Our Christian faith helps set everything in our lives, and the life of our world, in a wider context
Peter Seal, 8 September 2019
Philemon 1–21; Luke 14: 25–33
A sermon in three parts: Brexit; today’s gospel challenge; and Building for Life.
Perhaps the greatest gift of our Christian faith is that it helps set everything about our lives, and the life of our world, in a wider context. We’re very much in need of this wider perspective.
Sermons preached here since the referendum, three years ago, have been careful not to cause any offence to the varying views we each hold. Today I seek to continue in that sensitive way. I’m prompted to say something about Brexit having read an editorial in this week’s edition of the Church publication, The Tablet.
It’s headed, ‘Brexit or No Brexit, the UK is part of Europe’. This might be even more clearly written, ‘Brexit or No Brexit, the UK is part of the continent of Europe’. The article recalls the events in Europe on 1 September 1939, 80 years ago, when Germany invaded Poland, and the beginning of the Second World War.
I quote: ‘It is obvious from that historical perspective why the EU came into existence. It was to prevent that deadly plague of horror ever happening again’.
The article continues, ‘No war between the nation states of Europe has broken out since 1945, and the continent has enjoyed a period of enduring peace and increasing prosperity unmatched in its entire history’.
The writer goes on, ‘The majority of younger people do not want to give up that liberating sense of being not just Britons but Europeans, of belonging, as of right, in Prague, Paris, Amsterdam or Rome; of fellow Europeans being part of an “us”, a neighbour, with whom they share citizenship, not a foreign “them” on the other side of a wall. (As Pope Francis has said, walls lead to wars.)’
A final quote: ‘The debate about Britain’s membership, even now, is conducted almost wholly in terms of economic gains and losses. The alternatives in the Westminster Brexit battle have become: leaving the EU with a deal, or leaving the EU with no deal. The distinction is almost trivial, compared with the infinitely more significant issues – to which Britain must return sooner or later.’
As we meet together each week, our Christian faith helps set everything in our lives, and the life of our world, in a wider context.
And so to our gospel reading. This is a tough one. Jesus is surrounded by people, very many people. We heard how ‘large crowds were travelling with Jesus’. Jesus speaks some extraordinary words to them: ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.’
These words send a chill down our spines. We ask, how can I possibly fulfil such expectations? In fact, why would I even want to take this approach? These words of the Lord jar; and badly. To adopt this sort of attitude seems to work against everything we feel to be good and beautiful and true.
Back to the crowds, that is, a very great many people. It may be that the Lord has reached a stage in his ministry when he needs to challenge these people to a bigger commitment. Maybe he wants to see which of them has, as it were, just a casual interest and curiosity in him and his work, and who is really serious. So he throws out a sharp challenge.
Many in the crowd might have said to themselves, ‘If that’s what following this Jesus is all about, I’m off. I’ll look for someone with a softer, less demanding, more comfortable message.’
One biblical commentator offers us insight and understanding: ‘To hate father and mother did not mean on the lips of Jesus what it conveys to the Western reader. The mind of the Jewish people then was comfortable only with extremes – light and darkness, truth and falsehood, love and hate – primary colours with no half shades of compromise in between. The contemporary way of saying “I prefer this to that” was “I like this and hate that”.’
And so to the parable of the tower-builder. This was not intended to deter folk then, or us now, from wanting to follow Jesus. Rather it’s a warning that becoming a disciple of Jesus is the most important enterprise anyone could undertake. It deserves at least as much consideration as we might give to politics or business. We heard, ‘Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?’
The parable’s a warning that becoming a disciple of Jesus is the most important enterprise anyone could undertake. It deserves at least as much consideration as we might give to politics or business.
This seems a good link to our Building for Life project. In recent months an enormous amount of hugely skilled, tireless, deeply faith-inspired work has been going on. This has been done on behalf of us all – a complex calculation of the cost, and of what we can afford. On Monday evening your PCC, having considered a very full and professional report, came to an important decision. They voted unanimously to sign a contract, at an affordable cost, enabling the project to go ahead. Plans are now moving fast, which they need to in order to meet complex grant conditions.
All this means that our celebration of Harvest, on 6 October, will be our last Sunday in St Paul’s as we currently know it. The following Sunday we will begin worshipping in Western Church School Hall.
I share with you many of the feelings this change brings. As someone said to me last Sunday, ‘I feel quite emotional about this’. Please may I try and be reassuring? Everything is going to be okay. We will look after each other.
The point we have reached is the culmination of at least ten years of really careful work and much consultation. Having considered all the factors, your PCC were very clear that now is the right time to go ahead.
In New Testament Greek there are two words for time. There’s chronos, from which we get ‘chronological’ – a way of measuring time: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries. And then there’s kairos, which has a slightly different sense. It means a season, a time in history, the right time, a time of opportunity. That, dear friends in Christ, is where we are. We have a God-given opportunity, which we must now grasp.
In conclusion, let’s continue to seek to put the themes of today in that bigger context with which I began. Perhaps the greatest gift of our Christian faith is that it helps set everything about our lives, and the life of our world, in a wider context.
In summary then, three things we need to go on praying for: Brexit and our ongoing place in the continent of Europe; then from our gospel reading, Jesus’ ongoing challenge to us as today’s disciples; and thirdly Building for Life and the extraordinary God-given new opportunities for mission and ministry that lie ahead.