Tag Archives: purpose

The best gift

When Jesus commands us to love one another, (John 15:9-17) we are rather inclined to hear it as an instruction to “be nice”. Being nice is what you are supposed to do – you help old ladies cross the road, and lend your neighbour a pair of shears across the garden fence. And it’s not at all what Jesus was talking about. We read these verses often on Remembrance Sunday, because of verse 13 about laying down one’s life for one’s friends. That is rather more serious; it brings memories or thoughts of war, hardship, and yes, of death. But Jesus wasn’t a soldier, and while his words may have encouraged acts of heroism, he wasn’t thinking of falling on a grenade or crawling under fire into no man’s land.

CS Lewis made a useful comment when he pointed out that you can’t feel warm affection for someone just because you are told to. Very sensibly he said that if you are commanded to love someone, the answer is not “But I don’t even like them!” so much as “What would I do if I wanted the best for them?”

Jesus defines love in terms of what he has done for the disciples. As far as we know, he never bought flowers for anybody, sang songs, or cooked dinner. In fact he was often hard on his friends; he expected a lot of them, pushed them into situations they would rather not have faced. He wanted the best for them, and the best was faith and discipleship. And he never asked more than he gave.

So what does it mean for us to love one another? Not just kindness and sympathy, but much more. Jesus gave his disciples the opportunity to know God. His life, and death, and resurrection, were for a purpose – and it wasn’t something he just fancied doing, or some ambition that he could achieve to feel good about it. He lived for us, died for us, rose so that we might find our way to heaven as his disciples.

To love someone would be to want the best for them. And what would be the best?

  • – well, it wouldn’t be to have to endure our bad temper, tantrum, or dented ego
  • – but neither would it be “anything for a quiet life”
  • – the best thing we could give anyone would be God, or at least a knowledge of God, a true understanding, a ticket to heaven.

So why don’t we see love in terms of giving faith? We know, of course, that we can’t force people and must not try. But Jesus didn’t do that either. We know that it’s difficult, because it means acting unselfishly, and that doesn’t come easily. But Jesus had some temptations about that in the desert. We think we’re not going to find the words, which ought to make us more determined to get our example right. But somehow we worry about that too.

Jesus was kind to people, he healed some, was gentle with others who were frightened. But he had no doubt that what was important in his life was teaching, and dying, and rising.

We are commanded – not advised, encouraged, or persuaded – commanded to love in the way he loves. That means we must want the best for other people, and the best is to share faith in him. That’s daunting. It means changing our behaviour and our conversation, adjusting our priorities. And that’s why we are allowed the rest of our lives to work it out.

Why?

There are many ways of asking “Why?”.  The small child who endlessly repeats the question to each attempt at answer infuriates, and raises suspicions that attention is more important than an answer.  Yet for Christians, it is a sign of success when someone without faith starts to ask “Why are you bothering? Why are you doing this for me?”.  It is also a good question for Christians to ask at Eastertime: “Why is this happening? Why do others care about what I think or do?”

John’s gospel gives us an insight into the life and ministry of Jesus.  He takes us through both the success of his teaching and healing, and the pain of his passion and death.  But it is only in chapter 20 that he comes to the question “Why?”, with a clear answer, “these [signs] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name”.

John 20:19-31 has shown us the disciples receiving both new hope and authority, then Thomas finding answers to his doubt, and the gospel writer summing up his purpose in writing.  The hope is that we who read the gospel now will see Jesus as the one promised to bring life to a climax, and that not in a merely intellectual way, but as the recipe for life as it is meant to be.

Like the repeated question of the small child, that needs us to do more than find the right words.  We have to pay attention, to engage, to change.  It is much easier to find an excuse not to – but then we miss out.

Something missing?

The story of the angel’s visit to Mary (Luke 1:26-38) sometimes gets crowded out (as it may this year) with the rapid approach of Christmas.  That would be a pity, because it has plenty of interest.

It is full of realism.  Mary has to be told not to be afraid – this is not the land of fairy stories where angels appear and disappear without comment.  She is perplexed, for the message doesn’t seem to make sense.  But the thing that strikes me is something that isn’t there.  There is no apology.

There could be several, or so we might think.  The angel does not apologise for frightening her, puzzling her, disturbing her routine, or (more significantly) for giving her a job which will be emotionally draining, at times deeply traumatic, and immensly difficult. There is no offer of counselling, compensation, or even reward, because  . . .   ?

Because, in the end, and despite our assumptions, God is entirely within his rights. That sounds harsh.  God is not playing with people’s lives, but there is a lot at stake, and what is asked is only what has been freely given.  Mary is indeed given a most difficult and demanding role – which is what her life was intended for, and which will bring its own rewards. It is the same for us. God does not apologise for the demands he makes on our lives – our whole lives, all our time, money, and effort. It is what we are intended for, and brings its own rewards.

Perhaps, sometime over Christmas, we shall each feel a bit sorry for ourselves.  You know the sort of feeling: undervalued, ignored, overworked . .  Mary could so easily have felt like that, or just refused her mission.  We celebrate her faith because (whatever she went through on the way) she understood that life is meant to follow the plan of God, and that is how it achieves the best things.

 

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.

Creation

Today we think about Creation, reading Genesis (1:1 – 2:3), and then from the sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:25-34.  Creation is an idea many of us have grown up with, so much that we find it hard to imagine alternatives.  Christians see God as one who is responsible for the (original and undamaged) Universe, who made things and declared them good.  That means we cannot see the world and ourselves as mere accidents, nor can we see material things as somehow “unspiritual” or an obstacle to deeper understanding.  Wasn’t it CS Lewis who said (roughly) “God likes things, He made them”, and went on to remind us that the use of bread and wine in the eucharist, and water in baptism, shows something of the importance of the physical.

So Christians enjoy what God made, and feel that the world deserves the respect due to its status as God’s work.  “Green” concerns, and respect for animals as well as humans, come from this.  What more is there for Jesus to add in the gospel?  He talks about the pointlessness of worry.  We need to think more deeply about Creation, and see that a God like that – a God who made things well, and enjoyed them – can and should be trusted.  Trust will stand against fruitless worry.  We may not understand everything, but here is an answer to “what if” disaster imaginings.  God cares, and while his Creation is now less than perfect (that’s the bit in Romans 8:18-25 about creation groaning), God hasn’t changed.

If you want to worry about something, then what God is doing and wants to see done is a much better concern that tomorrow’s meal.  Putting ourselves in line with God’s agenda brings purpose, joins us with other Christians, and puts our problems in perspective.  This is what we are meant to be about, part of our “re-creation”.  It helps with anxiety, loneliness, frustration, and the wrong search for celebrity.  Perhaps that is what Jesus means by “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  If what matters in your life is what matters to the Creator, you may well find purpose and peace, friends and forgiveness.  Of course, you may also find trouble – but you won’t face it alone.

Peace -? (Proper 15, Pentecost 13)

Peace seems a long way off. Terrorist violence, superpower shuffling, unstable governments. We want peace, but not at any price.

Then we read Luke 12:49-56 and wonder what hope there is.

Jesus has come to a crisis point in his ministry.  Jesus who never welcomed conflict, nor compromised with evil, is aware of growing conflict. He is the “Prince of Peace” of whom Isaiah spoke (9:6f), yet knows his ministry is causing division, and will cause violence – which he will take on himself, rather than inflict it on others. That certainly is peacemaking! But it is a long way from the “gung ho” ideas of popular Jewish Messianic expectation: a military hero, to throw out the Romans and bring an age of peace and plenty for all Jews.

So let’s ask: What peace can we expect now, and what not? We already have:

  • reconciliation – forgiveness, sorting out relationships
    with God, and with ourselves (if God can forgive, I must try also)
    and with other people (even if some will not accept it)
  • a sense of purpose, knowing our place as God’s children, with his service to keep us busy, and his people as family to whom we belong
  • an answer to war and violence in common service. We don’t seek the surrender of A to B, or B to A, nor the survival of strongest, but the need for all to submit and answer to God, and work as servants of one master.

We do already have a great deal of peace to be thankful for. BUT this isn’t heaven, and we have not yet “arrived”. There are some aspects of peace for which we are still waiting:

  • an end to temptation. (If temptation doesn’t disturb your peace, check to make sure you haven’t given in totally!) There is a fight on here, with no thought of a truce!
  • we know that Jesus has won the victory, but we await the disarming of those who will not choose to serve him. Our peace will be disturbed by those who are deliberately evil, and those who are careless and unaware of their need to repent and serve the King

For the moment, we have reason to look forward to a time when justice happens for everybody, when there is love – and peace. We have a good deal already, and there is some “not yet” to wait and pray for.