13th Sunday after Pentecost

Do we know what true discipleship means?  In the Bible passage assigned for this week, Jesus urges his followers to count the cost.  Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and to the horrors of the cross, and yet the people around him think he is going to become an emperor.  Jesus is keen to dispel this falsehood immediately.  Accordingly, he spells out that true discipleship means sacrificing everything for the Kingdom of God – even those things which are most dear.  It is a sad reality that in the church today there are many people who attend and many people who follow religion, but they are not true disciples of Jesus Christ!  Jesus says to all people who want to be disciples, have you really counted the cost?  Have we counted the cost?  Have we weighed up the fact that in following Jesus our priorities must change forever?  To illustrate the need to count the cost, Jesus uses two illustrations.  Firstly, who would want the humiliation and embarrassment of starting to build an extension to a house which would never be finished?  Secondly, a nation’s army would never choose to go war against a much bigger force that would ultimately prevail and destroy all that country’s citizens.  In the same way, we must think carefully about what being a disciple means.  The Christian way is about sacrifice and hardship.  However, if we choose this steep path, the Holy Spirit will walk with us and Jesus will be there to greet us at the top.  That makes it more than worthwhile.

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Why is humility important?  The Gospel passage this week underlines the importance of humility in the Christian life.  Jesus builds on Jewish thought, expressed for example in Proverbs, that an individual should start at a feast by sitting at the foot of the table.  If you arrive at a feast and start by sitting at the head of the table, you risk being demoted when someone considered more eminent than you arrives later.  Of course, the model for humility was Jesus Himself.  Jesus, who was God, humbled Himself by becoming human and then humbled Himself further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.  This is matchless humility.  What about us?  We may think that we are knowledgeable when we are young but as we become older, we realise there is so much more that we don’t know.  We may think that we have achieved a lot in our lives until we realise that there is so much to life that we have not achieved.  This is fine.  God loves us as we are, but the key is to remain humble.  Once again by focusing on Jesus.  If we view our lives in comparison with the radiance of his stainless purity, our pride will automatically die, and our self-satisfaction will be shrivelled up. Then we can start to live the Christian life of pure grace.

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Should we sometimes put systems before people or, at least, get people to fit in with the systems we have carefully devised?  In the Gospel passage for this week, the answer Jesus gives is no!  A crippled woman comes for healing on the Sabbath.  Jesus proceeds to heal her of her crippling disease.  This breaks the system of rules and so the president of the synagogue is critical of Jesus’ actions.  Jesus’ reply is to point out that this same system of rules permitted an animal to be rescued but did not allow a human in crippling pain to be healed.  Lest we become overly critical of the views of the religious leaders in Jesus’ time we need to reflect on our own churches today.  Most of the arguments that happen in the modern-day church concern rules and systems of church government.  We need to continue to pray that God will save us in all senses of the word from the schemes of the devil.  This includes being saved from a system which puts rules and procedures above the value of a human life.

10th Sunday after Pentecost

Should we always put our families first?  In the Bible passage assigned to this week, Jesus talks about fire, baptism and family division, amongst other things.  Jesus said: “I have come to bring fire on the earth..”  To the Jewish mind, fire was associated with judgement.  The Jews believed that, since they were the chosen race, they would be judged less severely than others.  Jesus gives no indication of this belief here.  Jesus then talks about the baptism that he would undergo.  By this he meant the terrible ordeal of the cross which was ever before him in his earthly ministry.  How he managed to be so positive in the light of this is another miracle.  Finally, Jesus says that families will be torn apart because of him.  Some people in the family would want to follow him, regardless of the cost and others would not!  This was one of the reasons that the Romans were opposed to Christianity in the early days.  It caused domestic and social conflict when all the Romans wanted was peace.  Of course, in many parts of the world today, Christianity is still causing families to be divided.  In Africa, the Middle East and India many recent converts to Christianity are disowned by other family members and even threatened with violence.  For them, this passage may bring some crumbs of comfort.  The challenge for us is how do we continue to support them.

 

9th Sunday after Pentecost

Following on from the Bible passage for last week, Jesus is once again talking about money.  This is what Jesus says: Sell your possessions and give to the poor…….. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  It is a political and economic manifesto which is diametrically opposed to the current way of thinking in most countries.  Do Christians really act out Jesus’ words?  A scrutiny of the bank balances and the diaries of most church folk may suggest not.  You see, it is precisely because we do feel that inflation and economic uncertainty are going to rob us of our future that we save more and invest in elaborate pension plans.  It is a middle-class obsession.  It is because we don’t really feel valued by God that we fill our diaries with so many events to make us feel important and needed.  And yet; and yet, Jesus says that all this is futile because God will give us so much more: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”  However, like last week, we probably do greatest service to this passage if we do not assume an overly literal interpretation.  Our attitude to all our possessions should be one where we look to share as much as possible.  If you have a big garden, let friends, family, neighbours, church members use it.  If you have a big house demonstrate hospitality to as many people as you can.  In this sense, although not literally ‘selling your possessions’, you sell your right to exclusive ownership.  Once you have done this, focus on what is more valuable: the kingdom of God!