Monday, November 18, 2019

Tenacity, Time and Torn Down Temples

Readings: Psalm 98, Malachi 4:1-2a, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 17, 2019

Our Scripture reading from the gospel of Luke this morning presented us with a tableau of tenacity, time and torn down temples. It all starts with the disciples gazing in wonder at the Jerusalem temple and then being informed that the whole thing would come tumbling down. Jesus then talks about about a future that would include “wars and rumors of wars” before moving on to talk of how, in the face of rejection, believers were to stand firm and trust in God.

Underlying all these disturbing events there is an assertion. That God is in control. That God's Holy Spirit is active in the life of believers, whatever they may face. That Jesus Christ truly is the Lord of life, in all its confusion and complexity. The vision that Jesus, the Lord of life, offer to us, is worth taking note of for the living of these days we are traveling through.

As Lord of life, Jesus saw life, not in its disconnected parts, but as a whole.
As Lord of life, Jesus taught that all life was under God's control.
As Lord of life, Jesus recognized that true life came as a struggle within the human soul.
We'll look at each of those...

The Lord of life saw life as a whole

The disciples are gazing in wonder at the beauty of the temple. It is almost as if Jesus can read their minds. It is incomprehensible that such a majestic building, dedicated to God's glory could be anything but permanent. He tells them, verse 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."

Ever wish you had a crystal ball and look into the future? How convenient would that be? It could certainly help you with your financial planning, if you could know the lottery numbers in advance.

That's the kind of theme Sci-fi books and movies from “Back to the Future” to Netflix's “Umbrella Academy”, from “Dr. Who” to H.G. Wells “The Time Machine” have mused upon. Could you change history if you went back to change that one event in the chain, if you dealt with that one person differently, if you could mess with time, how would events be altered?

Jesus is not a time traveling doctor, but He is the Lord of life. Scripture speaks of Him as being “Yesterday, Today and Forever.” He makes a prediction that came completely true. In AD70 Jerusalem was laid to siege by the Roman Army and the Temple was burnt and destroyed.

As with many things Jesus said, there is an additional meaning. Just as it was barely believable that the Jerusalem temple could be demolished, His disciples seemed to think that Jesus was invincible. But Jesus spoke of His own body as being the temple of God, and promised that if that temple was torn down, it would be raised up again. With those words He prophesied His own resurrection and the birth of the Church.

Such knowledge is beyond our understanding. Humankind struggles to even predict the weather, never mind the rise and fall of nations. Jesus had a sense of destiny that included the destiny of Jerusalem and His own life, death and resurrection. He even went as far as saying that heaven and earth would pass away, but that His words would never pass away. (Luke 21:33) And here we are, still trying to unravel their meaning over 2000 years later!

And yet there remains in the gospel stories a tension. That somehow the future of all creation is tied up with the obedience of Jesus to His Father's will. Nowhere greater do we see that as clearly as in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus bids the disciples to pray with Him a while.

As time passes, the disciples sleep, but Jesus struggles. “Lord, not my will, but Thy will be done.” The future destiny and redemption of creation is at stake. Paul writes to the Roman Church, Romans 8:22-23 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

As Lord of life, Jesus saw life, not in its disconnected parts, but as a whole. He knew what was at stake. He knew that His role was one of ultimate purpose and was therefore prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. To those around Him, it didn't always seem that way. A torn down temple all part of God's plan? When God is involved, things are not always what they seem!

The Lord of life saw life as under God's control

We turn on the news and think “The whole world has gone mad.” We can't make sense of it. It sometimes feels like God has gone “Absent. With. Out. Leave.” Can we imagine what it must have been like for the disciples when Jesus was arrested, tried, condemned and crucified? Dare we think what it was like to stand in their shoes? Even Jesus cries out on the cross” “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” Where is God in the middle of all that?

The standard theological answer was that God was in Christ redeeming the world to Gods self, taking upon Christ the sin and pain of all creation and breaking the hold of death and evil for all those who allow themselves to be transformed by grace.

In this reading Jesus takes things even further. "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:9-11)

It has become almost a cliché for our time that when people are asked “What do you want for your life?” “World Peace” comes the smiling reply. Now here's Jesus saying, “Nope. That's not how it is going to be. One day. But not yet.”

Here is Jesus asking us to believe that, against the backdrop of all that is wrong with the world, God is still working out God's plans for a new heaven and a new earth. That the Kingdom is coming. That in Christ we are to have hope and life and joy and hold our heads up high because our redemption is sealed by Christ's love.

That can be as hard for us to swallow as it was for the disciples to get their minds around the notion of the Jerusalem Temple being toppled. Yet it remains an essential part of our faith. That we believe God is in control. Again it's a notion that we cling to, in spite of being unable to adequately explain it.

It's the kind of belief that we only find at the foot of the Cross. “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” Yes. I know what that looks like. That looks like it's all over. That looks like destruction not redemption, that looks like game over, not new-beginnings.

The audacity of Christian belief is saying, “I know exactly how it looks, but God isn't through yet. In three days He rose again and the future of all creation remains in His hands. He is Lord. The Kingdom will come. But let us not pretend that such belief comes easy.

The Lord of life saw life as a struggle within the soul.

I don't know if you noticed verse 19 of today's reading. Jesus says: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” These words come at the end of a passage where He talks of how some disciples would be hated and face persecution, not only from the authorities who found their beliefs a threat, but even from their own families. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.

This endurance, however, is not any form of personal tenacity but linked closely to the work of God's Holy Spirit, also described as the 'Advocate' or 'Counselor.' “Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (verses 14-15)

Part of the struggle that we have within our souls, is that we want to be in control. We often think we can do quite well without needing God to intervene on our behalf. We are proud. We don't want to show any sign of weakness.

Here is Jesus telling us, no matter what, do not be afraid for I am with You. Here is the Good Shepherd proclaiming that even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, His rod and His staff shall comfort us.

Here is Jesus telling us that we are not meant to go it alone. That when the temples around us come tumbling down, that when we hear of wars and disasters and events way beyond our control, that when we are in situations of opposition or seeming defeat, He will be there for us, with the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here is Jesus, singing to us the theme song from “Friends.” Remember that one? “I'll be there for you, (When the rain starts to pour), I'll be there for you, (Like I've been there before) I'll be there for you.” What is it we sing sometime? “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” Of course I'm going to quote the "Friends” theme song!

Because spiritual growth is a struggle. We get by with a little help from our friends...and that's why we have church, and that's why we gather for worship, because the world is a crazy mad place and terrible things happen and we need each other and solid faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of life to get us through. Amen?
  • As Lord of life, Jesus saw life, not in its disconnected parts, but as a whole.
  • As Lord of life, Jesus taught that all life was under God's control.
  • As Lord of life, Jesus recognized that true life came as a struggle within the human soul.
Our reading has spoken to us of tenacity, time and torn down temples. Whatever may come, may God enable us, though the gift of the Holy Spirit, to travel though our days in hope, with grace and most of all with love, for ultimately the work of God in Christ, is the work of the God who is love.

To God be all glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Living Difference

Readings: Psalm 98, Exodus 3:1-6, 2 Thessalonians. 2:1-5,13-17, Luke 20:27-38
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 10, 2019

Some Mormons believe that if you are a faithful Mormon then after you die you are resurrected to the third or celestial heaven, where you are given a kingdom for yourself and your family. There you will rule, as a god like being whilst you populate a separate planet of your own.

One form of Islamic belief is that heaven is filled with earthly pleasures, a paradise of sensual delights. Other belief systems suggest that when you die you are sent back again to this earth, maybe as a human or maybe as an animal. Still others see life as circle that only reaches it’s end once the soul has achieved a sense of oneness with Creation.

For sure these questions of eternity and after-life have vexed many minds over many centuries. In Jesus day there were Pharisees and teachers of the Law and Essennes and Herodians and Greeks and Romans, all of who had very different ideas about what happened after death. And among them there were also the Sadducee's The Sadducee's did not believe in Resurrection. As the joke goes… that’s why they were ‘Sad –You - See.’

They believed in the Scriptures, but only the books of Moses. They figured that once God had given the commandments, everything else was unnecessary. Just get back to the ‘true’ bible and things will change. One thing they were convinced that their bible didn’t teach was that there would be any kind of resurrection from the dead for those who believed.

The Sadducee's saw Pharisees as over burdened with laws and far too sure that they alone knew the purpose of God. They saw the temple authorities as tied up with the politics and ceremony of the day. They saw the common people as… well… “common.” And they didn’t like Jesus. His popularity was a threat to their respectful position and His teaching about God seemed dangerous.

So they come to Jesus with a trick question about marriage. According to the Levitical law in Deuteronomy 25:5 (one of the books they did believe in) if a man died childless, his brother must marry the widow and beget children to carry on the family line.

O.K Rabbi,” they say, “answer us this one.” This guy marries a girl, dies, so, as the law says, his brother marries her, then he dies and so and so on right through all the brothers.” “If there is a resurrection” they challenge, “Whose wife will she be in the after-life?”

Jesus, as He often did, turned the question around and left them with more questions than answers. In the first part of His answer Jesus cautions the Sadducee's not to think of heavenly things from an earthly perspective. Constructing imaginary scenarios and trying to logically think of what heaven may be like, on the basis of the life they were experiencing on earth, was doomed to failure.

We can also construct heavens in our imaginations, heavens based on our likes and dislikes. Do we really want to sit on a fluffy white cloud, strumming a harp in the company of overfed cherubs and anemic looking angels? There has to be more to it than that! So Jesus throws some powerful word pictures our way. He firstly, no doubt in response to their question, plays with the idea of marriage.

Marriage, He explains, is something that belongs to this life on this earth. Marriage, as Scripture elsewhere affirms, is a high and holy calling; relationships between husband and wife are a reflection of the relationship of Christ to the church. But only a reflection.

Relationships with people in heaven are to be more beautiful, more committed, with greater depth and intimacy than anything you may experience on earth. To make a comparison between that heavenly situation and the too-ings and fro-ings of earthly relationships was just wrong.

Not only was marriage not going to be happening in heaven but neither was death. Verse 29 “for they cannot die anymore.” The same would apply to the bearing of children. Jesus scolds the Sadducee's for their lack of appreciation that life on earth was not life in heaven and suggests that they were indeed foolish if they thought they could work the one out on the basis of the other. But He doesn’t leave it there. He also takes issue with them on their understanding of the Scripture.

He doesn’t take issue with the fact that they only thought the first five book of Moses were Scriptures worth taking note of, rather that they hadn’t grasped the significance of what was contained in those first five books. They claim that in those Scriptures there was no reference to any kind of resurrection.

Jesus takes them on a bible study in the Book of Exodus, the passage about Moses and the burning bush. In the passage, Jesus points out that Moses calls God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was impossible that God should be the God of the dead. Therefore Abraham and Isaac and Jacob must be the living. God was God of the living! So there was such a thing as the resurrection. Their own Scriptures said it was so. The Sadducee are silenced by this answer.

At the end of the day the Sadducee's were left looking foolish because they thought they knew more about the Scriptures than Jesus did. They argued about the concept of resurrection with somebody who was about to exemplify for all time and all people the real thing.

For ourselves, who profess Jesus Christ as Savior, we do well to hear His perspective on the after-life. He assures us that if we put our faith and trust in Him, then something immeasurably worthwhile, indescribably wonderful, awesome, majestic, beyond anything earthly words, pictures or thoughts can adequately describe, is awaiting us on the other side.

I will be the first to admit that thoughts of the afterlife are not particularly motivational in my daily life. I would suggest to you, that by and large, the days are gone when people worried that their every move might be bringing them to hell or to heaven or even some purgatorial waiting room somewhere in-between.

Gone are the days when people with religious power could manipulate others with thoughts of reward and punishment. “Carrot on a stick” religion only seems to create need and dependence and engender self seeking commitment, rather than lifting up the value of community.

But I do find energy from the idea of resurrection. Resurrection takes us beyond the sort of philosophy that makes us choose between the glass being half empty or half full. Resurrection suggests to us that even when the glass is completely empty God can fill it with new wine.

Resurrection appears to be as much about the life we live today as any future state of being. Resurrection resonates with the idea that God's kingdom is already here, but yet to fully arrive. Resurrection speaks of process and progress.

That was something that the Sadducee's struggled to accept, They narrowed their canon of scripture to a few volumes of ancient insight, constructed a vision out of their own limited reasoning and then sought to justify their views by a few proof texts from their Scriptures. They seem very focused on maintaining their position within the pecking order of their day.

On the other hand, Jesus uses an enigmatic phrase; ‘sons of the resurrection’ to describe those who seek to for both their present and their ultimate destination to be God’s Kingdom. I like that phrase. Let it sing through your mind a little. ‘Sons and daughters of the resurrection’ Imagine jumping out of bed in the morning with that attitude coloring your day.

I am a resurrection person. The things I do today are not confined by the boundaries of death, decay and time. I am a resurrection person. The life which I will live today is part of a life that will never be diminished. The things I do today are making a mark, not only on the passing things of this life but in eternity.

I am a resurrection person. Though I may face defeats, God will turn them to victories, though I may face failures, God will use them to build my character, though I may face darkness, God will lead me with His light, though I may face suffering, God will heal all my infirmities in His good time.

I am a resurrection person. Every moment in time that ticks by, bringing age and eventually death is but a glorious moment that is bringing me closer to my final destiny, my eternal home, my Fathers house; I am a resurrection person, I am an Easter person and Hallelujah is my song!”

Before leaving for church this morning I caught a little bit of a BBCTV show “Songs of Praise” that was offering a special program for Remembrance Sunday. I featured a young soldier, Private Curtis Welsby, whose family had served in the military for five generations. In 1916 the army issued a service bible to his Great, great grandfather Jay Greenwood who served in the trenches of World War 1.

It was then passed to his great grandfather who served in World War 2, his grandfather who served in Korea, to his uncle serving in Northern Ireland, then came into Curtis's possession when he traveled to Afghanistan in 2012, where he kept it, as previous generations had done, in a pocket close to his heart. (See this story from 2012)

During an attack in 2013 his best friend Jamie Webb was killed. After the attack Curtis turned to his nearly 100 year old bible and read from Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

This gave him the reassurance that Jamie was in a much better place and at peace. Curtis is committed to continuing a life of service, partly because of this resurrection hope he has found in the Word of God. Jesus told the Pharisees, “God is not god of the dead, but of the living.”

Belief in the resurrection makes a difference. A living difference to every moment you live on earth. Just occasionally the awareness of that glorious Kingdom does seep through to us. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Listen to Jesus. Keep learning what His Words teach us. Trust in God, that in God's hands, saved by grace, through faith, we’re safe in God's loving care.

And to God be the glory.
Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Get Out of that Tree

Reading: Psalm 119:137-144, Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, 2 Thess. 1:1-4, 11-12, Luke 19:1-10
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, on November 3, 2019

Something about being a kid makes you view trees as things that need to be climbed. I know I did. Even had a little den – a tree-house – in the old tree at the back of my parent’s house. It was a good place to be – particularly if there were jobs needed doing and you weren’t inclined to do them right then. You couldn’t stay up there forever. The inevitable would catch up and some one would be hollering, “Get out of that tree!”

Our Bible reading gave us the story of another little tree climber - a man named Zacchaeus. He’s described as having made a healthy income for himself, being short of stature and engaged in the profession of tax-collector.

There were all sorts of reasons why he could have been up the tree. Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people in Israelite society. Maybe he was up there trying to stay out of people’s way. He also had a bit of money, so maybe being up a tree kept him out of the way from pick-pockets and other petty thieves that crowds tend to attract.

Or maybe it was just because he was short and couldn’t see what was going on. Luke tells us that he had run on ahead of the crowds when he had seen that Jesus was coming to town in order to get a good view of all that was taking place. Luke doesn’t tell us why he wanted to see Jesus or what had so stirred Zaccheaus that he felt the need to be mingling with the folk on the streets. For sure though there was something about Jesus that had gained his attention. The last thing he had expected was to gain Jesus attention.

That’s what happens. Jesus comes by and shouts, “Get out of that tree!” Or rather He says, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." And Zaccheaus climbs down and is overjoyed to offer Jesus hospitality. The mere fact that Jesus has taken the time to recognize him and calls out his name is enough to bring about a radical change in the little man’s life. He’s a little man with a big heart.

"Look”, he tells Jesus “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Having encountered the love of Christ, life could not just carry on as it had done before. He was making some changes – changes for the better.

It’s not just kids who hide up trees. Zaccheaus wasn’t a kid. But he was hiding up a tree. It makes me ask, “What sort of trees are we hiding in? What trees do we need to come down from if we are going to be disciples of Jesus? What’s our tree?”

I know that we all have our own systems for coping with life. We all have our own views about what’s important and why we’re on this planet and what’s right and what’s wrong. And most of the time, these ideas about life – these “trees” that we hide in are comfortable places to be.

Now I can’t tell you exactly what your tree is. But I can make some generalizations. It’s the place you go to ignore the genuine challenges of the world around you. It’s a place where you can shut out the voices of the crowd and do what seems right in your own eyes. It’s a place where you feel comfortable about yourself – even when there are things about your life that should make you uncomfortable.

Some trees are more obvious than others. Some have a well-stocked bar whose alcoholic content is the main thing that gets them through the day. Some have other forms of escape. Some trees are built out of harsh words and criticism towards those who are not the same or don’t share their ideas of right and wrong. Some of us are very selective about who we allow in our tree-houses.

Zaccheaus was doing all right. He had his circle of friends. He knew his place in the scheme of things and hoped others knew theirs. He kept his distance when he had to. It wasn’t his fault that the poor were poor. Yes, he cut a few moral corners now and then, but didn’t everybody? There were worse people than him about – why should he feel bad about himself?

Then Jesus comes along. He already knew that there was something different about Jesus. When people allowed Him to get to them strange things would happen. Healings. Miracles. Changed lives. He really didn’t seem to care what anybody else thought of Him. He wasn’t afraid to speak in harsh judgment to those who gave the impression of being righteous. He seemed to have unlimited time to share with the most insignificant of people. Then… there was Jesus, calling his name, saying… Zacchaeus “Get down out of that tree.”

It must have taken more than a bit of courage to come down. Why was Jesus calling him? Was he going to make an example of him before the crowds? Was it to humiliate him? Was it because he had money? Was it because he’d cheated people? No…. the look on Jesus face was not one of condemnation, but of acceptance.

It was a look Zacchaeus hadn’t seen for a long time. A look of acceptance. The people, even as he climbs down, are singing their usual tune. "He’s a sinner!" Jesus was crossing a barrier of ritual purity. A tax collector was considered unclean because he entered houses and inspected goods in a way unacceptable to Jewish law.

By entering Zacchaeus’s house, Jesus was acknowledging the chief tax collector’s dignity and worth. Jesus, who was being followed by the crowds, would have brought honor to whatever house He entered. He conferred a special honor on Zacchaeus by offering to receive hospitality from him.

Zaccheaus is delighted to receive Jesus. For sure it would mean some changes. If Jesus was prepared to take him just as he was, then it was only right that he should start living like he was somebody important to God.

Through this story Jesus is calling “Get out of that Tree.” As I say, I don’t know what sort of tree you are hiding out in, or exactly what it means for you to get out of that place and move on towards a better place. But I do know that all of us are sinners who fall short of the glory of God. That we all have defense mechanisms against whole hearted commitment to loving God - with all that we are - and loving others as much as we love ourselves. I know that doesn’t come easy – or without a price to pay.

But thank God – Jesus has paid the price. He calls us to come down, not in condemnation – but in acceptance. The Good News is not – “Clean up your life so that you may be acceptable to God” but, “Hey – God loves you and accepts you. Today God is calling your name. Today God is challenging you to move forward. Now is the hour of salvation!”

If you’re in one of those moods where you feel like “Well, nothing good ever comes my way”, or “Nothing amazing happens in my church” or “Why can’t this be this or that be that” – then get down out of that tree. That tree of self-pity – or that tree of disillusionment – or that tree of rebellion - or that tree of self-satisfaction – or that tree that’s covered in green leaves but is actually dieing on the inside – that tree of confusion or disbelief or self-condemnation or fear or anxiety.

Come down from that tree! Jesus wants to come to your house. He’s calling your name. He wants to share a feast with you. Today He wants to honor your life with His presence – today. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20).

Sure we can stay in our tree house. We can pretend not to hear. We can act like the name being called wasn’t ours but some other with the same name. But winter’s coming. Being stuck up in a tree when the rains start to fall can leave you pretty miserable. If the winds start to blow, your whole tree might come crashing down. There’s more to life than living in trees.

Our story concludes with Jesus saying, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost." May salvation come to our lives and our homes today, because – today – we have heard Jesus calling our name and promising that as we open our lives to the influence of the Holy Spirit, it’s not going to be just more of the same, but new life in Jesus name.

May our thankfulness overflow into generosity, and being generous not just with our treasures, but also with our time and talents in the service of God’s Kingdom. There is much we can do here in Mount Hebron and beyond through this churches ministry, but it takes our willingness and our commitment to ensure that it happens.

Let us move forward into the future aware of God’s desire to walk with us, to feast with us around a table laid with bread and wine and share in all that life frings our way. . Let us allow God to work the changes in us that are a result of God’s acceptance of us. Let us seek to live as God’s people, simply because that’s who God calls us, by name, to be! “Get out of that tree” to the glory of God. AMEN!
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Attitude of Gratitude


Readings: Psalm 26:8-12, Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Luke 17:11-19, 2 Timothy 2:8-15
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, October 13, 2019

I'd like to share with you an adapted meditation originally written a few years ago by Lutheran minister, Rev. Richard J. Fairchild, who among many other things maintains an awesome website sharing resources for each Sunday of the year. The meditation helped me visualize the story and I hope it helps you do the same.

His instructions are; "Relax - allow the story to speak to you as it must have spoken to those who were there at the first, those like you - those who were following Jesus Christ to learn from Him the way of life."

"We were heading with Jesus to Jerusalem. We had taken the old border road that ran between Samaria and Galilee, and it was a hot day. It was the kind of day when the dust of the road lies thick on the bushes and puffs up around your feet with every step you take. The kind of day when the sweat runs down into your eyes and turns the grime on your face into streaks of mud.

For a while - the only sound that any of us heard, was the low drone and buzz of the insects as we walked, but then through the still of that day, at first in the distance ,then closer and closer - we heard them "Unclean, unclean, unclean." We began to look around, and finally, as we rounded the crest of a hill to begin the long walk down to the village in the valley below, we saw them.

They were standing off the road a bit,and as we walked towards them the cry "Unclean, unclean, unclean" stopped. There were ten of them, and even if we had not heard their cry we would have had no problem knowing what they were. Some of them had rags wrapped around their hands, others had their feet bundled up in strips of old cloth, all of them were dressed in the tattered and torn clothing that people in their condition were required to wear, and all of them had, as they were supposed to, long unkempt hair.

There was no mistaking what they were - “Lepers.” They were lepers and at the sight of them standing just off the path staring at us like hungry and wounded animals we stopped. None of us wanted to get any closer to those wretched creatures - and who could blame us for that.

I mean everyone knows about leprosy don't they? No one can recover from it, it slowly rots and destroys the body, and worse yet, it is so easy to catch. That's why the priests insist that everyone who has a skin blemish report to them for an examination. The priest looks at them, and if they have raw patches of flesh or white bumps or red marks on their skin,or if their hair is discolored, he pronounces them unclean, and the person must go into isolation for seven days so no one else is put in danger.

It must be very difficult for those people,wondering for all those days if they have the disease. Most times the person does not have leprosy. So they go back to the priest after seven days, their blemish is healed over, and they are pronounced clean and allowed to return to their homes. But for others, for those like the ten we saw that day, their blemish has worsened, the color of their sores is brighter, or more of their flesh is infected, and they are banished. They are declared forever unclean. forever unable to have normal human contact,unable to bounce their children on their knees, unable to hug their wives or husbands, unable to do anything that might cause someone else to catch what they have.

Imagine, if you can, living out the rest of your life in a hovel, having to live in a camp and spend all your time with those who are suffering and diseased like you. It just so hard to think about - of not being able to see anyone you love except at a distance,of only being able to talk to them by yelling from far off. After a while everyone you know would stop coming to see you, no one would want to look at you,or have anything to do with you, and no one, despite the fact they claim to love you, will ever hug you or kiss you or touch you again,no one, that is, except those who are like you, those whose bodies are twisted, shortened, and rotting.

Imagine too, waiting to see what will happen to you, waiting to see if your disease will spread as it has in others, taking from you your fingers, your toes, destroying your mouth and nose, till at last you starve to death, or die from some infection.. .but not until you have lingered for several years.

Imagine it - waiting - and hoping - trying to hope, trying to hope for that one in a million chance - hoping that your sores will clear up and that you will be able to go to the priest and hear him say the word CLEAN over you. Imagine how it must feel to have to cry out "unclean,unclean" whenever you come near a normal person. That is what leprosy is all about. No one in their right mind would want to come near it. That is why we stopped on the road when we saw the lepers that day. We were being cautious, as cautious as any right thinking person would be in the presence of danger.

We stopped and we wondered what Jesus would do, because Jesus, in defiance of all common sense, did not seem afraid of lepers. We had seen Him once touch a leper who had come to Him and begged to be healed. And Jesus reached out and touched Him, and said to him "be clean" and the man had been healed.

It was quite the event, and I figure that the ten lepers we met that day must have heard about it because as we started again to work our way down to the village,they spotted the teacher and began to call out to Him,“JESUS, MASTER, HAVE PITY ON US.” When Jesus heard this He stopped, and as the sun beat down on our heads He turned towards them and holding out His hands He said, “GO, SHOW YOURSELVES TO THE PRIESTS.”

The ten lepers must have wondered what Jesus meant. They must have wondered, but they must have hoped as well, they must have believed that Jesus had done something for them, that their one in a million chance for a normal life had come to pass, because all of them turned and started down the road ahead of us into the village.

As we watched them go, the dust rising from their tracks as they hurried ahead of us, we began to realize that Jesus had healed them. Why else would He have said to them, go show yourselves to the priests? We knew that anyone who is healed of a skin disease is required to be pronounced clean by a priest, and we marveled that Jesus, with just a word could heal those ten men. And, as we found out just a few minutes later, it was so.

We were told that as they went down the hill towards the village that their sores began to dry up, and their blemishes disappear. With every step they took towards their old home, they felt stronger, younger, more energetic , till, when they had rounded the final turn on the way to the village, they were completely healed.

It must have been an incredible walk for them, think of it - after all their suffering and then, all of sudden, at the word of a stranger, their loneliness, their pain, their banishment began to evaporate. With every step it must have become more and more apparent that they could once again play with their children and hug their partners and work with their relatives in the fields of their old homes.

We saw one of the lepers again, it must have been about fifteen minutes after he and the others had disappeared down the road to the village, that he came back up the road to us. We could tell something had happened to him while he was still fairly far off. The shuffling cautious walk of the leper was gone, he was striding rapidly up the hill towards us, and he was singing and laughing and saying over and over again, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

As he got closer we could see that he was completely cured, his skin was pink and glowing with health. Then he got close to us he singled out Jesus, and still singing and saying “Alleluia, Alleluia”, he ran over to Jesus and threw himself down at His feet and thanked Him over and over again till finally Jesus touched him on his head and looking at us said, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"

We noticed that the man at Jesus' feet had the accent of a Samaritan, that race who despises us, and refuses to worship in the right way, and sacrifice to God at the temple. And as we wondered what Jesus meant by His words, He looked down at the Samaritan and said to him,"Rise and go, your faith has made you well." And the man got up and went his way, still singing and praising God.

We wondered if Jesus was angry at the other lepers for not coming back and thanking God for giving them their lives back. We wondered if Jesus was trying to tell us something about Himself, or about Samaritans.

It was a strange saying - but one thing was certain, all ten men had been cured of leprosy, Jesus had said so, but also it seemed to me that the one man,the one who came back to us and thanked Jesus, had something even more special happen to him. He was not only cured. He was made whole.

We asked each other if Jesus was trying to tell us that there is something special about giving thanks. And we all got to wondering about how we might have behaved if we had been given what the ten lepers received that day? Would we have been like the one who came back to thank Jesus? Or would we have been so happy about what we had received that we, like the nine, would rush through the formalities with the priests, and hurry back to our homes and our normal lives.

We asked ourselves if we had ever really thanked God for what we have, or if we had done all our lives what so many do, if we had simply gone to the priests and the temple at the times prescribed by the law, and made the offerings and said the prayers that our religion asks us to say, and then returned to our homes to carry on as before. We wondered -- were we like the nine lepers who were cleansed? Or were we like the one who was not only cleansed, but,because of his faith,because of his giving thanks,was made whole."

Closing thoughts ;

A lack of gratitude can paralyze Christian life.
A lack of gratitude takes the blessings of God and walks away, hiding them in the heart.
A lack of gratitude never turns healing into wholeness, never turns salvation to sanctification, never gets beyond childish response to become spiritual maturity.
  • An attitude of gratitude paints everyday with thanksgiving to God, releases God's presence in our hearts in such a way that it joyfully escapes from us and positively affects others.
  • An attitude of gratitude is the response of people who are aware of the greatness and thoroughness of God's love in Christ.
  • An attitude of gratitude reveals people whose hearts are being renewed by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Don't be a grouch,with a slouch in your walk and a grumble in your talk;
Walk by faith in God's Kingdom latitude, live every day with an attitude of gratitude :-)

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Sir, I want to see again!

COMMUNION SERVICE
Readings: Psalm 137, Lamentations 1:1-6, Luke 18:35-41, Acts 9: 1-19
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, October 6 2019

Dogs and humans are different. Dogs sense the world in a different way. They smell different. Sometimes they really smell! They touch with their teeth. They hear things that we don't. They get excited about things we count irrelevant. They eat stuff we wouldn't. I don't know what they put in dog food, but I don't ever want it on a sandwich. They see things differently. A good evening in for a dog isn't to curl up on the couch with another pooch and a pizza to watch a Lassie movie.

The way we see things” is what I'd like us to think about as we come to the table this morning. The way we see things affects the way we live and the things we do. A man came to Jesus and said, "Sir, I want to see again." He had lost his vision. Paul spoke about how so often our view of God is as though we see through darkened glass. We all need to come to Jesus and say "Sir, I want to see again." Our senses need renewing.

1. We need a Deepening Sense of God's Awesome Love towards us.

From the start the ministry of Jesus was spelled out in terms of Isaiah’s' Old Testament prophecy:-
  • the blind receiving their sight
  • the lame walking
  • lepers cleansed and the deaf hear
  • the dead are raised
  • the poor have the gospel preached to them.
All this was done from a deep sense of compassion. In His dealing with people He never used them as an end to fulfill His own purposes. He offers people meaning as individuals, loves them for who they are. He does not wish for an army of nameless uniformed soldiers, but everyone was known by name and all were treated as important, from the greatest to the least. Time and time again He spent His life with those others had no time for.

In a healing account from Matthew's gospel we read of Jesus, "Moving with compassion" to touch those who came to Him. Mark gives an account of Jesus healing a man who is deaf and mute and pictures Jesus looking up to heaven and praying with a deep sigh, His heart really yearning for that individual the rest of the world wanted nothing to do with.

On the table we place elements of bread and wine that symbolize the length that Jesus was prepared to go that we may know the love of God. There is a hymn that says:

"My song is love unknown,
My Saviors love to me,
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be,
O, who am I, That for my sake,
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?"

We come to the table to remember Him. If we feel low, the call is ... look up. To remember that He wants us to know His love, that He counts our insignificant lives as important, our little problems as genuine concerns. He calls us by name to be the special people of His Kingdom; special because we all have things to share, things to offer to Him and to each other in love and service. Come to the table with a prayer, "Lord, I want to see again." We need a deepening sense of God's awesome love towards us. Also, if we are to have our vision renewed...

2. We need a Deepening Sense of Commitment to Jesus Christ

The correct response to awesome love is that of commitment to its demands. As our lives encounter the love of Jesus Christ they should not remain the same. If someone says, "I gave my life for you," you don't just walk on by, you do not count their sacrifice as unimportant, you rethink your life in the light of what they have done.

That's how it was for Paul after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. The initial encounter left him blinded. His initial prayer must have been that of the blind beggar, “Lord, I want to see again." But there was more to it than that. The reason for Paul's blindness was that he had set his heart against Jesus Christ. The voice he heard on the Damascus Road had said, "Saul, Saul, Why do you persecute me?”

Saul saw Christians as a threat to true religion... He saw the Christian as a challenge to all he held dear. He thought he was doing God's will in opposing them. He had the backing of the religious authorities of the day in his mission to weed out the followers of "The Way."

There are those in our day, who though they may not be as openly antagonistic as was Saul, are equally dismissive of Christ's teaching. In their blindness they believe that they are doing the right thing, that they are the enlightened ones, that it is we who profess the name of Christ who are the narrow minded ones, the out-of-touch ones, the irrelevant ones.

They are blind to the glory of the gospel, that God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life. It means nothing to them that on the cross of Calvary the love of God calls to them offering forgiveness and acceptance, offering new life and hope. They are blind to the presence of His resurrection love, surrounding them, trying to break in on their daily lives. It means nothing to them, just as it meant nothing to Saul.

Paul only realized his spiritual blindness when a physical blindness came over him. How sad (but how true) that for many people it is only when a crisis comes along that they start to realize that maybe they don't have all the answers; that maybe all the things they have been building their lives upon are without the real substance and depth that can hold them in time of tragedy.

Don't wait for everything to go wrong before you start putting things right with God. Make that commitment to live for Him; today. Tomorrow may be too late. Come to Him with your spiritual blindness and seek for spiritual enlightenment.

We need a deepening sense of God's awesome love towards us.
We need a deepening sense of commitment to Jesus Christ

3. We need a Deepening Sense of God's Daily Presence

We read that when Ananias prayed for Saul that it was as though there fell from his eyes something like scales and that he regained his sight. Saul’s vision was gradually restored. Matthew records a healing of a blind man who looks up and says, "I see people, but they look like trees, walking around." Jesus lays His hands on the man again and the man starts to see clearly. The sense of the presence of God can come to us in a similar way, as something that slowly dawns on us, as something we glimpse with ever increasing clarity.

It starts as we realize the love of God in Christ is there for us, that Christ died to forgive us our sins and was raised to bring resurrection life to bear on our every day existence. From there on God's Holy Spirit begins to restructure our whole way of seeing things.

The blind beggar came to Jesus and said, "Sir, I want to see again." Jesus says to him, "Receive your sight your faith has made you well." And then the man starts following Jesus and glorifying God.

You see the pattern? First of all the man came to Christ with the awareness both of his need and the ability of Jesus to help him. Secondly, Christ spoke to Him the Word he so needed and his sight was renewed. Then he begins to follow. The encounter he had with Jesus was just the beginning of the story, not the end. It was the same for Paul. It can be the same for us.

Christian commitment is not a destination, it's a journey. It's not a once only, isolated moment of commitment but a life time of discovery and change and renewal of vision. One of George Herbert’s hymns says;

"Teach me, My God and King
In all things thee to see
And what I do in everything
To do it as for thee"

See here today, in this celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, an opportunity to deepening your sense of God's awesome love towards you, a chance to recommit your life to Him, and a moment to seek a deepening sense of God's presence.

Seek God as to how best your life can serve God's purposes, where best to invest your time, talents and treasures in helping others to see, how your life and the life of your church community can truly bring glory to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Come to Jesus, in this feast of bread and wine, with a simple prayer;
"Lord, I want to see again."

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Lost without Knowing it

Readings: Psalm 14, Jeremiah 4:11-12,22-28, Luke 15: 1-10, 1 Timothy 1:12-15
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, September 15 2019

I was traveling down the road, so busy talking to the person sitting in the passenger seat that I failed to notice that there was an intersection. The road I wanted went one way, the way I went was the other way. It was only when we came upon a shopping mall and a set of traffic lights that I realized our error. We had become so preoccupied that we had become “lost without knowing it.”

Little Belinda the sheep normally stayed with the rest of the flock. But this day there was a particularly nice fresh looking patch of green grass on the other side of the fence. And what was that? A hole in the hedge? "Maybe I could just squeeze through… there we are. And look, over there, right the other side of the road.

That grass looks so good. Baa. I'll be O.K. Hey it's getting dark, I'll just take a nap and ... wait ... did I doze off... what's that crazy shepherd doing, lifting me upon his shoulders, big smile on his face... saying "Welcome home"... Was I lost without knowing it?"

It's not a very exciting life being a coin. You are created, you get passed around, then you get melted down and made into something else. Some coins get to travel the world, but most just circulate their own neighborhoods.

One of the things about being a coin is that you have absolutely no consciousness of your own worth or value. So when a woman drops you between the floorboards you have no realization that she is going frantic, sweeping, and shining lights into dark corners, all because she really wants you back. You have no idea that when she finds you she is going to throw a big party to celebrate. You're “lost without knowing it.”

It can be fatal to be “lost without knowing it.”

During World War II action in Northern Africa, a B-17 Flying Fortress, called "Lady-Be-Good" was on her way back from a mission. Guiding the plane was a radio beam from the desert airstrip where they were based. The crew didn't realize there was a strong air wind that night, and with no visual reference, they flew right past the airfield and landed in the Libyan desert.

The men survived the crash landing, only to perish, in the blazing suns heat, of thirst. Sometimes you only realize how bad a situation is when it's too late. It can be a tragic thing to be lost without knowing it.

The problem with being lost without knowing it is simply stated;
You are lost and you don't know it!

There are times when the sense of being lost does break into our hearts. There are those times when things happen and we throw up our hands and say, "Why, Lord, Why?" There are those moments when we question what purpose life has, where our lives are heading, why we are here and a hundred other things. But we tend to push those moments aside. They become lost in the business, in the routines, in the every day-ness that getting by in life demands.

The remedy for being lost without knowing it
is to be found without deserving it.

Belinda the sheep who strayed from the path could have been found by all sorts of things. Could have ended up as road-kill mutton. Could have found a ditch to fall in. Could have been found by a passing wolf. Instead, a crazy shepherd endangers the life of 99 others by leaving them on a hillside whilst he searches and searches for her.

Stupid sheep. It was her own fault. She was the one who walked away. She was the one who went off on her own. She was the one whose actions put her and the rest of the flock in danger. That crazy shepherd! Just holds her high and says "Come and rejoice… I've found my sheep!"

The old coin that rolled away. Do you think a coin is bothered if it's lost or found? Even though it was totally incapable of realizing it's own worth, the woman who owned it did. And she was a bit of a crazy woman, because when she finds it, she ends up throwing a party for her friends that may well have cost more than the coin was worth.

The great statesman and theologian of the earliest church, St. Paul, made no pretense that his former position was one of being totally lost, “without knowing it,” when he writes to his young friend Timothy, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus". (1 Timothy 1:12-14)

He acted ignorantly.
He didn't know he was lost.
He had to be found without deserving it.
The remedy for being lost without knowing it;
Is to be found without deserving it.

When Jesus spoke those parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin, He did so in the face of murmuring religious leaders, who felt that He was the one who was lost. They believed that He was so lost that He was turning out to be dangerous. So they opposed Him and His crazy notions about God being like a shepherd or a woman who lost a coin. They never got the point that they were the ones who were truly lost without knowing it.

Parables are stories with many layers of meaning. We may well agree that the remedy for being “lost without knowing it” is to be “found without deserving it.” Indeed we may identify with those who at times feel lost and know that they are undeserving of having received the grace of God. But if we leave it there... we're still lost.

So listen and hear these stories. A crazy shepherd leaves ninety nine in the fold and goes off in search of one. "I am the Good Shepherd" proclaims Jesus, "Who lays down His life for his sheep."

A woman loses a coin and then throws a party when she finds it. "In the same way," Jesus tells us, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Friends, do we get it? God’s crazy about us. Even when we are not too crazy about the things of God’s Kingdom, God still calls out to us and seeks to be a part of our lives. God has a passion for our lives that they should be all that God first created them to be, a commitment so great that Jesus died upon the Cross of Calvary to kill forever any notion that God didn’t know what life was like for everyday people.

Don’t get lost without knowing it. As those airplane pilots I mentioned earlier, who ended up miles from nowhere, in the middle of the desert, being lost can cost you everything, even life itself. Today God is just waiting to take us by the hand and lead us home. And… no… it’s nothing we deserve. After all we are the ones who wander away from the path; we are the ones who can go through life remaining ignorant of the God who seeks us out.

In another story that Jesus told a son wanders away from his family. He sqaunders the family inheritance and finds himself living on leftovers. At that low point in his life, he comes to his senses. He realizes that he is lost and he hadn't realized it. Living the high life had led him to becoming a low life.

There is a moment of clarity. He realizes that he would be better off at home, working as a slave for his Father, rather than dieing in the dirt. He hopes that at least his father will allow him to somehow make amends for his terrible behavior.

When he arrives home the Father sees him in the distance. The Father runs to him and embraces him and welcomes him home. He throws a party. “This son of mine was dead but now he's alive.” Throughout the sons disobedience the Father never gave up on him. The Father knew that the boy needed to come home. But the son was lost and had no idea, until he came to himself, just how far he had fallen.

Don’t be lost without knowing it. Allow the love of God to find you and welcome you and seek to live your life in the security of that relationship. Then your life will echo the words of the many in our world whose Christian testimony is simply “I was lost, but now I am found!”

May we find in the coming days that our lives are being made new in Jesus name. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Call and the Cross

Readings: Psalm 139:1-6,13-18, Isaiah 53:1-6, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14: 25-35
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, September 8 2019

At our home we have a series of plates depicting rural English scenes. At the moment we actually have them in a box, because, even though we've been a few years, we still can't decide where to put them. See, there's quite a few of them. We hadn't meant to get quite so many, but it was one of those offers where you see an advertisement and you think it would be nice to have one of those, and then the one became a set of two, then the two became a set of six and the six became a set of twelve and you end up spending a lot more than you at first intended and then wonder what to do with them.

Same thing can happen with book clubs. You sign up thinking you have the best bargain in the world and suddenly end up with books you hadn't really wanted. It can happen with Committees. You say, in all innocence, "Yes, I'll serve on so-and-so,"and it's only further down the road you realize just exactly what you've got yourself into.

When the crowds were following Him, Jesus was uncompromising in His expectations of those who would be His disciples. He told them to count the cost and to weigh up the implications before they signed up for discipleship. He told them that commitment to Him was all or it was nothing. That followers would have to restructure their whole life, their priorities, and their commitments, if they were to inherit the blessings of the Kingdom of God. He was crystal clear that if they responded to the Call they would also need to be prepared to take up the Cross.

An old gospel chorus my youth group used to sing put it plainly and decisively,
"If you will not bear a cross, You can't wear a Crown."

Have the rules changed? Does Jesus ask any less of disciples of the twenty first century?

The impression given by some preachers is that buying into the gospel is much like buying a used car. They make it sound as easy as possible. "To ensure your salvation, call for a quotation, and make a donation." It is like a throwback to the pre-Reformation days when you could purge yourself (and your relatives) from sin and purgatory by paying the right price to the right priest.

It is always a temptation for any preacher to say what they think they want the people to hear and try and avoid saying anything that may cause them offense, because, after all, a preacher's congregation are those who put the money in the collection plate that keeps him or her comfortable. It's always a temptation to try and make the message easier to swallow for some people because they might easier become followers. It's always a temptation to play to the crowd rather than make disciples. It's a temptation for all disciples to please people rather than please God.

So pray for your church leaders that they hold before your understanding not simply the call of Jesus that is beckoning you to be His follower, but also hold before you the Cross of Jesus that He is calling you to carry! Why? Because the cross has to be central to our life if we are in any true sense of the word going to be Christian.

The fact is that our Churches, Preachers, and Christian friends are going to let us down sometimes. But the One who died upon that cross, whose name is Jesus, He is not going to let us down. Even the greatest friend who deeply loves us can not go to Calvary to die for our sins, but Jesus did that.

There are always religious folk that we can point the finger at and say; “Phoneys, do-gooders, know-it-alls, holier than thou's, religious cranks, Bible freaks, hypocrites.” You can not point the finger at Jesus Christ and make such accusations. His love is truth and His life is life, life that burnt with such intensity that death, Hell and the Devil could not extinguish it. His way, is the “Way” He is calling us to follow. His way is the way of the cross.

You may say, "But, you don't know what I'm going through, you don't know the struggles I have, you don't know what I have to put up with!" You know what? You are right. I don’t know. But Jesus Christ knows exactly what we are going through, exactly how we are trying to deal with things, exactly how we are feeling about things right now, and He is the One who uncompromisingly calls us to stand out of the crowd and make our stand, not for our church or for our preacher or our Christian friends, but for Him.

How uncompromising is that stand? Listen again to verse 26: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”

Let's clear away one stumbling block that's due to translation here. Jesus is not preaching about any anti-family statements or justifying hatred. He is speaking in a manner of traditional rabbinical teaching, (sometimes called "Semitic hyperbole") that greatly exaggerates a contrast so that the meaning of a phrase or a concept is seen more clearly. The word used for hatred, in Greek mijes (miseô), does not imply anger or hostility.

What Jesus appears to be saying is that our response to the call of discipleship has to take precedence over and above even the most sacred of human relationships; even that of family. That there is no higher obligation in life than commitment to Him and being His disciple. That the love we are to have for Him and the things of God's Kingdom, is of such a quality and depth that it seems to make, by comparison, our love for those closest to us seem like hatred.

What are the things that we give our time to? The things that excite us? The things that make up our life? Maybe it is our family. Or maybe it's our job. Or maybe it's our home. Or maybe it's hanging out with our friends. Or maybe it's the golf course. Or maybe it's having a quiet Sunday morning snoozing in bed. There is nothing wrong with any of those things.

But hear Jesus and hear Jesus loud and clear. "Whoever comes to me and does not love me more than these things, can not be my disciple". Can not. Will not. Shall not. May go through the motions but in reality not be getting there. God calls us to have a love for Jesus Christ, that by comparison to our love of all other things, seems like the opposite!

Move on to verse 27. "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." Sadly we live in a world where many, faced with this challenge, will ask, "What's in it for me?" What's in it for us? What have we to gain by taking up a cross, by loving Jesus more than anything else? By making the decision to be disciples?

Think what Christ has done for us. Think on how He gave His life for our salvation, for our healing and wholeness. Think on all He said, all that He did. Think how His love has changed the world and so many of the freedoms we enjoy today have come about through those who sought to hold up His light in the darkness.

Reflect on those who died so that we could have a bible to study and freedom to worship Reflect on those who gave all so we can gain all. Look at how many hospitals and educational establishments and forms of government and structures of law bear the marks of His teaching.

Instead of asking "What's in it for me?" we should be asking, "What are we doing to reflect the love of Him who first loved us? How should we live in the light of the grace God has freely bestowed upon us? What heritage are we passing on to others?"

It was Isaac Watts who penned these words;

When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory Died
My richest gain, I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were an offering far to small
Love so amazing, so Divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Now it could be that today you are sitting in the congregation thinking, you are asking too much of me. That this whole “Taking up a cross” thing and having a love for the things of the Kingdom of God, that totally overshadows all the other loves in our lives... indeed makes them seem like the opposite... is asking the impossible.

Please do not think, even for a moment that “I” am asking anything of you. Please be aware that ... right now... I am preaching to my own heart as much as to anybody elses situation. You see my task is not to ask anything of any of you. My task is to lay before all of us what Jesus Christ asks of all us. These are His words. This is His invitation.

Like Paul, I can say, look if there is anything in me about following Jesus that you think is worthy of imitation, then for sure, do those things. But be aware, I'm a fallible, conflicted, broken, needy person just like the rest of you. I am one beggar telling another beggar where to find some food.
I don't lay down the terms of following Jesus Christ. I didn't come up with the conditions or the terms. I struggle to understand how a Cross can be anything but painful and harsh and difficult. So... in a way... and it's crazy for a communicator to say this... it doesn't matter if you don't listen to me. What matters is that we hear Jesus and listen to His word and be disciples on His terms.

When I hear “Take up your cross” there is a huge part of me that says “No way.” I am encouraged by the fact, that when that situation became a reality in the life of Jesus, it led Him to the garden of Gethsemenae, where He sweated blood and pleaded with His Father God, “Please, let this cup pass from me!” Only at the end of that struggle, did even Jesus have the courage to say, “Not my way, but Thy will be done.”

Such reminds me that when God calls us to extreme steps in our life,God also supplies what we need to see those steps can be taken. Extreme requests are matched by abundant love. God will not ask of us what God will not enable us to do. But the teaching is there!

The terms of discipleship include the Call and the Cross. Both are essential for genuine discipleship. "If you will not bear a cross, You can't wear a Crown." May God enable us to hear clearly. May God enable us, through the Holy Spirit, to daily take up our cross and go wherever this awesome discipleship journey may lead!

I believe that Jesus would not ask for such a depth of commitment unless it was leading us to something beautiful and amazing. At the core of our faith stands a cross that led to resurrection. You cannot find a concept more death defying, life enriching, positive turning everything around concept... than resurrection.

So again, I offer you the words of hymn writer Isaac Watts;

Love so amazing, so Divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.