Christ our Ransom

Our gospel is from Mark. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45).
Week by week we have been walking through the gospel of Mark, following the disciples and peering over their shoulders to see the Lord and catch his words. This Mark’s word for us this week. Of course you are not limited to this little piece of the gospel that we have just heard. As soon as you get home you can read on. Pick up this Gospel of Mark for yourself and see here he comes lowly, riding on a donkey. What was it last week? All these commandments have I kept from my youth. Then go and sell all you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and anyone who has left home and family for me will receive a hundred times again. The week before that it was: Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will have no part of it. You cannot take your own bit of the kingdom by force. You to receive meekly and gladly that bit of the kingdom that you are given. What is the gospel going to be next week? Bartimaeus – Teacher, teach me to see again. Amen, Lord teach us to see again. Week by week we walk through the bible, learning to see again. We follow the disciples and apostles, and they follow the Lord. Through this gospel we can watch the Lord coming to his people to release them from all the kings of this world. We can watch the passion of the Lord, which is our passion, that he has taken for us, through trial and flogging and crucifixion through battle to victory and triumph. The ‘kings’ of this world want us to insist that we serve them and we work for them. But the true king is coming, back to his own vineyard, because he has heard the prayers and appeals of those long in captivity. But He shall call me and I shall answer him… I will rescue him and show him my salvation – that is this week’s psalm, psalm 91. So the Lord returns to judge the wicked masters who had grabbed control of the vineyard and so long been exploiting the little ones in it.

In another six weeks or so we reach Advent and start a new book, the gospel of Luke which we read through next year. Today the Church is celebrating St Luke, and with Luke the evangelist we are celebrating Ecumenical Sunday. Every congregation sends one member to the neighbouring congregation so we are reminded that all the many Christian congregations make up just one body of witness to this city. St Mary’s Stoke Newington sent me, and their greetings in Christ, to you, one part of the body to another.

So, a ransom for many. This is the punch-line for this week. This is the line, Mark, our gospel writer and evangelist, wants us to hear. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. A ransom: he redeemed us. We had got into debt with all sorts of powers, but he bought us back from them. He paid them off and got us out of hock. He took us away from them, and is now taking us them away from us. We were in captivity to many powers that did not mean to do us any good. Some of them were external, but many of them were internal to us. It was our sins that were holding us back, and the chief of them were our fear and faithlessness. But through baptism that captivity has been broken, and now we are being redeemed. Now we can gladly confess a new growing debt – to Christ our Lord. Isaiah tells us about this ransom He has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases… He took our sins away from us, out of our reach, and he does so weekly as we put those sins and burdens down here and we leave them here, with him. We don’t take them home with us again.
The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all, says Isaiah. Sin had hollowed us, and created a vast hole in us. Christ was the offering that is poured into that gap that will fill it up and make us whole. He supplies the huge backlog of things – virtues and strength and gifts – that should have been ours. And now that back-log of riches, that king’s ransom, is paid over and supplied to us to make us holy people.
For Christ is the well-discipled Son, of whom the Father says, right at the beginning of Mark, This is my Son, in him I am well-pleased. He pleased the Father because he learned obedience through what he suffered. He underwent a long hard apprenticeship, at the hands of all those who didn’t intend him any good. He was oppressed and inflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. He did not protest, but stuck it out, persevered to the end and he graduated from this apprenticeship. Our resistance is what he went through, and what he turned to the good. And having been made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him... That is Hebrews 5. He has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases… He turned our evil to good. But more than that he carries us. This beast of burden is our transport through this world. Christ bears, all your life long, on his shoulders.
And we are travelling together. We travel through the bible, behind the disciples, week by week. Each reading from the gospel tells us a little bit more about him and about us. For our true identity is set out here. Jesus is Lord, and we are the people of the Lord. We gain new information about our identity each week. Each instalment of the gospel is a sacrament, the gentle holy-making power of Christ, dropped into us like a tincture, drop, drop, week after week. This week’s drop? The Son of Man…. did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Now this Son of Man is Christ. Christ means that he is anointed, he is crowned – Who is my crown if not you? says the apostle. Surely you are my crown. Christ is anointed with all the people who are given to him. They are the kingdom he is given. And he has gathered us and joined us to himself to make us the body in which he is visible to the world. Yes, we are the body in which Christ presently makes himself visible and tangible to this city of ours. We are his gathered body here. And at the end of this service we are his dispersed body, scattered across this borough and city, like seed. But everywhere we are, we are this body, for each one of us is this whole worshipping, Christ-confessing body, in miniature. We go through this city as though we were going down a long line of people were determined to stop us. The Christian life is like running the gauntlet in slow motion. We take all the emotional and spiritual hits that people deal out to us. They lash out – they can’t help themselves. And we absorb all those hits, because in Christ we have this power to soak up all the blows of the world. We suffer his passion now. For you and your Lord are one unit. He holds you to him by the invincible power of his Holy Spirit. As percolates through you, the Spirit keeps you invincible against all other masters and powers. We ride through this borough and through London, taking this witness. We go to school, to work, to hospital and care home, and do a hundred and one chores in the week, and all that time we are presence of Christ, and to all other people we pass, we are the presence of Christ. The best thing you can do on the bus or the train is take out your bible and read and hum and be glad. Let your speech be spiced with the salt and the pepper of this gospel. The Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve and to be a ransom for many. Quote it in the middle of every conversation, or how will they hear it? We are the body of Christ, going through London, taking whatever London throws at us without lashing out in return. We carry the burdens and sins that London cannot cope with. And as we do we praise him and sing to him, and as we are singing to him we are singing to London too. We expect it to overhear this worship of ours.
A Real Man
Now Jesus Christ is called the Son of Man. He is the true man, the best product of mankind, the final edition, man made holy, brought into the presence of God. As we go through the world we ask the world, where is this true man? Where will I find a man, a real man? A real man can stand through life without becoming a victim – to envy, resentment, to rage. As soon as a man lashes out – at those nearest to him, who he can hurt without consequences – he has failed to be a man. A real man is a disciplined man, and that means a disciple. Look around your men-folk to find this future disciple, who can learn from Christ the self-control that will make him a real man and husband and father. Ask your menfolk whether they think they can measure up, and take on this discipleship. Yes, there is a shortage of Christian discipleship and so a shortage of real men, men who are not in servitude to their passions and weighed down. That is why you have to holy, extra holy for their sake and tell them so, until they take up their service in Christ, their responsibility and leadership. And we have a shortage of husbands and fathers, of big brothers, and so we have kids who are so desperate for attention, and who have no idea how to grow up. It is our task to repeat this to every man we meet, and to look meaningfully at them, to see if they measure up and then we invite them to join us in this here in this worship of Christ. We say that Christ can redeem us and make men of us. He can turn lost boys into brothers and husbands and fathers, for he has grace enough even for the prodigal of us. Do you live in a cold neighbourhood, with people acting like strangers to each other? But you how to love, learn how to bleed a little, learn how to take it personally, how to care. Whenever people cross us, we bless them and thank them and say Your name is going on my prayer list. Christ our redeemer will pay back. For he will command his angels to guard you and keep you in all your ways… Psalm 91. For in Christ we are their suffering servant – We go through the world being ignored, thought soft. We are always being written off, and look, we are still here. Despising Christians, that is their job. But blessing our despisers – that is our job. Will you love them? Will you cheer them? Will you swap their hopelessness for the Lord’s hope? Is England a cold place? England is always dying spiritually and emotionally. But we are here. And because England contains us England is being renewed and warmed up. And we outwardly wasting away, inwardly renewed. We are lights, candles that burn down, yet we never go out. For people pay contempt out to Christ and he pays back love without limit, that keeps coming back, and outlasts that hate. When that hate can’t hate any more, that love is still there and the Christians are still standing, and still praising. We will not run out of love and we will be able to withstand that fear, that faithlessness and contempt. We have the means. For Christ is all the riches of God for us. What a fund, what a treasury. Will you follow your suffering triumphant Lord? Will you look out for him, and see him going ahead of you? Lord, give us your strength so that we may do so. May the words of our mouths, and the meditation of our hearts, be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen..
Green Lanes Methodist Church, Stoke Newington, London, 18 Oct 2009