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!
What should we do with our money? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus seems to talk about money more than almost any other single thing. Why? The answer perhaps is that money is one of the biggest blockages to a deepening relationship with God. The temptation is to believe that we have earned it by our own efforts. We too often forget that all our skills, abilities, character, qualifications and education is a gift from God. In the Gospel passage for this week, we have the parable of the rich fool. This is a man who benefits from an abundant harvest and decides to build bigger barns to help him in his retirement. He plans to wait until then so that he can eat, drink and be merry. This is very prudent in our modern capitalist world, but is it the way that God wants us to live? The answer to this question is: no, probably not! It is no coincidence that, in Luke’s Gospel, apart from Zacchaeus, all the rich people are spiritually poor and the materially poor can be spiritually rich. However, careful reading of the parable does not suggest that it is wrong to be rich but, rather, that it is wrong to assume that your riches will be with you forever. It is perfectly fine to be rich as long as we invest that money or give it to good causes. What should we do with our money? Perhaps we should leave the answer to that question to one of God’s generals in the 18th century. John Wesley once commented: “Earn all you can; save all you can and give all you can”
How should we pray? In the Gospel passage this week, Jesus’ disciples put to him precisely this question. Jesus goes on to provide an exemplar of prayer (Our Father) followed by a parable about prayer (the friend who calls at midnight) and some final sayings about prayer (ask, seek and knock). This is a difficult passage because it seems to fly in the face of our experience with prayer. Often, we ask but do not seem to receive or seek and do not appear to find. How do we reconcile this? Perhaps the answer is that God does answer but not in the way that we expect or says ‘no’ because this is in our best long-term interests. We also need to acknowledge that the devil is prowling around, and sin and death are a consequence of the fall. Although the ultimate victory is won, battles with the devil and demons still rage on. Then, of course, there is the purpose of prayer in the first place. If we regard prayer as mainly about relationship and less about getting what we want, then persistent prayer makes more sense. Seen in this light, perhaps there are three things we learn from Jesus’ teaching about prayer in this passage. Firstly, put God’s kingdom first; secondly be persistent and, finally, pray in every small aspect of your life because this shows that, above all else, you are interested in relationship. This is what God wants and what we need. This is how we should pray.
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.
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.
Is God moving in our nation in our time? The Bible passage this week records the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Two things strike me about this passage from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Firstly, the Holy Spirit came to the believers when they were together. God not only comes in power to individuals but also to us corporately, the Church. In the New Testament the Greek word ‘you’ is mainly used in the plural. This is similar to ‘vous’ in French as opposed to ‘tu’. God’s relationship is not only with us as individuals but mainly with us as a church together. Secondly, the Holy Spirit is like a mighty wind. A strong wind will move things around and change the scenery. As a church we need to be prepared for God to shake us up sometimes. Yes, we celebrate the wisdom of the ages and the traditions of the past but sometimes God wants to over-turn all of this and start something new. Something that changes the whole landscape. Is God moving in our nation at this time? The biggest provider of youth work, food banks and non-State education in the United Kingdom is the church. Atheism is said to be declining. Yes, God is moving but there is so much more He wants to do through us if only we work together and are prepared to be shaken up.