  Jesus is a king who came to suffer for those suffering and for those wanting forgiveness and for those “that knew not what they do.”

Should we strive in our lives to live better lives, to increase our skills of trade and communication? I certainly think so. But I know so-that Jesus did not go to the cross, suffered whippings, beatings and ultimately a humiliating death by crucifixion, just so we can be better people outwardly.

The good news of God’s kingdom is far more radical and life changing than just self-betterment or material improvement.  The kingdom of Jesus is a gift of restoration with him and renewal on the inside. Through the means of grace, baptism and Holy Communion, the gift of God’s kingdom are given, forgiveness, victory over sin, death and the devil.  No advancement, just total renewal.   The sacrifice and hard work of having to move from good to best, has already been offered by Jesus on the altar of the cross.  It was there that the best man payed the debt of the worst. It was there, hidden in suffering and selflessness, that Jesus’ opened a new way to God; where by his blood we are made the best we could ever be; inwardly, as written in Hebrews ‘our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.’ There was not and is not any visible advancement in the kingdom of God.  It is a “back to front” kingdom to which St Paul says ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’

We live in two kingdoms and there are a number of differences between the two. Between Jesus’ Kingdom and earthly ones.

The earthly kingdoms are sometimes built on force, with armies and killing.

In contrast, the kingship of Jesus never ends. Even when this earth is gone, and all the wars and killing of human beings has ended, the Kingdom of Jesus continues. When the last weapons of mass destruction have exploded and the earth has disappeared, the Kingdom of Jesus will continue. The Kingdom of Jesus is one where God wins the hearts and minds of people with his love. God’s love means God is the one who is killed. God is offered up as the sacrifice to destroy evil.

Actor Denzel Washington when addressing college graduates in May this year and after being asked for his advice replied with this:

“I’m going to keep it short,” “Number one: Put God first,” he said.  “Put God first in everything you do.” “Everything you think you see in me, everything I’ve accomplished, everything you think I have – and I have a few things,” said Washington. “Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.”

Back tracking a little: In leading up to those remarks, the star of such films as Malcolm X, Training Day, Glory, The Book of Eli, and The Equalizer, said, “When I was young and started really making it as an actor, I came and talked to my mother and said, ‘Mom, did you think this was going to happen? I’d be so big and I’ll be able to take care of everybody and I can do this and I can do that.’”

“She said, ‘Boy, stop it right there, stop it right there, stop it right there!” he continued.  “She said, ‘If you only knew how many people been praying for you.’ How many prayer groups she put together, how many prayer talks she gave, how many times she splashed me with holy water to save my sorry behind.” 

“She said, ‘Oh, you did it all by yourself,'” (well) “‘I’ll tell you what you can do by yourself: Go outside and get a mop and bucket and clean these windows – you can do that by yourself, superstar.’”

“So, I’m saying that: because I want to congratulate all the parents and friends and family and aunties and uncles and grandmother and grandfathers, all the people that helped you get to where you are today,” Washington told the graduates.  “I’m going to tell you about three stories. I’m going to keep it short. I remember my graduation speaker, got up there

and went on forever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

(But) “I’m going to keep it short,” he said, and then made his point about God and putting Him first in our lives.  “Number one: Put God first. Put God first in everything you do. Everything you think you see in me.  Everything I’ve accomplished, everything thing you think I have – and I have a few things. Everything that I have is by the grace of God. Understand that. It’s a gift.”

Jesus said ‘You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

And yet, Jesus invites not orders.  He encourages not demands.  He is the one who gives us worth, and so yes: become what you want. But be who you are and put Christ first just as He has put you first always remembering and relying of His love for you that allowed Him to say: to promise: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Amen

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