Saturday, 25 June 2016

‘Follow me’ - Proper 8

Luke 9: 51-62, Galatians 5: 1, 13-25

I daren’t ask whether you were left crying tears of delight or despondency when the result of the referendum was announced on Friday morning.
The result itself (52% in favour of leaving the EU in total, but with widely different results from area to area) shows that the citizens of the United Kingdom are anything but united on this point.

So what are we to think, as Christians, about the state of our country? What are we to do, as Christians, in response to these new circumstances? What do we believe about our role in any changes that happen in our country?

I just use the word ‘citizens’ and you might remember (or you might not!) that the word is used in the statement concerning the nature faith & order of the URC. It’s in the hymn book – at number 761, just before the national anthem.
We first have this statement:

‘We believe that Christ gives his church a government distinct from the government of the state. In the things that affect obedience to God the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head.’
This claims our non-established history: church and state are separate, and we, the church, are accountable to God. The congregation are then invited to affirm this by saying
‘while we ourselves are servants in the world as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom’.

In Jesus, we believe, our identity is not primarily as a citizen of this or any other country, but as a servant in the world and as citizen of God’s eternal kingdom.

Whichever way you voted on Thursday and regardless of the result, you are now what you were last week – a citizen of God’s kingdom. What does this mean for how we live?

Firstly, how we handle division and difficulty and difference.
James and John are busy getting it wrong again. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and has sought hospitality in a Samaritan village. The village has refused to accept and welcome someone they see as a Jewish pilgrim to Jerusalem. We know that tensions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are nothing new – they are basic human nature – and the gospels tell us of the real conflict at the time between Jewish and Samaritan people – so this is no surprise.

Jesus has previously sent out the 12 disciples to proclaim God’s kingdom and warned them that they will not be received well everywhere. He has told them ‘As for those who will not receive you, when you leave their town shake the dust off your feet as a warning to them.’

But faced with this lack of hospitality to Jesus himself, James & John want to retaliate more strongly  ‘Lord, do you want to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’.

Jesus turns and rebukes them. However extreme the rudeness they endure, they are not to lash out against those who are different.
Whatever happens in this country and beyond in the years to come, it will never be right to attack or demonise those with whom we disagree.

But in case this sounds like sticking your head in the sand and not caring very much, I think there is a second thing that Jesus immediately goes on to say about commitment and passion.

To the person who says to Jesus ‘I will follow you wherever you go’, Jesus wants him to know what that means – Jesus has no home to go to, in fact we know he is headed to the cross.
Then Jesus says to two people ‘follow me’ and in effect they both respond ‘yes, but…’
First let me go and bury my father
First let me say goodbye to the people at home.
Following Jesus, being part of the kingdom, being fit to be called a citizen of God’s kingdom, is a total commitment. We are not called to be indifferent to our enemy, we are called to love them.
Jesus does not tell us not to be passionate about living our lives and recognising those who see things differently, but he tells his followers that they need to make their passion the things of the kingdom, the living of a life totally committed to God.

The third thing I think God’s word has to say to us in a post-Brexit world is that we are never alone in our work to build God’s kingdom of peace, love and joy for all.
Jesus is about to send out seventy two of his disciples to proclaim the coming of the kingdom. He repeats his earlier warning about not being accepted everywhere, but he also says ‘whoever listens to you listens to me’.
Citizens of the kingdom are not just people trying to make the world a better place, screwing up their courage, using al their energy, desperately trying to be better people.
When we commit ourselves to following Jesus, we will never be alone – we are walking with Jesus, following his way, guided by the Holy Spirit.

The letter to the Galatians speaks of freedom in the Spirit.
Paul understands human nature – he warns against ‘fighting one another, tooth and nail.. all you can expect is mutual destruction’. But he tells the church that the answer to fighting our human nature is to submit to and be led by the Spirit.
We know we are told to love one another, but we find it so hard to do, as human nature leads to conflict and sin.
‘But the fruit, or the harvest, of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control’ says Paul.

In a divided world, the Spirit unites us.
As we seek to commit ourselves to follow Jesus, the Spirit leads us.
Where our human nature lets us down, the Spirit transforms us.

So, citizens of God’s kingdom, be of good cheer, and continue to serve the world by following Jesus in the strength of the Spirit to the glory of God the Father.

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