Archive for July, 2017

Puzzling parables

July 29, 2017

Biblical heroes are broken people.  When we tell their stories – stories of wisdom and beauty and earnest failure, we often forget that it is their brokenness that makes them special.  All the greats are included; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – Moses, David and Solomon, whom we meet briefly this morning.  We explain away their failures and remember their successes, but make no mistake, their stories are incomplete if we don’t consider their flaws.

Even Jesus – whom we hold as the sole example of human perfection – is found doing and saying things that cast doubts on our assessment.  He eats and drinks with “tax collectors and sinners”; “he has a demon!”  His very notable public activity leads to his arrest and execution as a blasphemer, and a revolutionary – enemy of both church and state – and in Jesus resurrection we see the pattern continued; the pattern of God’s glory revealed in brokenness.  This defies the logic of the world, and suggests something wonderful and refreshing about the kingdom of heaven.  It is coming as a new and entirely different entity, and the people of God are called to participate in this kingdom – to urge it into being – in ways that we cannot imagine possible for us.

All this is a prelude to hearing these puzzling parables in a new way.

Typically, we have read these as simple and straightforward; Small things have great effects; true value is measured by quality, not quantity; and the “kingdom” is the place where all this will be sorted out.  But consider them again, remembering God’s tendency to ‘re-purpose’ broken people, and imagine how Jesus might be playing with our perception here.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…wait, isn’t mustard a weed?  Certainly it has been cultivated and used as an important spice for centuries, but trust me, if you have a cash crop other than mustard, you do not want evidence of mustard in your fields.  Tough, invasive and prolific (small seeds means MANY seeds) mustard may not be the biggest shrub on the block, but it can become the biggest problem.

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, worked into a large measure of flour…but leavened flour has only limited use, and nearly all of the other references to yeast in the new testament consider yeast as something small that spoils the thing to which the yeast is added. We hear about the ‘yeast of the Pharisees” as a warning not to be infected by their ideas (for example).  Consider too that bread made without yeast is culturally (and religiously) very important to the Jewish people.

And what of the idea that the kingdom is something that should be bought “at any price”…and kept.  Does that seem like a good thing?   Aren’t we supposed to be making disciples “of all nations”?   And doesn’t the tone of this parable suggest something other than ownership?  What about the commandment against coveting…?

That the kingdom may be like a net that catches everyone – such an idea sounds strangely comforting – but in the end, only some will be kept.  We’d like to imagine that there is an easy way to distinguish the good from the bad – and we have tried very hard to make those distinctions for ourselves – but the real problem is we just don’t know which is which.  This is a parable of the kingdom, after all; and this kingdom is like nothing we have yet imagined.

I challenge our conventional readings of these parables this morning  -with some prompting from Dr. David Lose, whose columns I receive regularly -because I think that we sell Jesus short by accepting easy interpretations.

If we come quickly (and easily) to the conclusion that “good things come in small packages” (as in mustard seeds and yeast), I think we miss a chance to be challenged.  It would be easy to use these parables to justify our small (but never insignificant) contributions in a small-ish, part of the church – in a denomination that shrinks every generation (you see my point…) I think that while “small may be mighty”, we are called to be more than just a ‘small package’ in the kingdom of God.

Yeast affects every bit of flour that it contacts – in fact it changes the character of the flour completely.  Mustard seeds are powerful because they can be pervasive and difficult to control.  When ground as a spice, it can be prepared in ways that change the character of the dish that it seasons.  Parables about value and desirability – pearls, hidden treasures and good or bad fish – raise questions about how we assign value to things, and how God may assign value to those same things – and ultimately, to us.

Jesus is not trying to make things harder for us – often enough, that’s the preacher’s job – but Jesus is certainly trying to wrench us from our easy acceptance of the status quo.  Only then can he point us to a time and place where nothing will be as it is, and everything will be as God wishes it to be.  That kingdom comes to us as a result of struggle; struggle with our effectiveness, our worth; our desirability.  The kingdom comes as a result of God’s deliberate intent, and not of our own wishing and willing.  Being small, or mighty, or particularly good or valuable is NOT what brings the kingdom close.  Only God can do that.  And thanks be to God, that kingdom is coming nearer every day.

With each small act of compassion; with every word of grace and love that comes unexpectedly to us.  Every offering of worship, which is, for us, a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, brings us in contact with the kingdom. From the wreckage of the cross – from the deep brokenness of our societal systems, God calls us to something different; something radically new; something better than we can imagine.

These parables are not offered so we can be satisfied with what we have – they are revolutionary speech, undermining what we know and calling us to look beyond our own knowledge, abilities and values to imagine how God is redeeming them and us in Christ.  May we, in faith, live into that redemption, with the confidence of the apostle Paul; that God, who began this good work among us, will bring it to completion in God’s own good time.

(I owe great thanks to Dr. David Lose and his blog post for this weekend.  You can find this at  http://www.davidlose.net/2017/07/pentecost-8-a-parabolic-promises/ )

 

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Weeds among the wheat.

July 23, 2017

The parable is intriguing; it speaks of real life. A diligent farmer plants ‘good seed’ in his fields.  But when it sprouts, it is clear that something has gone wrong.  Weeds.  Enough to be a serious problem.  Enough to seem like sabotage.   “An enemy has done this.” – and that’s all very well – even good people have enemies; even good farmers have weed problems.  But there are solutions, aren’t there…

One of the odd jobs that used to be a sure thing when I was in High School was offered by local farmers.  If, like me you were too small to be useful on the hay wagon, you could always hoe weeds.  thick or thin, there weren’t many types of weed that couldn’t be eliminated by a group of teenagers with the right tools.  So long as your crew could tell the difference between soy beans and milkweed, or ragweed, or lamb’s quarters, the farmer could save the crop.

The slaves in the parable have offered a similar service; They are the ones who notice the problem, and they’re sure they can fix it – but the farmer’s reaction suggests that the problem is severe and widespread.  Solutions must wait until harvest.

Jesus’ parables are short but full of subtlety; here the problem is so severe that we are invited to imagine someone casting weeds through the field with deliberate intent, in the dark of night.  Someone has conspired to ruin the livelihood of this particular, and in might have worked, except this landowner has his own subtlety – he knows all the tricks of the trade…And most compelling of all; “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to [this].”

Jesus never tires of the agricultural metaphor.  He knows his audience – they must live by the land and the sea; they know the rhythms of the seasons and the often fickle mood of the land when it comes to making a living.  It is certainly possible that those who were listening could relate to the premise of the story, for what better way to exact revenge on an enemy than to over-seed his field with noxious plants, and thereby disrupt his business.  Simple and effective.

There are, for most farmers, a number of ways to address such a problem.  Mind the fields – walk the rows – tend the crop.  But still, Jesus says – “Pay attention!  This is what it’s like.”   Things don’t always go to plan.  Bad things happen to good people.

Jesus offers a description of life, complete with complications, and compares the whole works to the kingdom of heaven.

Diligence has not helped.  The master has slaves who tend to the state of the farm, and the problem is too big for the usual solutions.  And so an unusual solution is proposed.  One that waits until the time (and the crop) is ripe.  One that sees the weeds dealt with permanently (one imagines).  The tried and true methods for tending to the crop are still available, but the kingdom of heaven does not depend on the ‘tried and true’ (the same old thing).  The holy response to the problem leaves people wondering;  “I will tell the reapers (to) gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned…”

We might wonder about the sort of questions Jesus had been facing that led him to tell this particular story.  This parable doesn’t address the concerns of theology or interpretation of the law, as some do.  This seems a very practical suggestion of how a current reality (the presence of those who wish us harm scattered among us in such numbers as to be impossible to isolate) might ultimately be redeemed.  Time is the only answer.  The right time brings a solution both practical and permanent.

Jesus describes a situation familiar to us; good and bad, side by side.  Often enough, it can be hard to tell the difference.  Early on, it all looks good, until that moment of recognition, when we realize something has gone wrong.  The parable suggests that it will be a struggle for us to tell the wheat from the weeds, and that struggle will be ours ‘till the end’.  Then, and only then, will evil get what it deserves – bundled and burned, and the good will triumph.  Good news, right?

But the problem is obvious – even following the ‘explanation’ offered (v. 36-43) – Jesus says the evil will be punished and the good will “shine like the sun” – but who is who?  Identification is a problem.  If this is a morality lesson, what sort of behaviour will keep us on the right side of the equation?

The explanation is too simple; the son of man scatters his children throughout the world.  The evil one does likewise.  The angels alone know the difference, and will sort it all out “in the end”.  It suggests that it is all out of our hands; that the determination is already made.  The explanation does not seem to offer us a course of action – but the parable itself presents an image of life as it is (and as it may, someday, become).

If ‘an enemy’ has spoiled the field – making it difficult to see what really grows there; if the harvest has been complicated by the appearance of stuff that is not useful – what is it that complicates our lives and obscures our identity as children of God?  The enemy might use anything – jealousy, deception, confusion, consumerism – anything that keeps us from being the people God has imagined us to be.  The obstacle may be naturally occurring or maliciously introduced to our lives; the choices may have been ours, or we may have been caught up in someone else’s choices.  Whatever the case, this field is plagued with a variety of things – good bad and indifferent – and the parable suggests, not only is there nothing we can do about it, but also “the kingdom of heaven may be like this…”

Does that come as a relief to you?  To know that the solutions to our problems – the definitions of good and evil; the ordering of humanity into ‘sheep and goats’  – none of this is  our concern.  Our only job is to grow to maturity, to be who God in Christ invites us to be.  To know what that is, for each of us, requires more than a parable.  We are invited to study the life of Jesus – to seek his peace and to follow his path.  these parables point out that it is never clear sailing.  Perfection is reserved for another time, another place.  This life, this path, is cluttered with obstacles – and that is the truth.  The hope in these stories comes, not from the obvious statements of truth, but from the knowledge that God is at work – in the growth; minding the crop; forming the plan that will result in a harvest worth celebrating.  What that looks like, and when that happens, God alone knows.  But in faith, in Christ, we can be sure that it will be glorious

My ways are not your ways…(thank God)

July 15, 2017

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  These may be the most comforting words in all of Scripture, and they are used to set the stage, in 55 Isaiah, for the sort of redemption the people of God can expect.

Images are key in this great hymn of hope that comes in the form of Isaiah’s reporting of God’s intention.  Words alone are inadequate.  Words cannot convey the sense of majesty, the sense of awe and wonder, that comes from knowing that God has promised your rescue.  And so the prophet is bound to remind us that, as God’s representative, even he cannot approach understanding, or articulate fully what God has in store.  But it will be miraculous, and it’s the images that convey the miracle.

God’s ways are higher than the heavens – (verse 9) – unmeasurable, unreachable (in Isaiah’s time), full of unimagined wonder; this is how the prophet creates awe in us.  And then, assurance.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return until they have watered the earth…”  As sure as the rain and the snow bring goodness to the earth.  As sure as the slow procession of the seasons provides work and food and growth with such comforting constancy, God’s promised relief – for a people in exile, and by extension, we who are ‘apart’ from God – will come.  As certain as the seasons, set in motion by God’s creating word, “…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return empty…”

A startling image, which shows remarkable insight into the way this ecosystem works – and presents (in turn) a glimpse of God’s complete mastery of…well, everything.

Think about it for a minute.

We are not as well connected to the life giving renewal of the seasons as once we were.  Our food is regularly available (to those who have means) in and out of ‘season’.

The work we do for our ‘daily bread’ has little to do with harvesting the grain or processing the flour. Work generates income which provides sustenance; it’s no wonder we worship money.  An image that draws attention to the cycle of the seasons may be distant from us, but it is still useful; still full of meaning and promise.

  The enduring images found in Scripture are not intended to prove our disconnection from the created order; our lives and livelihoods may change, but the bigger picture continues to be about God’s connection to creation, and to each of us as part of that creation.  Our changing relationship to creation has led us to believe that our relationship with God must have also, somehow, been altered.  Where once we participated, by necessity, in the constant patterns of growth and decay; of sowing and reaping – now we have become passive consumers of creation’s bounty – and by extension, consumers of God’s bounty.

Isaiah, addressing a people who believe that their connection to God has been irrevocably harmed, stresses that while the connection may have changed, God’s promise (and indeed, all Creation) is still as vibrant and vital as it ever was.  Our passive relationship to that creation – and our notion that creation is nothing more than ‘product”- is mocked by Isaiah’s final images.  “…the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song…”   Remember Jesus talking about the stones shouting if the people stood silent?  This is better.  And better still; “The trees of the field…clap. their. hands…”  Brilliant.  You should not be able to see the landscape in the same way ever again.

Passive creation?  No such thing.  And if there is a breath in you (the prophet seems to suggest) you cannot be unmoved by it.  No more standing idly by.  No more ‘consumer’ attitudes.  Humanity is called into action.  Joy –  Peace;  two parts of the human trinity of bliss – all that’s missing is love, and to be sure, this glorious transformation is only possible because of the love of God… not specifically mentioned by the prophet, but who can doubt that such spectacular promises are motivated by love.

The promise continues to say that creation will be moved to redemption.  Cypress rather than thorns; instead of the brier, the myrtle…an everlasting sign.

And for no other reason than God wishes it.

Remarkable.

Remarkable that to a people in the midst of a long and bitter defeat; to a people who imagine that God has forsaken them forever; to generations of those drawn to the edge of hope, only to have that hope dashed; to them and to us comes the image of a vibrant, joyful, and incredibly active work of God.  And that is the image that leads us toward something new that God will do.

We can find hope in these ancient texts because, with careful reading and a rediscovery of our connection to creation, the images take on life for us, and our view of the world may be refreshed.  The prophetic texts of the Hebrew Scriptures seem to nudge us toward that Master of the metaphor – the principal parable maker – Jesus of Nazareth.  He offers us (this morning in Matthew 13: 1-9) an image of an active sower in an active creation; seed falling here and there, springing up where it shouldn’t; exceeding expectations and disappointing them too.  There is a lot going on in this parable, and whatever else you take from it, know that the growth is (ultimately) God’s greatest gift.  A renewable, refreshing gift – one that asks something of us, even if it means ‘casting seed wildly about’ and hoping for the best…

Because ‘the best’ is what God offers us.  In every promise – across multiple generations of covenant keeping – through life and beyond death – “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” – and we are invited to share in God’s abundance, to be a part of the fullness.

It is remarkable – it is absolutely remarkable; the sort of thing that causes the very earth to sing – the trees to clap – and all God’s people to jump for joy.  Thanks be to God!  Amen

What do you expect?

July 8, 2017

John’s representatives have come asking their questions of Jesus, and now Jesus has some questions of his own for the crowds that gathered around him.  John’s disciples wanted to know if Jesus was the real deal, and Jesus had responded with an interesting list:  “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them…”  This certainly sounds like a work of God, and John’s disciples go back to their master seemingly satisfied.  And then Jesus quizzes the people about John.

What did you go to see?  What did you expect, where John was concerned?  The rumours were of a wild man, appearing from nowhere, calling people to repentance.  Strangely dressed, and with stranger habits, John stood as an interesting alternative to the religious views of the day.  The priests demanded repentance and sacrifice, but saw those things as obligations in the midst of life rather than a gateway to a life transformed.  The religious establishment prefers order and ritual – obedience and compliance – but John claims an unpredictable space between sin and salvation.  ‘Repent for the kingdom is coming…’; ‘prepare for the one who is coming…’; ‘I am his messenger, but not fit to tie his sandals…’

“What did you go out to see…?” asks Jesus.  A prophet?  A freak-show?  A confrontation between the establishment and some radical preacher?  Whatever you thought you might see, you got more than you bargained for (says Jesus), because John stripped away all pretence about religion – about how God might speak and to whom God might speak.  John is both the greatest AND the least in the kingdom of God; yet another paradox placed as an hopeful example in the midst of God’s people.

The questions around John and Jesus – the discussion between and among their disciples focuses on a problem common to people of faith in every age; as our understanding of God changes – as our experience with the Holy grows in the telling – we are torn between good choices.  This was good, but this other seems better.  One calls us back to the path, but the other brings us to a major intersection, and asks us to choose.  What Matthew’s gospel (ch 11) suggests is that if John is legit, then so is Jesus, and if this is true, how do we choose?  Jesus confirms that one must follow another – echoes of John’s statement “he must increase and I must decrease”  So Jesus is presented as the logical ‘next step’ on the journey toward the coming kingdom of God – but Jesus is not content just to offer his evidence.  Jesus dares to ask about our expectations.  “What did you go out to see?”

He knows what is being said.  John came ‘fasting and praying’, and the people said he was possessed.  Jesus comes feasting and praising, and the people proclaim him ‘glutton and drunkard’.  Jesus’ assessment reminds us of the obvious; God is constantly being revealed to us – easy to see, but hard to accept.

It is a truth that continues to challenge us.  God is present – Christ is Risen – the Spirit of the Living God guides, protects, encourages and strengthens us – but we are unable or unwilling to recognize God-with-us.  The thriving Christian church of the ’50’s and early ’60’s is remembered as an institutional triumph first – a work of God made real by the effort of ‘we, the people’.  In ‘our’ triumph, we ignored societies needs; we imagined that the church thrived because society needed us – the war had taken all the good out of the world; the church brought the good back.  Now, as the church withers and struggles, we blame society for not caring enough about us.  What did we expect might happen?  That the church would replace all that was bad in the world with God’s perfect goodness?

Jesus’ take on John’s ministry suggests that our expectations are constantly challenged by the reality of God.  We are right to ask “Where is God in (all) this?” – but we must remember that in John, God was in the sparse food and edgy kingdom talk just as God was in the warm welcome of Jesus compassionate plea to ‘sin no more’.  Such comparisons dare me to ask if we have ever been willing (or able) to notice God at work?  Is it really so difficult to see God, in the challenging, the mundane, the ordinary, the outlandish things that are constantly unfolding before our eyes?

With John in prison, and Jesus taking up John’s teaching, and the religious sub-culture that John and Jesus represented holding their collective breath, waiting for a sign, Jesus points first to John and says “There is was!  God at work among you; God’s kingdom coming close to you…and you missed it.”  You couldn’t see the forest for the trees – and now you wonder about me.

Maybe the poets and prophets of our past have tricked us.  They went to such elaborate lengths to describe God – The presence of God was (rightly) imagined to be so overwhelming; so monumental, that we thought it mustn’t be real.  Poet and prophet dress up the work of God so it seems worthy of God – but God does not depend on glory and grandeur.  God does not wait for the perfect opportunity to impress.  At the just the right time – while we, in our sins imagine what the work of God MUST be like – while we wait for God to be perfect, God acts.

God acts in the likes of John the baptist; scruffy and marginalized; in the voice of Zechariah, gloomy and certain that only God cared; in the presence of Peter, Paul, Timothy and Titus – and many other ‘perfectly flawed people.  And in the person of Jesus; ‘glutton and drunkard’ they called him because they were too pious to see that God grinned at their accusations and blessed them in spite of themselves, daring them to get involved in the kingdom work.

What do you expect to see?  What do you imagine it is like?  Wisdom vindicated by her deeds looks very much like thousands of tiny, troubled churches – tilting at windmills, and disagreeing about nothing – all desperate to make a difference in their communities.  People can’t see God in what we do because everyone expects more of God than we can possibly offer.  They don’t see God in us because we can’t see God in one another.  They want the extraordinary God of the poets and prophets because we, in preaching on those texts and pandering to that expectation, have lost sight of God’s constant, ordinary activity among us.

We have come to expect that, if ‘God were with us’, glory, extravagance  (and therefore, success) would attend our every effort but that is a twisted expectation.  We have forgotten that God’s promise in Jesus means that our every breath is drawn in the presence of God; by the grace of God; to the glory of God.

With John in prison, awaiting his death, and Jesus well on the way to an inglorious end in Jerusalem, it seems hard to imagine that anyone travelling with them could see God at work.  But the lesson of John’s witness – the lesson of Jesus life, death and resurrection is a lesson in God’s constant presence.  God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’ is involved; at work; and constantly revealing the kingdom’s glory in our inglorious midst.  Thanks be to God that our every effort does not have to result in show-stopping, earth-shaking evidence of God.  We only need to be willing to see God in the ordinary things; in our worship and our witness; in our families, in our neighbours, and yes, even in our enemies – and that will be proof enough that God is.  Amen.

Prophet, priest or pragmatist?

July 2, 2017

The prophet’s life is never simple.  Jeremiah is called from the beginning to speak to God’s people who have fallen from grace – headfirst:  “they have made offerings to other gods and worshipped the works of their own hands.” (Jeremiah 1: 16).  Jeremiah is called by God to speak against the status quo; against the seeming comfort of the nation; against the word that suggests ‘God will save us because God loves us more than our enemies.’

But because God loves the people, their behaviour will not be tolerated. Exile is coming, and the hope is that time spent living under Babylonian rule may remind the people that they do not serve themselves, but God.  They might remember what it means to give heed to a power not their own; they might recognize God’s freedom and dominion over the entire Creation – Jew and Gentile; friend and ‘enemy’ – all alike under God.  This is the troubling reality for Jeremiah’s generation, and it is to this reality that Jeremiah is called to speak ‘a word from God’.

But he is not the only one.

Hananiah has also felt the call to prophecy.  Hananiah comes to the house of the Lord and brings a word that promises peace.  Against the word of Jeremiah, who speaks of Babylon’s dominion lasting generations – Nebuchadnezzar, his son and his grandson will rule (says God – Jeremiah 27: 7) “until the time of his own land comes.” – Hananiah offers a different word: two years, and all will be well; two years and the temple will be the temple again, Judah will be Judah again, “for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” (Jeremiah 28: 4).

We Jeremiah’s response this morning:  ‘May it be so, brother.  But remember “…when the word of [the prophet] comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent that prophet.” (Jer 28:9).   And Jeremiah’s challenge brings us to the question that troubles us even now; how do we know when someone really has “a word from the Lord”?

As Christians in the Reformed tradition, we claim a heritage that prides itself on earnestly seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We are heirs to a tradition of the diligent study of Scripture whose wisdom guides our actions in the world.  That guidance and study is driven by the desire, for many,  to say with some certainty “thus says the Lord”.  But even the Scriptural witness makes it challenging to know who has the inside track: “When the word of the prophet comes true…” says Jeremiah – which sounds very much like “just wait and see.”

Using what happens tomorrow to confirm yesterday’s predictions is a peculiar business, that is usually given over to professional historians.  Yes, Hitler was a madman and Churchill a shrewd genius who “saved Great Britain” – that is the comfortable assessment of the historian – but when those two larger than life leaders were weaving their way through the 1930’s and 40’s, the outcome was far from certain.

History vindicates our Scriptural hero.  Jeremiah’s difficult task is ultimately shown to have been ‘the word from God’. The nation is conquered – generations are spent in exile – Hananiah’s death has the effect of declaring him a false prophet…so is this question of ours a ‘life or death’ question?

Maybe so.

Maybe the life of the people of God will be enriched by the harsh realities spoken by one who believes, as Jeremiah did, that God’s judgement often takes us in a direction that no one wants to go.

Maybe our stubborn refusal to create new yet faithful responses to the changing world we live in will result in the death of ‘the church as we know it’.

Everyone involved in the ministry of  the Presbyterian Church in Canada today adds a voice to the prophetic chorus.  Some call for change, others cry ‘peace’.  There are calls for unity, and a desire for a single, powerful voice to ‘lead us through the wilderness’ – and most believe that, while the future of the church is in God’s capable hands, the present is very much in doubt…

So how do we know?  Whose voice should we credit as having a holy word?  How do we find the balance between hope and honesty that might lead us closer to the elusive ‘will of God’ in our witness and work in the world?

We could, I suppose, just ‘wait and see…’  ; let the various voices pull us in divergent directions until the last group standing declares an awkward, ‘post-prophetic’ victory.  We could give in to the fear of this ‘big, bad world’ and retreat into smug self-assurance or uncritical certainty that “God loves us, so it will be okay.”

Or we could follow Jesus’ example.  Jesus, who is both shepherd and prophet – Jesus, whose ministry evoked curiosity about its source and its end (is he from God or Satan?)  – Jesus, who declares that the prophet, the righteous and those who follow a disciple’s path, whatever else may happen along the way, will not lose their reward.

Even Jesus hesitates to tell us how to determine who is “correct”.   Instead, he offers an innocent suggestion that becomes the way forward.  “…and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones…”

Actions are the measure for Jesus.  Our actions, works of compassion, signs of solidarity; these things represent the true exercise of our personhood.  These are the things that mark the way forward, even as we wonder about the path, the call, the will of God.

There are those who will claim that (as Reformed Christians) it is the solid foundation of our doctrines that will see us through – that only when we are certain about how we should believe will we be able to bring that belief to life in the world.  Yet Jesus came to a world and a people who believed that right-thinking could lead to peace with God, and he dismissed that notion out of hand.

It was not with perfect ideas and carefully delivered arguments to (or against) the realities he faced that Jesus changed the world.   Indeed, it was by being among us – touching, teaching, healing, living, dying, rising; in relationship to the needs of the world and with compassion towards those affected by those same, harsh realities – it was Jesus being that made real the goodness and mercy of God.  When our lives bring God’s love, mercy and justice to those around us, then we are on the way to God’s promised peace in the kingdom.  Neither the terrifying truth of a prophet nor the orderly goodness of the righteous holds the answer.  It is the simplicity of an offer of grace that is bringing about the salvation of the world.