Tag Archives: gifts

Wrong reaction!

It wasn’t just a free lunch, it was a sign!  The story we started last week continues (John 6:24-35).  The crowd find Jesus again on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Having seen his healings, and eaten the food provided, we might hope that they see the point – but no!

The reading explains how easily this can go badly wrong! Jesus had fed the 5,000, the gathering of leftovers pointing to a great miracle. He had resisted being made King. Now, when the crowd catch up with him again, he tries to point them in the right direction – not to another free lunch, nor to revolutionary politics, but to the life and gifts of God.

They ask, “What must we do?”, and Jesus wants them to believe. He can tell them and lead them, but they must listen and learn. Sadly, the motivation is lacking. “Why should we bother with you?” “What proof do you offer?” (the lunch has been forgotten quickly) “We have Moses . .” There are plenty of retorts, but little understanding.

Jesus points out that it wasn’t Moses who gave manna in the wilderness, but God. God, who gives life, and Jesus the bread of life. Do they want what only God can give, or not?  You can see the offer, but also that it is not going smoothly. That story will be continued.

Take a moment to recognise the different responses of Jesus’ disciples and the crowd among people you know. For some their response to what God gives is: “How can I get more for myself?” “Why should I bother to do as Jesus says, or try to behave like him?”   Others are ready to receive and learn. We are supposed to be those who know, and do, better.

Risks everywhere

How do you feel about taking risks? Do you enjoy being scared? For that matter, what do you think Christian faith has to say about taking risks?  This isn’t just a rhetorical opening. I want you to think clearly and have an answer: Does Christian faith encourage risk taking – if so, what sort and when? Does Christian faith discourage risk taking – again, what sort and when?

Jesus tells a story (Matthew 25:14-30) which involves huge amounts of money – a talent was a labourer’s wage for 15 years!!! – so the 3 are given, say £1m, £1/2 m and a mere £200,000. The stakes are high, the servants are not being asked to do odd jobs in their spare time.

How might this apply to us? In my part of the Church we are being asked to move to working in Ministry Areas. – Fewer paid priests, but using the gifts of more people. Parishes working together in areas, with more opportunity to do things that could not be done in one Parish alone. Risks? High stakes? Changes – yes, its all there.  But you might say that these things are part of normal Christian life, mightn’t you?

The challenge, of course, is to take that positively. Not “It’ll never work!”, “Seen it all before”, “You can’t expect me to . . “ negativity, but – well, let’s see what the parable (or is it an allegory?) offers:

Jesus is the master, and the Church members are the slaves. In a difficult time, we are given gifts and the wits to use them – and will be judged on our energy and inventiveness. The gifts may not be evenly distributed, but we all have something to use, – and the amounts are huge!

We might think of spiritual gifts and physical ones, people skills and technical know-how, but don’t forget education, time and money. All of these are given (never owned, just borrowed) for a purpose.

The third slave fails, because he does not understand – perhaps does not want to! His master requires that he be inventive, take risks, and be fruitful. Not bothering, minding his own business, cultivating his resentments, is failure – and a failure for which he is rightly condemned. He has not done what is required of him. [It’s true we might say that God is not like the master, who appears harsh and unreasonable – we have reason to say God is not like that. But the parable makes the point that the servants were given – or loaned – these talents in the expectation, a reasonable expectation, that they would make the best use of them they could.]

What do you think about the future? There’s good and bad, of course, and change which is never easy. But more important, What are you going to do about it? Given a chance, an opportunity, how will you react?

Go back to the beginning. What did you think the Christian faith had to say about taking risks? It’s true that in general we might be expected to be careful, but I hope you understand what this parable has to say. It is important now, not because of the present position of the Church in society, but because the Christian faith requires, of all its members,

  • that they receive different gifts from God
  • and use those gifts, energetically and creatively, in his service

It’s not use coming back and saying “there wasn’t a safe option”; of course there isn’t. Get out there and take risks – that is what is required, and required of you, now, in Christian mission.

Agency – but no Franchise!

Todays gospel speaks of receiving the Holy Spirit, but the story is really in Acts 2:1-21.  And a strange story it is – with the powerful images of wind and fire; we know how much energy they have.  But what are we to make of it?

Strange things happening around religious people and events are not new. When (I think it was John Wesley, the Methodist) preached, crowds came, and strange behaviour was sometimes seen – people fainted, shook, cried, even made strange noises. Wesley was asked about this, and wisely replied that if it led on to a changed and Godly life, good. If not, it was of no value.

So what does the Holy Spirit do? Is it about making us good?  NO, not “good”. Good can be boring.  So is the Holy Spirit about character change?  Maybe partly, but this still sounds a bit negative.  I would prefer to say the Holy Spirit is about making us GOD’S AGENTS.

There’s nothing automatic about this. The Spirit can change us, but you have to want it, and keep allowing a transformation that can be uncomfortable.  Do that, and HS will both give gifts, for benefit of other Christians (see the list in 1 Corinthians 12, and other New Testament lists), and produce the fruit of good character – not a boring “goodness”, but a sometimes provocative joy, a peace despite stress, and a self-control when others are losing it.

The Holy Spirit leads us into exciting service for God – secret agents without the secret!  We are not all leaders, but all have an important, and individual, part to play. (1 Cor 12:7 “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”)

See how it works in Acts.  A group of frightened, puzzled, insecure disciples (hiding behind locked doors) burst out, and become a force that takes the world for God.  They are still themselves, making mistakes, getting it wrong sometimes. But Peter’s sermon converts 3,000, and the gospel travels the known world (and beyond!).

So, are you signing up as an agent, or becoming an obstacle?

Direction

It helps to know where you are going – whether on a walk, or a career or retirement plan. Stephen as he dies ( Acts 7:55-60 ) has a vision of Jesus in heaven, and knows that he is going to join him (which infuriates his opponents and seals his fate).

In John 14:1-14, Jesus speaks of going to prepare a place for his followers, but Thomas seems confused – and I imagine he is not the only one.  Do you ever think of a door in heaven with your name on it? Think about it for a moment. Your place, ready and waiting. What do you think about that, what do you want to do as a result?

Thomas hasn’t yet understood what is going to happen to Jesus – why he must die and rise from the dead. Jesus will not push him faster than he can absorb it, but makes clear that he is central to everything, and Thomas needs to keep following.  (We know that he does, and gets there in the end – see John 20:24-29 ).

Phillip is is danger of going off at a tangent. He would like to see God. Perhaps he has some idea of being like Moses on Mt Sinai, glimpsing God passing by.  But Jesus is more important than Phillip has realised – Jesus shows God to us. Father and Son (and Spirit) work so closely together that to know one is to know the other.  Not only do you have your room in heaven, you work for God!

“those who believe in me will do what I do – yes, they will do even greater things” John 14:12. We are invited to see where we are going – how Jesus, at the centre of everything, not only gives us a place in heaven, but also involves us in his work on earth. We are told to ask. What are we meant to be doing, what is most important, what comes first?

Alongside that, What is God’s purpose for me, individually, – or for you? How does that fit in with the aim for my congregation and wider Church?  Perhaps we should be asking for particular gifts to use there in His service, or for openings to use the ones we know we already have. Perhaps we need the courage to offer them, or the energy to do it!

It helps to know where you are going – and heaven can’t be bad, and you won’t get lost by accident. Stephen knows where he’s going, but Thomas and Phillip are finding out – perhaps like us. Let’s make sure that we keep Jesus at the centre of everything, and work on realising his aims for us as individuals, and our church as his working group.