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faith

Ordinary 23


Weekly Bible Study Notes and Worship Resources for Ordinary 23

Year C, Colour = Green

image of cross, disciples carry crosses Introduction

Over the past two thousand years there have been times and places where being a Christians brought pain and suffering. The earliest disciples suffered terribly and many were martyred for their faith. Obedience to Christ meant certain death for so many of the earliest converts. Things changed when Constantine the Roman Emperor became a Christian about 312. Over the coming years the tide turned and people became Christians because they knew that was the way to gain status and material wealth.

Today you may or may not suffer persecution for your faith, it will depend upon where in the world you live. However one thing is clear, Jesus calls us all to obedience and following Jesus is something which we should do knowing that we might be challenged to take on things which we would rather avoid.

This is the teaching which Jesus gives in the passage we read this week from Luke's Gospel.  He tells his followers that they must put everything aside and be single-minded if they wish to follow him.

Opening Verse of Scripture  Philippians Chapter 1:21

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
 

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit upon your Church in the burning fire of your love: grant that your people may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel that, always abiding in you, they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Common Worship

Lord God, defend your Church from all false teaching and give to your people knowledge of your truth, that we may enjoy eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Common Worship

Almighty God, whose only Son has opened for us a new and living way into your presence: give us pure hearts and steadfast wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ you Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. Common Worship

Merciful God, you Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross, may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen. Common Worship Shorter Collect

O God, you bear your people ever on your heart and mind. Watch over us in your protecting love, that, strengthened by your grace and led by your Spirit, we may not miss your way for us but enter into your glory, made ready for all in Christ our Lord.Amen. Methodist Worship

Go before us, Lord, in all that we do, with your most gracious favour, and guide us with your continual help, that in all our works, begun, continued and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name, and finally by your mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading  Jeremiah Chapter 18:1-11

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. "Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, `This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.' 

Alternate Reading Deuteronomy 30:15

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Second Reading Philemon 1:21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul--an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus-- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favour you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good-- no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Carry the cross St Mary's cathedral AberdeenGospel Reading Luke 14:25-33

Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'
"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Post Communion Prayer

Lord God, the source of truth and love, keep us faithful to the apostles teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of the bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy; and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall, keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Commentary

On the noticeboard outside a church a minister took off his name and put ‘everybody.’ Now that doesn’t help when you want to arrange a wedding, but the point which was being made was that the ministers are not just the ones with dog collars, everybody is involved. In our baptism we are called ‘soldiers’ and ‘servants’ of Christ. Jesus in the passage from Luke today is trying to make this important point.

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple

There is something lost in the translation when we read the word hate, 'loves less' would be better than 'hate' but nevertheless we are used to Jesus using strong language to make forceful points. Jesus uses hyperbole to express literal truth, and he says things such as ‘if a part
of your body cause you to sin then cut it off’. We know he wouldn't want people to go around self harming but he did want his words to have effect when serious points were being made about the need for authentic Christian living. Using dramatic language for effect was a tool of his trade.
The word hate teaches us that we have to be wholehearted as Christians.

When an over zealous follower promised to follow Jesus wherever he went, Jesus made it clear that he had no idea what he was saying. Jesus warned another follower about going off to a family funeral. The disciples who let Jesus down so badly could at least say that they had understood this level of commitment by telling Jesus ’ Lord, we have left all to follow you.’ Remember Andrew, Peter, James and John, who when they were called left the family business, or Matthew who had a good job at the tax office and ‘got up and left everything to follow him.’

There is a very important point which Jesus is making. Where you are born, where you come from, your family, your background, your occupation, these things do not define you. What defines you is your place before God. So Jesus wants his disciples to be committed in their faith. When the Bible uses words like ‘soldier’ to describe the Christian, or ‘athlete’, then the message which is being made is that Christianity is not a spectator sport. You are meant to be involved a participant, committed not complacent.

Jesus was disturbed by the number of people who followed him and yet he wasn't into the numbers game, he almost tried to put them off ! Jesus told the parable of a man who built a house but he never calculated properly what was involved and he ran out of money and materials. He made a fool, of himself because he started something which he couldn't finish. Jesus wanted a whole life of commitment, not a half hearted, partial commitment.
The symbols of the Christian faith are a cross, the bread broken for us, the blood poured out for us.
The commitment of Jesus was absolute and he calls the follower to dedication. The follower must therefore ask themselves whether they have the stomach for such a commitment.

We are conditioned to think that sacrifice is a bad thing but actually it is not. Some of the greatest
achievements require huge sacrifices. We all know about the commitment made by our Olympic GB team who told of years of brutal training before they achieved a medal. We all know parents who make huge sacrifices so that their children can have good education or to provide a home and the best start in life. Students sometimes have to go through years of hard study before they can become qualified in their profession. Sacrifices might not be easy or even enjoyable but they do give our lives purpose and can be very rewarding in a way that our instant gratification, immediate access culture sometimes fails to provide.

In the same way Jesus is not asking for toil and tribulation without reason. Rather Jesus is holding out the promise of huge reward and abundant life giving fulfilment, but only for those who are willing to give themselves into the commitment required.

This honesty from Jesus is very refreshing in a world where people make huge promises and we are so often sold something on the cheap. All around we are told that we only have to do this, or buy that and our lives will be fulfilled. We are promised that if only we vote a certain way, or join a particular group or programme that our lives and even the world can be transformed. Jesus tells us that we must not start what we cannot finish, his journey is to Jerusalem and that means death.

Schools are being criticised in their Ofsted reports recently. They might be OK schools but they are not doing as well as they could and should be doing and so they are said to be 'coasting.' Jesus is making the same kind of judgement on his followers and telling them that it is no good just thinking that we are OK. He calls us to a living daily commitment but promises that earthly pain brings heavenly gain. Charles Royden

 

Meditation


A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments. Thus we forget that “time is greater than space”, that we are always more effective when we generate processes rather than holding on to positions of power. True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building. (178) Laudato Si,  Pope Francis

Jesus calls his disciples to choose the right path but this was not an easy choice then and neither is it today. Our leaders are surrounded by voters who are fickle and want them to speak what they want hear. Our newspapers sell when they headline with disgusting intrusions into people’s lives not when they accurately report important news. When businesses charge what is needed to properly reward labour, not exploit the planet and ethically source materials we buy cheap goods from dubious sources. If we commit ourselves to being people who do the right thing then we will enjoy the benefits individually and as a society and we will walk God’s pathway in our daily lives, but if we fail to do this then there is also a cost for us and for our world.

Hymns

  1. Tell his praise in song and story, Tune Abbots Leigh
  2. Who would true valour see
  3. Jesus, we have heard your Spirit Tune Ode to Joy
  4. I know not why God's wondrous grace
  5. I'll go in the strength of the Lord
  6. All my hope on God is founded.
  7. Give thanks with a grateful heart.
  8. As water to the thirsty.
  9. All praise to our redeeming Lord.
  10. Filled with the Spirit’s power with one accord.

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

Holy Shaper of hearts and minds, as Jeremiah came to know you in the work of the potter’s hands, teach us your ways in the reading of your word. Lead us into a deeper understanding of your ways, that we may know and do your will. Amen.

God of our lives, you search us and know us. W have refused to take up your cross, to bear the burdens that are ours to carry. We have not given up our attachments to possessions or to self. We have not counted the cost of walking into an unknown future with you. Help us turn away from evil, that we may walk with you once more.

God of power and justice, like Jeremiah you weep over those who wander from you, turn aside to other gods, and enter into chaos and destruction. By your tears and through your mercy,
teach us your ways and write them on our hearts so that we may follow faithfully the path you show us. Amen.

Creator God, you form us on the wheel of life as a potter molds the clay. Shape us into holy vessels, bearing the mark of your wise crafting, that we may remain strong and useful through years of faithful and obedient service in Christ's name. Amen.

 

Additional Resources

Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 139 :2

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Collect Prayer for the Day - Before we read we pray

Almighty God, who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer

God our creator, you feed your children with the manna, the living bread from heaven: let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage until we come to that place where hunger and thirst are no more; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Meditation

Perpetua and Felictas, sainst and martyrsSt. Perpetua and Felicitas

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus speaks of being willing to take up the cross. The point that he was making was that following him could be costly, those who chose to do would encounter stiff opposition and they needed to be prepared to lose everything even their lives. The only apostle whose death the Bible records is James (Acts 12:2). King Herod had James “put to death with the sword,” likely a reference to beheading. The circumstances of the deaths of the other apostles are only related through church traditions. The most commonly accepted church tradition in regard to the death of an apostle is that the apostle Peter was crucified upside-down on an x-shaped cross in Rome. However we do have many accounts of the deaths of Christian martyrs, those who were prepared to die for their faith and many who literally took up thier own cross.

St. Perpetua was a noble woman of Carthage and St. Felicitas her slave in the year 203. The two women were arrested for confessing Christianity and refusing to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods. At the time, the Emperor Severus was persecuting Christians. Felicitas was pregnant at the time of her arrest and gave birth only three days before her executing. Both were beheaded by a gladiator after being gored by a bull in a public arena in the North Attain city which is today’s Tunis. Moments before they were killed, the two pleaded with fellow Christians to cling to the faith and for others to adopt the faith and accept suffering as the price of salvation. It is said St. Perpetua had to guide the sword of the gladiator to her throat because he was nervous and could not strike in the right place.

 

Commentary

The sayings of Jesus are difficult enough without having to contend with the differences in time and culture. Today is one of those occasions where the teaching of Jesus is challenging and we also have some cultural differences to make sense of. Even those with a modest appreciation of the teaching of Jesus will be aware that he was not the sort of teacher to instruct his followers to hate anybody, and to encourage hatred of your own family would be unthinkable. So what did he really mean?

This week I saw a film from Syria, recorded probably on a mobile phone. It showed a scene in which some Sunni militia had stopped lorries being driven by civilian Alawites. They are all Muslim but from very different sects. When questioned the lorry drivers pretended to be Sunni as well. The militia waved their guns and asked questions about their religious behaviour, such as how many times they prayed in the morning. The Alawites never gave the correct answers and their lack of knowledge betrayed them. They were made to kneel and then shot, their crime to be from the wrong tribe, the wrong family. Put into this context we can begin to see how strong the ties of family and tribe would have been and still are in the Mediterranean world where Jesus taught. The family gave the person their identity and before anybody thought about turning to follow Jesus they would need to understand the consequences which discipleship would bring. This is really difficult and people needed to understand what they were doing before jumping in feet first to follow Jesus. Were they willing to risk rejection and perhaps death as the consequence of following Jesus? If all of this sounds dramatic then we need only think of the hatred and bitterness which divide countries such as Syria, where even those who share basic principles of faith have hugely differing loyalties. Jesus often used hyperbole, he spoke in extremes to get his point across, telling people to chop off parts of their body that caused them to sin might be an example. Sometimes we explain that this is what Jesus is doing here and really a better translation might be ’love less than me’ rather than hate. However there is real cost to discipleship and turning to Jesus would often mean that blood ties were broken, the person would be cut off from their family.

Jesus doesn’t want half hearted followers, but neither does he want people to follow him who are unprepared for the journey. Someone said to Jesus "I will be your follower wherever you go" (9:57). They were clearly full of enthusiasm but Jesus pours cold water on their excitement with a stark reminder, "the foxes have lairs, the birds of the sky have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (9:58). The costs of discipleship might mean detachment from one’s previous world and way of living, it might mean hardship, loss of home and family and ultimately a cross.

The warning of Jesus are clear, 1. Anyone who puts close relationships before Jesus is "not able to be" his disciple. 2. Anyone who does not bear their cross is "not able." 3. Anyone who does not forsake "all that he has" is "not able." All of this sounds fairly depressing but there is a positive side ! Jesus is clear that where one comes from lies firmly in the past, we are not victims of the past and it no longer defines who we are. Where we are born, our class, who our daddy is, none of this is of any importance to Jesus. This is in the past and when a follower turns to Jesus it is like they are born again, into a new family. Charles Royden

Commentary

I suppose I have to admit that when looking at the Bible readings Sunday by Sunday and deciding which passage to preach about, I usually go for the Gospel reading. It seems so much more appropriate to go straight for the teachings of Jesus, why bother with somebody like Paul when you can go direct to the words of the one we believe was God's presence here on earth. Surely it is for this reason that we stand for the Gospel reading at our services of Holy Communion, for we are about to hear as directly as possible the authentic words of God to us from the mouth of Jesus. Yet when looking at the passage today it might be easier to avoid the Gospel reading. How can Jesus tell us that we must hate our families if we wish to be real disciples? What does he really mean?

We know that Jesus was a fine preacher, every where he went people followed him, he was a celebrity, and in an age without television and our media, he used the platforms which were available to him to get his message across, particularly public speaking. He would sit in boats and on mountains to address crowds, he would perform miracles to attract attention and get his message across. We know that he also used powerful preaching images and hyperbole or exageration ! For example, he said that if parts of our body caused us to sin we should cut them off. Jesus really didn't, I am sure, want people who told lies to cut their tongues out, but the point was made very clearly that he was seeking disciples who took the whole thing seriously. Jesus attracted thousands of people to come and hear him but he wasn't in the numbers game. He wanted a certain quality of disciple, he did not want a huge quantity of hangers on who wanted to be associated with his celebrity, or who were in for what they could get out.

Jesus frequently impressed upon his followers that whilst it might seem exciting to be one of his disciples, making that decision was not an easy choice. Anybody who followed Jesus because they thought that
it was a passport to success was in for a shock. If a person chose discipleship it would not mean increased wealth, Jesus made this point by telling some folks to give all they had away. Jesus lived a lifestyle that was meant to make the point, he had no wealth or possessions to speak of, he had no home of his own. Jesus was on a mission, it was a collision course with government, church, all the structures of authority and he had to be sure that those who followed him had deeply considered the consequences and knew it was not going to be an easy ride.

His disciples would be engaged in a revolution of power and a call for an uprising against all of the spiritual values which most people believed had been given directly by God to a chosen people. Jesus knew that this would be a bloody and bitter conflict and he did not want his followers to be so attracted by him that they failed to understand the torment which lay ahead. The path which Jesus had chosen was not dangerous, if we speak of something being dangerous then there is the expectation that we might survive.

Jesus had not chosen to walk a dangerous path, rather he had chosen to walk into death itself. The way ahead led into true life, but this would only take place through encountering the dark forces which opposed him, there would be no way out. How could he make this message to his followers more clear than by telling them that they must take up their cross. The cross was an instrument of death, this was the structure upon which executions took place. Jesus knew that if anybody followed him they were effectively giving up their lives. His words to his followers were therefore carefully chosen, nobody should follow who needed to look after children, family or parents. Once they had signed up to follow Jesus, his followers must look resolutely towards Jerusalem where an almighty battle with the forces of power would lead to imprisonment and crucifixion. This was a suicide mission, not in the cruel sense of giving your life to take the lives of others, rather as a martyr, willing to lay down one’s own life in commitment to the cause.

The message today is not about whether we have to hate our mothers, we know for a fact that one of the things which Jesus did on the cross was to demonstrate his love for his own mother. Rather the message is about making sure that we take seriously what discipleship involves. This is the purpose of the parables which Jesus tells. Before he starts to build, a builder must work out how much the finished building will cost, and can it be afforded. Any builder who starts laying bricks without working out the finished building might be severely embarrassed if they don't have the means to get the project finished. The worst thing about it is that the half finished structure will be there as a constant reminder, a monument of his stupidity in starting something which he hadn't thought about properly.
The other parable told is the story of a king who goes to war, but doesn't think about how the war will end. Why would you go to war against an enemy unless you could be sure that there was a way of eventually bringing about a successful conclusion? Today we would say it was stupid to go to war unless you had a realistic expectation of peace and an exit strategy. If we do not have these things then we risk being accused of having other motives, or the suggestion that we just got angry and lashed out without considering the final consequences. The message is clear a sensible leader if they knew that the objectives could not be settled by military means, would embark more sensibly upon a process of negotiation.

So if we want to be followers of Jesus, if we want to start a journey of discipleship, then be realistic about what it entails. It is not about finding peace, it is not about being spiritually fulfilled, it is not about receiving blessings from God. Followers of Jesus will be expected to challenge wrongs, to work for justice and put the needs of others before themselves. God’s way is difficult and costly and following this way of discipleship may lead us on a journey which might be demand much from us. Charles Royden

 

Commentary

Hate my family? Does Jesus really expect his followers to hate those they love the most?  Clearly none of us is going to go home and start hating our family for no reason. We might read the words of Jesus and say that they are not meant to be taken literally, after all Jesus does sometimes use really strong words to make a point. He once said to chop bits off our body that cause us to sin, he never meant that literally either. But be careful. All of the above might be true, but the fact is that Jesus wanted to make a really serious point, that was why he used strong words to shock and bring attention to certain parts of his message. There is a powerful message here today which Jesus is making and we need to take it equally seriously. 

I remember in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s it was hard being a Liverpool supporter. Liverpool endured seven years in which they never won a cup. Things got better of course, they won the UEFA Cup in 1972/73, followed by the FA Cup again in 1973/74. But during those dark days only the true supporters stood by their team. The weaker and less committed fans fell by the wayside and some even turned to follow the false promises of team like Everton. Strange but true.

We know with the benefit of hindsight that when Jesus spoke these words he was on his way to Jerusalem and certain death. But equally we also know that nobody expected him to go through with such a suicidal mission. The moral of this story is simple. People like winners and they like to back the favourite, hoping to be able to bask in reflected glory. The disciples and those who followed him saw miracles and a man who appeared in control. Jesus could argue his point with the finest religious minds and he was not afraid of anything or anyone visible or invisible. It must have been tempting to tag along with Jesus knowing that he was a real winner, the favourite.

Jesus will have none of this easy going, pick a winner discipleship. He is on his way to Jerusalem and a cross, not the crown which the crowd thinks he will achieve. They consider Jesus a "winner," and follow him so that they  might win too. Jesus teaches them that discipleship carries a high price tag.  Those who aspire to follow Jesus need to count the cost before signing on the dotted line. Jesus demands commitment, an unpopular word these days. As we read the passage from Luke this morning we are challenged to be disciples who are willing to walk with him through good times and bad. Jesus never tries to disguise the cost of discipleship, God demands first place in our lives and those with real commitment are willing to pay the price. Charles Royden

Commentary

The letter in the New Testament, entitled ‘Philemon’ was written by Paul, whilst in prison in Rome in about AD 60 – 62, to his good friend Philemon and his friends who met as a church in Philemon’s home. It is one of Paul’s shortest letters recorded in the Bible, being just one chapter and only twenty five verses. None the less there is much depth in this letter, as there is in all of Paul’s letters. As has been said in the past, in many ways we learn as much about what it is to be a Christian from Paul’s letters as we do from what is recorded of Jesus’ words and actions.

Philemon, we can assume, was converted to Christianity by Paul and has become a fellow worker with Paul and others for Christ. Through this conversion they have developed a deep and loving relationship based on their common bond in Christ. It is because of their close bond that Paul can write as he does to Philemon pleading with him to give Onesimus a warm welcome when Paul sends Onesimus back to him.

Onesimus, whose name means useful or profitable, appears to have stolen something from Philemon when he was his slave and then escaped from slavery and turned to Christ. Not surprising then that Paul, who has a big favour to ask, is very careful how he words his letter to his friend. How would we respond if we were asked to accept someone back into our household who had stolen from us? Paul begins by emphasising how pleased he is with Philemon’s life of faith and what joy that has brought Paul. He then makes his appeal ‘confident of Philemon’s obedience’ (v 21). Confident of his obedience, not to Paul, but to God.

Paul himself is acting out of obedience to God in returning Onesimus to Philemon. He would much rather keep Onesimus with him as he regards him as a son and to help him while he is in prison. It was a wrench that he was prepared to bear for the sake of the Gospel. Onesimus, who Philemon might regard as a useless slave, will become useful to him not as a slave but as a ‘brother in the Lord’. Through entreating his friend, rather than ordering him, to accept Onesimus back Paul reflects how God calls us to obedience to his wishes.

Paul makes no judgement here on the practise of slavery, the ending of which is being commemorated this year. Rather he demonstrates what a transformation from slave to fellow worker there can be if all those concerned are in a loving relationship with our Lord from which flows a desire to act as he would have us act. Perhaps though this letter might just nudge us to reflect on how we treat today’s ‘slave’s’; workers abroad who are paid a pittance, child workers, those entrapped by poverty and exploitation into prostitution, and even women and children locked up on our doorstep in Yarlswood.  Wendy Waters

Commentary

Whilst preachers concern themselves with love and 'holiness' they are seldom likely to offend. However when they start to work out the implication of what this means in terms of daily living there is going to be a riot. Jesus was prepared to speak his mind about what real love for God and holiness entailed and there are unpleasant side effects. The charismatic Jesus is now prepared to say that the consequences of following him were going to be sacrifices of friendships and yes, even families. The passage today is one of those really difficult ones, harsh in its radical edge. Following Jesus demanded people who were out of the ordinary, it was not a 'soft option,' it was hard work.

In the passage today there are difficult words for everybody 'if you don't hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters yes, even life itself you can't be my disciple.' The word hate doesn't sound right on the lips of Jesus, indeed it is contrary to the teaching of Jesus himself to love. It offends against the values which most people hold dear. Worse than that, it offends against the love commandment by enjoining hate. What was Jesus up to? It is shocking and doubtless intended to be shocking. So why does Jesus use words which are such dynamite? What could possibly justify, or require, such a blast? Clearly the assumption is that the object to be dislodged will take some moving. That object is family power. Families can imprison people from the very womb, instead of being safe places to grow and develop and realise our full potential, the family can just as easily become a cage a prison of power and control. Families can pass on to us the deepest prejudices and distorted ideas about ourselves and others, it takes a great deal of intellectual strength to challenge those assumptions which have been passed on from one generation to another in the sacred institution. It is sometimes assumed that Christianity automatically considers families to be marvellous, Jesus makes it clear that they are not. Families are not sacred or necessarily safe, they can do great damage and we must be aware and question all of the influences which affect us. Alternatively, but equally dangerous, the family can also be a comfortable escape, a secure place in which to turn aside from one's potential and the world's challenge.

So Jesus uses harsh words like 'hate,' and we find it hard to listen. What are we to make of it? When Jesus said that we must cut parts of our body off if they have cause to offend, he was not speaking literally. He was using language to make a very clear point. So too in this episode we will miss the point if we think too long about hating our families. But such shocking rhetoric recognises that families can devour us like wolves. Jesus understands that families can constrict growth, become oppressive demons, and bring death rather than life. According to Mark, Jesus' own (family) thought he was mad and sought in their terms to rescue him (3:20-21, 31-35). They would have been much happier if he had built his dreams on being a clever carpenter 'Jesus the Joiner,' he was speaking form personal experience.

This is not a call to fanaticism akin to that seen in groups which attract young people away from their families, but there is a challenge for each of us to be prepared to stand up for our faith and Christian principles, to be counted and face the consequences. There may be times this week when we have to do just that, even with our own families . Charles Royden

Meditation

Becoming a Christian requires repentance, a word that in the Greek means more than sorrow for sin; the picture is a soldier doing an about-face – turning to face a new direction. Jesus makes it clear that becoming a Christian means a turning toward God and a turning away from concern for possessions.

Meditation

Poverty, Chastity, Obedience, these are the vows that many called to a way of life that might commonly be called ‘holy orders’ are required to take. Today that calling may range from living in an enclosed community to living in and serving the wider community, but nevertheless those ‘called’ always live by a ‘rule’ usually requiring them to take on these three commitments. For many the call to obedience might be the most challenging. Not surprising when there is so much emphasis in society on the rights of the individual. ‘My will not yours’ is more commonly expressed in words and deeds than perhaps those of Jesus’ ‘Your will not mine’. Only a slight change in word order brings about a massive change in ‘world order’.

As children begin to explore their own identity they begin to express their will by screaming and refusing to do as they are told by those responsible for them. This is often referred to as ‘the terrible two’s’. As they grow and develop through the different ages and stages of life young people will find other ways to express ‘their will', including through clothing, hairstyles, music and perhaps body piercing. Through these stages they too may struggle with being obedient. How the adults responsible for them respond to this resistance will greatly influence how they eventually develop and mature as adults.

Learning to be obedient is common to us all whether we are children, young people, adults, Christians in the community or those in ‘holy orders’. What may not be common is what we think obedience means. The Latin derivation of the word’ obedience’ suggests that to equate it with slavish submission or the misuse of power is a mistake. It is not about compliance, power wielded by one over another. Neither can it be assumed to be automatic. Rather it is rooted in listening, an act which is rooted in listening, can only take place in a relationship. It is as we grow into a deeper relationship with our loving God and listen to Him that we will learn that true obedience free us not enslaves us.   Wendy Waters
 

Prayer

Glory to you, O Champion of all Loves, who for our sake endured the cross, encountered the enemy and tasted death. Glory be to you, O King of all Kings, who for our salvation wrestled with principalities and powers, subdued the forces of hell and won the greatest of all victories. To you be all praise, all glory and all love; now and for ever. Amen. Thomas Ken, 1637-1711

Father, all loving and most tender, we confess the hardness of our hearts and our want of compassion for our neighbour. Grant us the grace of pity, the ministry of compassion and the gift of consoling the broken-hearted. Teach us to love with your own forbearance and never harshly or unlovingly to judge another; for your own mercies' sake. Amen Johann Arndt, 1555-1621

O most gracious Redeemer and King, come and dwell within us and reign where you have the right to reign. By your Holy Spirit take possession of our souls and lead us in the ways of righteousness and peace; through Christ our Lord. Amen John of Kronstadt, 1829-1908

Lord God you came as a neighbour to humankind in Jesus. Give us eyes to see you in other people and make us instruments of your care to all., that everyone may become true neighbours in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, whose glory the heavens are telling, the earth your power, the sea your might, and whose greatness all the hosts of heaven proclaim; to you belongs all glory, honour, majesty and praise; both now and for ever, and to the ages of ages Amen. Liturgy of James, 5th century

Living God, inform and inspire the way we look at your world, that we may see strangers and notice in them the potential for friendship; that we may see people of faith, observing how we can work together; that we may see fellow Christians, and with them reveal the marks of service; that we may see ourselves, with all our imperfections, as loved by you; that, looking to Christ, we may see with the eyes of his love. Amen. Heather Noel-Smith.

To my weariness, O Lord, grant your rest; to my exhaustion, your strength and to my tired eyes, your healing light. Guide me, guard me and shelter me within the shadow of your wings and quicken me in your service with the brightness of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Lancelot Andrewes, 1555-1626

 

Hymns

  1. O worship the Lord
  2. If any man will follow
  3. Knowing you Jesus
  4. Will you come and follow me
  5. I cannot tell
  6. Lord the light of your love is shining
  7. O Jesus I have promised
  8. Abba Father
  9. I want to walk with Jesus Christ
  10. Lord of creation
  11. Tell out my soul (Tune Woodlands)
  12. This little light of mine
  13. Be still for the presence of the Lord
  14. The Lord is king lift up thy voice (Tune Church Triumphant)
  15. And can it be (Tune Sagina)
  16. Christ is surely coming (Tune Marching through Georgia)
  17. Tell his praise in song and story, Tune Abbots Leigh
  18. Who would true valour see
  19. Jesus, we have heard your Spirit Tune Ode to Joy
  20. I know not why God's wondrous grace
  21. I'll go in the strength of the Lord,

Sermon (The cost of discipleship)

Tell his praise in song and story,
bless the Lord with heart and voice;
in my God is all my glory,
come before him and rejoice.
Join to praise his Name together,
he who hears his people's cry;
tell his praise, come wind or weather,
shining faces lifted high.

To the Lord whose love has found them
cry the poor in their distress;
swift his angels camped around them
prove him sure to save and bless.
God it is who hears our crying
though the spark of faith be dim;
taste and see! beyond denying
blest are those who trust in him.

Taste and see! In faith draw near him,
trust the Lord with all your powers;
seek and serve him, love and fear him,
life and all its joys are ours:
true delight in holy living,
peace and plenty, length of days;
come, my children, with thanksgiving
bless the Lord in songs of praise.

In our need he walks beside us,
ears alert to every cry;
watchful eyes to guard and guide us,
love that whispers 'It is I.'
Good shall triumph, wrong be righted,
God has pledged his promised word;
so with ransomed saints united
join to praise our living Lord!
Tune Abbots Leigh

1 Who would true valour see,
let him come hither;
one here will constant be,
come wind, come weather;
there's no discouragement
shall make him once relent
his first avowed intent
to be a pilgrim.

2 Whoso beset him round
with dismal stories,
do but themselves confound;
his strength the more is,
No lion can him fright;
he'll with a giant fight,
but he will have a right
to be a pilgrim.

3 Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
can daunt his spirit;
he knows he at the end
shall life inherit.
Then, fancies, fly away;
he'll not fear what men say;
he'll labour night and day
to be a pilgrim.

1 Jesus, we have heard your Spirit
saying we belong to you,
showing us our need for mercy,
focusing our hopes anew;
you have won our hearts' devotion,
now we feel your guiding hand:
where you lead us, we will follow
on the paths your love has planned.

2 As a chosen, pilgrim people
we are learning day by day
what it means to be disciples,
to believe and to obey.
Word and table show your purpose;
hearts and lives we gladly bring-
where you lead us, we will follow,
suffering Saviour, risen King.

3 How we yearn that every people
should exalt your matchless name,
yet so often this world's systems
countermand your regal claim.
If we stand for truth and justice
we, like you, may suffer loss;
where you lead us, we will follow-
give us grace to bear our cross.

4 So we journey on together,
keen to make our calling sure:
through our joys, our fears, our crises,
may our faith be made mature.
Jesus, hope of hearts and nations,
sovereign Lord of time and space,
where you lead us, we will follow
till we see you face to face.
Tune Ode to Joy

1 I know not why God's wondrous grace
to me has been made known;
not why - unworthy as I am -
he claimed me for his own.

But 'I know whom I have believed;
and am persuaded that he is able
to keep that which I've committed
unto him against that day.'

2 I know not how this saving faith
to me he did impart;
nor how believing in his word
wrought peace within my heart.

3 I know not how the Spirit moves,
convincing men of Sin;
revealing Jesus through the word,
creating faith in him.

4 I know not what of good or ill
may be reserved for me -
of weary ways or golden days
before his face I see.

5 I know not when my Lord may come,
at night or noonday fair,
nor if I'll walk the vale with him,
or 'meet him in the air.'

 

1 I'll go in the strength of the Lord,
In paths he has marked for my feet;
I'll follow the light of his word,
Nor shrink from the dangers I meet.
His presence my steps shall attend,
His fulness my wants shall supply;
On him, till my journey shall end,
My unwavering faith shall rely.

I'll go (I'll go) I'll go in the strength.
I'll go in the strength of the Lord,
I'll go (I'll go) I'll go in the strength.
I'll go in the strength of the Lord.

2 I'll go in the strength of the Lord
To work he appoints me to do;
In joy which his smile doth afford
My soul shall her vigour renew.
His wisdom shall guard me from harm,
His power my sufficiency prove;
I'll trust his omnipotent arm,
And prove his unchangeable love.
Chorus

3 I'll go in the strength of the Lord
To conflicts which faith will require,
His grace as my shield and reward,
My courage and zeal shall inspire.
Since he gives the word of command,
To meet and encounter the foe,
With his sword of truth in my hand,
To suffer and triumph I'll go.