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Sermon for Ordinary 23

Mrs Wendy Waters

9 September 2007 - Partnership

Deuteronomy 30: 15 – 20 Philemon: 1 – 21 Luke 14: 25 - 33

Thank you Lord for the gift of the Scriptures. As we reflect on the Bible, make us open to your wisdom, receptive to your will and courageous in our response.

A month ago I heard a journalist on Radio 4 News describing a ceremony in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, to celebrate 12 months until the Olympic Games begin in China. The journalist described the ceremony as perfect; he put it all down to the obedience of the well rehearsed participants but without any spontaneity. If, like me, you are disturbed about the Olympics being held in China due to their poor human rights record, the word ‘obedient’ may have sent a chill down your spine.

This is surely not the ‘obedience’ that God requires of us as referred to in our first reading in verse 17 from Deuteronomy today:

‘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’.

We are not required to walk in the same formation and strict paths, in fear of what might become of us if we don’t. God gave us free will and we each have varied routes and paths to follow. We are free to choose to love God or not. Yes there are consequences, but we have a choice. In today’s reading the analogy of that choice is between ‘life and death’. By choosing ‘life’ the Israelites are promised prosperity, by choosing death they are headed for destruction. I am not sure what would have happened to the Chinese in Tiananmen Square in this August’s celebration if they had ‘got out of line’. But we know that in China, and other places around the world, people who ‘get out of line’ by standing up to oppressive regimes who require ‘strict obedience’ without question to their laws, or who go about practising their Christian faith or who convert to Christianity are still to this day oppressed, tortured and murdered.

The God, who called the Israelites to obey him through the words He gave to Moses, as they were about to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, is a God of love. A God who desires the best for those who know Him and follow Him, a God who calls us to be in a close relationship with him. It is when we are in a close relationship with another human being that we know what they would like us to be and do, that they try to give us what is good for us, to provide us with our daily needs, to bring us contentment, joy and happiness. So it is with God.

In the summer Chris, my husband, and I were at a Summer Fayre in Kimbolton. After spending the morning together we went our separate ways for an hour or so, he to admire the many classic cars, me to be tempted by the Craft Show and then I watched the ‘dog show’ for a short while before the heavens opened and we all ran for cover. I watched the dogs that afternoon performing a wide range of ‘obedience’ based actions with admiration, slight concern, and amusement. Admiration that the dog’s obedience to their masters and mistresses enabled them to, at the correct time and in the correct sequence pass over and through a variety obstacles, that enabled them to jump over higher and higher barriers, and to retrieve different objects. Slight concern at the finale when a few jumped through hoops of fire. But the dog who caught my attention most and amused us all, was the one who did things in his own time and own way. He still did as he was told usually after all the others.

The common thread running through the commentary of the dog show and was very apparent to me , who is in no way an expert on dogs, was the delight the dogs had in pleasing, not just the spectators, but their owners. Probably it was the pleasure that they gave their master or mistress that was the driving force that made them so obedient. What was required of the dogs was to listen to their owner. What did the owners have to do to gain their dogs’ attention? Yes, give them clear instructions, but more than that they had to love them, treat them well and reward them. There was no sign of any physical pressure to get them to obey.
I believe this is more the model of obedience God, through Moses, offered the Israelites and offers us still today.

We personally might struggle with the statement in the first verse of the Deuteronomy reading:

‘Now what I am commanding you is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach’.

We might in deed find it difficult. After all there are a number of instances in the Bible of people finding it difficult to obey God and indeed gave excuses why they couldn’t. Moses himself told God he ‘could not speak in public’ (Exodus 14 10 -13), Jeremiah said he was ’too young’ (Jeremiah 1:6) and Jonah tried to avoid God’s command altogether by running away (Jonah 1:3). But as we know all three obeyed God in the end.

But if we still find ourselves saying ‘It was alright for them’ they did not have the temptations we have today. We have so many alternative ‘gods’ to follow that don’t require obedience. The ‘gods’ perhaps of money, possessions, the internet, or sadly for some alcohol and drug addiction. Or perhaps the more subtle ones, of power, status or selfishness. We need to look again to Jesus for the answers.

Jesus who tells us in our reading this morning, from Luke, that his disciples have to be prepared to give up everything in order to be his disciples. Jesus knew from a young age what he had to do to be obedient to His father. He rebuked his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, when they told him how anxious about him they had been when he stayed behind in the temple (Luke 2:48 – 52). He rebuked them because he was obeying His heavenly father. But following this it does say that Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph in Nazareth. The most powerful example that we can perhaps draw on for help to be obedient to our God of love is that of Jesus’ obedience as his earthly life draws to and end. Jesus, while being still being obedient to his Father’s will, in the same breath both pleads ‘take this cup from me’ and ’yet not my will, but yours be done’.
What is required of us to follow Jesus example of obedience is to be found is to be found in the final verse of this morning’s Deuteronomy reading;

‘Love the lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him’

Perhaps in deed this is not too tall an order for us. `Perhaps in deed it is within or reach. But we all need God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and the love and guidance of one another in order to overcome our difficulties along the way.