Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back To Church Sunday 2010

A little later than planned, here is my sermon from last Sunday's really excellent "Back To Church Sunday' service. Church was P-acked with barely a spare seat and lots of returnees. Our most 'successful' B2CS yet...


I’d like to share with you some very solemn announcements that have been made in Churches up and down the land in recent years. Some are taken from Church Notice Sheets, Notice boards and magazines:

1.A report from the Church meeting: the Vicar spoke briefly and delighted the audience.
2.Next Sunday is the Vicar’s last Sunday before he moves. Our special anthem will be the Hymn ‘Come ye thankful people come’!
3.Ladies are requested not to have children in the church kitchen.
4.A notice stuck to the hot-air hand-dryer in the men’s toilet at church had these words on it: ‘Press this button for a repeat of last Sunday’s sermon’!
5.Tuesday at 4.00 pm there will be an ice-cream social. All are welcome. Ladies giving milk should come early!
6.From a Diocesan Newsletter: ‘You will all be pleased to hear that the Bishop is making very slow progress after his operation’.
7.The sermon next Sunday will be on ‘Hell’. A warm welcome will be extended to all.

All of us came to church for the first time once. Sometimes we might have a a bad experience. Apologise. Sometimes the church may not communicate it’s message very clearly. Our reading this morning picks up on the people who became Jesus’ closest companions meeting him and coming to be with him for the first time and hearing a very simple message loud and clear.

It is reasonable to assume that Andrew and John (the beloved disciple) had heard and met Jesus before this encounter. Our reading from John’s Gospel illustrates how they respond to what somebody else says, what John the Baptist exclaims “Behold the Lamb of God.” They follow because of what they have heard another say.

John the Baptist referred to his ministry in the words of Isaiah, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' " He had been preparing the way even to the point that his own followers would now consider and indeed make the decision to follow Jesus. John the Baptist is pointing the way to the Anointed One, The Messiah.

Jesus is welcoming and he offers an invitation for his hearers to develop their relationship with him. To get to know Jesus, only if they wish too. "Come," he replied, "and you will see."

We now witness the first missionary act in a new ministry that would become Christianity. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

We do not know a great deal about Andrew. Maybe that is because he lived a quiet life as he followed Jesus but he was the one who brought Simon to be renamed Peter to Jesus. Simon has a life-changing encounter with Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter). What a morning that was for Simon Peter. His brother invites him to come and see.

Can you imagine the scene. Your brother rushes home. “Quick Simon there is someone you must talk too.” “Who?” “This is the person; the one John the Baptist has been talking to us about. I have seen him. It is him. I am sure of it. Come and see and decide for yourself.”

What a brilliant brother! You walk with your brother feeling self-conscious hoping that no one will ask you where you are going. It feels a bit strange to say I have an appointment with the Messiah. “There he is” Andrew exclaims. Jesus looks at you and smiles. “Welcome. You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).That’s it. Your life turned around in that very instant. You are now on the path of discovery to who you truly are. “You are Peter, The Rock on who I will build my Church,” said Jesus.

How would you feel if you were Simon? You are standing looking into the eyes of God who looks right into your very being and declares what you will become. He looks at you and you challenges you to follow him. I wonder how he explained that to his family and friends. How would you explain that your name has changed. You are no longer Simon but Peter. That is the invitation that Jesus is offering to all of us. To change and transform us for good, for God.

Gladys Aylward was born in London, in 1902, to a working-class family Gladys became a wealthy family's parlor maid at the age of 14. She trudged through this life of routine until one day after attending a church service a stranger confronted her with what being a Xn really meant.

It transformed her and her outlook on life. She began attending Young Life services and reading about the far-away land of China from books in the vast library of her employer. This birthed an unstoppable desire to go to China herself. Gladys applied with CIM as a candidate for China. After reviewing her advanced age and test results it was determined that she was too old and unfit to learn the difficult Chinese language. At the age of 28, Gladys dreams were momentarily crushed; she decided if she couldn't go with CIM she would go on her own. Every month, Gladys would save all the money she could from the small paycheck she received to buy a one-way train ticket to China.

On Oct. 15, 1932, Gladys left Liverpool Street Station by train to travel across Russia and eventually into Northern China. She carried two suitcases, a bedroll and wore a bright orange jacket. After a long and roundabout journey across Russia, Gladys finally set foot in her beloved China.

Gladys began to lean Cantonese and eventually became a "foot inspector." The tradition of binding Chinese women's feet had recently been outlawed, but due to cultural perceptions of beauty it was still being practiced in many places. Gladys began traveling around inspecting the bones in women's feet. As she traveled she would tell stories from the Bible and many looked forward to the days they could hear these strange new stories.

The people's esteem and respect for Gladys also continued to grow. What was even more remarkable was the ability she had to take on Chinese culture and language. By 1937, when the Japanese begin bombing nearby mountain villages, Gladys had so identified herself with the Chinese people that she refused to leave even as artillery shells begin to fall.

After 20 years in China, Gladys returned to England in 1940. She was embarrassed to find that she quickly became a celebrity. A book, movie and TV documentary were all made about her life. To many Gladys became known by many as "The Small Women," the title of her biography. She continued to travel and speak about her beloved China, returning to Taiwan in 1957.

Humble in spirit, Gladys once made this comment to a friend, "I wasn't God's first choice for what I've done for China. There was somebody else. I don't know who it was --- God's first choice. It must have been a man --- a wonderful man, a well-educated man. I don't know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn't willing. And God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward."

What about you and me this morning? What name is Jesus wishing to bestow upon us? Are we fishing in the wrong place as Simon was? Where are we being called to go? 70% of us, according to a recent survey, consider ourselves to be Christians, but being Christian isn’t about being nice, it is (as Simon Peter and the other disciples dscovered) about following and and listening and learning from Christ. Jesus doesn’t ask us to come with airs and graces, it’s not even about how we look. it’s not even about what we think we know about him He simply asks us to come as we are - for He accepts us and loves us just like that - and get to know him for ourselves. Amen.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rush - Time Stand Still 3-22-1994

Feeling a bit whimsical this morning. I was aware that my blog has been a bit neglected recently and I hadn't posted some music since the out and out aggression of the Korn track.

I fell in love Rush in the early 80s and I have had the chance to see them a couple of times (thanks Cal I owe so much...)

This song is full of 80s cheese, but I still love it. It was in my head this morning, I thought I'd share this live version.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Fraud - a Biblical mandate,,,

Here's a version of my sermon for tomorrow based on Luke 16:1-13...

Money – most of us think it’s the key to everything. Success, happiness, a stress free life, but if we’re not careful it can also open the door to ruin, deception, corruption and greed. Jesus has much to say to us about our attitude towards wealth and stewardship – 19 of His 38 recorded parables are on the misuse of money and possessions, its an issue of fundamental importance to the Kingdom. Its not that Jesus is against us owning things - its just that He is against things owning us.

This morning’s Gospel contains probably one of the most difficult of Jesus’ parables to understand. At first sight it looks as if Jesus is condoning corrupt practices, but when we look a bit closer we realize He’s not, and what is actually being applauded is the steward’s change in attitude.

This parable takes full account of the commercial practices of the day – when many of the estates and businesses were owned by absentee landlords and looked after by stewards whose job it was to provide a reasonable return for the owner. In this case it was a business where merchants received goods on credit, and since Jewish Law prevents the claiming of interest from fellow Jews, the profit from such a transaction were in commodities like wheat and oil.

Although the steward was entrusted with the estate - given latitude to do with the owners resources as he wished and to profit from the way he invested his master’s wealth – he owned nothing of what he managed. But one of the surprising things about this story is that the hero seems to be a crook – a crook who has been found out.

The owner had received complaints that his steward was squandering away his property – so he called him to account and when he was found wanting, promptly told him that he was heading for the high jump.

Here the Hebrew word used for “squandering’ is the same as that used in the story of the Prodigal Son – to describe self indulgence - when the younger son wasted away his inheritance. Jesus’ parable shows us what happens if we fail to use our resources in the right way before God.

Like the steward, we have free access to use and profit from the gifts and resources God provides for this world, but own nothing of what we manage and like the steward we too fall far short of what is required.

The unjust steward was too proud to beg and didn’t relish the thought of doing manual work, so he decided on another course of action, to make friends with the people who were in debt to his master. He used this last opportunity as the legal manager of the owner’s business to meet with some of his masters customers, to give them very significant discounts, so that they will show him favour when he is in need. Here Jesus tells us that we have to be alert to the workings of this world and the opportunities we are given, “...For in dealing with their own kind the children of this world are more astute than the children of light...” 

The story also illustrates the wisdom of spending money with an eternity in view using our wealth to help those around us. “...Use worldly wealth to win friends for yourself so that when money is a thing of the past you may be received into an eternal home...”

The biggest thing about handling God’s resources is the attitude of our hearts. It determines how wisely we use what we have been given. When we borrow something from someone, such as a car, we tend to use it more carefully, work harder to look after it, we know it doesn’t belong to us and that we will be accountable for how we use it. Jesus tells us we need to apply that same attitude to all of God’s treasures that we handle.

The steward saw the urgency of the situation and changed his behaviour. Instead of investing in his present situation he started to invest in his future. Jesus also tells us that stewardship is not just about the big picture. If we are faithful with a little God knows we will be faithful with a lot. If we can be trusted with looking after one lost sheep, maybe eventually we will be trusted with caring for a whole flock. Here we have a man who found himself, came to his senses, and changed his direction and life. He didn’t put his head in the sand, but decided to act for his future well-being, he realized he was a slave to the wrong master, “...No servant can serve two masters – you cannot serve God and Money...” 

Jesus reminds us that our commitment to God must be greater than any other commitment in our lives. Jesus is looking for single minded people - people totally dedicated to God - whose main purpose in life is to serve Him.

As Christians, our first priority should be using the resources that God gives us, to and through his church in the first instance, but are we? Our expenditure per week is £1,344 with 63% of those costs being my stipend, pension, housing & contributions to my ongoing training and the training of new clergy and us paying our part of the cost of running the diocese. And yet our forecast income is £1163 per week, a shortfall of £181. We are not living extravagantly. The issue is not a need to make efficiency savings. The issue is that the money we spend comes from nowhere else. These resources are God’s and we should ask Him for them, but we should also act wisely with the resources He shares with us.

Where does our confidence for living come from - our bank balance or from God? Has money got greater control over us than we are prepared to admit?

A well known speaker stood up in front of a group of people and held a £50 note in the air, “who would like to have this £50 note?” he said. Hands started to go up, “I will give this to one of you,” he said, “but before I do, I am going to crumple it up”, which he did. “Who wants it now?” Again, hands went up. Then he dropped it on the floor, stamped on it, and made it dirty, “Now who still wants it”, he said, still hands went up. “Today”, he said, “we have learnt a very valuable lesson. No matter what I do to this money, we still want it, because it has not lost any of its value - its still worth £50.”

Many times in our lives we will be dropped, crumpled, ground into the dirt, by the decisions we make, and the situations that come our way. But no matter what happens to us, we will never lose our value in God’s eyes. To Him we are still priceless.

Do we value God as much as He values us? Does God take first place in our hearts? Do we serve God or money? We are all guilty of squandering the wealth we’ve been entrusted with. The question is what are we going to do about it? Are we going to wait till the last minute, like the unjust steward, or change now?

Jesus calls us to use our gifts and resources wisely – and in a way that will honour God and ourselves. To invest in the ways that will lead us to Him and eternal life. Its God who puts the money and resources in our hands – so lets make sure we use them for His glory.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Word as a Wordle

Here is the wordle of this week's Gospel reading from Luke 16:1-13. I have to say that I have never really understood Jesus' teaching here. The passage reads:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’

If the Wordle helps in interpreting Jesus' words it would seem that the parable is more about faithfulness, dishonesty and management than money itself. Is Jesus asking us to think again about what makes us wealthy? The accumulation of 'stuff' whether honestly or otherwise? Or is Jesus contrasting dishonest beheaviour with faithfulness and asking us to see how our motives match up? Another way of interpreting the story is Jesus saying use whatever it takes to make sure people come to know and experience the love of God. A further interpretation is to do with Jesus affirming shrewd stewardship of the resources at our disposal from God...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Parable of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Job, Lost House... - a sermon on Luke 15:1-10

It doesn’t happen very often thankfully, but once in a while some of our neighbours go away. It’s a nice house, big garden, swimming pool. Perhaps I should clarify... When the neighbours go away they leave their teenage children. Now a bit of basic maths for you - teenagers + empty house + swimming pool X alcohol, music and summer nights = PAAAARTY! Now this doesn’t happen very often but there have been a handful of times when I have grumbled like the old man I am becoming... There will be this sort of partying in heaven says Jesus when one who was lost to God returns...

I hate losing things. I live by a very special filing system which is far from infalible! When things are lost, it induces a sense of blind panic in me and utter relief on recovering the item in question. Jesus tells stories this morning that I think I can identify with - losing things. Important things...

These stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin are preludes to perhaps Jesus’ greatest story of loss and recovery. You know the one. It tells of a lad who loses himself; of an older brother who loses his temper and sense of values and of a good father that never loses hope... a Heavenly Father that trusts that things that once were lost, people who once were lost can still be found... Recognise it yet?

In the story of the lost sheep, it is clear that all 100 sheep are owned by the shepherd. As the flock makes it’s way across the barren wilderness the shepherd notices that one sheep is missing. He leaves the 99, taking an enormous risk in trusting they will be safe, and makes his way in search of the one.

But we all too easily miss the scandal. Jesus has been openly criticised for spending time with sinners by the scribes and pharisees. They loved God and lived in hope of the coming Messiah. Their job was to interpret the Law of Moses for keeping it would prepare the way for His coming. They criticised Jesus because in him they saw one of their own and yet here he is fraternising with sinners like leather tanners, tax collectors women and shepherds. But the scandal deepens... ‘Which one of you,’ says Jesus referring to the Pharisees, has one hundred sheep...’ Jesus is inviting them to identify with a shepherd, a sinner!

Jesus carries on speaking to the scribes and pharisees, ‘... Or what woman...’ Jesus now calls them to identify themselves with a woman, any woman, about whom they prayed each day, ‘Thank you Lord of the Universe, that you did not make me a woman...’ But this woman knows the value of what she is searching for - a silver coin. She lights a lamp and sweeps in the darkness and dirt to find her life and livelihood.

I am often asked things like - I have lost my job, please pray for me. My wife has cancer and I am frightened of losing her, please pray. I have lost my faith - if there is a God pray for me. I feel so lost and afraid please pray for me. I have lost my house please pray... In the stories that we hear Jesus tell today, we have an assurance that he is never indifferent to these contemporary pleas in their lostness.

Jesus doesn’t so much as teach about the scope of God’s love reaching out to those traditionally outside it’s orbit, namely to tax collector and shepherd, rather he gets the pharisees to empathise with the lost, and to ram the point home - Jesus models it by eating and speaking with them at table.

Friends, God is a God who doesn’t sit distant from us and condemn us, but when we are a long way from him, he comes to us. He sits and shares food and conversation with us. When we are lost he hunts us out. He searches high and low in the darkest and most unlikely corners of the universe til he finds us. How does that sort of seaching love make us feel? If someone goes out of their way to see me, to speak to me, I want to make sure that I stop what I am doing, face them and give them my full attention. So it with Jesus. God loves the world, love me so much that he sends me Jesus... God loves me so much that he went out of his way to search me out... I should give him my full attention.

One of the most wonderful experiences we had in New Zealand was stopping by the side of the road, and as we stopped watching a shepherd and his dog herd the sheep. The dog did not run barking after the sheep, but rather as the sheep wandered off, the dogs watched intellegently and intently, then they ran like hell to get in front of the sheep and they lay down across the path the sheep were wandering so when the sheep did wander that way they were gently turned back onto the right path. We are called to a double repentance, a double determinedness to live God’s way - by listening to Jesus, for that sends heaven partying, and the experience of being found by God’s never ending love for us in and through him.

Jesus invited the Pharisee and scribes to identify with his search for those who are lost and his joy and finding those who are currently unaware of God’s love for them. What would church be like if we did the same - going out of our way to meet with and share God’s love with those who are currently unaware of His it where they are? For that’s what Jesus does. He doesn’t ask us to go to him. He comes to us. This is what he calls us His church to do - to emulate his example and the example of his Father. If we are to be a church at all - this must lie at the heart of what flows out of our meeting with Jesus as sinners around this table sharing bread and wine. To go out of our way to meet people where they are to talk with them, to help them to listen to Jesus and to encounter his love for them, returning rejoicing.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to be like the pharisees - already aware of how they think God wants them to look - with the clothes of righteousness and an air of supercilious faith. Rather Jesus asks go with others just as you are, to be with him and to be found by him, to spend time with him, to listen to each other and especially to Him, and to rejoice with the whole of heaven as we seek to discover anew what it means to be loved by Him.

The challenge for our mission to care for the lost, all those we encounter in our daily lives and all those we seek to bring back to the sheepfold on Back to Church Sunday, but not just then. For seeking out the lost does not in the least need any book to be burnt, It does not ask us to rebuke, to admonish or even look down upon anyone, for that was not the way of Christ. It calls us to this: First, think and pray; Second, run like hell; and third, be found lying about.For the lost, it is a precious and costly gift to be found at the right time in the right place. “Rejoice with me,” says Jesus, “for I have found . . . that which was lost.” Amen.

I am indebted to Fr. Simon Rundell's sermon on the same passage for inspiration which can be read here.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Blind by Korn

Following a discussion on Twitter earlier, I had to share this epic piece of contempory (ish) metal.

Interestingly, one of two lead guitarists, Brian Welch, has latterly left Korn having come to faith in Christ. His testimony in worth Googling... Anyway, if you are even a little metalicious - enjoy... I think...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

10 Reasons to Not call yourself the Dove World Outreach Centre

I thought I'd share a great post by the Naked Pastor following the news that a Florida based 'church' intends to commemorate 9/11 by burning copies of the Qu'ran...

A little parody on 10 reasons why you shouldn’t call yourself the Dove World Outreach Center:

  1. Doves symbolize peace. They are meek, mild and gentle. DWOC’s speech is filled with war, and its leader sounds aggressive.
  2. Braveheart music in the background of their video conjures up war horses, not doves. It conjures up conquering, not come-unity.
  3. The use of the word “world” in conjunction with “dove” and “outreach” implies loving efforts, when in fact suspicion and hate is at the root of DWOC’s ambitions.
  4. Outreach, or reaching out to the world is not accomplished by burning the valued literature of those you are reaching out to. It is antagonistic.
  5. The word “world” should suggest attempts at unity. DWOC’s actions are divisive.
  6. The word “center” means a place where a certain activity is concentrated. Reaching out is the intended activity. But clutching an extremely narrow and defensive-to-the-point-of-aggressive view of Christianity is the actual preoccupation.
  7. The DWOC’s fear of world domination should demand that “world” be taken out of their name. They reflect a small but I’m afraid growing fundamentalist fervor who’s interest is the same as the interests of those they hate: world domination.
  8. The DWOC has the right to be a legal entity, the right to assemble, the right to believe what it believes and the right to certain unsavory activities that can arouse fear, hate, division and violence. The leader of the DWOC should agree that there ought not to be “centers” for this.
  9. Doves fly. This ain’t gonna fly! Except for those who’s minds are so deep in the gutter where anything that crawls is above them and looks like it’s flying. You get my meanin’.
  10. Say “DWOC”. It sounds too much like Ewok, and they were sweet little creatures. Oh wait… only if you were on their side.


I never watched Lost when it was on. I regret that I have to say. From what I know about the series I think I would probably have loved it. On of the questions that recurs unsaid and unanswered throughout the series is which of the characters is lost - physically, religiously, spiritually and emotionally speaking...

Jesus speaks of things lost in the Gospel reading for Sunday. How does it feel to lose something precious, lifegiving, lifestyle providing as a sheep, a gold coin, our freedom, sanity, love, life... Why are we not searching for God in the same way - groping around in the dark corners, scouring the thickets of the hillside for Him?

What is it about modern living that consigns the need for God to the dusty and darkened corners of our living rooms?

Here's the Wordle followed by the reading from Luke 15:1-10...

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Jesus Needs You

When a Government wishes to increase the number of recruits for the Armed Services, the advertising campaign is based on the threat posed to the country or its values. ‘Your Country Needs You!, was the most successful poster campaign of the first world war. Modern day advertising is to recruit people to volunteer by appealing to their sense of adventure and excitement. There is never a footnote on the poster “Soldiering may be dangerous to your health”

Jesus was different. When an enthusiastic young man ran up to Jesus and said “I‘ll follow you wherever you go” Jesus stares back and retorts, ‘Foxes and birds have the comfort of hole and nest; I don’t have even that, and neither will you. Go home and think some more about discipleship” This does not sound like a winning formula for church growth.

Discipleship is costly in any era. In the past century i.e. the 1990s more Christians have died for their faith than in all the centuries before put together.

Statues of 20th Century saints and martyrs were erected in St Albans Abbey to mark the millennium. They include Mother Theresa. One of them Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor lived in Germany during the regime of Hitler.

Bonhoeffer was part of the resistance to the Gestapo, and though he lived in America for a short time and could have avoided persecution, he chose to go back to Germany to encourage others in Germany especially in the Church not to crumble before Hitler and his Government. Eventually he was arrested, along with other members of his family and placed in a concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was executed on April 9th 1945 just a few days before the concentration camp was liberated by the Allies.

While in the camp he wrote papers and letters about the theology behind martyrdom - these were smuggled out by guards who liked him. Later they were put in a book called ‘The cost of Discipleship’ Jesus, in our passage of scripture today is talking about the cost of Discipleship.

Bonhoeffer believed we live in a time of ‘cheap grace’ and easy beliefs. He argues that cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the Church. Cheap grace given away at cut prices The Sacraments, forgiveness of sins, the consolations of religion are showered with generous hands without asking questions or fixing limits

Cheap grace is forgiveness proclaimed as a general truth without stressing repentance. God’s love is taught as a general concept of God without stressing that God’s love wants our salvation. True grace is Costly – it is free because the account has been paid in advance by Jesus but not cheap. It is treasure hidden in a field – for the sake of it a person will sell all he has. It is a pearl of great price that a person gives their all to possess It is the kingly rule of Christ for which a person will pluck out an eye if it causes him to stumble. It is the call of Christ for which the disciples left their nets to follow him. It is so magnificently summed up in the Methodist Covenant Prayer:

In am no longer my own but thine. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will: put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

True grace can be costly. Jesus doesn’t want to con his followers into believing it will be easy - it will be fulfilling - it gives us inner peace, pardon, the power of the Holy Spirit - eternal life but could be difficult. Jesus drives the point home with three Cannot statements

1. If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his
wife and children, brothers and sisters- yes even his own life- he cannot be my disciple. This must have been shocking to those who heard it - it is shocking to us. We are to love family. Marriage and family are the good gifts of God. He means we should never love our relatives or ourselves more than Him. This is part of the cost many Christian workers pay is terms of time spent with family, or finance or promotion so fulfilling the call to missionary work.

2. If anyone does not carry his cross and follow me he cannot be my
disciple. This too would be very shocking to the crowds. After all, unlike us, many of them may have witnessed what Jesus here described: a condemned criminal bearing his own cross through the streets of a town to a place of crucifixion. Jesus is saying you may suffer for your faith. Jim Elliot had a passion to take the gospel to the Auca Indians of South American. He flew with a missionary pilot deep into the jungle. They landed their plane near a river. Their reception was violent and the Auca Indians killed them. An investigation showed that there was a gun in the plane that had never been used. They had come in peace. Jim Elliot had written in his journal these words “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose”. Jim’s and the pilot’s death became the seeds of more missionary efforts. Eventually the Tribe of Aucas were won over. Later, Elizabeth Elliot, Jim’s widow would baptise in the river where her husband was killed, the man who fired the fatal arrow.

3 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything. They
cannot be my disciple. This is a long way from what is called prosperity gospelfv - where faith will automatically give you health and wealth. Jesus had just re-enforced the point with two stories “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ The issue was not whether or not he should build the tower, the issue is to be prepared before beginning. The issue is not do with building or not or waging war or not... It’s to do with being aware of the costs from the outset.

Have you assessed the cost of being a disciple? When you, however and whenever you said your yes to Jesus, did you realise that suffering, poverty and losing all relationships were on the cards? It’s not too late to walk away... no strings attached.

Being a disciple is nothing to do with the warm fuzzy feeling, it is nothing to do with being (or being seen to be) good or holy, it is nothing to do with just coming to church. Being a disciple is all about listening to, learning from and living and loving like Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t say that you cannot be my disciple - all are welcome. He just asks us to give him our all. Amen.


Oh, I am back off hols and that is a version of what I'm preaching tomorrow... :-)