Category Archives: Uncategorized

God hears in the wilderness


SCRIPTURE: Psalm 86:1-10; Genesis 21:8-21; Matthew 10:24-39

Happy Fathers’ Day.

I’m sorry, fathers, but you know how it is. Mothers get all the love in Mothers’ Day sermons; fathers usually get the lectures.

Mothers are told how wonderful they are, and the sermons are addressed to everyone else, telling them how to love their mothers and be like their mothers. Fathers, however, get told how they could be, and how they should be, better fathers. I’m not saying we don’t need it, I’m just sayin’.

Part of the problem is that so much is expected of fathers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that mothers have it easy — I wouldn’t dare! But fathers are expected to stand tall, win their battles, and provide food for their families. Of course, it’s our own fault. It’s a man’s world, and we have made it that way. We actually like being in charge and telling others what to do. But it comes with a price, and the price, I would suggest, is loneliness and even fear — especially fear of failure.

Emotions
I envy Jen and her friends. They share from the heart the most trivial and the most intense. It doesn’t matter if it makes them laugh or cry, that’s ok.

We men get emotional, too, of course. Just watch us at a sporting event when our team is about to win or is beaten by a foul.  We’ll laugh and even cry on each other’s shoulders. But, apart from that, we’re very careful about which emotions we stir up. Sadly, it’s most often the destructive emotions like frustration and anger we feel more comfortable with.

But if the world tells you as you are growing up that men don’t cry, then the positive, caring emotions become a bit suspect. And our heroes don’t help either.

Heroes
Heroes like Louis L’Amour’s cowboys I grew up with and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne are big, strong and confident men, able to look after themselves and fix things.

And then there are others like The Famous Five and Harry Potter who are very different types of hero. They are the nerds, if you like, who make good in spite of the physical odds against them. Clever, courageous and very brave.

But the message is the same: you have to win. Whether you outbox him or outfox him, you have to win your battles or, somehow, you’re not quite the man you ought to be.

Biblical heroes
Biblical heroes are very different. For a book full of heroes of the faith, the Bible is remarkably frank about their weaknesses and failures. And their failure is often tragic. When they try to take charge, they mess up badly. But when they admit their utter dependence on God, winning happens. Although, ‘winning’ might not always be quite what was expected.

Perhaps God is telling us that life is not about winning, about being successful, it’s about relationships. Fatherhood is not about providing for a family or leading a family; it’s about being a family.

When we focus on winning, on achieving our goals, then relationships suffer, and people are left behind. It’s been there from the very beginning, in Abraham and Sarah, this first family in the faith. Our story of Hagar and Ishmael was one of the lowest moments in Abraham and Sarah’s life together.

But let’s start with our Matthew passage.

Matthew 10
In Matthew 10, Jesus prepares his disciples for the mission field, and he tells them (and us) what following him will involve. And it’s not for the fainthearted.

Jesus says that people will swear at us — and they’ll mean it. Then, as if to comfort us, Jesus says, ‘But don’t worry about them. What can they do to you? They can only kill you.’
‘Oh! I wasn’t planning on getting killed.’
‘But if you want to follow me,’ Jesus goes on, ‘you must lay down your life and take up your cross.’
And the cross is not just a heavy burden or a shiny pendant, it’s an instrument of torturous death. Taking up our cross means preparing to die.

So, living a Jesus life doesn’t mean a nice comfortable seat in church and a friendly Bible study. Far from it. Jesus tells us that he has not come to bring peace, but a sword. Families and friendships will be torn apart. Your enemy isn’t the devil, he tells us; your enemy will be among your family and friends. And we know that we find the enemy all too often inside ourselves.

‘This isn’t what I signed up for’
What happened?

What about all the ‘peace and goodwill’ the angels sang about at Christmas?
What about the warm fuzzy feelings the Magi experienced when they gathered around the baby?
What about the love poured out on the cross and Jesus dying in our place?
What about the power of the Holy Spirit, of the fruit of love, joy and peace?
Where is the Good News in all of this?

John van der Laar wrote about this passage, and he said, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’. [‘I Didn’t Sign Up For This’, Sacredise]

A two-a-penny sparrow

But that’s not all Jesus says in Matthew 10. He also tells us that not even a two-a-penny sparrow is out of God’s sight and care. And he even knows how many hairs are left on your head. And, what’s more, ‘if you tell the world you belong to me,’ Jesus says. ‘I will do the same for you before my Father in heaven.’

‘This one belongs to me,’ he’ll say. ‘That one is mine.’

No matter what happens, all hell might be breaking loose around us, but we are claimed by God. Our relationship with God is secure.

In the middle of the darkness
Life is not easy, for anyone. That’s not the promise.

The world thinks that peace and joy are found in easy living, a world cruise or winning the lotto. And, while those would be nice, much more meaningful peace and joy are to be found not by running away but in the middle of the darkness and pain and suffering.

There are very many of you listening to this message who could tell us how you have found God to be most real and closest to you, when the darkness was the greatest, the pain the hardest to bear, the mountain impossible to climb.

It’s not that God wants these things for us, but they are part of life, and it is in the middle of our messy lives that God connects with us and we find our peace, and true success. And it is in the middle of our messy lives that God’s heroes are made. Not by escaping the pain, but by consistently choosing, in every situation, to be better than normal.

Genesis 21
And that brings us back to our Abraham story.

Sarah and Abraham were never perfect examples of faith and saintliness. But God chose this broken, struggling couple and enabled them to become better than normal in critical moments of their lives because their greatest desire was to walk with God.

But they sure got it wrong at times. And Genesis 21 is perhaps the darkest chapter in Sarah and Abraham’s life. God promised them so much, but like us, they took matters into their own hands and hurt themselves and others in the process.

Abraham and Hagar
Among other things, they decided to help God with his plan to give Abraham an heir. After all, time’s marching on. Abe is already nearly 90. So, they agree that he should sleep with Sarah’s maid Hagar and get his heir that way. And so, Ishmael was born.

Well, when Sarah finally had her own son, Isaac, the true heir, all the bitterness and jealousy of the past ten years or so began to emerge and be dumped on Hagar and her son, Ishmael.

Hagar and Ishmael thrown out
Finally, Sarah succeeds in having Hagar and Ishmael thrown out. But don’t blame Sarah. Abraham was no saint in this matter, and if we read their story, Sarah’s life had been miserable. Be that as it may, Hagar is out in the wilderness with just enough food and water to take them out of sight but not enough to survive.

And when it was all gone, Hagar left Ishmael under a bush because she couldn’t bear to watch him die.

But God…
And then it happened. One of those, ‘But God,’ moments we come across so often in the Bible. They were dying; this was the end; they couldn’t take any more. Friends, how many of you have been there, or are there now? Who do you know in the same boat?

Hagar and Ishmael were finished, BUT… God heard the boy crying.

Of course he did! Ismael was named for this moment. Ishmael means God hears. And God heard.

As one writer put it:

  • God hears, even when we are alone in the wilderness
  • God hears, even when we don’t know what to say to God
  • God hears, even when the tension of living remains unresolved
  • God hears

(Dawn Chesser, ‘Preaching Notes’, General Board of Discipleship)

God opened her eyes
And God provides. Not that God brought a banquet, or even a tea trolley. ‘God (simply) opened her eyes.’ (v 19) Hagar was able to see what was hidden by her pain and her tears. She could see the well, and as she drank, she began to see the way forward.

But here’s the thing, they never left the wilderness. Terrible though it may seem, God didn’t rescue them from the wilderness. He helped them find a way to live in the wilderness, to live through the rejection and hate, to survive and prosper. Not what the world calls prospering. Not the ‘happy ever after’ that Hollywood pretends is our right. But peace and the presence of God and a promise still being fulfilled in Ishmael’s descendants today.

There are people around us, like Hagar, desperate to find a well that will see them through, that will sustain them, that will give them hope. There are people in our church communities; people in our neighbourhood; people at work and in our families. They are within touching distance of us, a phone call away.

Called to be a well
Our job isn’t to tell people where they are going wrong:
‘Well, you know, Hagar, if you hadn’t been so rude to Sarah, you wouldn’t be here today.’

No, our job isn’t to tell people where they are going wrong or even to tell them what to do. We are here to help them find a well. To be a well for people around us. To support, to sustain, to share the hope we have in Jesus.

Jesus warns us that the journey will be tough and thankless. It’s not that we are trying to die, though that might happen. We are not looking for abuse, though that might come our way. Because our hope is not that all will be bright and sunny.  But that God hears.

God hears
And so, our task begins when, like Hagar, we cry out to God. Because God hears you and me and the people around us as we cry to him in our own pain and for the pain of others. And we discover that his presence is worth far more than worldly wealth and peace.

Friends, cry out to God in your pain, in your fear, through your tears, and discover that God hears.

Cry out to God for those whose lives and livelihood have been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, so that they might discover that God hears.

Cry out to God for those who have been crushed by racism and neglect, who have been humiliated or ignored for too long. Cry to God for the women and children, victims of violence. Cry out to God, so that they, too, might discover the God who hears.

But friends, cry out to God, also, so that our ears might be unblocked, and we might become the well that people around us need, reminding us all that he who loves the sparrow loves us even more, and he invites us into relationship with him and with each other.

Amen

Let us pray…
(Link to the prayer here)

 

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Being sheep in a Covid-19 world – A sermon for 3 May 2020


This sermon can also be found an the following video link:
Being sheep in a Covid-19 world – A sermon for 3 May

SCRIPTURE:  Psalm 23; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Lockdown
Five weeks of Covid-19 lockdown!

How has it been for you?

I remember, just before we went into lockdown for the initial three weeks, thinking, that’s a long time. What will we do for three weeks? And now five weeks have passed and (in South Africa) some of the doors are beginning to open.

How has it been for you?

People have spoken about the opportunity to reflect, to realign, to reorganise (or, for some of us, just to organise).
Many years ago, I was in hospital for four or five weeks with bilharzia. And I kept hearing about people who had been in similar or worse situations, and how they had used the time for deep reflection and prayer and had grown spiritually.

I felt so guilty. I didn’t want to reflect on anything other than how nauseous and miserable I felt. I didn’t feel the least bit spiritual.

How has the lockdown been for you?

For most of us, it’s about the money. Where will this month’s pay come from? Will my business survive? Will I still have a job?
Then there is the virus itself. Will we survive? Will our family survive? Will those in essential services be able to cope?

Relationships are especially difficult. Our lives are often so busy that we usually don’t spend much time together. Suddenly we are locked down, and we only have each other for company. And it’s not like when we are on holiday and all relaxed. There are all these new fears and worries that create tension or add to tensions that are already there.

The early church
In the middle of all this, we read about the early church in Acts 2.42–47.

Remember the disciples, too, had been locked down. As far as we know, they had been self-isolating in the Jerusalem upper room for the last 50 days. They had just started to emerge. There were a few jaunts here and there — to Galilee, for example, where Jesus met them for breakfast. But, in Jerusalem, we are told, they were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews.

Then, at Pentecost, they emerged like butterflies out of their cocoons. And what we read in Acts 2, sounds so idyllic:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe ….
All the believers were together ….
They gave to anyone who had need.
They met together in the temple.
They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
… enjoying the favour of all the people.
And (every day) the Lord added to their number ….

How does our lockdown compare with any of that?

Close? Not very? Way off?

As our lockdown has dragged on, people have begun to show more and more frustration and anger on social media. We are used to being in control. We like to decide what to do and how to run our lives.

We like to choose what we buy, when we buy and where we buy. We want to visit friends and neighbours. We want to take a meal to a someone who is sick.

We don’t want to drive down the road and worry about how many roadblocks there will be and whether we’ll be sent back (or worse, put in jail). We don’t like being told what to do.

Jesus as shepherd
But, in John 10, Jesus portrays himself as a shepherd. In verse 11, just following the passage we read, Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd’.

Now, the idea of Jesus as shepherd is a wonderful image of love, care and hope. But the problem with the image is that if Jesus is the shepherd, we are the sheep. And, although we think of lambs in warm and fuzzy terms, there are very few images of sheep that are flattering:

  • Bumbling, ignorant, trusting;
  • Vulnerable, docile, dependent;
  • Bred for human use and consumption.

Even in our well-loved Psalm 23, the Psalmist is utterly dependent on God, the Shepherd.

And Peter tells us in our 1 Peter 2 passage that, when Jesus took our place on the cross, he ‘did not retaliate’. ‘Instead he entrusted himself to [depended on] him who judges justly.’

The Church in Acts
But in Acts 2 (in fact, in the whole of Acts) the disciples are nothing like sheep. Have they been set free? Does that mean we grow out of being sheep?

No, it’s because they saw themselves as sheep, utterly dependent on God, that they were able to do extraordinary things.

We often hear people talking about recreating the New Testament church. We try to reinvent the church on the basis of what the early church did. But the key to the early church is not what they did, but their dependence on God, which is summed up in the opening verse of our Acts passage:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Trying to recreate the NT church by copying their actions is the wrong approach. We are not called to do what they did, but to be as they were — utterly dependent on God.

What does that mean for us as we struggle to be the church and to live as Christians in a struggling world? I suggest we are given three invitations.

KNOW THE SHEPHERD
Our first invitation is to know the shepherd.

Knowing the shepherd is a critical step in our journey. It is almost impossible to trust someone you don’t know.

Jesus tells us in John 10 that the shepherd knows his sheep, he loves his sheep, he cares for his sheep, he calls them by name. It isn’t just a job for him, as it might be for a day labourer who is just helping out. For the shepherd, it’s a labour of love.

And so, these new disciples ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’ — activities that would enable them to get to know the Shepherd and experience his love for themselves.

Friends, you and I are loved.

Sink back into that love as you would into a soft pillow. Enjoy that love as you have enjoyed this respite from the relentless rush of everyday life.

Keep coming back to this. Pray often. Read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels. Talk to other Christians who have journeyed with this Shepherd and have known his love. Begin to discover that love for yourself. Grow in his love and get to know him better.

Relationships, not activities
Too often, we want to run on ahead and do things, and live a ‘proper’ Christian life. But our Christian faith is routed in a relationship rather than in activities. Being a Christian is about knowing that we are deeply loved. Knowing that Jesus poured out his love for us on the cross, and that God, in his mercy and grace, has opened the doors of the kingdom to you and to me.

That’s not the end of the journey, of course. As we experience this undeserved, extravagant love of God, we can’t help ourselves. It’s as Jesus described in the parables of the ‘Hidden treasure’ and the ‘Pearl of great price’, because we’ve discovered this treasure, we want to give everything of ourselves to the one who loves us. We want to live that Christian life.

TRUST THE SHEPHERD
And so, the second invitation is to trust the shepherd. Know the shepherd so that we can trust the shepherd.

As we experience God’s love for us, we begin to trust him more. And we trust him not only with our lives, but with our way of life as well, which may be much more difficult.

Jesus said, ‘If you want to follow me, take up your cross daily and follow me.’

Jesus wasn’t suggesting martyrdom. He didn’t say, ‘Die for me.’
He said die to yourself. Put yourself — your dreams, your plans, your desires, your rights — put it all on the cross every day and live for me.

Friends this is really difficult. As we have seen in this Covid-19 lockdown, we don’t like being dependent; we don’t like following other people’s rules.

But, when our legs, for example, aren’t able to do what they are supposed to do, we have to accept the fact that we need help, otherwise we are immobile. But when we learn to depend on our crutches, we are free to move around.

FDR
Franklin D Roosevelt served as Governor of New York for four years from 1928, and then as President of the United States for an unprecedented 12 years to the end of WW2. And all of this from his wheelchair. He had contracted a paralytic illness, at the age of 39, seven years before he became New York Governor.

He didn’t say, ‘This wheelchair is just a crutch. I don’t need this; I’m better than this. I’m going to stand up and run the country on my own two feet.’

That would have been foolish. He knew and accepted his dependence. He trusted those around him to do for him what he couldn’t do for himself, and that freed him to get on with what he could do — running the country and fighting a war.

As we get to know the Shepherd and begin to trust the Shepherd, we discover our true freedom. We are able to rise above our limitations, becoming far more than we could if we only trusted in ourselves.

And we are not alone in this. Jesus, the good shepherd, has walked this road before us, and he travels with us.

In our 1 Peter passage, Peter describes how, Jesus, who knew no sin, took on the role of sinner; in humility and in utter dependence on God, he took the insults hurled at him and allowed people to think he deserved them. Then Jesus took on the consequences of sin and died on the cross. And Peter says, ‘He entrusted himself to him who judges justly.’

This is our shepherd who leads us.

OBEY THE SHEPHERD
So, we are invited to know the shepherd.
We are invited to trust the shepherd.
And our third invitation as sheep in God’s pasture is to obey the shepherd.

Peter says in 1 Peter 2:25, ‘You were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.’

We don’t stop being sheep, but instead of following our own way, we follow and obey the shepherd.

When we think about obedience we usually think about lists of rules and regulations. And the nice thing about a list of rules is that they are relatively easy to follow.

Of course, some lists are longer and more complicated than others. We thought the regulations for the Covid-19 lockdown were onerous. Now we know they were child’s play compared with the regulations for getting unlocked.

For Moses and the Israelites, things were a bit easier, it seems. There were only ten Commandments. Jesus made it even simpler for us to understand. He summarised it all into three commands:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
Love one another as I have loved you.

Friends, it is ALL about love, which makes it easy to remember and even to understand. But love is much more demanding and much more costly than the longest list of regulations you will ever find.

Love never asks the question, ‘Have I done enough?’
Love never says, ‘I’ve ticked all the boxes. I’ve done what you asked me to do.’

Love asks, ‘How can I express my love to God, today?’
Love asks, ‘What can I do to demonstrate God’s love to this neighbour today, to my Christian sister or brother in this situation?”

Love doesn’t ask, ‘What should I do?’ as if there were a to-do list for every situation.
Love rather asks, as Phillip Yancy suggested, ‘What would love look like in this situation?’
‘What can I do differently, that would show more of God’s love to you?’

Friends, the lockdown is over; the invitations are out:
We are invited to get to know the shepherd who loves us
We are invited to trust the shepherd we can depend on
And we are invited to obey the shepherd and join him on a journey of love.

Will you come?

Let us pray …
Link to the prayer here

 

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State Capture and the Christian Hope


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend has handed us a much scarier South Africa than we had last week. President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle has taken state capture to a whole new level. However, he did not reckon with the timely and graceful death of struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada and the horror, determination and drive that platform unleashed.

We should not be fooled, however. This is not the worst government or the worst crisis the country has experienced. It cannot be compared with the horrors of the apartheid government and the despair felt by the majority of South Africans in the 80s. Which is why many black people are sceptical about the sudden white outrage.

The Church, and Christians generally, should certainly be asking what we should do. However, we should never lose sight of the truth that our salvation does not lie in the downfall of a president. Our salvation does not depend on the overthrow of a government. We may pray for both of those, as Desmond Tutu has suggested, and join with civil society to rally towards those goals, but that is not where our salvation and the salvation of this great land lie.

As we near the end of Lent and move towards Holy Week, we are reminded that our salvation lies with One who chose to give his life a ransom for many.

Nothing will change that. Whatever the government, whatever our physical, social and economic prospects for the future, our salvation is secure. And it finds expression as we pray and reach out to each other in love and compassion, listening to each other’s stories and sharing each other’s pain.

Let’s not rally together because our taxes are being wasted and our comfort is at stake. Let us rally together because we have cared enough to listen, and we understand the pain and hurt of those who are most affected, those whose pensions and childcare grants are at stake.

[Some thoughts shared at Prestbury Methodist Church on Sunday 2 April 2017]

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Easter Sunday Meditation 2016


Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Reading: Luke 24:1-10

Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. (2) They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, (3) so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (4) They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. (5) Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? (6) He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: (7) ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”

(8) Then the women remembered his words, (9) returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and all the rest. (10) The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women with them told these things to the apostles. (Good News Bible)

Meditation

The women had a plan. They knew where Jesus had been buried, and they knew what they wanted to do and when they were going to do it.

But instead of their plan, there was puzzlement and fear, wonder and excitement. Instead of action, there was a story to tell. And they ran to the disciples and shared the news:
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

We, too have a story to tell:
We are forgiven.
We are loved.
We have a new family.
God has blessed us; God is with us.
Indeed we have a story to tell.

Burst out of our churches, break free from restraints. Let the earth ring with the praise of God’s people:

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Prayer

Lord, remind us today of your story. Give us the words, put a new song in our hearts. Let your story be on our lips, in our relationships, in our interventions, today and every day. Amen.

This meditation was written for the Prestbury Methodist Church Lenten Diary. See HERE for Easter Saturday and past years’ contributions.

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Holy Week Service – Matthew 24


Our theme at Prestbury Methodist Church this year is the teaching of Jesus during Holy Week as recorded by Matthew. I was privileged to preach on Tuesday evening on Matthew 24.

SCRIPTURE:    Matthew 24:1-14; 42-44

We sang Stuart Townend’s song just now, ‘I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom’.

Well, the disciples wanted to boast. They boasted in the glorious architecture of the Temple: ‘Isn’t it magnificent!’ they cried. The Romans might be in charge, but this is the real centre of power. This is what really matters.

And it was important. Whatever the world might throw at them, however difficult it might be to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to pay the rent, if the Temple was there, if Jerusalem was secure, there would always be hope.

And we are no different. We worry about the Guptas, we worry about Nkandla, we worry about inflation and interest rates, we worry about unemployment and how it will affect our children and grandchildren. But while we are complaining that this is bad, that’s bad and the whole world is corrupt, we are constantly looking for something to hold on to, something that will give us a sense of security, just as the disciples found in the Temple building. If we could just fix this; if we could just settle that; if there was less corruption, more tolerance, there would be hope.

Jesus said to his disciples, and to us, ‘You may think that these stones, this wish list, this fix will keep you safe, but none of these things will last; not a single stone will be left in its place.’

None of the things we put our faith in, none of the things that give us hope, none of them really matter, none of them is permanent. And what happens to our faith and to our hope when they are gone?

If our relationship with God depends on the Temple, what happens when it is pulled down? If our confidence and trust in God depends on our health or our security or our comfort, what happens when our health deteriorates, our security is threatened, our comfort is taken away?

The disciples were horrified at the idea that the Temple might not be as permanent or as important as they thought. So they cried out, ‘When, Lord? When?’

We need to know, so that we can plan, we can prepare, we can get ready. If we know when it will happen, we will live our lives differently; we will plan differently, we will be ready.

Every now and again, of course, someone comes along bragging that they have worked it out. They know when it’s going to happen, and they give us the date. The end is not simply near, it is set for the 17th of April, just after tea.

Now we know. We can stop working, stop shopping, stop planning. We can go up onto a mountain, down by a stream, into the wilderness or into the Temple. We can worship without distraction, meditate without worry, pray without fear.

So, tell us, Lord; when will it be?

But Jesus is emphatic: no one knows, and no one is going to know.

He does warn us, however, that the end will not come easily. The process will be like the pains of childbirth: the reward is magnificent, but you are not going to enjoy the journey. There will be war and famine and earthquakes. Our own comfort and wellbeing will be threatened. We will be arrested, punished and put to death because of our faith. People will hate us, simply because we trust in Jesus.

Jesus warns us about these things not so that we can work out which war, which famine, which earthquake is the final one. He even tells us that these things ‘do not mean that the end has come.’ No, he warns us so that we know what to expect and are not taken by surprise.

No matter what happens, Jesus is saying, hold on to your trust and faith in God, not in fine buildings, good health, security systems or healthy pensions. Many will give up their faith. But if we hold onto our faith, we will continue to live in the security of God’s presence, no matter how bad it gets. Don’t give up.

But ever since Jesus said these words we have been trying to work out which earthquake he was talking about, which famine, which war would announce the end. (I can just see the angels rolling their eyes and saying, ‘Which part of “no one knows, and no one is going to know” don’t you understand?)

But Jesus does tell one thing that will happen just before the end. We tend to ignore it. It has nothing to do with earthquakes and war and stars falling from the sky. Jesus says: ‘(The) Good News about the Kingdom will be preached through all the world for a witness to all people; and then the end will come.’

The end is not heralded by wars or famine or pain and suffering. Those things are going to happen. They will always be around us. Whether they will be any worse towards the end, Jesus doesn’t say. But instead of counting wars and famine and earthquakes, we should be looking for ways to share the Good News with people around us.

So when Jesus says, ‘You must always be ready because the Son of Man will come … when you are not expecting him’, he isn’t saying have your bags packed ready for heaven. He’s telling us always to be ready to share our faith, always to live as if the Kingdom of God is already among us. It’s not crime and corruption that matter or even our health and security. Persecution and death may be our lot. What really matters is that the Gospel is proclaimed, God’s way is demonstrated.

What has eternal significance is when our lives, what we say and what we do, begin to proclaim God’s love and faithfulness to a hurting world; when our choices and our reactions demonstrate that ‘normal’ responses, our ‘normal’ way of life, are not the only way to live – there is a better way.

In the chaos and the struggle of our lives, we are challenged to rise above the normal, to find ways to be better than normal; to stop taking offence at what we see around us, at what others are doing or saying.

That’s a phrase that challenged Jen and me in our quiet time recently: ‘Don’t take offence.’ Because we do. We take offence at what others do or fail to do; we take offence at what others say; we take offence at other drivers. It’s a normal reaction. But Christ calls us to be better than normal, to offer an alternative response, to demonstrate what the Good News looks like and what life in the Kingdom of God is like.

How about we start this Holy Week.
They are planning to put Jesus to death. There are signs it’s going to happen this week. But Jesus doesn’t want us to take offence – to scream and shout and draw our swords. He wants the love that drives him to the cross to drive our every interaction, our every relationship, our every decision; that his love should drive us this Holy week and every week, come earthquakes, war, famine or persecution, until he comes again.

‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’

Or as Graham Kendrick writes:

‘So let us learn how to serve, And in our lives enthrone Him;
Each other’s needs to prefer, For it is Christ we’re serving.’

[We closed with Christine Jerrett’s beautiful prayer found here: Faithful, promise-keeping God]

 

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