14th August 2016
Canon Cheryl Collins
There is a class of Jesus’s sayings which we might describe as inconvenient truths. That is the things we wish he hadn’t said, or the things we’re hoping the preacher can explain away for us, or show us why this turns out not to apply to us.
If you’re hoping I’ll be able to explain away today’s gospel or convince you that it doesn’t apply to 21st century Sudbury, only 1st century Palestine, then you’re in for a disappointment.
The truth is, that as the principal of my theological college taught us, there is always challenge in the Bible as well as good news, you can’t have one without the other.
Some of things that Jesus says are hard to hear and hard to follow through on. Discipleship can and does involve real and great challenges for us. I would be doing you no favours if I pretended otherwise.
This is partly because there is usually a part of us that is trying to swop the God we have got, the God of the Bible, for the God we wish we had. All of us at one time or another think how handy it would be to have a great slot machine in the sky, we pop our prayers in, pull the handle and out comes everything we ever wanted. You know, O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz’.
If I told you that the slot machine God was the real God I’d be lying. And that is the problem with the false prophets we heard about in our reading from Jeremiah. They kept reassuring the people of Israel that everything would be all right. They failed to challenge the people of Israel abut the ways in which they had broken their relationship with their God.
The truth is that God is not to be domesticated and appropriated for our plans and dreams. God is not an uncritical patron of society as we know it.
God is I am who I am- and God has given us plenty of clues as to what that means in the Bible. Our God is a God of justice, of mercy, of remembering the poor and the marginalised, of living in the right relationship with those around us, those on the other side of the world and with the earth itself.
Remember last week when I spoke about how we are being shaped as people every moment of every day? The choice we have to make is what will we let ourselves be shaped by?
There are many things in our society which might be shaping us in the wrong ways, Might be encouraging us to settle for being consumers, or cogs in the machine or people under the illusion that we are the captains of our fate. God does not call us to settle. God calls us to become the people that God created us to be- God calls us to grow into the full stature of the beloved children of God and adopted sisters and brothers of Christ that we were created to be.
Or, as Elvis Costello put it- There’s no such thing as an original sin. The sin that clings so closely as the writer of Hebrews put it, is woven into the very fabric of our society and culture.
Discipleship is not just a once and for all choice- I have decided to follow Jesus.
It is also ‘no turning back, no turning back.’ And no turning back means that the thousands of choices that we make every day need to come under the Lordship of Christ.
Everything is connected. We cannot make a commitment to Jesus without it affecting our commitments to our possessions, our moral responsibilities and to our relationships, even those with our blood relatives.
Our commitment to Jesus is to shape our values, our priorities, our goals and our behaviour. It is to determine what we pay attention to and what we neglect. Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said ‘If we wish to have him, then he demands the right to say something decisive about our entire life.’ And he should know as he agonised about the commitment that God was calling him to in the mad, mad world of Nazi Germany.
But while our world, our challenges and our choices are rarely so stark we cannot pretend that they do not exist. That sometimes we are presented with the hard choice between doing what respectable society tells us is our duty and doing what we believe God is calling us to. Christianity is not an affirmation of the core values of our society, it is always counter-cultural, always about living as ‘resident aliens.’
After all Jesus himself was not a good son to his mother or even a good man by the values of the society in which he lived.
Gadding about all over the countryside, instead of settling into the carpenter’s shop and finding a nice girl to marry and settle down with. Claiming to be the Messiah when everyone knew he was not the Messiah, but just a very naughty boy.
I bet the neighbours of Mary and Joseph had a field day, pitying them and patronising them and whispering about their boy’s ‘goings on’ behind their hands. And when he was crucified, well, I hate to say but I think we could all see he was heading for a bad end.
But Jesus’s choices and commitments were rooted firmly in the love of the Father. This was the relationship that ultimately mattered to him.
He experienced plenty of unpopularity before he came to the cross and he understood that this was part of the price he paid. After all there is no point in praying for your enemies if you haven’t got any!
But for the joy that was set before him, he walked towards the cross and shame, his face set like flint.
The writer of Hebrews is wanting to offer us hope, but a realistic hope. His stories of the heroes and heroines of faith include those who triumphed in the world’s eyes through faith- Moses and David and Gideon and Rahab. But it also includes those who paid the price of their lives for their faithfulness to God.
This is the great cloud of witnesses that God has given us to walk among. Which means we are never alone. When we are called into relationship with God we are called in to a new relationship with those around us, we are called to be the family of the church.
So when your mother tells you she would rather you were dead than ordained you are not alone. When your friends make fun of you for having different priorities than getting drunk every weekend and trying to score, when they finally stop calling you, start hassling you, shoving and pushing and…you are not alone.
We are all part of a bigger story, God’s story, and we are in it together.
When we challenge the values and perceptions of the world around us we should not be surprised that it brings trouble upon us. In fact some would say that if your being a Christian is having no discernable effect on anything around you, then you might want to look at that again.
We cannot have the resurrection without the death, but the death does not make the resurrection any less real. And in the new creation that God makes of us there are new ways to relate with one another, to be honest, forgiving, compassionate with one another.
It is easy to imagine the reaction of Peter’s mother in law when he told her ‘You know that bloke that popped round to heal you the other day, well, he’s asked me to join him. Yeah, so I’m giving up fishing and I’m off on the road following Jesus. I know this sounds a bit farfetched but I think, I believe, that he is really the one we’ve been waiting for. Yeah, I say that Jesus is the Messiah. ‘
Peter’s mother in law knew that in that society, Peter and the security he provided was her only safety net. Without his support a lone woman could be left to starve. It is easy to imagine the kind of division that Peter’s announcement made in that household.
But Peter wasn’t the only one with a choice. And maybe, just maybe as she listened to him, that tired and frightened old woman felt something stirring inside her. A hope that the years had squashed began to kindle into a flame. And as he told her that women were among those who followed Jesus too and that they all lived like one big family together, sharing all things in common, she made her choice.
Yes, she said, Amen, let it be so, and she packed up her few belongings, and hanging onto Peter’s arm marched into her new future.
Well. That’s part of the story that didn’t get written down and most likely our part of the story won’t be either. But we have a choice, a choice that affects all the little choices we make each day, a choice that may lead to being misunderstood or rejected by those we love most, a choice that can demand of us some very hard choices. A choice that leads to new life. May we be ready to say Amen, let it be so.