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Waiting to welcome?

March 7, 2015

I was born in an industrial town called Middlesbrough and came back their after I got married. Middlesbrough has some good points but it is not a pretty place. I remember waiting late at night on Middlesbrough train station for a friend. He was coming down from Scotland to stay the weekend with us so I was there to greet him. I wanted to greet him with a hug and a smile to take away a little of the grey of the town. I waited, and his train arrived, but no friend (name is deleted to protect the innocent!). ‘Perhaps he missed it and is on the next one’, I thought. So I sat down to waiting again.

The next train came but no friend. It was getting very late but I wasn’t worried. These things happen, he must be on the last train out of Edinburgh. About midnight I think it was when the last train finally arrived. But no friend. Now I was getting worried, what could have happened to him? This was before everyone had mobiles so I decided to dash home to find out whether there was a message on the phone.

I just turned to go when his face appeared out of the entrance tunnel. I was so glad to see him, explanations could wait, I was just pleased to see that I was OK. I ran, hugged him and spun him round. He was so embarrassed, it took him a long time to forgive me for that welcome! It turned out that when he missed his train he didn’t wait for the next, he simply hired a car and drove down!

Before Jesus the Jewish people were waiting for someone special. They were waiting for the Chosen One, the Messiah, the Christ. They knew to expect him and they were looking where they expected him to turn up. They expected a war leader who would make Judea great again, kick out the Romans and show the world that the temple in Jerusalem was THE place to meet God. They were looking so hard but like me they were looking in the wrong direction. They were looking the wrong way so they didn’t recognise Jesus when he arrived.

But that is where the similarity with my story ends. Unlike me, when they saw Jesus they didn’t run to welcome their Messiah, their friend, who had arrived after the long wait. No they weren’t willing to accept that the Messiah could arrive how and when he chose. They had banked on the Messiah supporting the religious structure of the day. They weren’t ready for someone who would challenge all of that.

Jesus arrived and wasn’t impressed by what he found in the Temple at Jerusalem. They had got it so wrong that he lost his temper completely and drove out the animals being sold for sacrifice and threw over the tables of the money changers (John 2.13-22). He saw people getting rich at the expense of the devout pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to worship God – As he saw this he recognised that evil had corrupted the very heart of Jewish worship. The very place were God was supposed to meet with his people had been turned in a place where crooks make a bit of easy money. What was worse the religious leaders were in on it too, taking their cut of all the profits!

No wonder he lost it!

That anger of Jesus wasn’t wrong, it was essential. Some things should make God’s people angry. I get angry when I see religious people hiding Jesus today, or making money out of other people’s desire to meet with God. I get angry when I see cathedrals charging an entrance fee. Each is the house of God how can we have the nerve to charge people to come in? I know most will be just wanting to look at the fine building, but even so, how can anyone in all conscience charge people to come in?

I get angry. Then I look at myself and wonder. I wonder, “Am I any better”. I’m a full time, paid minister – do I live off other people’s desire to meet God? On behalf of the church I charge each time I take a funeral or conduct a wedding – Am I just making money out of people’s desire to come close to God at key times in their life?

I look hard and I pray. I think that I’m not quite the same. I earn a modest living, freely given by my flock. I have earned my own money and ministered; I could do the same again. The fees are generally designed to cover costs, and set centrally – I have no control over the amounts. Sometimes I think – the fees are OK, modest even when compared to the cost of a wedding reception or funeral director’s fees. Then I see some people paying more than they can really afford and I feel sick inside. I see Jesus twisting the cords and I fear that there is trouble to come!..

On balance I think Jesus understands, so far at least. But I need the fright. I need the warning. It is so easy to slip and become a modern day Pharisee or money changer. So very easy. I need to look closely at myself every day, open myself up to the Spirit, and be ready to welcome Jesus, however and whenever he appears.

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