Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Does God ever have a Plan B?
I can’t help but think about that as I read about God’s provision for Hagar and Ishmael. Isaac is the child of promise, but God promises that Ishmael will not be forgotten. He will have God’s blessing in his own right.
It could be that we just need to remember that God’s work is always bigger than we know and is going on in more places (and in the lives of more people) than we can see.
It is helpful, from time to time, to receive a “sign” from God that God’s favour does, indeed, rest on us.
Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
Both for Christ, and for God’s people throughout time, this has been a prayer for God’s protection and deliverance. It is, after all, God that sets us all free.
If grace is always bigger than sin, why shouldn’t we sin a lot so that we can get a lot of grace?
People have been asking that question ever since Paul’s time. The answer is still the same – “Are you an idiot?” Sin just never turns out well – which is why our sins have been crucified with Christ.
Let them go; let God make you dead to sin. You won’t miss it, I promise!
Jesus has more than one hard-to-hear saying in this passage. We are reminded that his life was not an easy one, and since we are following him ours may not be, either.
The takeaway is found in v.39 – “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Good enough, good enough.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Jesus says some scary things, some really hard-to hear things in today’s Gospel lesson.
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
“For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Let’s be honest, if these words did not have Jesus’ name on them, we would consider them the ridiculous demands of an evil person; possibly the leader of a crazy cult – like Charles Manson, or that guy in Nigeria who captured all those school girls.
All of us are here in church today because in one way or another we consider ourselves Christians and we have some desire to live a good life. And we believe that part of that effort to lead a good life is coming to church and hearing the Bible read and sermons preached on what has been read and we have to ask ourselves – “Okay, how is all this stuff about wielding swords and family feuds supposed to help me be a better Christian? Seriously, what’s the deal with this?”
A few years ago a young woman who had an appointment with me arrived a little early and was shown into my office to wait while I finished up a meeting down the hall. As I came into my office she turned from the wall where she had been examining my diplomas. She pointed at one of them and said, “What is ‘Spiritual Direction’?”
I fumbled around for an answer and finally said something like, “People come in to see me and I listen to them talk about their life, sort of like going to a counselor but, instead of whatever therapist might say, a spiritual director tries to help people find where God is in their life.”
“That’s funny,” she said, “I should think it would be more important for them to figure out where they are in God’s life.” (I was tempted to take the diploma off the wall and give it to her – with my name scratched out and hers written in.)
Things change when we turn the question around. Instead of asking “What is God doing to make my life better, more whole, more spiritual, etc.” The real question is “What am I doing to involve myself in the work and will of God in the world today?”
Seen in this light, the scary things Jesus said make perfect sense. If you are going to go with Jesus, you have to be ready to go all the way. If you are going to go with Jesus, you have to be prepared to choose the Kingdom of God over your neighbors and your family and most especially over yourself.
It is not an easy choice to make. Indeed, in both the Gospel and in Romans, it is a choice that is compared to death. Matthew says, “. . . those who lose their life for my sake will find it,” and Paul writes, “(we) were baptized into his death . . .” and “. . . our old self was crucified with him . . “ and
“. . . we have been united with him in a death like his . . .”
Yes, following Jesus is not so much about finding where God is in our life; it is more about finding those places where we are called to be in God’s life, what we are called to do in the Kingdom of God.
Ultimately – the hard, crazy, scary things Jesus has said to us today are still hard, but maybe not so crazy or scary after all.
They are not crazy because they tell us a true thing about life, a thing that everyone needs to learn in order to be truly and completely human. That thing is this, “It’s not about you.” It’s not about you and how many people like you, it’s not about you and your wonderful family, it’s not about you and your successful and prosperous life; it’s just not. Paradoxically, the sooner one learns this the happier one is.
Well, the ego says, if it’s not about me, what is it about? It’s about God and God’s love for the entire world, the whole creation. From the hairs of each of our heads and the life of sparrows to the fate of the earth and the future of the human race, it’s all about God and God’s will and God’s way and our place in that grand movement into God’s promised tomorrow. We are called to be a part of the new heaven and the new earth God is actively creating now.
And the things Jesus says are not scary, because they contain within them the promise of resurrection, the promise that we will also be a part of the new thing God is doing. “. . . those who lose their life will find it,” Matthew says. And in Romans, we are reminded that “. . . we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus invites us to “take up a cross and follow him.” He is not very specific about what that means; he does not provide a contract or a job description. Rather he invites us to give up all and follow.
How have you responded to that invitation? Have you taken up your cross? Have you accepted your place in the Kingdom of God? Have you turned your back on all else, committing yourself completely to Christ? If not, why not? If not now, when?
Amen and amen.