Sunday, 5 July 2015

Letting go and letting God - living by God's grace

On this 5th Sunday of Trinity we are challenged to let go and let God and we are given two clear examples of those who have taken up the call of discipleship and all that it requires of them in terms of personal cost.

Ezekiel was called to be a prophet. Like many prophets before and after him it is a call that carried a price. It cost him dear and exposed him to real trouble, danger and persecution. God duly warns Ezekiel that he is giving him a mission particularly unpleasant to fulfill and one that some would say was impossible. I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me;

Ezekiel is neither a flatterer nor a demagogue; he proclaims what God instructs him to say. Therefore he must not expect to be well received by all. God does not entertain any illusions. But neither does Ezekiel get discouraged. He is like the sower who throws his seed by the handful knowing that most of the seed will never produce a crop, some will fall on the path, some on rocky ground , some on thorny soil.

Is this wastefulness?
Is this a lack of realism?
Is this foolish and wasteful of time and energy?
God wants everyone to have a chance. He cannot resign himself to seeing the least plot of ground lay fallow or denied the opportunity to produce a crop.
Because of his love for you and me and the whole of his creation. Gods love causes him and you and me to go on believing the unbelievable, go on hoping in the face of  hopelessness.

St Paul knew the truth of this. He who had been the leader of the persecution of the early church,
he who had taken part in the murder of St Stephen,
he who had arrested many who followed Jesus Christ, NOW becomes the greatest builder and defender of the church.

Paul knew trials and hardship and ultimately many years of imprisonment BUT he writes 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul reveals that he asked God three times to remove the "thorn", whatever it might have been, but that on each occasion the response was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul takes this so literally that he says he'll boast all the more gladly of his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in him. He says that he's content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, since through Christ, whenever he's weak, then paradoxically, he's strong.

It's one thing to say those words, but quite another to have the faith to live them.
Most of us live in our own strength and do everything we can to ensure that we are strong enough to withstand any of the rigours that life may unexpectedly throw at us.

Materially, we make sure that we have a house and enough income to pay for it and maintain it. We take out insurance against any physical calamities in life, and in recent years we have become more and more likely to lay blame for our accidents and incidents and to seek compensation for them from somebody else.

We're adult Christians and I'm sure God expects us to look after ourselves and our families properly, so I think we're right to take out insurance rather than to expect someone else to pick up the pieces if things go wrong for us.

But this "insurance attitude" does tend to spill over into every aspect of life. Many of us like to see where we're going in the future and to make plans for five or ten years ahead, and we're now encouraged to do that within our churches. But if our plans are too well laid we can become a victim of our own success, for there's little room for God to suddenly do a new thing if we have everything tied up.

When we take tight control of our own lives or the lives of our churches, we are strong. But God's strength is quite different to our own strength, and God's strength is made perfect in weakness. People and churches who are able to let go of control often appear to be weak, but God is able to work through them.

When Jesus sent out his disciples on their very first mission, he refused to allow them to take anything to ensure against danger. They were only to take the clothes they stood up in. They were not to take any money (imagine going anywhere without money, or at least a plastic card!) They were not to take any defensive weapons to guard against wild animals. They were to go just as they were, and to throw themselves on the mercy of others.

That takes a lot of humility and a lot of courage. But as well as being thrown on the mercy of other human beings, they had to learn to rely totally upon God.

The disciples on their mission and Paul in his life found that God's grace was sufficient for them.
The question for us today is this: 
Is Gods grace sufficient for us too?
Is God's grace sufficient for our church?
When we look at these questions the events in that small town of Nazareth speak to us with renewed vigour.

Jesus faces rejection in his home town. Not surprising you may say after all envy and jealousy have a way of destroying relationships. Anger, resentment and jealousy cause disharmony within a person, cause dis-ease. They are underlying currents that act as blocks to God's love and healing power. And so Jesus found that even he was unable to perform many miracles in his own country among his own kin.
The church to day in our own time is faced with ridicule and rejection in her “home town”. For the church in the west and so called developed world is often in decline compared with the massive growth in Africa and Asia.

In our own country the voice of the church is seemingly sidelined by internal debate and concern over money, doctrine or scriptural interpretation. The church is often silenced by the agenda of the press or is victim to the desire to destroy or pull down anything or anyone who stands for authority.
Our 21st century Western life is so cushioned, seemingly technologically advanced that perhaps there is little room for God to manoeuvre. Perhaps we too should take more risks for God, so that his strength can become perfect in our weakness.

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