Surrender is not a popular word, is it? Almost disliked as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. In today’s competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in. So, we don’t hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, to surrender is unthinkable. We would rather dwell on winning, succeeding, overcoming and conquering not yielding, submitting, obeying, or surrendering. It is ironic then that surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith.
Palm Sunday is all about surrender. Jesus rode on a donkey not a horse. Jesus came in peace not war, to surrender not conquer. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom sacrifice, to be the Passover lamb, to make atonement with God. And when some in the crowd laid their coats on the ground, it was a sign of their surrender to him. Because surrender is the natural response to God’s grace and mercy. Our surrender is called many things in scripture: consecration, taking up your cross, dying to self, yielding to the Spirit, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. What matters is that we do it, not what we call it.
“To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!” I’m sure you know these are the opening lines from the iconic TV series Star Trek. At the beginning of every episode, Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise says “Space: The final frontier”
Most of us will never get to test that frontier but there is another frontier we all face with a 100% certainty. Death is usually the last thing we want to talk about and yet it comes to us all, sometimes prematurely. And too many people are ill-prepared. When a loved one in mid-life is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, your world is turned upside down. Your faith is tested. Your priorities and hopes for the future are changed, instantly, radically, irrevocably. And so by the way does your circle of friends. Invariably it gets smaller, but I’m thankful for those who have stuck with us over the past five years, who have encouraged us to persevere.
I woke up the other day and couldn’t see properly. I could see a blurred object like a large hair moving around in one eye. When I looked in the mirror there was nothing on my eye, but I could still see something moving around. That was when my curiosity turned to mild panic. Was I losing my eyesight? Was it cancer?
I phoned the medical helpline 111 and was referred to the local Accident and Emergency Eye Hospital. A nice person triaged me over the phone and made an appointment for me to visit the next day. I was seen quickly by an eye specialist who did numerous tests, one of which is not for the faint hearted. It involved smearing my eye with aesthetic jelly and then placing an instrument on the pupil to explore the inside of my eye. Her diagnosis was that I have a vitrous detachment or ‘floater’.
This week we celebrated International Women’s Day. The same day the UK government announced they would be funding more football sessions in schools for girls to improve gender equality in sport. I remember when our daughter wanted to play football at school she found it difficult to get picked for the team. The assumption then was that boys played football, while girls played netball.
But as you know sexism on the playing field is tame compared to the gender discrimination women face in career opportunities, in promotion prospects, in pay differentials, in the stereotype roles expected of men and women, even within such a liberated and enlightened society as ours.
One female executive put it like this, “To get anywhere in the corporate world a woman has to do the same work a man would do in the same job, but she must do it twice as well.” Then she added, “Fortunately, that is not difficult.” Another said, “We deserve more pay than men. After all, anything Fred Astaire could do, Ginger Rogers could do backwards and on high heels.”
I am sure like me you have been shocked at the eruption of violence in Palestine this week. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz invariably goes for the jugular with its headlines where Western media normally fear to tread. On Tuesday, for example, Haaretz ran the headline, “Israeli Settlers’ Hawara Pogrom was a Preview of Sabra and Chatila 2” In case you were born after 1982, in September that year, after invading Southern Lebanon, the Israeli military allowed the Lebanese Phalangist Militia to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and massacre over 3,500 Palestinian men, women and children. Haaretz drew the comparison, “This week in the West Bank, no one stopped the extremist settlers from running amok in Hawara.”
I was driving past a Dunkin Donut store and felt this strong pang of hunger come on, so I prayed “Lord, if you want me to buy some donuts, please send me a sign and provide me with a parking space right outside the shop”. And guess what, The Lord answered my prayer. On my tenth time I drove past the shop, there was my parking space. It was Oscar Wilde who made famous the phrase, “I can resist everything… except temptation.”
Rejoice with me for I have won a Premium Bond prize! I got fed up with the abysmal interest rate my bank was paying on savings. I feel quite good about lending my savings to the government to help bail out the economy. I have already won more money than I could have earned in a year’s worth of bank interest. Rest assured, the prize won’t change my lifestyle but I feel more generous. How much did I win? all five thousand pennies… (or £50).
The currency changes everything doesn’t it? Which currency are you using to evaluate worth? An earthly or heavenly currency?
They say you never get a second chance at a first impression. But first impressions can sometimes be rather superficial. And that is also true when people think of Jesus. What were your first impressions of Jesus?
My first memory of Jesus was around the age of six when I first attended Sunday School. I remember two things: Singing the chorus, “Jesus loves me this I know…” and a large painting of Jesus on the wall. Jesus was holding a lamb in his arms surrounded by lots of little children my age – except strangely unlike my Sunday school class, they were all different colours. There was an African child, a Chinese child, an Indian child, a Native American child and many others that were different to me. But I do remember, reassuringly that Jesus had long golden hair and a blond European complexion. My first memories were of a white Jesus and for many of us that is our unconscious default view we carry we carry with us through life. Comforting it may be until we encounter someone with a different religious heritage. William Blake described the dilemma we face.
What is it that makes you angry? At a trivial level, I get angry when I see someone drop litter or see a dog owner allow their pet to soil the path. More seriously I get angry when I see graffiti sprayed on a wall, or a tree sapling vandalised. I get angry when I hear climate change deniers, or when companies discharge waste into rivers. I get more angry when I see someone being bullied or harassed, especially if it’s a child, a woman, someone with a disability or person of colour. I get even more angry still over child abuse, sexual harassment or physical violence. I feel very angry with holocaust denial, Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism. Above that, those who justify apartheid, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide. That’s me. What about you? What about Jesus? What did Jesus get angry with in the gospels? Surprisingly it was none of the above. What was it? Religious hypocrisy. Worth reflecting on that isn’t it?
In our gospel reading today Jesus’ instructs us on dealing with anger and with conflict resolution. Here are three headings: Unjustified anger is always destructive (Matthew 5:21-22) Unsettled disputes are invariably costly (Matthew 5:25-26) Pursue reconciliation to resolve conflict (Matthew 5:23-24)
“I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr, D. L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.” Who said that? Woodrow Wilson, the former President of the United States.