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Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues
What implications does calling Jesus ‘beloved Son’ (Mark 1.11) have for him, for us and for creation?
One of the reasons why I think that the Covid-19 has proved so challenging for many churches is that responding to it has called into question a fundamental impulse of Christian tradition and theology. As long as I can remember I have considered ‘boundary-breaking’ as written into the DNA of Christianity – at least in its western more Protestant expressions. The ‘tearing apart’ of the heavens at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1.10) – which of course is the precursor to the ‘tearing apart’ of the veil of the Temple at Jesus’ death (Mark 15.38) – is a visual symbol of Christ’s ministry which reached out to ‘break through’ traditional barriers that separated clean/unclean, holy/profane, etc. In Christian history, such a vision was ‘enfleshed’ by ‘saints’ who reached beyond normal limits, whatever the cost to themselves : Saint Damien’s choice to live and minister to people with leprosy on Molokai is a notable example. Such behaviour is seen as an expression of Christian love in action.
But in these days of COVID, boundary-crossing is frowned upon, and boundaries of different kinds – physical, geographical, political and psychological are being erected. We are told to ‘stay away’ from those we love – not get close to them. Risk-taking, even for the benefit of others, is frowned on. How can Christian love demonstrate itself in these days of COVID? Perhaps the report in The Guardian based on research by Christian Aid offers a clue.
Ideas for sermons or interactive talks
‘Beloved Son’ is a title for Jesus here at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, at the transfiguration in the middle (9.7) and, by implication, in the Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard (Mark 12.6) as his passion nears. What does it mean? It may well echo the description of kings who were often described as the ‘son’ of God (2 Samuel 7.14), but with the epithet ‘beloved’ added, I think that its primary resonance recalls the story of Isaac – the beloved son (Genesis 22.2) – who was so nearly sacrificed. Several New Testament authors seem to have drawn links between Christ and Isaac. Jesus was ‘the beloved Son’ who went one step further than Isaac was required to go. In the case of Jesus there was no ‘ram in the thicket’ to save his life when his passion approached. Exploring this link between Jesus’ title as ‘beloved Son’ and his ‘suffering’ could be fruitful in this week in which a focus is on ‘identity’. It is because Jesus knows himself loved by the Father that he in turn is able to set love free – both among other human beings and in wider creation. (The motif of a ‘new creation’ runs strongly through these verses of Mark.)
I enjoy the collection of paintings by Stanley Spencer ‘Christ in the wilderness’. One of the most famous (and my favourite) of these is Christ tenderly holding a scorpion, an example of his time with ‘the wild beasts’ (Mark 1.13). Because Jesus is secure in his own identity he is able to extend love to others, even those creatures normally seen as hostile.
Questions for discussion
Gather a collection of ‘quotes’ about love and invite people to say which they particularly appreciate, which they do not like or want to disagree with, and why. Here are a few to start you off (all used by myself once at such an activity on an ecumenical retreat):
- You first loved us so that we might love you. And that was not because you needed to be loved by us, but because we could not be what you created us to be except by loving you. (William of St. Thierry, On Contemplating God)
- When I think of what life is, and how seldom love is answered by love… it is one of the moments for which the world was made.(EM Forster)
- Love makes the world go round and those in it a bit dizzy. (Anon)
- ’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. (Alfred Lord Tennyson)
- Love is like the measles, we all have to go through it. (Jerome K Jerome)
- Love that is not madness is not love. (Pedro Calderon de la Barca)
- Whom we love best, to them we can say the least. (John Wray)
- Love, and a cough, cannot be hid. (George Herbert)
- Love never needs to say it’s sorry. (Love Story)
- Thy nature and thy name is Love. (Charles Wesley)
- Love for neighbour is a movement from hostility to hospitality. (Henri Nouwen)
- It is impossible to love and be wise. (Francis Bacon)
- Whoever loves true life, will love true love. (E.B. Browning)
- The only place where you can be safe from love is hell. (C.S. Lewis)
- Because of our good Lord’s tender love to all those who shall be saved, he quickly comforts them, saying, ‘The cause of all this pain is sin. But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ (Julian of Norwich)
- To him who is everywhere, men and women come not by travelling but by loving. (Augustine of Hippo)
- The day we stop burning with love, people will die of the cold. (Unknown)
- Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world we shall have discovered fire. (Teilhard de Chardin)
Dr Clare Amos, an Anglican Christian by tradition, has worked widely in ecumenical and international Christian context, including the World Council of Churches. Currently she is Honorary Director of Lay Discipleship for the Diocese in Europe and regularly contributes to the diocesan lectionary blog https://faithineurope.net
Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people
Has the term ‘wilderness’ ever felt as relevant to our lives as it does right now? With each day and week that passes comes a series of new announcements, promises, scientific perspectives and change of guidelines that seem to drive us to a new land, different from the past and not the place where we may choose to go. On Monday 22 February, we expect the Prime Minister to share his ‘roadmap’ laying out what steps we can expect over the next few weeks and months. For our young people, they wait particularly for news of when each year group may expect to return to school, when they may be able to pick up social activities again, and when they may be able to see grandparents, for instance.
As Jesus was driven out into the wilderness, he did so knowing that he was God’s beloved Son. This truth, deep in his being, prepared him to face whatever lay before him in the wilderness. For us, sharing in this truth, that we are known and loved by God is the truth that can sustain us, whatever we may face. As we are driven to a ‘wilderness’ alien from our norm and as we may be cut off from our usual places, practices and people, knowing this truth deep in our being, gives us a hope that passes all understanding, and will carry us through the wilderness of today’s world. Be sustained by that knowledge: you are God’s beloved.
Becky May is a freelance writer and trainer with many years’ experience of working with children and young people in a variety of settings. She can be found at The Resources Cupboard.
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