There’s a person in prison for what he believes. His name is John.
What were the beliefs that landed him in prison?
He believes that God is real. He believes that God expects people to behave in a certain way. He had preached a simple message: God is coming soon. You can be friends with God – but you have to change. You have to live your life God’s way.
For King Herod, living by God’s law would have meant separating from the woman he called his wife. That’s why the king had put John in prison.
John is worried. He’s gambled his whole life on his belief that God is coming soon. Now he’s in prison and may soon be executed. Has his gamble paid off?
In his prison, he’s asking the same questions we’re all likely to ask in times of stress. “What can I do when life gets hard? Where is God in all of this?”
The answer John finds is rather unique. He knows that the prophet Isaiah said that when the blind and the lame were healed, it would be a sign that God himself is coming. Now he’s heard rumours that his own cousin, Jesus, is healing people. And more than that, Jesus sends back a message “I am giving Good News to the poor – don’t lose faith in me!”
But do we have faith in Jesus?
For many of us, something inside us resists seeing who Jesus really is.
If Jesus were really our Teacher and Judge, we would have to put aside our own ideas about right and wrong, and find out what Jesus thinks.
If Jesus really wants us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, then we have to adjust our plans for sports, hobbies and socialising to make room for him.
If Jesus really loved me, I would have to look again at that big negative image of myself I secretly think is the real me. If Jesus sees good in me, I can’t be so bad really!
Jesus had a way of asking difficult questions. “Why were you so interested in John the Baptist?” he said to the crowd around him. If he were here today, he might say, “What are you doing at Mass on a Sunday morning? Are you jumping through hoops so your children can have First Communion? Have you come out of a sense of ‘habit’, because it feels as comfortable as an old sweater, or because your friends are here? Or do you really believe that when you attend Mass, you’re taking part in the one thing which delights the God who created you more than any other human activity?”
This morning, I wanted to give you a really good reason why you should worship God. In fact, our word-of-the-week is “Worship”.
I could tell you that when you’re in love, it’s natural to say affectionate things to the person you love. But perhaps you haven’t fallen in love with God yet.
I could tell you that if you could only sense how awesome God is, you would instinctively bow down and adore. But if you can sense that, I won’t need to explain.
I could tell you that my main reason for worshipping God is that Jesus said “Do this in memory of me”, and I made a decision when I was 19 years old that I was going to do what Jesus asked me for the rest of my life. But if you haven’t already decided to follow Jesus, that won’t help you at all.
In fact, I’ve reached a stark conclusion.
There is NOTHING I can say in this sermon which will make you believe in Jesus, if you don’t already have faith.
I can only promise you that if God gives you the gift of faith, he will help you to deal with all the obstacles that seem scary when you don’t have faith.
Only God can give the gift of faith. When I was 11 years old, I prayed – not because I was curious, but because I was hurting and needed to know the answer – “God, if you are real, show me.”
That’s why I became a Catholic.
That’s when I realised that there was nothing I could do on any weekend which was more important than coming to take part in Mass and receive Holy Communion.
You could ask God too, show you whether he’s really there.
Don’t be afraid.
Some of you have been given the gift of faith. Some of you are confident that when you receive Holy Communion, it is Jesus himself who nourishes you in body and soul. I have a challenge for you, too. My challenge is to go deeper. Every weekday in school time, we have a time of adoration. We place the body of Jesus on the altar in the Prayer Room. Members of our Indian community have a rota, so that Jesus is never left alone. Often they come as families and spend hours singing hymns and offering prayers.
What about our wider community? I’d like to challenge the rest of us to take adoration seriously. I’ve made an agreement with the regular adorers that the first hour of adoration each day will be in silence. So you can come along at half past ten on a weekday, knowing that your own prayers won’t be disturbed by someone else’s for that hour.
Why not come and try it out?
Even if you are not sure if God is real, why not come and give God the benefit of the doubt?
There’s a person in prison because of what they don’t believe.
They don’t believe Jesus is real.
Or if they know Jesus is real, they don’t believe he can change their life for the better.
If that person is you, Jesus would like to set you free today.
I’m praying that you find the courage to say “Yes” to Jesus. John did. Mary did. I did. You can, too.