Tag Archives: challenge

Challenges.

One of the dangers of my Church is that it has such nice people in it! So easily it can become a club of well-meaning and like minded people. If we were all long sentence prisoners, slaves, or addicts our need would be clearer and less escapable. Paul would understand the danger. He has quite a record of achievement, – lays it out in Philippians 3:5,6. (Today we are reading Philippians 3:4-14). Yet he chooses to rely instead on Christ. There are several challenges here, but also much comfort.

First, a challenge to think about Christian achievement ( and to think about it more than secular achievement). We note people of significance – those with academic distinction, high office, or public achievement. We are not so good at celebrating those who persist faithfully in unpopular, underfunded or badly managed enterprise. The care worker who makes extra effort, and so on . . . Alas, we are less good at honouring those whose faith and Christian service are of lasting significance. I don’t mean we should resurrect the forgotten saints of past times, but that we need to think about our priorities – the more when Paul’s ambitions seem odd. The comfort here is for those who will never wear a medal on earth, but whose reliance on Christ earns them a heavenly record.

Secondly, a challenge about where our confidence should rest. Could we say with Paul we don’t care about our social status?

 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Philippians 3:7

The comfort? It’s never too late to start. Disciples change! Part of this (or is it another point?) is the righteousness which comes from faith, rather than law (verse 9). The challenge is to rely on grace, forgiveness, Jesus, not on being “good” or respected. It is a good deal harder than you might think. The comfort? For those who find it hard, they can look to Jesus.

Is it time to stop yet? Perhaps, but a final challenge is keeping going to reach the goal verses 12-14. We haven’t arrived yet; we can’t give up and rely on our past. The comfort – yes, once again, it is never too late.

Paul was a great challenge, even insult, to his contemporaries. His transfer from Pharisee to Christian won him many enemies, much misunderstanding. We need to face up to his challenge – perhaps it is not his but Christ’s – to “conventional” religion. There is comfort, too, but only when we take seriously the call to “regard whatever gains we had as loss because of Christ”

Whose Shepherd?

There is a lot about the Good Shepherd in the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, which provides the gospel reading for the 4th Sunday of Easter (in all 3 years of the lectionary).  It also reflects Psalm 23, which worries me, because so many people happily quote, “The Lord is my Shepherd”.

Is he?  It is a factual question.  Reading John 10 will help to give a factual answer.  The chapter begins with reference to “thieves and bandits”, and a look back to chapter 9 makes clear that Jesus is labelling those who assumed a right to be leaders of religion – and to criticise him for a remarkable healing on the Sabbath day.  Clearly there is a choice of leaders to follow!

Then Jesus talks about the relationship between sheep and shepherd.  While flocks might be kept together overnight, the shepherd would be able to pick out his sheep, and they would know “their” shepherd from others.  The implication is that Christians relate to the Good Shepherd, distinguishing him from others and being known by him.  This is where “The Lord is my Shepherd” becomes a true or false statement.

Apparently this is not understood (verse 6).  We might take comfort that other people get things wrong and fail to understand!  (Preachers are relieved to know that even Jesus didn’t always get his point over first time).  Even better, he explains again.

The sheepfold is needed – at night it provides safety and rest.  We might see a comparison with the Church, or Christian fellowship.  Under Jesus’ direction, we need to go in to be protected from “thieves and bandits” – to be taught, and find rest and healing.  But the sheep cannot stay in the sheepfold.  By day they need to go out – with the Shepherd – to be taken to food and water.  Christians need to get into the world, to work, to serve the wider community, to “practise” their faith, and be a blessing to others.  There has to be movement in and out, with the Shepherd the key figure.

So I find challenge in these passages, and not just reassurance – let alone sentimentality.  How do you take it?  Can you be taken seriously saying, “The Lord IS my Shepherd”?