WHAT MAKES YOU TICK?

FAITH IN FOCUS: WHAT MAKES YOU TICK?

What makes a person tick? What is it that determines their lifestyle, their choices and their ultimate goals? What’s the treasure, the pearl of great value that they are searching for? For some people it’s about their status. They want to feel valued by their friends, to be respected in their local community and admired in their workplace. They will do anything to be one of the lads or one of the girls, will secretly long for public recognition such as an MBE or the employee of the year award.

Others seem to set their sights on money. In fact they end up feeling that because they have more money than others then they must be somehow better than them. Those who don’t have the money spend their time working to accumulate it or hoping that the lottery will one day bless them and admit them into the courts of the wealthy.

Living for pleasure and leisure gets to some people. A top of the range car, a cellar full of the finest vintage, a house in its own grounds with electronic security, a wardrobe stuffed with designer labels and a luxury yacht on which to take your annual cruise.

Skin deep is about as far as it goes for some people’s treasure. For them it’s all to do with outward appearances. Their prize possession is their gym pass, not for health reasons but so that they will look good to others. Lifts and tucks are the things of their dreams, and liposuction is their faithful friend.

All of these things come and go. If your reputation were ruined would it kill you? If you didn’t have a healthy bank balance would it mean you were a failure? If you were to live a simple uncomplicated lifestyle would it mean you were deprived? And if you had a face like a bag of spanners would it make you any less lovable?

Jesus told the crowds in today’s gospel that when you come across the kingdom of heaven on earth you’ll really know you’ve found it. You won’t be interested in all these other things because they will pale into significance compared with this pearl, and you’ll be prepared to give up everything to possess it.

If you found this pearl of great price, what would you have to sell to buy it?

IS GOD ASLEEP?

FAITH IN FOCUS: IS GOD ASLEEP?

People have wondered over the centuries how it is that we call God almighty and powerful, yet things happen in our world that he seems powerless to do anything about. Leaving aside sickness and disease, slavery, Hitler and Stalin, drugs crime etc., what about recent terrorist atrocities, political murders and continental famine?

If we were God we’d surely be out there in the thick of it, sorting things out and making sure some people got their just deserts for what they’ve been up to. But God doesn’t stir. It’s as if he’s asleep like the farmer in today’s gospel.

Philosophers say that God does not intervene because this would interrupt the laws of nature. Theologians say that God has given us total freedom to behave in any way we choose and this free will would be contradicted if God kept treating us like puppets or robots. What matters, they say, is that we should be prepared to accept ultimate responsibility for our actions both sides of the grave.

The writer of the Book of Wisdom gives us a clue. In the face of evil God watches from afar, but he always steps in to offer people the gift of repentance. In other words, God is hoping that even the most sinister (and that of course includes us) will seize the chance of mending their ways. God is mild in judgement and governs with lenience, Wisdom says, and even after sin he holds out the olive branch if only the sinner is prepared to repent.

God’s perspective is different from ours. The kingdom of God is still at the growing stage. God sees things over a lifetime and he judges in eternity’s seconds. He is not a God who nips in the bud, but one who is always prepared to wait until the eleventh hour – just in case.

 At times this may seem frustrating to us when we would like some sort of dramatic intervention as God stoops to give someone their comeuppance. But there again, when he allows us to make slow progress in the hope that one day we might repent, then we’re quite glad that he seems to be sleeping.

 

SPREAD THE WORD

FAITH IN FOCUS: SPREAD THE WORD

We all know the parable of the sower. A farmer sows seed on his land; it falls into four different types of soil and it produces anything from no crops at all to a field full of harvest. Usually we say that God is the sower, the seed is the word of God and we are the various types of soil.

But why should we bother to read or listen to the word of God? How can it help? Isn’t it just a collection of old books with limited value in the third millennium? And surely if we’re looking for advice on how to live life today then there are plenty of modern books in the library or the bookshops?

We put a premium on the bible not because it contains words about God but because it contains the words of God. In fact, it contains the word, the message of God. And scripture is the place that God has chosen to reveal himself. Using human beings as the writers of the bible’s books God inspires them with the Holy Spirit.

So Christians believe that the bible is not simply religious opinion or outlook; it is what has been revealed through close faith in God and it comes from a people living cheek by jowl with God. So scripture is not simply one source about God among many others; it is the privileged place from which God chooses to speak to us. To be ignorant of scripture is to be ignorant of God.

And why should we bother to sow the word? The call that God makes to us through his word is compelling. We freely choose to accept it but then we are impelled to tell others about it because it is the most important ingredient in our daily lives. God’s call infuses everything we do and cannot be kept as a sideline to be looked at like a stamp collection or played with like a model train set. It is the dynamo of our existence, what gives us hope and provides us with direction to our lives.

If Christians don’t read and study the word of God then they atrophy, they wither. If Christians don’t use every means to propagate the seed of the word then they fail to comply with the conditions of God’s call to go out and teach all nations. Today’s parable asks us to be both an assiduous farmer and good soil. Without these nothing will grow. Least of all us.

 

REST

FAITH IN FOCUS: REST

What sort of rest does Jesus offer today to those who are overburdened? It’s certainly not the type that involves putting your feet. Nor the sort that means lying on a beach, sitting back and sipping a cocktail.

The Greek word used in today’s gospel implies something more. It means respite or cessation. We’ve come to understand the concept of respite care for the terminally ill, both for the patient and for the family. It means break from the routine and a chance to get things in perspective from a distance. It’s about relief and recuperation and most of us yearn for this type of rest and respite.

Jesus promises us rest from worry. We worry about so many things, about our health, our family, our financial situation, our future….

Yet Jesus give us the chance to get it all into perspective. No amount of worrying can change anything at all, and the only thing that matters in life is knowing that we are held in the palm of God’s hand and that ultimately there is nothing that can destroy us.

Jesus promises rest from fear. Most of our fears are linked to what worries us, and the ultimate fear for human beings is that of death.  

The learned and the clever people of the world debate about the meaning of our existence, Jesus reveals the promise of eternal life to those who are childlike. Death has no sting, for Jesus has conquered it and offered fulness of life to those who believe in him.

 And Jesus promises us rest from guilt. Without faith we would carry round the great burden of our sin. We would never be able to escape from the haunting of our past actions that have hurt others and damaged ourselves. Yet the message of Jesus is that we are forgiven and set fee daily to live his new life.

 My burden is light and my yoke is easy says Jesus. That’s because he does most of the carrying and perhaps the eternal rest we crave for ourselves and our loved ones is nothing more than the eternal relief of knowing that God had made all this possible for us in Christ.

 

THE WELCOME MAT

FAITH IN FOCUS: THE WELCOME MAT

I once knew a woman who lived more than half a century of her life in a wheelchair. This meant that she got out and about much less than most people. But she knew more people than I did. Whenever you visited her home there was always someone there having a cup of tea with her and her husband. They came and told her about what was going on in their lives and chatted about what was worrying them.   Though untrained, she was better than any professional counsellor.

The reason people came was that she made them welcome, she listened to them and she responded in the only way she knew how: by making them want to come back.

When we’re dead and buried what mark will we leave on the world? In our pride we probably think that we might write the world’s best-selling book, invent some labour-saving gadget or discover the cure for some life-threatening disease. But the reality of course, will be somewhat different.

Most of our lives are not made up of headline events. Our days are calmer and much more about the ordinary comings and goings. Maybe that’s why many of the saints show us that the way to heaven is by striving to do the little things of life well. For it’s the little things that make the most difference.

If God sends us enough wood in life to build a stairway to heaven, then it’s going to be found in the unobtrusive way in which we deal with others, the way we welcome them, listen to them and show an interest in their concerns and try to be of service. The woman in our first reading today showed simple hospitality to a stranger and was rewarded for it.

 For the stranger turned out to be a man of God, Elisha, but she wasn’t to know. In reality God comes to us many times a day in the person of those who claim our time and attention. The way we deal with them says everything about us.

 Putting out the welcome mat is mere common decency. Even pagans do it. But Christians put it out because thy know that God is alive and well in or world and comes to visit us when we least expect.

As Jesus tells us, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me”.