“I was there” a sermon preached in Godshill and Hale by Mark Ward, Epiphany 3, 21 Jan 2018
Do you remember Max Boyce – Welsh singer and comedian, still with us fortunately but no longer the feature of Saturday evening entertainment shows? Max, like his immediate peer, that other expert observer of ordinary life, Jasper Carrot, (and I was reminded of Pam Ayres whilst at Godshill) was a master of the shaggy dog story, able to make people belly laugh about observations of the totally ordinary. Jasper did it in his Black Country twang and Max in his sing-song south Wales lilt. Max would tell vivid stories like the famous win when Llanelli beat New Zealand, and at the end of the story he would declare, “I know, cos I was there”.
Do you know where you were on 22nd November 1963? Apparently many people do remember – (death of JFK)? I wasn’t quite two so maybe I can be forgiven for not remembering. But I can remember watching England win the world cup in 1966. My dad was decorating the living room of our tiny bungalow in the less fashionable suburb of Brighton called Portslade. It has combed plaster ceilings that looked a bit like shells but every section was different and the light caught them all differently which meant dad had to put a pencil mark on every section so he knew if he had painted it or not. The carpet and the 3 piece suite were covered in dustsheets and old curtains but the screen of the TV, rented from Radio Rentals, black and white, was not covered. I watched the whole match from the top of the folding wooden steps, which we only said goodbye to when he died aged 89 many years later. I now see similar ones in hip shops for sale as trendy shelving for several hundreds of pounds, however I digress.
But we do remember certain important things and our relationships to them, disasters, deaths and other out of this world events? I know where I was when I heard that the Herald of Free Enterprise had sunk, when John Smith died, and also Princess Diana.
So imagine you had been at that wedding in Cana and that you had seen the miracle of Jesus turning water into the finest Galilean version of Chateauneuf du Pape you has ever tasted. What would you have thought – trickster, some kind of magician. I doubt you would have thought – “ah ha – Saviour of the world”, but then when we meet someone for the first time who over a longer period becomes something famous, we have no idea of what they are going to be. I didn’t see Susan Boyle on “Britain’s got Talent” but I have watched a clip of the moment she stopped talking to Simon Cowell and then uttered her first faultless note, how wrong did they get her from first impressions. I wonder how wrong the people at the wedding got Jesus?
Of course he had many more “I was there” moments, what if you had witnessed him the day his earthly parents lost him at the temple – what would you have thought “typical 12 year old – needs a good clip around the ear for being so insolent and uncaring” – because that is how it must have come across “oh for goodness sake – where did you think I would be, don’t you get it, even after you both were visited by angels and then we had those rich blokes from the east who brought the gold, the frankincense (or frank as my 3 ½ year old grand-daughter Hannah insists) and myrrh – have you really forgotten who I am?” I don’t know if he used those words but that must have been going through his head.
And years later it carries on, healings, resurrections, mass feedings and then of course the ultimate appearances, the triumphal arrival on a donkey and the final appearance nailed to a cross, or so it seemed, until 3 days later.
What would you give to be able to say “I was there”?
Here we are just 4 weeks after Christmas, we have moved from Jesus the baby, to Jesus right at the beginning of his ministry. In just 10 weeks we will be standing here or elsewhere on Easter Sunday, a lifetime in 14 weeks, what a whirlwind.
But of course we weren’t there were we, we didn’t see any of it, it didn’t even take place in our country, we haven’t been able to get any of it on youtube to watch – yet here we are today and millions like us around the world even if we are a bit short on numbers here.
So how is it he lives on, well because he lives on in you and in me, in who we are, in what we do, because we come here and we remember week in and week out, because we do other stuff, smaller than his deeds but no less real for that – we collect food for the hungry, we go to visit those who are ill or alone, or lost, we pray, we remember. It really doesn’t matter that we can’t turn water into wine, that we can’t do miracles, although in many ways we do – miracles can be a phone call, a touch on the arm, a bowl of soup. But the key is – it’s not about us, it’s not about who we are but in whose name we do these things, what defines us our service in God’s name to others just as his actions at that wedding were not for his own benefit but for the host who was about to be highly embarrassed by the wine cock-up.
So who is it that we really want to be able to say “I was there”?
“And the righteous will answer him; when, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you? The King will reply, I tell you whenever you did this for one of the least important of these sisters or brothers of mine, YOU did it for me.”
We want Jesus to be able to say “I was there” when we act in his name, when we do something unexpected, when we pick up the pieces that no-one else will pick up.
So to borrow from Max Boyce and offer this as something Jesus might say now:
When you visited the sick and the lonely,
When you fed the kids who were hungry,
When you helped build the bakery in Kinkiizi
When you had that conversation that wasn’t easy
When you remembered those killed a hundred years ago
When you welcomed in those you didn’t know
When you comforted those who had lost their brother
When you helped the addict to recover
When you left this house open for the rough sleeper
When you became the peace keeper
When you did all of this in my name
I WAS THERE.