Celebrity Disciples?

Just for lockdown, and because I can’t hear you complaining…

Did you hear about the grasshopper who hopped into a bar.

The bartender turns to him and says,

"Hey, you're quite a celebrity, we have a drink named after you!"

The grasshopper looks at him surprised, and says,

"You have a drink called Steve?"

I can almost feel the groans through the WiFi!

But “Celebrities” certainly are all consuming in our modern day and age, and they can make awful lot of money from writing (or for the less confident literary-wise, getting someone to write for them) books in which they reveal secrets of their own lives and perhaps more significantly, the lives of others.

If the secrets revealed are those of politicians or members of the royal family then the book is likely to bring in very substantial sums indeed, just look at the ratings Harry and Meghan got from their interview with Oprah!

What would have happened if our technology and information systems had been around two thousand years ago?

Would James, one of the “inner circle” of Jesus’ followers, whose life and witness we remember today, have been approached by a publisher to record memories of life with Jesus?

Would a newspaper have paid for the exclusive rights to serialise the book?

Who would have made attempts to stop publication through fear of what it might reveal?

Perhaps James would have jumped at the chance to have his stories about Jesus published throughout the world and to use the money for charitable work.

We’ll never know, of course, but what we can perhaps guess from the Gospel writing we do have, is that the central character on every page in the book would have been Jesus, and not the author.

All the other people and events would have been described in terms of their relationship with Jesus and what he said and did.

We could almost imagine a reminiscence from one chapter in such a book by James…

“How could we ask Jesus to give us special places in his kingdom?

He’d already spoken often enough about the first being last and the last being first.

He’d shown us that the people who aren’t respected in our society matter to God.

He treated children, women, lepers and gentiles as equals and he was always reaching out to people even when he was exhausted.

I think my brother, John, and I were still captured by the vision we saw on the mountaintop when Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah.

What a day! We glimpsed God’s glory in a way we never had before, and Jesus was at the centre of it.

We were the only ones there except for Peter and I suppose it gave us the idea that we were special to Jesus in someway.

The Master soon put us right, though.

He asked if we were prepared to experience what he would have to experience and when we said we were he told us that even so he could not guarantee us any place in his Kingdom, that was for God his Father to decide.

But even after all that I don’t know if, at that time, I would have said I’d be prepared to suffer as Jesus did if I’d known what that really meant:

his terrible sadness at that last meal we had together;

his anguish, almost despair, in Gethsemane

and the pain of harrowing torture and death..

I still fear that I may have to face death as he did.

The lesson he gave us that day wasn’t new but it was the lesson we all found the hardest to learn.

Jesus is raised from the dead.

He is the Christ, yet whenever I picture him, he’s with people, healing, teaching, encouraging, always giving of himself, never demanding.

If God’s Messiah lived like that what can I do but follow his example?

It’s not easy though, never easy – life in the Kingdom of God is a free gift but it costs everything.”

James and the others had to be taught over and over again the lesson of humility, of putting others first and not wanting to be the centre of attention or rewarded with honour and glory.

It’s a lesson that we, too, need to be taught again and again, whenever we’re tempted to do things in the hope of gaining thanks, rewards, or power over other people.

It reminds me of an excerpt from Doctor Who, where as the Doctor, Peter Capaldi remembers what his wife, River, wrote about why she loved him:

“Goodness is not Goodness that seeks advantage,

Goodness is Good in the final hour,

in the deepest pit,

without hope,

without witness,

without reward.

Virtue is only virtue in extremis.

This is what he believes,

and this is the reason,

above all,

that I love him.”

It is a powerful though and a powerful lesson that not only each of us, but the church as a whole, needs to be taught again and again, whenever she is tempted to exercise authority over others or to be arrogant in her moral teaching which she declares to be the only truth.

It’s a lesson we all need to learn if we are to offer service to others in the humility and love of Christ.

There is a world of pain and suffering, oppression and injustice around us and we are called to serve the victims,

the outcasts,

the persecuted

and the rejected.

Not so that we’ll gain favour with God but simply because that is what Jesus would do and it is what God is doing through those who offer themselves for service in love and obedience.

God calls us to be different in a world that values power, riches and fame – are we able to respond to that calling even if it means drinking the cup that Jesus drank?

So as we carry on with our lives let us remember that:

1. We are called to follow Jesus through love and obedience, not for what we might get out of it.

2. Following Jesus may lead us through suffering for his sake.

3. Leadership among those who do follow Jesus is characterised by giving and by service to others.

4. It is through this life of self-giving, service and suffering that Jesus offers redemption and the freedom of God’s kingdom.

May we all take these maxims into our hearts so that they are able to shine like a great light of God’s love to those who we will inevitably meet when we are once more allowed to go out into the world.

In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

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