Tag Archives: proper 20a

Not immune – but protected!

“I’ve been good, why is this happening to me?” Sadly this is a common wail of Churchgoers in trouble. Paul gives some answers in Philippians 1. (We are set to read Philippians 1:21-30, but it may be helpful to start a bit earlier – perhaps Philippians 1:12-30).

Paul is in prison (v13), yet his whole attitude is far beyond duty and courage! Even though some people are trying to make trouble for him (v17), he is happy. How does he manage this?

He has no illusions about the Christian life being a guarantee of no trouble, no hard times, no suffering. Quite the opposite, if his being in prison (not a pleasant experience) will help the gospel, then he is happy for that to happen. The experience is clearing up what is at stake, helping others to confront the challenge of the gospel – as persecution has often been a tool for strengthening the church – “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (as is said in East Africa). Paul draws strength from realism: he knows the failings and weaknesses of other people, but also he knows the God who is in control of all. His trust is in God, and with that he can cope with people.

Life and death! Paul knows the possibilities of his situation, and has come to be able to say

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21

It is a vital line for many others who face death, whether through disease (as we all do, at some time), or through physical danger. Sadly, we don’t now seem happy to speak positively about preparing for death, preferring to let it creep up on us unawares. Is a sudden heart attack the ideal end? No, for it allows no time to prepare, no repentance, no sorting of finances and relationships. Yes, to prepare for death needs the courage to face dying; and yes, it is a good thing to do – for our own sake as we face God, and for the sake of friends and family, as they adjust to a new situation.

Paul, guarded by armed soldiers, is in no position to avoid the realities, and he has worked through his thoughts and feelings to this wonderful and helpful statement v21. What do we rely on? If Christ, then he will see us through death. If something else, then we need to change – and that brings us to the third paragraph Philippians 1:27-30.

“the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires”

Philippians 1:27a

This is your safeguard, in all sorts of ways:

  • if you have enemies, who oppose and ridicule your faith, live it consistently, and they will have no ammunition. More, they will be given fair warning of their own danger.
  • if you are frightened of what may happen in the future, of the uncertainty that is always part of life (health, work, family …) then live as a Christian and you will develop the resources to cope with all these things, as well as to recognise that many will never come.
  • even should you ever be afraid of the “nasties” of the spiritual world, of black magic or vodoo or anything else you should not be involved with – this is your basic protection. Live as a Christian, for Christ does not allow his people to be seriously hurt by the enemy.

So I hope you see that Christians are not “immune”. All sorts of things can and do happen to them, but they are still safe with a God whose work is not stopped. They can face death with reasoned courage; they know that living as Christians is a preparation and protection which will get them through good times and bad.

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.