Tag Archives: goodness

Take the tablets?

What brings us into relationship with God? How do we connect, and eventually get to heaven? There have been, and still are, a great many answers. Some refuse to believe it is possible – yet the interest in the “spiritual” continues. Some rely on drugs or mind-altering techniques – but that lacks reality, and permanence (though the damage can be lasting!). Some insist that matters of the spirit mean getting away from the material, by changing your view of reality through fasting, meditation, chanting etc . .

The most common alternative to Christianity is the idea that if you are good, you will be rewarded, and if good enough, you will make the grade and “pass”. In some ways, this was the Jewish position. The Law told them what was required, so they studied, set up safeguards against breaking it, and thought themselves separate and superior. Wrong, says Paul. (Today we read Romans 4:1-5 and 4:13-17). Good is good, but you will never be good enough for God. No. Christians come to God as never good enough, but trusting – and that trust or faith is the key to finding God.

What do they trust in? Not themselves, their effort or goodness, but God. We trust God, but more specifically, Jesus who died for us and was raised. Paul argues in Romans 4 that it is not only Jews, who keep the Old Testament Law, who are in a covenant relationship with God. We can see that it would have been important then – as fury with Christians for allowing Gentiles full believer status without conversion to Judaism provoked persecution and the division of the two faiths. But does it matter now? or is it of purely historical and specialist interest?

In fact, arguments about the Law are still current and important, though not in a Jewish-Christian setting. It may help to look at what is being said. In Rom 3:31, Paul claims to uphold the Law (that is, the Old Testament). As chapter 4 starts, he turns to Abraham, who believed God. Genesis 15 tells us that Abraham, childless, believed God when promised that he would have as many descendants as there were stars in the night sky – and Paul makes the point that this is before the giving of the Law at Sinai, and before the rite of circumcision.

“And he believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

Genesis 15:6

Abraham didn’t win God’s reward by outstanding action, heroism, or moral excellence. It was his trust, and God’s goodness, that brought them together and gave him hope. Unlikely though it may have seemed that an old couple could have a child, he thought the God who said it reliable, and believed.

What caused a fuss in the first century was the idea that both Jews and Gentiles reached God in the same way through faith/trust. What causes division in the twenty-first century is that faith, rather than achievement, knowledge or experience is the key. That makes all believers equal – equal in finding God through faith, equal in failure to deserve or earn or require his recognition.

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.

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?