2018 April 15 "and how will we be recognised?

Readings: 1 John 3 :1-7, Luke 24: 35-48

Last Monday we farewelled the late Alan Reed, a faithful member of this church. In her eulogy, Alan's daughter Jennifer referred to her father as the man by which she measured all other men. She affirmed his humility, and his determination to always do the right thing by others. I let myself imagination take me to the Pearly Gates, with Jesus and Peter watching a man approach. Peter says "I wonder who this is? Jesus replies "That's Alan. I would recognise him anywhere.

The recognition I am referring to here is not physical likeness but the quality of the man- heart, soul and mind.

Over the past few weeks since Easter we have been thinking about the surprised response of Jesus followers to his resurrection, unprepared as they were for it. We have also looked at some of the marks of resurrection, including wounds and scars, forgiveness, and spirited community.

I have invited you to reflect on the ways that you might have recognised the presence of the risen Christ in your own life.

Today I want to focus some more on the issue of recognition.

Human beings have an amazing ability to recognise someone they know, sometimes with the smallest of clues. One may enter a room full of people, with music playing and full-on conversation, yet we are able to recognise a voice we know amid it all. It might be the tone, or the timbre. Something strikes us as familiar, even in unfamiliar surroundings. This ability seems to be a survival instinct right across the animal world, as evidenced, for example, by penguins returning from a day's fishing, being able to find their chicks amid a huge and seething colony.

This phenomenon is also evident in the early resurrection appearances of Jesus. It seems that his resurrection form was different from before, and Mary did not immediately recognise him outside the empty tomb on Easter morning. She mistook him for the gardener. It was only when he spoke her name that she knew who he was. Likewise, the followers who are walking the road to Emmaeus with an apparent stranger only recognise this person as Jesus when he takes a loaf of bread and breaks and blesses it. There is something in the way he does this that sparks their recognition, in spite of the fact that he somehow looks different to how they formerly knew him. Again, when the disciples are fishing at Lake Galilee, his presence in that familiar context enables Peter to recognise him in spite of the distance between the boat and the shore.

So, while there are times that we cannot place someone who is out of context, we human beings also have a very well developed ability to pick up sometimes obscure clues of a person's identity.

Jesus used this analogy to describe the phenomenon- he said "I know my own and my own know me. My sheep hear my voice. It follows that the better we know Jesus, the more likely we are to be able to recognise him amid the static and confusion of a world in disarray.

Hence, the question- how, when and where do you recognise the presence and influence of Jesus in the world around you? There will be an opportunity after the prayers of the people for anyone who wants to share their experience of recognition.

So much for recognising Jesus. I now want to turn the question around, and ask, in the words of the sermon title, "and how will we be recognised? How much of Jesus has rubbed off on us? How much of that spirit of compassion, of forgiveness, of courage that is in him, is now in us? If others are looking for evidence of the risen Christ in the world, how likely are they to cite you or I as evidence of the resurrection?

Let me hasten to add that this is not a question intended to engender guilt or a sense of deficit. We are not Jesus. We are all in the process of catching up. We are all outsprinted and outstayed by Jesus stamina and fleet-footedness.

Indeed, it is all too easy to criticise another, or even oneself, for lack of consistency with the values we hold and proclaim. I find this from time to time on twitter, when I hold forth about this or that common good issue. Because I speak as a minister, someone wishing to oppose me will raise the issue of child sexual abuse in the church, or the fact that the church does not pay income tax. Given that it has nothing to do with the issue under debate, it comes as a cheap shot; nevertheless we are all vulnerable to criticism for the ways in which we or the groups with which we identify fall short of the ideal.

That accepted, I think it is more productive to focus on where we do resemble Jesus rather than where we do not. We are looking for the positive signs, not the lack of them!

One way is to look at some of the yardsticks that Jesus puts in place in his teaching and his life, such as the beatitudes, a core teaching of the sermon on the mount. Here Jesus describes the attributes of those who show recognisable signs of the influence of the Holy Spirit.

I do not see the beatitudes as a checklist of holy virtues as much as examples of recognisable qualities of those who seek to live a life of love in Christ. So, for example, I could say to someone "I see Christ in you when you showed mercy to those vulnerable people or "I could recognise a divine quality to your ability to do the right thing even though you were going to be unpopular and so on.

I am inspired by the church growth teacher Kennon Callahan, who advises churches to be a living legend on the community grapevine for one thing that they do exceptionally well- be recognisable for that one area of ministry or mission that you do to an excellent community standard. No church is going to do everything well, nor does it need to. What matters is that Christ is recognisable in some way in the manner in which the community of faith conducts itself.

In his first letter, the writer called John celebrates the fact that Jesus followers are known as God's children. If that is the case, it is reasonable to expect that the children will show some family resemblance to the parent. That for us is a key strength. This gives us something to work on, a quality to build up and develop, an energised virtue by which we make a positive material difference in the world .

And so my take home message for today is this- Not, how far short do you and I fall from the ideal image of God in which we are created, but, what are the marks, what are the recognisable signs that we are people who are committed to the way of the risen and crucified Christ.


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