The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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10.30am Holy Communion      19th September 2021
For Jesus the measure of your greatness...
Jan Rushton

For Jesus the measure of your greatness 
was the measure of the welcome in your heart.
Welcome of those who are ‘no’ thing.
In first century Palestine children had no status until they were twelve.
After which age they might live and not die, 
were considered adult and counted.
Your greatness is measured by your attitude towards, your regard for, 
your welcome of, those with no status at all.
First century Palestine is a hot bed of expectation, 
apocalyptic anticipation growing for over two hundred years. 
Those expectations of the coming ‘Day of the Lord’accelerating! 
A time when God will dramatically break through into human life, 
accomplish a new heavens and a new earth!
A new and mighty king in the line of David, is eagerly awaited ....
As foretold by the prophets of old!  Isaiah. Amos.  Joel.
And Malachi who prophesies the return of the great prophet Elijah heralding the ‘awful’ advent of this new king.  Israel’s Messiah!
This was to be no mean venture!   Jesus’ disciples are also full of it!  
They too have long been searching, preparing!
Peter and Andrew, along with Jesus, at the feet of John the Baptist.
Now they have given up everything to be with Jesus in his ministry.
Perhaps they had wondered.  Now they know.  
Their teacher, their master, is the longed-for Messiah!  
Their friend from such humble origins in Nazareth! 
He is nothing less than God’s annointed King!
But have they understood?
Well, what they wonder, what does this mean for us?!!
The prophet Jeremiah was born into an aristocratic priestly family 
and at a young age experienced God’s call to a prophetic ministry!
A calling he personally, wished to resist!
Not surprisingly, his speaking truth to power to an overconfident court would cost him dearly, family and friendships, even almost, his life.
Who wants to hear fierce challenge of your considered choice 
of foreign partnership?!  Certainly not our PM and his Foreign Secretaries!
This is where we join Jeremiah this morning.
He is feeling threatened from within his own powerful family!
Ultimately we hear Jereniah’s story because, astonishingly, 
his political insight, his understanding - prompted by his listening to God, 
it is his prophecy - and not that of the priests and prophets he opposed, Jeremiah was proved right! 
It is Jeremiah who is genuinely attentive to God’s word.
His people taken in exile to Babylon, 
Jeremiah is carried off against his will into Egypt. 
He had bitterly warned against alliance with the southern superpower - 
telling the people rather, to seek God’s blessing on their Babylonian captors that they might flourish in a new land.  He was right, they did.  
And within fifty years, the Persian king Cyrus had defeated Babylon, 
and actively supported their return to their own land of Judah.
The choir I have to tell you, are expecting me to speak about Afghanistan.
I’m not going to disappoint you!   
- As we are not disappointed as you sing Ben’s new Mass.
Yalda Hakim is a BBC world news journalist.
She was born in Afghanistan.  Taken by her parents 
fleeing the Russian invasion of the 1980s, 
taken to Australia where she grew up.  Now she is based in London.
But she has a passion for her country of birth and heritage - 
and is a very brave woman. 
In June this year she returned, as she has so often before -  
though now a far more risky proposition, 
she went to report for the BBC on ‘the Return of the Taliban’, 
interviewing their leaders personally. 
Meeting the Taliban leaders she chose not to cover her head 
as she asked the hard questions - her stress measurable 
in the increasing rate at which her eyes were blinking!
Such is her fame in Afghanistan, 
on the day the Taliban did indeed, claim victory in Kabul, 
the Taliban spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen called Yalda 
directly on her mobile phone as she was broadcasting live from London. 
He wanted to get his message across, that the Taliban 
would not be exacting reprisals on those who had supported the West.
Whatever their best intentions, tragically many credible reports 
dispute this assertion as reality on the ground.   
As a region, for millennia, Afghanistan has been the graveyard of empires. In the nineteenth century, the British - think Crimea. 
In the 70s and 80s, the Soviet Union.  
Now some are hailing the demise of America.
Of course it’s a highly complex and divided history 
of a loose and often conflicted federation of many tribes.
Plenty opportunity for corruption.
I would also like to commend the fearless courage and huge compassion
of another BBC journalist, since February 2018, 
-480there in the midst of it all, day after day, week after week, 
reporting from wherever the action - and the danger, are happening.
Secunder Kermani, of British Pakistani heritage. 
A first class degree in History - and a rather trendy haircut 
not quite Mujahideen style!  
He also has received media awards for his Human Rights reporting.
Both these brave journalists, as Jeremiah, speaking truth to power.
Last weekend in Yalda’s programme, Students of War, 
she made some incredible statements of fact as she has found them to be:
the Taliban are trained in madrasas in Pakistan funded by Saudi Arabia.
Trained to enact a ‘joyless, brutalising theocracy’ to quote Tom Clarke, editor of Prospect magazine.
A puritanical, fundamentalist version of Islam, its notion of human rights, justice, integrity, rather different 
from how we might construe such concepts. 
Known as Wahhibism after the movement’s eighteenth century founder 
in what is now Saudi Arabia, its leaders have been quietly - and lethally, 
exporting its version of Islam around the world - 
including many imams for our UK mosques. 
The perpetrators of  9/11 were all Saudi nationals, including of course, 
the founder of al Qaeda, Osama bin Landen - 
albeit he had moved his base to Afghanistan - then Pakistan. 
How is it that our politicians - of all stripes, 
have said so little if anything about this?  
How is it they never seem to call out the Saudi royal family 
who, with the Wahhibi religious leaders, 
hold such tight grip on their nation: 
how come they are not called to account.
Money it appears, and the right connections, will always call the shots.  
Be that oil - or arms.  Or charities and knighthoods.
Jesus’ disciples were also concerned with greatness and all its trappings.
They are slow learners!   We read in the very next chapter of Mark 
that James and John are asking again, to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand 
when he appears on that throne in glory!
Think about it a moment.  How must Jesus have been feeling at this point?
As we want to hear that all is well with the Taliban, 
as we want to believe their assurances of good faith,
Jesus’ disciples want to hear of triumph and glory, honour and power. 
They do not want to hear any of this talk of a cross - 
and certainly not talk of  taking up their own cross.
Is this really what life is about?  Life as a Christian?
Two points to make - or perhaps three!
Jesus is calling us to walk his Way - to build the Kingdom of God on earth;
to open our hearts to welcoming all that life has to offer, 
which will include pain as well as joy, and to willingly, peacefully, 
accept all that welcoming life entails - the cross. 
The cross which may be a means of grace to us.
A concept it takes time - and work, to keep on unpacking. 
And despite first impressions, to discover the rewards, the riches, 
of embracing the cross at the heart of our thinking.  
But also vital to note, in this the second of the three times 
Jesus predicts his death on the cross in this section of Mark’s gospel - 
and we too easily glaze over it - the cross is emphatically, not the end-goal.  Jesus will rise again.  
Remember too, his disciples did learn - did change.
As we also may rise out of each situation we commit to his keeping 
with acceptance and love.
We too, are called to speak truth to power, maybe in risky times and places.
To share our thinking with one another - 
that our ideas may be honed by such engagement.
I have been doing that with one of our number this last week, 
sharing our contrasting views of what has happened in Afghanistan.
And this dialogue has indeed, expanded my thinking!
Maybe you heard on the Radio this morning, an Arabic Jewish woman, speaking of her heritage.   At the turn of the twentieth century, 
40% of Baghdad’s population was Jewish.
They were friends with, worked together with, their Muslim neighbours.
As under the Abbasid Caliphate of the Middle Ages, 
it is possible for Jew and Christian and Muslim 
to love and respect one another, work together.
We are called to pray deeply. To learn more. 
Listen for the prompting of the Spirit. Speak. Share. Hope. 
I would love to hear your thoughts.   Amen.

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