It’s not about you…

Jesus was a simple man, or so we say.  Friend of the poor and outcast, we say – and so we presume his own economic poverty.   Whether or not our assumptions are correct, they certainly affect the way we read his parables.  A successful farmer dreams of ways to assure his future and protect his investment – fair enough – but a visitation from God reminds him that it is all for naught:   ‘tonight, your life being demanded of you’

Stuff is nothing – God is everything – such is the message for the poor and the rich – the faithful and the foolish – and it is a message that we neglect (or reject…)

God’s people have had a long and troublesome love affair with things that are not God.  Power and kingdoms and territory and livestock – these are the things we desire –  the path we pursue is crowded with tangible rewards, all of which  are lost when the neighbourhood bully comes to call.

Human history is full of stories that describe our addiction to things (both tangible and intangible)  We have become experts in self-promotion and self- gratification at every level of existence  (personal, communal, corporate and political) and our Scriptures and our religious traditions declare, in various ways, that God weeps at our foolishness, and is determined to reclaim our affections.

The Old Testament litany follows this pattern;

God’s people have strayed – they worship what is forbidden –  they are conquered and humiliated in action that some would credit as God’s judgement, but what does the prophet say?  ‘I will not execute my fierce anger…for I am God and no mortal.’

God’s so-called judgements are simply confirmation of our continuing comedy of errors – self-inflicted punishments that are only recognized when some clear-headed citizen dares to speak up an remind us of the ancient covenant between God and humanity.  God’s every action is dedicated to reordering our priorities.  So why are we still getting it wrong?

God’s effort is as old as time, and God’s desire for us is timeless.  It did not end with the prophets, nor did it stop at the mouth of an empty tomb.   God’s pursuit of our affection/attention/devotion s a universal constant –  It is the driving force that gave birth to the church as we know it… and it is always at war with our desire toward self-improvement and self-preservation.

The sin punished by exile, and revealed in parable, is the sin of self-importance.  Success is not forbidden – good stewardship is, in fact, encouraged – but the people in search of regional political power for its own sake (as the ancient Israelites) or a man who desires more for the sake of his own comfort – all are guilty of this sin, which pushes God away, and glorifies the individual.

The lessons of Jesus and the truth of the gospel, as much as we make them a pathway to eternal peace (aka Personal salvation by a personal saviour) are only saving and peaceful when we acknowledge God as the centre of that peace and source of that salvation.  It’s not about you…or me…or even us.

Scripture is not always clear –  what with all those parables and metaphor and cultural traditions that we don’t understand – but the consistent message is one of God’s triumph, God’s sovereignty, and God’s love and devotion to all that God first called good.

So a nation – any nation, ancient or modern -that believes in its own superiority, that claims God’s favour but rejects God’s guidance is a nation in sin, and God will not be the source of any punishment, but when it falls, God will be waiting to offer comfort.

And an individual who decides that their own need is paramount, or that their own desire afford them privilege, is in sin; and while God does not condone this behaviour, neither will God ignore the despair that will come when the sin fails to satisfy.

Even when the church falls victim to despair, and loses sight of its purpose, we are reminded by the ageless witness of Scripture that God has not abandon the promise.  Quite the contrary – the promise of grace, the hope of resurrection – all these are made for such a time as this.

The good news is that hope is still fresh – that Jesus still lives – and that, in fact, our salvation is revealed only when we recognize our helplessness. An independent, self-made person has no need for the glorious grace of God.  A nation whose wealth and power foster the illusion of “control of its own destiny”, cannot imagine an obligation to God’s justice.  And a church without a sense of its own mortality, cannot passionately proclaim the resurrection of Jesus.

We have been struggling against the tide – desperate to “prolong life”, when in truth these difficult times in the life of the church may well be our chance to experience the power of God – to receive the gift of the gospel.

It takes courage to acknowledge our need – to admit our helplessness – or to recognize that our strength is not what it once was – but in faith, such courage is rewarded by the presence of God.

May we be that bold – and that honest – and may we stand ready to meet God in our weakness, and so give God glory, honour and praise.  Amen

 

 

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