Friday, 12 August 2016

Judging what is right:

 Hebrews 11: 29-12:2 Luke 12: 49-56

What a strange few weeks it has been in the news: atrocities in Belgium, Nice, now Thailand – and yet also the positive news of the Olympics and its stories for human friendship and peaceful competition and joyful endeavour.
Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh, has said this about the human condition in his book “Between the Monster and the Saint”:
“It is a harsh world, indescribably cruel.
It is a gentle world, unbelievably beautiful.
It is a world that can make us bitter, hateful, rabid, destroyers of joy.
It is a world that can draw forth tenderness from us, as we lean towards one another over broken gates.
It is a world of monsters and saints, a mutilated world, but it is the only one we have been given. We should let it shock us not into hatred or anxiety, but into unconditional love.”

So how can what Jesus says to his disciples in Luke’s gospel help us as we try to respond lovingly to the world and its news?

Jesus speaks of “this fateful hour”. “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky but you cannot interpret this fateful hour”.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem – He ‘sets his face resolutely towards Jerusalem’ in Luke chapter 9 v 51 and continues on this journey until this final ascent into the city in chapter 19 v 28. Everything that happens in chapters 10 to 18 – and that’s more than a third of Luke’s gospel – happens in the shadow of Jesus’ forthcoming death in Jerusalem.
Jesus knows, and he wants his disciples to know, that the time is coming when he will confront sin, evil and death head on – and he will triumph, but not without suffering.

Everything else that happens pales into insignificance next to the sacrifice of Jesus in the cause of God’s kingdom of love, forgiveness and justice.

Jesus is acknowledged as a wise teacher, and so people have come to him with questions and issues and disputes and have asked Jesus what to do.
Martha has come to Jesus, complaining about Mary; the lawyer asks what he has to do to gain eternal life; the disciples wish to learn how to pray; others are asking questions about cleanliness; and then there is the approach from the man asking Jesus to tell his brother to divide the fairly property fairly.
In response to all this, Jesus wants to point his listeners towards what is really important – the things of God. Do not worry.. but seek first the kingdom.

There is a time of great decision coming in the lives of Jesus’ disciples – he warns them that he will go through a ‘baptism’ of suffering, and that it will bring division and difficulty. In the end, Jesus is so much more than a wise teacher, he is God with us, is prepared to go to the farthest end to demonstrate God’s love for us – for the whole world.

So what difference does this make to those of us who describe ourselves as followers of the Jesus? And what does this mean for us as we talk and think about the role of this church in this place, and as you seek new leadership? How can we be people who make a difference to the world in the name of Christ Jesus?

I think one thing that is not an option is for us to follow Jesus in a half-hearted or part-time way.
I remember a few years ago filling in some sort of questionnaire & under ‘leisure activities”, along with walking and painting and going to the theatre, it listed “religious adherence”. I was appalled – to think that my discipleship of Jesus Christ could be reduced to a “leisure activity” – as if it was just how I choose to fill my Sunday mornings if the car’s already washed and there’s nothing on the television. Surely following Jesus should shape all of our lives, all of our choices, how we view other people as well as how we treat them.

This church is not just somewhere to come to fill in an hour or so on Sunday – it is a place to be fed and nurtured in your faith: a place of challenge as well as a place of comfort.

Faith itself, as the letter to the Hebrews points out, is the core of our being as people of God. Many have gone before us our ancestors in faith – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Moses, and others – and these form a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ around us as we run our own race of life.

Running that race, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus – remembering that he is the one who “endured the cross, ignoring its disgrace, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God”. Jesus is the one who shows us how to respond to what is monstrous in our world.

When life is difficult, painful, and puzzling, there will always be people who ask us how we can believe in God, how we can remain people of faith, when the world is so full of pain. Jesus shows us that the pain is not the sign that God is absent, but that he has endured pain and death in order to overcome it. We believe in a God who is present in the pain, and endures pain, and transforms pain into victory.

So in a world of violence we look to Jesus as our hope
In a world of conflict we look to Jesus as our peace
In a world of fear we look to Jesus as our joy.

And we dedicate ourselves to work and pray for God’s kingdom to come and for the love of God to reach all people in our mixed-up and broken world.
May this church, and each of our lives, be a place where God's love and God's challenge is known and heard.
In the name of Christ
Amen




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