6th Sunday after Pentecost

What is true hospitality?  In the Middle East, good hospitality to guests is vitally important.  The Bible passage this week outlines two types of hospitality at the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha is busy rushing around, probably preparing a meal.  Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to him.  Martha gets angry with her sister for not helping and yet Jesus says that Mary is doing the right thing.  Why?  Surely the church needs people who are active.  The problem with Martha was not that she was active but, rather, that she was distracted, overly worried and told off her sister in front of the guests.  In contrast, the hospitality practised by Mary was to show how important the guests were by sitting at their feet and listening to them.  In the final analysis the best type of hospitality makes the guests feel important and welcomed rather than stressed and worried.  That is why Jesus commends Mary for having chosen the best type of hospitality.  Grace is more about receiving from an abundant God than rushing around in our own strength trying to do things for him.  Of course, we need active people in the church, but our activity should not degenerate into a frenzied ‘busyness’ without listening to God.  Also, we must always remember that in Jesus, our guest is also our host.

5th Sunday after Pentecost

It is not enough to have the right thoughts.  The Gospel reading this week is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Given the dangers of the Jerusalem to Jericho road, the traveller was unwise to travel alone.  However, one of the main purposes of this passage is to look at the responses of the three people who passed by.  First was the priest who was unwilling to touch what he thought might be a dead body because it would make him ceremonially unclean.  Next was the Levite who was perhaps worried that it was a trap and he would be attacked.  Finally, there was a Samaritan, or perhaps he was just referred to as a Samaritan because he was theologically unsound.  After all, Jesus was referred to as a Samaritan (John 8:48).  Whatever his racial background and theological position, we know that this man was honest and credit worthy because the inn keeper trusted him.  But, of course, the greatest quality of the good Samaritan was that he acted.  It is entirely feasible that both the priest and the Levite felt sorry for the injured traveller but the key difference between them and the good Samaritan is that the latter did something about it.  Sadly, in the Christian life, it is not enough to just have the right thoughts.  We need to demonstrate love in practice.  Jesus parting words to the enquirer about who is my neighbour are not “Go and think like this” but, rather, “Go and DO likewise.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

What does mission look like?  One clue can be found in the Gospel reading for this week which is the story of Jesus sending out the seventy-two.  Some translations of the Bible have seventy and, in some ways, this is more convenient because there were 70 elders chosen to help Moses, 70 members of the Sanhedrin and believed to be 70 (or 72) countries in the world at the time Luke was writing.  The precise number matters less than the meaning of this passage.  What does mission look like?   At least three things stem from these words of Jesus.  Firstly, travel light: “Don’t take money or a traveller’s bag or even an extra pair of sandals.”  That is, don’t get obsessed with worldly possessions in mission – keep it real, authentic and simple.  Secondly, don’t get distracted: “don’t stop to greet anyone on the road.”  While social pleasantries are important, they are not as important as sharing the Gospel with those who need to hear it at that moment in time.  Thirdly, don’t reject help: “Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay.”  It is tempting to think that mission is all about us doing it in our own strength.  God sends people to help us and they feel privileged when we allow them to do that.  Mission is vital and if people can contribute financially and in other ways then themselves are blessed by it too.  Three facets of mission on which to reflect this week.

Third Sunday after Pentecost

In the Gospel reading this week, three different people approach Jesus and enquire about the cost of discipleship.  To the first one Jesus says, in effect, you must count the cost: “Foxes have dens to live in and birds have nests but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own.”  Following Jesus means that we must be prepared to give up all creature comforts.  Those who demand a comfortable life have misunderstood the call.  To the second Jesus says, in effect, don’t delay.  The man thought that he would look after his father in his old age until he was dead and buried and then he would follow Jesus.  Jesus says, no, don’t postpone the decision: “Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead.”  The final enquirer wanted to say good-bye to his family first.  To him Jesus says, you mustn’t look back: “Anyone who puts a hand to the plough and then looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.”  Nobody can plough a straight furrow by looking backwards and nobody can be fully effective in hastening the kingdom of God if they are always dwelling in the past.  Does all this sound challenging?  The answer is yes, and the reason is because true discipleship is costly.  It is costly in material ways as well as emotional ways.  We know this to be true in our experience and the refreshing thing about Jesus is that he makes all of this abundantly clear in this part of the bible.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Gospel reading this week is the story of the healing of the demon-possessed man, Legion.  Three things strike me about this story.  Firstly, is the incredible bravery of Jesus.  Here was a man that everyone else was afraid to approach.  Even when shackled with chains he was able to break them and run wild. Yet Jesus doesn’t hesitate in going straight up to him and rebuking the demons in him.  Secondly, the response to the healing was that the whole region was disrupted.  The local pig farming community was distraught and begged Jesus to leave them all alone.  Finally, there is Jesus’ command to the healed man to go back to his family and tell them, and everyone, what God had done for him.  There was no call to be an itinerant evangelist or foreign missionary but simply a witness in his local community.  For all these reasons this story is as much a model for evangelism as it is a healing miracle.  As evangelists and witnesses for Christ we are called to be brave in confronting evil; we are called to acknowledge that there will be disruption with the truth of the Gospel and, finally, we are called to mainly witness, not on the other side of the planet, but rather right where we are.