Readings: 2 Kings 2: 1-2,6-14, Luke 9: 51-62
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem –these words jumped out at me in my reading of the Gospel message for today: words of determination, of resolve, of choosing to take a particular path in the knowledge of what was to come –of taking the difficult and painful way to the cross when other easier, less troublesome options beckoned. Luke, particularly of the Gospel writers, place a real emphasis on this journey to the Holy City, and how Jesus makes use of the time along the way to teach and encourage his disciples in their journey,
When I began in my role of turning 14 small independent volunteer libraries in the Hurunui into a viable and efficient library service to serve the whole district and make best use of resources, I went to another District Librarian for advice. How do I approach this difficult and potentially hurtful situation of restructuring for a journey that needed to be made, I asked? Her advice: see what needs doing, do it straight-up and then with the hurt feelings and the fallout afterwards. Mm I said – that doesn’t sound like me and went away to do just the opposite. Gentle, gradual, discussive, letting natural time and fading energies take their toll till decisions to close or amalgamate came from the local people not me. It took lots of years and we eventually got there. Was it the best way? Well – I didn’t get it all right, but I had the chance to build relationships and not be seen (often) as the hatchet queen – so it was good for me. But was it the best way for the district and for the library service? I don’t know. Would I do it differently now? Maybe.
This question of how we deal with change faces us all – whether we are the instigators or the recipients, for let’s face it – this is a time of incredible change. Forget the ordinary changes we would expect over time and under new influences, like better cars, faster and further air travel, medical and technical advances , but if I just pick out a couple of words – digital (and all the changes that encompasses) and maybe global. Those two things alone have completely transformed our worlds, from the way we see family to social values to instant gratification – you could go on and on.
But it’s not really change itself I want to talk about today but rather how we walk our journeys of faith within those forever changing values and world views.
As I told the library story today I found myself questioning my methods of that time – realising that my desire to be seen as a good person and take a softly softly approach may well have compromised reaching that better world for the library users of the district. Maybe now I would approach that particular journey differently.
If we think about the journey that we are taking as people of faith, it is relevant for us too to ask how is it going and is there anything that is compromising that which we are called to do.
Jesus, in the passage we heard read today, makes no bones about the fact that it is not an easy road and then he uses what we might call shock tactics to drive the message home.
As he begins his journey to the cross, he responds to three people who have committed to following him: to the first who says he will follow wherever, Jesus quite bluntly says ‘it’s a tough life with no place to call home’. To the second who wants to have time to bury his father first he says ‘God must come first’ and to the last he suggests that he turn his back on family and only look ahead not behind. Why so brutal do you think?
Maybe what the scripture is pointing to here is reminding us that when Jesus calls to us to follow there are times when our other priorities of life get in the way. When faith and the other clash, how do we resolve it, how do we make the right choice. I don’t think however that we are being asked to walk away from family, live a life of transient homelessness – not at all – but what I do think Jesus is getting us to think about here is ‘where are our lives being driven by the expectations of ourselves, our society and our world in direct opposition to the choices that Jesus asks us to make’. It seems to me that if we are to be Christ’s body in this place we need to be constantly considering just what that means and not be distracted by blind alleyways that are taking up our energies and our focus.
One of those distractions or blind alleys has to be in our responses as church to this forever changing world. One reaction is to fiercely protect that which we hold dear almost with a siege mentality. That’s one way - and other times we want to chuck the whole lot of old out and embrace only that which is new in the hope that it might ‘connect’ with our modern world in a better way. Neither of these, I believe, will take us very far on the road that Jesus wants us to travel – because neither hold in balance the wisdom of those who have gone before us and what the particular needs are of our world in this time and place. The first leaves us hunkered down and going nowhere, the second leaves us adrift from who we are as the body of Christ over time and in the company of the saints. It’s actually possible to find a way of being church where we can honour the tradition, value the wisdom of the whole body and yet respond to the needs of our particular world and our time.
Don’t you just love it when, after spending serious time working at a particular message for your sermon, someone else manages to do it in one sentence – not only that they post it on twitter just when you have finally cobbled something together. For all that I have to use these words of Miroslav Volf
“To make a difference in the globalized world we need sturdy but nimble traditions and communities of robust but responsive conviction.”
Hi s word ring very true for me as I ponder some of the directions of the PCANZ at the moment – where it seems sometimes that corporate measures of success such as numerical, activity, financial and strategic fitness are the driving force for success in our churches. I wonder how much energy and focus is left over for ministering to those in need and fighting for justice and mercy for all people? I have to say I am exaggerating here but sometimes, honestly, it does feel a bit like this.
What else might distract us do you think? What might waylay us and hold us back from being the people of God in this place. This is not just an academic question. This is real. How do we break the chains that bind and get into that mindset that puts love and compassion at the absolute centrality of our faith, that identifies where our perspective is needing a bit of a jolt, where our values are in conflict with Jesus teachings? I can’t answer that for you – I can only say that it needs our closest attention and our response.
Christ is not just saying this in a moment of black humour, bad temper brought on by a difficult journey ahead – Jesus is challenging us to figure out what is holding us back, what is stopping us walking our Christian journey with focus and with determination. And where we identify it as being so – what are we going to do about it.
In finishing, I am reminded of how Nelson Mandela brought his focus of care and justice from his prison cell into his role as leader of a divided and hurting nation and how he now looks back on his journey - I would suggest with some real sense of having walked the path he was called to take in compassion and in love. Thanks be to God.