Tag Archives: gift

Messiah and Good Shepherd?

[There is a reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday at “The Lord is – my tour guide?“, and there follows one for the gospel for Easter 4c]

The Festival of Dedication – Hanukkah, at Christmastime, remembered the re-dedication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus after he threw the Greeks out of Jerusalem (John 10:22-30, especially verse 22). A time when thoughts of freedom, and God’s Messiah, came up. So – Was Jesus the Messiah – and why wouldn’t he say so?

I think you know. He was the Messiah, all that he had done pointed to it. But if he said so, it would just start an argument. People needed, not to argue, but to think for themselves – and follow up their conclusions by action.

That’s still true. Preachers tend not to shout at you much. Why? It doesn’t do anything useful. The stories are told, connections and suggestions offered. You have to take responsibility for weighing it up – and taking action. Is Jesus the Messiah, or something else? I think he’s the Messiah, and that’s the basis of my following Him. Make your own mind up – and act on the conclusion!

Then there is the difficult verse John 10:26 “but you will not believe, for you are not my sheep.”

Difficult because:

  • It divides the flock (who believe – with much more than a correct opinion) from those who do not; – a critical division. Seen clearly in the story of Jesus, we still fail to apply it in our own time. Are you part of the flock of God, or not? “Independent sheepishness” is not on offer.
  • It reminds us that faith is a gift. On the one hand, no one is prevented from following Jesus / joining the flock. On the other, faith is a gift. There is an undeniable truth in the doctrine of Predestination. There is a paradox, difficult to hold together logically. Faith is a gift, yet those who lack it are held responsible for the actions of their faithless life.

The benefits of being in the flock are real, but not always romantic. The sheep who know the shepherd are themselves known. Those who follow the shepherd are led to food, water, and safe rest. That does not mean a selfish life – everything you want and nothing else; nor does it avoid the robust realities of getting on with the other sheep. But the difference between that, and life outside, without guidance and protection, or even hope of forgiveness and escaping the consequences of failure, are breathtaking.

The image of the Good Shepherd may be romanticised by some, but not by Jesus. He understands the division between the flock and those not included as key to the future.

Wealth

“What must I do to receive eternal life?” It’s not a common question – I can’t remember being asked it. But that’s odd, for there is much interest in the spiritual, even in God. Obviously Christians are not expected to know the answers! You might want to think about whether that is good or bad.

Jesus is asked the question. (Mark 10:17-31). He refers to the ten commandments. (Exodus 20:1-17 though remember this is the Old Covenant). Commandments can be a problem for many now, who don’t want to be told, but to discover, who don’t want discipline and a consistent life. It is easier to collect religious objects (in your own time) or investigate the oddities of human behaviour (without relationship or commitment) than to live by a Covenant. But this young man at least has some understanding; he has done this, and wants more. Is there an advanced course, a way of proving himself?

Jesus sees the problem, and offers a solution. Sell everything and become a disciple! – but it is too much, and for 2 reasons.

  • The young man is rich; he can’t imagine life without his wealth, and the security, the comfort, the status it offers. Apparently even eternal life is not worth all that.
  • There’s more to it. He wanted to prove himself worthy – and that is not possible. Eternal life or salvation is God’s gift, not an earned reward. His wealth was a barrier getting in the way of his relationships.

When the young man has gone, Jesus warns his disciples about riches. He doesn’t say Christians must be poor, but he says that no-one who relies on wealth can receive salvation. For some of today’s “spiritual” people, that will be a barrier to following Jesus. Wanting their own way, a “designer spirituality”, they will not “follow”.

For some in today’s Churches, that will be a barrier to following Jesus. They want respectability, an endorsement of their social place and status. They would be offended to be told that Christians are sinners who recognise their need for help, and are united in failure, repentance, and salvation – which is a gift that cannot be earned.

Christianity is not flattering. It is not all about what a wonderful and unusually gifted person you are. It is about a God, who is truly awesome, who made us good and gifted – and will get us out of the mess we have made for ourselves.

Christianity is demanding. You can treat it like a hobby, and play with it when you have time or are in the mood. But that won’t do you much good. Christian faith is relationship based. It is not measured by emotion, but by committed action. You love God? Don’t tell me how much; let everybody see how you allow nothing to get in the way of that.

Nothing.

At all.

Be a blessing!

[many will be remembering Mary Magdalene, rather than using the Proper 11b readings this weekend, but for Mark 6:30ff . .]

Look at Mark telling us of Jesus popularity! (Mark 6:30-34 & 53-56). People wanted to see him and be with him; he was ready to teach them, and they to listen. There was healing, too. No doubt they talked most readily of losing illnesses and disabilities – but there must have been repaired relationships, and redirected lives, as well.

So why is it that Jesus later loses some of this, and today’s church is not hailed as a great place to enjoy, to learn, and to find wholeness?  The gospel will explain how opposition to Jesus developed into a plot to kill him, but I wonder if we fail to take seriously our call to be a blessing?  We are given so much, and – yes – chosen by God. What for? Because we are superior to others? Don’t fool yourself – there are many who work harder, deserve more, have greater potential.

We are given faith, to share and be a blessing. We are meant to be built into a living Church – always difficult because if involves personalities – a Church to set about God’s plans for our local community and its people. Welcome is not a Public Relations necessity for “successful” churches – it is part of faith!

When it works, it is lovely – the picture of people gladly welcoming Jesus, and enjoying the healing he brings, is not outdated. It remains difficult, because we so easily want to be “better”, because we find it so hard to be a blessing, and sometimes find it hard to see how to safeguard that from those who might spoil it.

The answer is not theoretical, but a commitment to follow Jesus. I don’t know fully what he wants me to do, but I’ll make a start on what I know. I don’t know how it will all work out, but I will trust that it does, and see hope and joy in that, better than any alternative.

 

Rights

As last week, this reading, Matthew 20:1-16, is featured in the Giving in Grace programme sermon notes and reflections by Dr Jane Williams: http://www.givingingrace.org/userfiles/files/Design/preaching_notes_matthew.pdf  http://www.givingingrace.org/userfiles/files/Design/reflections_matthew.pdf )

 

Beware of claiming your Rights! Why not, you might say – Health and Safety, Discrimination and other laws are meant to protect. Perhaps so, but as a state of mind it can be dangerous. If you begin to think about your relationship to God in terms of rights, it becomes ridiculous!

People are inclined to say they want justice. Believe me, you don’t. To get justice from God would be to be called to account. Are we up to God’s standards – of work, relationship, honesty . . Even one of them? No, not when you consider his standards. “I haven’t done badly” may be true, in comparison with those who did worse (we prefer to look that way) – but this judgement isn’t in comparison with them. It’s in comparison with God, and in that justice we are all guilty. We don’t want justice, we want mercy.

But you still hear it said so often, “Its not fair!”:

  • – that I should have to work so hard
  • – that I should have to deal with people like that
  • – that people should die before they are really old
  • – that I should be in the situation I’m in

“Not fair”? You could say it’s not easy, even that you need help to cope. But be very careful. We have some standards to try to limit the human abuse of humans. As far as they are practical they are good, and we may support them. But don’t be mislead into thinking that life is directed by your rights. Your life is not a right, but a gift, to be given as (and as long as) God chooses.

God did not put us on earth to judge other people, but to worship and serve him. We can never know the mind of someone else, or understand their motivation. What we can know, and be responsible for, is that each of us have certain gifts and opportunities to use – or to waste.

Today’s parable (Matthew 20:1-16) talks about the master’s goodness. A Denarius a day was a living wage, so he chooses to give a living wage to those who need to live – and gets complaints! That sounds familiar! Why complain – he had dealt according to his agreement, but jealousy and greed come in.  If Jesus chooses to work with people you find difficult – rejoice (he doesn’t find you all that easy!). If he is generous to a fault – don’t complain (we are getting the benefits of his generosity).  Sadly, we find complaint easy. We never realise how absurd we are, nor how dangerous is our attitude.

Beware of claiming your rights! With God, your right to a fair trial is a short cut to a guilty verdict. We need, not our rights, but mercy – and we need to show that as well as receive it.