Texts from Holy Scripture:
Old Testament Reading: 2 Kings 1-2, 6-14
Epistle: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
May I speak, and may we listen, in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
If this year has taught us anything so far, it is probably that there are very few things of which we can be certain!
So many famous people died in the first half of the year, so much has changed not just here in the UK but across the pond – certain political figures we once laughed at, we are now having to take slightly more seriously…because the race for the American presidency has become much narrower than before, and even in terms of our own leadership – as our Prime Minister resigns from his post, we have no idea what that empty vacuum will be filled by….will it be Boris Johnson and his scruffy hair…..or someone else more palatable and professional looking? Only God knows and it is just as well.
Life is uncertain – and the world in which we live is changing so rapidly it is hard to keep up with it all.
Only two Sundays ago, we saw in Orlando at a Gay Nightclub, 49 innocent human beings – shot dead – many more injured, countless numbers who will for years, bear the emotional and psychological scars from those harrowing scenes.
Nothing could have prepared those people, or their families for that day when their world was turned upside down – when hell turned up on their doorstep.
And for me, to be quite honest, that was enough evil for one month, and just as I began to recover some of my faith in humanity, my heart sank within me as the news broke that Jo Cox the MP for Batley and Spen had been shot and stabbed after a surgery in her constituency.
Just doing her work,
A regular and ordinary day for an MP,
Nothing unusual or special about it.
All I could think about as the news broke, was Lord, just let her live – for the sake of her husband and children.
And the moment I heard one of the eyewitnesses speak, I knew it would take nothing short of a miracle to save her life.
And in all of this, we must accept as the people of God, as the Church that we have through our actions and inaction, through our speaking and our silence, contributed – sustained, created and encouraged the environments in which these evils take place. That’s hard to hear.
Our rhetoric about the LGBT community has helped to establish a society in which it is seen as OK to attack, abuse and kill people for who they are, our silence in the face of far-right movements has allowed people see one race as superior to another, and to see MP’s who speak out for justice and love of neighbour slain on the streets as they go about their work.
On Wednesday, I will go down to London to the Methodist Conference as a racial justice member – and this year, amongst all the other things that will be discussed will be the a further conversation on marriage and relationships.
At worst, it could become a session of people slagging eachother off.
At best, it could be an open, honest, gracious conversation.
It’s easy to forget that when the Methodist Conference discussed human sexuality at the Conference out of which the Derby resolutions came – there had to be bag checks, and metal detectors because the threat of violence was deemed so high.….it’s a sad reality of how things can be….
It’s fair to say I’m glad that I don’t have to chair the Conference and I certainly will pray for Rachel Lampard and Roger Walton in that mammoth and holy task that is before them.
St Paul says in the reading we had from Galatians:
‘For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
This idea that the whole law is summed up in a single commandment ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is a big challenge. If you have ever really tried to live this out, you will know that actually in practice it’s not easy. It’s not easy to love your neighbor as yourself, when your neighbor expresses views you find difficult to stomach, or when your neighbor lives a lifestyle contrary to your own….it’s not easy to love your neighbor as yourself if your neighbor does everything that makes them hard to love. St Paul says not only should we love one another, but we should, through our love – become slaves to one another. I leave that one for you to ponder.
And as if that were not enough, he then goes on to say:
‘Live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.’
If you have only an ounce of mental awareness, you will know that those fruits of the Spirit are scarce in our world today. And I believe they will become even more scarce as factions increase and disunity creeps up everywhere – as the threat of climate change becomes much more evident and nations turn against each other those fruits of the spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control will be needed.
Where do you see those things?
Who do you see those things in?
Why do you not see those things where you ought to see them?
Do you see them in yourself, in your family, in workplace, in your community, in your church?
And if we don’t see them where we think we ought to see them, then the first thing to do is to acknowledge that they are lacking – because you can’t sort out a deficiency you’re not aware of.
One of the things about following Jesus is that he always gives you a reality check – and if you’re running short of love, or patience, or kindness then he’ll point it out and say you need to stock up on that….increase that….build it up….you know.
You stock your fridge up because you know that it’s empty. You put petrol in your car, because your tank is below half full…..without that gauge telling you that, you don’t know that that emptiness needs filling up.
Nine times out of ten, the fruit of the Spirit we think we have cultivated, is actually the one that we are running short of….and unlike the Gifts of the Spirit which are given to different individuals as the Spirit sees fit – the Fruits of the Spirit are our responsibility to nourish, and to grow, and to develop.
In our Gospel Reading, Jesus says some really challenging things to those who seek to follow him. Jesus is sought out, and some random man says he will follow him, and when Jesus gives him the invitation ‘Follow Me’ – the man says ‘OK but Let me just go and first bury my Father’ …and Jesus rebukes him and says ‘Let the dead bury their own dead’ – then another really keen person comes to Jesus and said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
One of the really hard things I think for many of us to stomach, is that if there is anything Jesus can’t really stand it is lukewarm faith. It’s faith that isn’t sincere. It’s faith that isn’t really seeking anything.
You know, when Jesus comes into contact with people – what he does is put them into relationship, put them back into community, put them back into union – whether it be the woman at the well previously ostracized, the woman with the blood condition, Legion who lived among the dead, but who after his encounter with Jesus was seen beside him clothed and in his right mind – Jesus makes the broken whole.
Where there was discord,
Jesus plants the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The reality is that without these fruits,
Without love and joy and peace and patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
There is no mission,
There is no renewal,
There is no discipleship,
There is no community,
There is no Church.
And so if we say that we are Gospel people – if we say that we love Christ, and that we want to follow him, then we really have to show it. You know – that’s what Thomas wanted in that room after the resurrection he wanted confirmation that everything he had heard about Jesus was true – in other words, when Thomas asks to see Jesus wounds what he’s saying to Jesus is – you say you love me, and if you say all of this is really for me – prove it LORD!….Lord ‘Show me the receipts’. Prove it to me.
And so saying we are Christian, and saying that we love Christ and want to follow him affects everything –
That affects our language, our actions, our attitude and our outlook.
That affects how we treat those who commit the most despicable crimes in our world.
That affects how we treat people in our Church who have different points of view and opinions.
That affects how we treat those who voted for the other side in the referendum, and that affects how we talk about the refugee, and the poor, and the destitute, and even how we think and talk about whoever has vandalized our Church. And anything less than love in our words and in our actions, simply isn’t good enough.
Many things are behind us, the referendum is behind us, soon the conversation on Same Sex Marriage will be behind us, soon all the things we get worked up about at the present moment will be behind us, – but whatever else happens know this:
The naked still need clothes.
The poor still need feeding.
The vulnerable still need safety.
The abused still need justice.
The stranger still needs a welcome.
The Church still needs to be the Church.
Now, more than ever – we have to work at being the people of God in this place.
And being the people of God demands unity, demands love, demands sacrifice, demands openness, demands honesty – from all of us. Now that’s tough. It’s difficult. It’s costly.
Because believe it or not, but there is no, nor shall there ever be a referendum on the values of the Gospel! And by coming here week by week, and carrying the name of Christ – we have signed up to follow him, and his way.
And nothing about the Gospel has changed from the time Jesus walked the earth, to this very day. And just because we are human, doesn’t mean we have the freedom to demand less of ourselves and of eachother in regards to how we live, and how we see the world living.
It’s because of the grace of God, that the Church and the people of God can be pilgrims together – in a world and in a church which is so often hostile to the values of the Gospel. Because we deal with, and are, and seek to minister to human beings who are becoming pray God, more and more like Jesus.
That growing into the likeness of Christ – is not easy, nor is it a quick process – it is a daily dying to self…or as St Paul says: ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.’
The world needs people who have put their hand to the plough, who have set their eyes resolutely towards heaven, and who are willing to be transformed – never looking back, but looking solely to Jesus.
And if we, who carry the name of Christ, truly allow the Gospel to take root in our hearts and minds and souls, then the power and truth and grace of God will be made known anew in our world – our world that is so broken, and so dark, so full of division – our world that is so in need of the peace of God, that peace which passes all understanding, that peace which the world cannot give.
The reality is what Jesus is saying in this Gospel passage to us this morning is that – either we want to follow him with our whole heart, and be changed, sacrifice the things we hold as most precious, or we may aswell not bother.
Either our desire to be a follower of Jesus is the primary thing in our lives, or there’s really not much point. That’s hard to hear, even for me. And my experience of following the Lord is that the more you give him, the more he wants….and the closer you think you are to the goal, the further away it moves…..but it’s the way to salvation – and it’s the way that will transform lives.
Like so much of what Jesus says….it’s tough. It’s profound. It requires a choice on our part. But if we do choose – then we mustn’t look back.
And so the Good News is – that:
Through Jesus Christ, we can all be changed –
Through Jesus Christ, we all have potential to do great things for God –
Through Jesus Christ, faith, hope and love will prevail in our world– but we have to let go of our own self-interests, and our own egos, and put our complete trust and obedience into the hands of Jesus Christ – that the fruit of the Spirit might mature and grow in us through his grace.
And it is to that Jesus, the one who in the uncertainty of life does not change, it is to him that we commit our lives, our church and our world – to Him who said to the Apostles and says to us here and now:
‘Upon this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’
May Jesus Christ be praised – now and forever, in how we live, and in how we love.