With sincere apologies to fans of Strictly Come Dancing,
it’s X-Factor season!!!
Everyone knows what the term ‘X-factor’ means: that hard-to-describe quality that makes the difference between someone who’s ordinary and someone who’s great. I love watching the X-Factor programme, especially when one of the contestants belts out an amazing voice. I have to admit, it sometimes even brings tears to my eyes! You can feel their joy of singing and practically taste the hope they have to make it big one day doing something they just love to do.
I like watching the contestants as the weeks unfold and their talent improves. Confidence builds and so does their hunger to win the coveted £1 million recording contract. To win, they have to be better than the competition. They have to be the best.
We human beings, we enjoy competition, don’t we? Sports, business, academic success – even just keeping up with the Jones’; we love to succeed, and we admire greatness in others.
In the bible reading from Mark’s gospel, which we heard this morning just before Eve was baptised, the disciples of Jesus (who were very human beings) were enjoying a fair bit of competition with each other along the road to Capernaum with Jesus.
“What were you arguing about on the road?” Jesus asked them. And of course they had to hang their heads in shame on that one. They had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest disciple of them all. I can just picture these guys, the disciples, behaving a bit like overgrown schoolboys, puffing their chests out! They’ve been taught by none other than the Son of God for months and they still didn’t ‘get’ what he was on about! It seems at every turn their journey with Jesus held surprises for the disciples.
Jesus turned upside down their idea of what it means to be the greatest at following him. Instead of needing to be the biggest to be the best, Jesus tells the disciples they need to be less full of themselves. He asked them (as he asks us) to look out for other people who might need a helping hand - - a hand to shake in welcome; a hand to hold in times when the road of life gets tough.
In baptism we begin a journey that lasts a lifetime and beyond. It is a welcome into Jesus’ family, and we’re a family who are called to serve our neighbours. It isn’t a competition of who is the greatest at serving others, but we do have our own version of the ‘X’-factor –ours is called the cross-factor - and we’ve all been given the prize! It’s the priceless gift of a relationship with the creator of all things. It is an incredible journey with an incomparable travelling companion who really does have the X-factor: Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for you and for me.
The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus meant when he said the cross had to happen, and they were afraid at the time to ask him about it. But we can ask him about it. We can come to the living God in prayer and ask him what his dying on the cross meant for all of mankind (yes, even for Simon Cowell!). And we can ask him in prayer what his rising to life again means for us.
The X-Factor contestants improve over the weeks by disciplined practice. It isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t easy, either. If we want to grow in our Christian faith, we have to put into practice the disciplines of prayer and reading our bible. And through prayer and the bible, we come to learn more and more about the love of God, which is the meaning of the cross and the resurrection.
Today marks the beginning of a journey for Eve. Baptism and the Christian journey are about new life and new beginnings – we walk in newness of life, by the grace and mercy of God, because of the ‘cross-factor’. So welcome to the journey, Eve. And welcome to the Family of God.
Loving God, thank you - for the gift of new life, and for the joy of knowing that you promise to be with us throughout the journey. Bless Eve today on her baptism day. And throughout her life, bring Eve, and all of us, to a deeper understanding of the cross and the resurrection, and of our relationship with you, as we travel through this life. Amen.