Sunday 26th

1ST SERMON

MORNING HOLY COMMUNION          Trinity 5          Preacher:    Rev  Lynn Mckeon

 

Galatians: 5.1, 13-25

Luke 9: 51-62

 

When we read the stories of Jesus all of his decisions look right. But if we had been with Jesus when he spoke the words just read in our gospel reading this morning, we might have felt differently. Those who followed him then did not have the benefit of hindsight, the future looked dangerous and going to Jerusalem was dangerous, it was a collision course with controversy. Some would have said that he was bloody-minded when he set his face to Jerusalem. His friends would have been of a mixed mind about what he was doing.

The Church of England has had a history of dealing with turbulent priests who say difficult things by putting them in remote parishes away from the centres of debate. Nobody pays much attention when the audience is small and lacking in influence so Vicar of Clophill would be OK for somebody who challenged the status quo, but don't let their voice be heard in the corridors of power. Fortunately the plan has often not worked but it is a good one.

This is the reason why Jesus went to Jerusalem. He recognised that he had a wider ministry a more important role. Jesus could have quite easily lived out in the sticks saying what he said, he could have opened a Jewish school teaching his beliefs and we would never have heard of him. To go to Jerusalem was asking for trouble, it was to put his views and his teaching onto a much wider audience and to challenge the authority of the Jewish leaders. When Jesus was speaking on the shores of Lake Galilee he was not such a problem but when he set his face to Jerusalem and started turning over tables, this meant he was on collision course.

And so this episode today marks the stage of Jesus saying that he is going to take on the danger, recognise his ministry involved sacrifice and there was to be no turning back. Some themes stand out from the passage today. The word resolute is used of Jesus and his mission, then this resolute attitude of Jesus is contrasted with three responses which are less than resolute. And of course the challenge for those who wish to be followers of Jesus, Christians, is that they must recognise the tough decisions which have to be made. If you and I are to be Christians in the world then we will face tough decisions. They may not be life threatening but they will be tough in their own way.

An example - If I say I am a Christian at work people may think that I am a goody goody, a bit soft and I won't get promotion. If I invite that friend to church they may not appreciate it and I may lose that friendship. Jesus is saying that discipleship involves more than just listening. More than just learning, it is about lifestyle. We as Christian must be prepared to take on difficult choices. We are entering the holiday season, and when I was a child we enjoyed many holidays in the family caravan. I like caravanning, but what I miss in a caravan is certain 'creature comforts', but it’s nice when you go on holiday to enjoy some things which you don't have at home. Now caravans today are very luxurious, they have electricity and hot water etc., but they can never be as comfortable as the home you have left. Jesus takes up this theme of 'creature comforts' which we all understand and says that creature comforts even basic hole in the ground homes which animals like foxes have is to be denied to Jesus. And so for the followers of Jesus even the most basic of creature comforts had to be second to what was expected. This was not to say that followers would never have homes, it was to reinforce the message that followers of Jesus had to be resolute.

What is it to be resolute? What words and ideas come to you when you think of that word? It is to have a fixed purpose, a constant goal, a determination. Of course this teaching was going to be really important in the lifetime of many of the people who heard these words they were going to be called upon to make life threatening decisions. The early disciples had to be resolute, fixed in their purpose because a great deal was expected of them. Jesus cannot turn back from this journey and from those who go with him he will require total allegiance. Jesus invites others to travel with him but their following will require singular allegiance and commitment. Willingness to journey with and for Christ, takes precedence over all other priorities and it may involve pain, suffering, and loss.

Jesus used incredibly strong words. Did Jesus really say that somebody could not go and bury their father? This was an expected duty of the son laid down in the Torah, the Jewish law. Some people think that the questioner was saying 'can I wait until my father dies.' We will never know until we can ask Jesus face to face but I think that this is missing the point. The answer is perhaps to see Jesus once again using exaggerated language to make a point. Think of Matthew Chapter 5-27-30 If your right eye causes you to sin pluck it out If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off. It is better to loose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

Perhaps what Jesus is saying in this dramatic style of delivery is that all things are to be considered as secondary to him, even the Jewish law. He made a point and he made it in a poetic way using foxes have holes etc. and he made it in a startling way—'let the dead'. It is about following Jesus unreservedly. Discipleship in those early days demanded, self-denial, service, suffering and persecution, perhaps death. The call to discipleship is uncompromising.

We have a real challenge as Christians and as a church we must be constantly asking ourselves—Are we clear in our calling? Are we focused in the right direction? We are called to mission and yet we are acutely aware that although many people do believe in God their understanding of God is extremely poor. It is mixed up with all manner of superstition and ignorance. A survey was carried out of people who said they were Christian to test their biblical and religious knowledge about the Bible and the church—when asked who was swallowed by the whale over 80% said "Pinocchio!"

There is a tremendous amount of work to do and even if we filled our church every Sunday we would only be scraping the surface of our own community. But perhaps that is why Jesus said that we must not look back.  We must have confidence in God even when the mountain seems too great to climb. We are called to a difficult ministry and one that has its frustrations and setbacks. We must not lose heart in the face of disappointments or hardship We may not face death but discipleship even today requires that we are resolute.

A story is told of a Vicar going to a church. When the new Vicar arrived at the church, the churchwarden gave him three sealed envelopes, numbered 1, 2, 3. With a written message from the previous Vicar which read "Open these in order if you run into any difficulties here." Things went fine for 5 years, then big conflict with the PCC, so the Vicar opened the first envelope. One sheet of paper. Two words: "Blame me." So he did—he blamed his predecessor and the conflict died down. Things went fine for another 3 years, another conflict, so the Vicar opened the second envelope. One sheet of paper. Two words: "Blame the Diocese." So he did—he found a way to blame the Diocese for the problem and the conflict died down. Another three years, and now the biggest conflict of all, so the pastor opened the third envelope. One sheet of paper. Three words: "Prepare three envelopes."

Yes, you share in ministry when you share in the life of the church, doing flowers, serving on the worship rotas, whatever. But you minister when you go out and share your faith in different ways using the gifts which God has given you. One reason why you are here in the Church on Sunday is to become more adept at ministry, to gain the skills, insights, and vision needed to be a good minister of the gospel wherever God has planted you. As your Vicar, I preach and I teach in order that you might "preach" and teach wherever you go in the coming week. You have a right to say to us as clergy we are not being prepared for that service and we can look at ways to give to you the tools which you need. So go on and be a minister! Use the gifts God has given you as a sign of the outbreak of the Kingdom of God. Take on new challenges in your ministry, make the challenges so great, so demanding, that you will have to rely on the Holy Spirit to uphold you be the minister that God has called you to be.

So today for Jesus is a momentous day of no turning back and he encourages us to face up to the same kind of commitment. You may remember points of no return in your own life, momentous times. I am sure I could think of a few but one that I remember vividly was getting on board the ride Nemesis at Alton Towers. It's OK talking about it, getting on board, it's OK standing in the line with all the other folks, waiting to board. But once you have sat in your seat, buckled in and the engine has started there is no turning back. Not even for my brother Lee who wanted to jump off and who at one stage tried to get off. In the course of the Christian life there will be times when we are afraid, times when we wonder what we have done, Jesus got frightened and he wondered what he’d done and asked God to get him out of it at Gethsemane. And yet we know that there is for us no turning back, nothing which lies before is greater than God's power to take care of it. Each one can know that whatever God has called us to do to serve him, he will empower us to carry it through.