Tag Archives: cost

War!

Readers of these comments probably know that they follow the New Testament reading (having compelted the gospel cycle) for each Sunday from the Revised Common Lectionary, used by many churches to choose their weekly readings. This week Revelation 12:1-5a might not seem a preferred text for comment, not least because it has many parallels in pagan myths of the ancient world.

Yet, as so often in scripture, there is something valuable here to note and ponder. If John is aware of the “other” stories – and it seems very likely – he nevertheless gives Christian point to this version, and makes it encouraging.

The battle between good and evil in the world we live in is an ancient story. Here the woman, unlike the woman of chapter 17, has true glory in the sun and moon. While we might think the one who gives birth to the male child is Mary, mother of Jesus, the crown of twelve stars suggests a wider reference. She represents the people of God, with the twelve tribes of Israel as a crown. (And the twelve apostles will take forward this people into a new covenant).

Of course the destruction of the son, the Messiah, is the aim of the evil one. We are reminded it did not, and does not, happen. Despite all the show of strength, evil cannot prevail. There is conflict, and there are those hurt in the struggle who carry their wounds for a time. Here is the encouragement. Not in false promises of a world without the conflict between good and evil, the need for struggle to confront temptation, avoid distraction and do good. The hope we are given does not avoid reality, nor minimise cost, but looks to assured victory not of our own making.

I wonder if you like metaphors of conflict in Christian life? Some prefer to avoid them, offended by their violence and occasional bloodthirstiness or desire for revenge. I suspect those who have suffered most, and over years, will find more help. There is a violence in the attack on the faithful, and any holy life. It may be more hidden in the diverse and liberal societies of the west – though it may also be hidden where the faithful are compromised, and their witness represents no threat to the other side. It still seems to be true that any congregation which makes energetic efforts to live the gospel will find opposition, perhaps from unexpected directions. At the same time, those content to comfort themselves by traditions they find pleasant, without looking further, may understand nothing of the war devastating other places. John does have something of value in telling this!

Costs (Pentecost 16, Proper 18)

We sometimes say that we know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Some people can tell you the exact price of a car, a dress, a watch. Odd then that we don’t count the cost of discipleship, when Jesus talks clearly about it (Luke 14:25-33). True, discipleship is a gift. Our faith is something given us by God’s grace, – but the running costs are high! In fact v33 is a problem. What does it mean? “none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.”
Some have accepted a vocation to life as monk, nun or friar. By giving up personal property, they find a certain freedom – although the community has to have ownership of some things to enable their life, and it is of course a community without children. That’s the point of v 26 – if family loyalties count for more than loyalty to Jesus and faith in him, faith isn’t possible.

I think that is also what the little parables about building a tower, or making war, are about. In both cases, there’s no point unless you can see the project through and finish it successfully. So in Christian life, don’t start unless you’re serious! Get half way and try to pull out, and you’re in a mess – half a tower is useless, half a war if much more dangerous than none. Half a faith – a faith that is only serious in some ways – is the same. It doesn’t work, it causes trouble.

So what are we supposed to do? What did Jesus mean:
“none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.”
It is not that everything is bad – we know Jesus enjoyed parties, & people. We also know that he owned nothing that would get in the way of his mission.  What he is saying to us is that Christian discipleship must be the most important thing, or nothing. If we don’t want to live out our faith more than we want other things, it won’t work, and is in danger of being a waste of time.

Does anyone do that? Well, I think it is something that we grow into. You get into a situation, and have to decide – it may be whether to put yourself out, to make an effort you would rather not. And so you grow, and next time, that answer is a little easier.Of course, you can also fail – no, I’ll try that another time, I really can’t be expected to do this. And nobody can know – you can’t do everything! But you will get to know whether you keep saying No to God, or whether you say Yes often enough to be stretched and grow.

We are not called to be wandering beggars; but we are called to be ready to use whatever we have in God’s service. No, it’s not mine, its on the list of things available for use as God directs. If you haven’t got much, the list isn’t very long. But if you have, the temptation to hold back is greater. Jesus wasn’t against the rich, he just knew that when it came to counting the cost of discipleship, they would find it more difficult to pay.