Monday, 14 October 2013

The Attitude of Ingratitude

You would probably have said thank you several times today. Whether you say thank you, "meda ase", or "merci", it is important that we give thanks when due. It is uncultured not to say thank you.

At one time Jesus who had many times asked people to keep quiet after healing them was rather disappointed that only one out of ten people he had cleansed from leprosy came to say thanks (Luke 17:11-19) Jesus Heals Ten Men With Leprosy

It is interesting to note that simple words "Go and show yourselves to the priests" was so powerful to heal ten men of leprosy. Thankfully, we don't live in a society where we have to ban people because they have certain sickness. However, there are many people who are suffering as direct consequences of some illness. Such people are hoping and praying that one day Jesus or indeed Holy Spirit will pass through their hospital wards or homes for them to request Christ's mercy on them.

                                Where are the other nine?
A very important part of the text is why the other nine failed to come and say thanks to Jesus. I am sure the only foreigner (Samaritan) who came to say thanks might have tried to convince them to come with him with to thank Jesus.

                          Why did they refuse to say thanks?
I can only think of one reason- they focused so much on what they were going to get not what they had to give. By they seeing the priests and declaring them fit, they would then have their former status restored. They will now become normal citizens just like others. They can now seek employment, earn an income, seek positions, and get married. They thought they have lost so much fun and all other entitlements and couldn't wait to have those things back. What they had to give wasn't on their mind at all.

                           Godlessness in the last days
Paul was right when he predicted Godlessness in the Last Days. Many people only care about what they can get not what they can give. The attitudes Paul mentioned in his second letter to Timothy are so evident in our society today. The one tenth statistics wouldn't surprise many people today. If all we care is what we can get then what society are we building? If as children, parents, congregation, partners, citizens all we care is what we can get then we are building a situation which can't be sustained.

                         What should I thank God for?
Do you look at yourself and think there is nothing really in your life to be grateful to God? May be you haven't really thought of counting your blessings. If you count them one by one you will be surprised what God has done for you. Have you or a family member in the past few years had to;
  • die of starvation?
  • go hungry so that your children could have food?
  • flee from war or poverty only to die in a capsized boat on the Mediterranean sea?
Do you realise that all the above are regular occurrence in some people lives?

                        How should express my thanks to God
You can thank God in many ways including the following;
  • Worship and prayer
  • Praise
  • Giving (money, time , skill)
                       Anything to gain from thanking God?
Note the two "conditions" of the Samaritan who thanked Jesus. At the time he was returning to thank Jesus he was "cleansed" of leprosy. After thanking Jesus he was declared "well". The other nine went away cleansed. The only who came to say thanks went away a step further, being made well. Will you only be a receiver or a giver?

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Jesus the controversial dinner guest

                                           Sermon Notes
                                          Date: 01/09/2013
                                       Text: Luke 14:1-14 Jesus at a Pharisee's House

                           Anything wrong with healing?
If Jesus could heal even at a dinner in someone's home then it's not out of place to heal in a church building. So I say shall we have a healing service today? Seriously, shall we ? Does our law allow healing at church or not?

At the mentioning of a healing service some of you might be having these thoughts: I would have gone to a Pentecostal church if I wanted a healing service. This is Methodist church and we don't touch people during church service. Any healing service would have to be organised and notice served so that those who wish to attend can do so. No spontaneous healing here please. Just like the audience of Jesus, you can't say it loud.

What was Jesus supposed to do after seeing the predicament of the man? To tell him now is the time or place for healing? It's not just about rules regarding healing. By Jesus' action, he is telling us to think deeply about application of rules. We should show grace and mercy in applying our rules.  Is such law to please God or humans?

By strictly following rules, procedures or guidelines, we are limiting the glory of God. You often hear people in leadership complaining bitterly about rules and regulations. You would hear someone saying, I know the rule doesn't make sense but I can't help. Rule is a rule and must be obeyed. They are scared of the repercussions that would follow should they break the law.

Our hands shouldn't be tied by rules. Our rules should free people from bondage, hunger, sickness, hatred etc. If for example our rules, procedures and guidelines have prevented some people from joining us today, then such rules are harming the growth of the gospel and the kingdom of God.

                             Picking up the good places.
Let's now turn to the discussion Jesus had with his fellow guests. Jesus turned round and saw that people were scrambling for the high table, and he said to them, "when someone invites you to a dinner, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you might have been invited. If so, then the person who invited both of you will come and say to you "Give this person you seat". In some well organised wedding feast, tables are labelled before the guests arrive. Even that you will still see people swapping places either to be closer to friends or some VIP's

Note the audience Jesus was talking to- Pharisees. Their Jewish heritage made them considered themselves first in God's consideration. Many Christians today think the same. For the fact we're here and the rest are out there we think we're better than them. Some denominations think they're better than the rest. Some pastors and preachers think of themselves so highly. Some churches/fellowships wouldn't invite others to their programmes because they're not their "class". Our leadership roles, church attendance, friendship with some prominent people in society or within the church shouldn't be construed to mean we're better than others. Jesus' warning is- do not elevate yourself else you will be humbled. Humble yourself. Take the lowly place and God will lift you up.

                              And you too-Mr host
Having finished addressing his fellow guests, Jesus turned to the host of the dinner. Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

When did you, family, group, or church have anything to celebrate? Who did you invite and why? What was your motive for inviting Mr A and not Mrs C?  Some of us wouldn't invite friends or families let alone total strangers.

My local church has been having BBQ for the past 5 years. This year we decided to invite others to join us. Guess who we invited? Another local Methodist church. Why? We have lots in common- we share the same Minister, we have many friends and have similar nationalities. Guess what they said when they were leaving- Be our guest next year. Exactly what Jesus is talking about. We have been repaid if indeed they do invite.  Nothing wrong with us inviting them or they inviting us back. The point is- what's special about that?

Jesus isn't necessarily saying we should not invite; friends, relatives or neighbours at all. His worry is the exclusive nature we go about it. If we invite our friends and they invite us back, what's special about that? Even atheists do that. Jesus is therefore asking us to go beyond the usual family and friends when we send out invitation. What about the other people; different denominations, faith, race and social class? Wouldn't it be great if my local church decide to invite our immediate neighbours to our BBQ next year?

What Jesus is saying is this- extend your benevolence and hospitality beyond the "normal" people. We give gifts and presents to friends and family members and many of them never get used. There are many people in our church, block, and across the road who can't afford the basic necessities in life, and Jesus wants us to think about them when we sit down to have our meals, and when we're wrapping our presents. He wants us to think beyond the normal box. There are many people suffering in silence and Jesus is asking us to think about them. Their smiles as a result of our hospitality will release blessings from heaven.

Jesus might have been invited to the dinner for a wrong reason but he made good use of the occasion. The host provided the physical food, and Jesus offered the spiritual food. The guests were full. They had more than they bargained.

May the Lord help us to look beyond the immediate family and friends.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Compassion vs Law

Sermon by Tricia Hemans- Methodist Local Preacher in Training
Texts: Isaiah 58:9-14, Luke 13:10-17

I read a story about a man who sat down for a dinner with his family and said grace, thanking God for the food, the hands which prepared it, and for the source of all life. But during the meal he complained about the freshness of the bread, the bitterness of the coffee, and the sharpness of the cheese.

His young daughter questioned him, "Dad, do you think God heard the grace today?" He answered confidently, "Of course"." Then she asked, "And do you think God heard what you said about the coffee, the cheese, and the bread?" Not so confidently, he answered, "Why, yes, I believe so." The little girl concluded, "Then which do you think God believed, Dad?

The man was suddenly ware that his mealtime prayer had become a rote, thoughtless habit rather than an attentive and honest conversation with God. By not concentrating on that important conversation, he had left the door open to let hypocrisy sneak in. Perhaps this was the same kind of realisation that came over the synagogue leader from the gospel story when Jesus pointed out his hypocrisy.

In this story of a crippled woman healed on the Sabbath we see Jesus acting in a loving and compassionate way to someone who had been crippled by a spirit for 18 years! She was bent over and could not straighten up. Presumably she was in a lot of pain too. Jesus healed her. He set her free. When challenged by the synagogue ruler for healing on the holy day, he responded firmly and directly. You hypocrites!

In Jesus' day, the standard belief was that no work should be done on the Sabbath, including the work of healing. Jesus, by healing on the day of rest challenged this belief. He was critised by the synagogue ruler who used his position of power to condemn this act of mercy. By healing the woman Jesus demonstrated that on that day of rest, she should rest from Satan. After all the Jewish people untied/freed their animals on the Sabbath to allow them to drink water. The woman was also bound, not with a rope- but by her condition. So in begrudging this woman her healing the synagogue ruler was a hypocrite. Once Jesus pointed this out we read that his critics were silenced in shame and the crowd were pleased with Jesus' response.

So why is this story relevant? What can it teach us about being loving and compassionate today? After all we are unlikely to be faced with an identical dilemma today as few Christians observe the Sabbath as the Jews did in Jesus time. But we should try to look beyond the immediate situation to the underlying principles Jesus is teaching us.
Jesus was addressing a particular religious convention whereby no work should be done on the Sabbath. And today we see that each faith community has its own expected religious code of rules and conventions. From communion, to dress code, or who can/can't be baptised. We have our own laws. In the passage from the Gospel this morning, Jesus in his words and actions is teaching us that sometimes convention must give way in the face of genuine need. At times it is obvious when this must happen. For example, I would imagine that if an elderly collapsed during worship, first aid would take precedence over ritual. But other times it can be more difficult. 

Truth be told, we regularly agree with the synagogue leader. Perhaps not about the Sabbath, but most of us have rules/laws that we think are particularly important and we get nervous if we see people not respecting them. It could be things like, our children's bedtimes or refusing to take any phone calls on our day off. Or maybe it's a much bigger issue, like traditional gender roles or human sexuality. Whatever it is, there are some laws we feel should just be kept. Full stop. And if they aren't, we fear what will unravel next? And that's what this well-intentioned, law-abiding leader of the synagogue believed. But his isn't the only perspective.

                        Compassion vs Law
Christ teaches us to value love/compassion above law. And this must have been as unsettling for his audience then as it must be for us now. It raises difficult questions of when to insist on law and when to suspend it. Or if things will fall apart if we get it wrong? But that's the way it is with love: no guarantees, no assurance of having it turn out the way you thought it was supposed to, no absolutes. Except this: the God who gave the law out of love continues to love us and all the world, no matter what.

Jesus challenges the religious community to think about what keeping the Sabbath really means. He isn't abolishing the Law of Moses, but helping the people in the Synagogue to have a better understanding of how to apply the law. And in the same way I'm not saying we should do away with all church traditions, or not to take a stance on matters of importance. But when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied that we should love God with everything we have and love our neighbour as ourselves. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:36-40). Therefore, if we are hanging onto some rule, law, or doctrine which prevents us from loving God or loving our neighbour, then we need to reassess our lives and align ourselves with Christ. Matthew 15:7-9 reminds us not to break the command of God for the sake of tradition.

                    The Challenge
Are we guilty of such behaviour? The image of believers as hypocrites  is one which is popular in the world today. An image which portrays Christians as preaching good deeds but not wanting to get their hands dirty. To some extent we might deserve it. It is often very easy for us to preach at those who are living with completely different realities from us. Like the synagogue who knew nothing of the woman's 18 years of suffering. It is all too easy to withhold aid to anyone we see being outside our own circle. We are instructed, however, to be gracious to one another. Romans 14:1 "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters". And yet too often for the sake of tradition and practice we isolate others. We render the church irrelevant because we are holding on to traditions made by man rather than scripture inspired by God

One example that comes to mind is dress code. It has become a tradition in some churches to wear your best clothes on a Sunday for church. In churches across the world it has become a barrier to those outside our faith community. If someone comes to church who doesn't know the protocol or the dress code, and they are turned away or made to feel uncomfortable because of some judgmental stare from a believer, then we are missing the way. We should look at those people and go out our way to welcome them, to make them feel loved. We should never keep people from Christ. We should always be drawing them to Christ.

This example should give us all cause to think . To think about our actions both inside and outside of the church. Are you a bridge or a barrier to people coming to Christ? Are we loving in the way Christ is? We are all examples, whether we want to be or not. The question is, are we good examples or bad ones?

It is interesting to see that in the Gospel story the woman did not ask Jesus to heal her. Christ saw her, recognised her need and took action. And in today's world there is an urgent need for us, as believers to do same. Too often we regulate compassionate service to "charitable organisation". To Oxfam. That's their job. To benefits agency. That's their job. To Ministers and church leaders. But we are called to serve wherever we can. In whatever way we can. Big or small. To work for love, justice and peace wherever God has placed us. 

In the first reading from Isaiah 58 we heard that as Christians, we are called to serve our brothers and sisters who are hungry and oppressed. If we do then verse 10 says that our light will rise in the darkness, and our night will become like the noonday. It is our heavenly mandate to love. Not to be inward looking and focus on ourselves. Not to leave the work to others but to think of our fellow man. Jesus didn't wait to be asked. He saw a need and he acted. We should do the same.

                 The Power of love/hope
Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, and while the law helps us to make sense of and get more out of life, it must always bend to the love and grace that constitutes the abundant life Jesus proclaims. Law helps order our world, but grace is what holds the world together. Law pushes us to care for each other, but grace restores us to each other when we've failed in the law. Above and beyond all the laws ever received or conceived, the absolute law is love. Love God and love your neighbour. Or, perhaps, love God by loving your neighbour. 

Brothers and sisters, there is a real need for God's people-US - to be real, to be open, and to let our lights shine. We need to pray for God to come and change us and challenge us, as individuals and as a church. We need to wait on Him for directions and guidance. We need to ask Him to use us to bring people to Jesus. We need to love people with the love of Christ. To resist the urge to assume we know the law better than others like the synagogue ruler, and to sympathize with those who are living with very different realities than we are.
Jesus is inviting us, even now to release others from bondage and set them free, even if it means suspending or revising our sense of the law in favour of love.