PLAN B

FAITH IN FOCUS: PLAN B

 Most of us worry from time to time. In these days of financial constraint we wonder whether we will still be in work, still earning a living and still able to provide for ourselves and others. Perhaps we worry about our health or the health of a family member. Maybe we lie awake at night concerned by the behaviour of our children and the type of people they have started hanging around with. Or is our worry completely imaginary? Do we have bad dreams that a meteorite might strike our house, that we will be asked to conduct an orchestra with a knitting needle or walk a tightrope blindfolded over Niagara Falls while wearing moon boots?

Jesus has a Plan B. He tells us that worrying is useless; there is nothing that can be changed by worry. In fact, excessive anxiety belies a lack of true faith. Of course there are going to be things that we have to make provision for and these can sometimes be threatening or daunting, but worry saps faith and leaves us in a paralysed state.

At the heart of Jesus’ Plan B is the fact that when God created us, through the agency of our parents, he did not stop being concerned about us. God’s care for each one of us is eternal. In fact, if God were to stop thinking about us for a single second then we would cease to exist. God the Creator keeps creating day after day. Every morning God continues to sustain us and offer us the gift of life. Jesus puts it beautifully when he says that God provides seed for the birds, grass for the fields, flowers for the hedgerows, and if he does that for flowers, grass and birds how much more will he care for the pinnacle of his creation: men and women?

 We can’t add a single day to our lives by worrying about what we’re going to eat and drink or what we’re going to wear. Christians are not preserved from the obvious need to make provision for the future but we are able to live in the secure knowledge that God has not made us to be mere playthings which will eventually be abandoned.

God is not preparing us for oblivion but for everlasting happiness with him. Our faith in God demands trust, trust in a loving God who holds us in the palm of his hand and who will never renege on the promises he has made to us in Christ. There is nothing that can ever happen to us that he will allow to crush us and he will never withdraw his fatherly concern.

Plan B isn’t to forget about the future or not to make sensible provision. Plan B is to thank God just for being our God and for having us as his sons and daughters, and to have that trust in God that makes us know that whatever the future may hold we will never be separated from him. So what’s the use of worrying about tomorrow?

 The day after tomorrow, tomorrow will be yesterday.

 

GET YOUR OWN BACK?

FAITH IN FOCUS: GET YOUR OWN BACK?

 One of the most misquoted phrases from the bible is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. People use it to justify revenge. They think that it means you can get your own back on those who do wrong to you.

What they don’t understand is that this phrase in the Old Testament was used to ensure that people did not retaliate wildly against each other. It was intended to set the limits, to stop people looking for a payback that was out of proportion to the offence. So if someone cheats you out of your car, you shouldn’t try and have their home taken away from them. If someone defrauds you of a thousand pounds you shouldn’t try and sue them for a million. Our response should be proportionate. This is not a response favoured by the “no-win-no-fee” lawyers!

Christianity invites us always to be more generous in our response than we need to be. A Roman soldier could demand by law that a Jew must carry his load for approximately one mile. Carry it two, says Jesus. You must forgive your enemies, says the law. Don’t just forgive them, says Jesus: love them and pray for them.

 Of course, Christians are mocked for following this teaching of Jesus. It doesn’t rank among the streetwise skills. In fact it runs contrary to a society that prizes assertion, aggressiveness and getting a “piece of the action”. But there’s one obvious ingredient missing from the commonly agreed way of behaving: God.

When it comes to loving your enemies, the idea that Christianity is simply nothing more than good manners breaks down. For the teaching of Jesus is not only revolutionary but also subversive.  

It challenges society’s commonly accepted ideas about how we should deal with those who break the law, those who threaten our security or those who offer us the chance of making a fortune at the expense of others. This is because if we model ourselves on God then we are signing up to values that put others first, especially the weak and vulnerable. And if God, who created us in his own image of goodness and holiness, chooses not to obliterate us when we deface his image in our world, then how can we possibly claim vengeance for the paltry complaints that we have against others?

 Anyone can love those who are good to them. It takes a special kind of person to be able to love their enemies. And it’s the minimum requirement for a Christian.

SURFACE RELIGION

FAITH IN FOCUS: SURFACE RELIGION

 In our society, if you don’t break the law then no one can touch you. You can’t be imprisoned, fined or given some other punishment. That’s because you’ve done nothing wrong. So you won’t get a criminal record. But neither will you get a public medal of honour. You have to do something worthwhile to be awarded an honour. Simply obeying the law doesn’t make you a good citizen.

Similarly with our religion, it’s not enough to keep the rules. We have to have that something extra; we have to have a loving relationship with God, a relationship that shows itself in the way we live our lives.

In today’s gospel Jesus criticises the religious leaders for doing just enough to comply with the religious law while their hearts are in a different place. Minimalism is not the same as virtue. And so he points out that a “how far can I go?” mentality is unacceptable to God. I may not kill someone but if I harbour anger against them then I am guilty of sin. I may not commit adultery but if I lust after someone then I’ve already shown that I’m trying to bend the rules. And how can we approach God in worship when we are at odds with others at home or in the community? It’s simply hypocrisy, says Jesus.

How alive is my faith? Do I give my all or do I simply keep the rules? Is coming to church on a Sunday the sum total of my contribution to the local Christian community? Do I rather resent the rules and regulations that my faith places upon me? Do I think that they put me at a disadvantage compared with friends who have no faith or do I see them as a God-given way of getting the most out of life? Do I see God’s law as restrictive or as life-enhancing?

Does it kerb my liberty or is it a charter for human freedom? Christians believe that God’s law brings life whereas acting contrary to it only results in a destructive existence. Today’s scripture is even blunter; it tells us that we have a choice between life and death: choosing to ignore the wisdom of God means opting for a pattern of life that is ultimately unfulfilling and life-depriving.

 Today Ecclesiasticus (a preacher) reminds us that, if we wish, we can keep God’s commandments for it is within our power to do so. You have life and death before you, he says, and whichever you like better, will be given to you.

 Life and death on both sides of the grave. That’s quite a choice!

 

PASS THE SALT!

FAITH IN FOCUS: PASS THE SALT!

In Jesus’ day salt was very precious. Some people were even paid in it; (our word ‘salary’ is from the word for salt-payment.) since there were no fridges or freezers people used it to preserve food as well as to flavour it. In fact there is even today an Arabic expression of friendship that says, ‘there’s salt between us.’

The obvious thing about salt is that it pervades everything it comes into contact with. You can’t just have part of your soup that is salty. The whole gets transformed. And today Jesus tells his disciples that they are the salt of the earth; they are to bring flavour and taste to the earth, to all the people and situation they find themselves in.

So often Christians appear as killjoys whose message is one of a life of deprivation and self denial that would appeal to no normal persons. Yet Jesus is saying that our joy is to bring good news to a society that is becoming increasingly fearful and feeling under threat. The message of the gospel is one that is intended to add the flavour to life, to give life some seasoning, to leave a nice taste in the mouth. And we are call to be that salt.

 He also call us the light of the world. The Jews he was speaking to had no electricity. They used oil wicks. Without matches it took an age to light these lamps and so, for safety reasons, when people went out of their homes for a while, they put the lamp under a container where it could burn without danger of catching fire. As soon as they came back in they took it from under the pot and put it on a stand.

 As our world comes under the grip of real or imagined terrorist threats, as conflicts break out here and there and as once more we hear of countries suffering famine and disaster, where can we look to shed some light on the situation?

The only true source of light is God since there is no darkness in God. Jesus today tell us that we are to be the light of the world. By living his life, by witnessing to him, to the power his gospel has to transform, we reflect not our own light but God’

 You are the salt of the earth but what happens if the salt loses its flavour? You are the light of the world, but what happens if the light grows dim?

Pass the salt!