The Best Offence Is…

I shall never forget the time Kate came back from school one day with a story regarding one of the ‘bullies’ in her class. She had found him in tears, and when she asked why, he answered most indignantly,

“He hit me back!”

It’s amazing how early that we learn this response to someone doing something to hurt us, or something that we perceive to be wrong. It is easy to do this, and may even be satisfying (am I wrong to smile smugly when people recklessly speed past me in their cars, only to see them a minute latter at the roadside having been hauled over by the police?

Trouble is, seeking retribution or revenge in this way only breeds further hatred and strife, it doesn’t really solve the problem. I loved a story I discovered on the BBC News website this week which promoted a radically different response. Stickers have started appearing around the Tower Hamlets (London) with an aggressively homophobic message, with messages along the lines of “Arise and warn. Gay free zone. Verily Allah is severe in punishment.” How have the local inhabitants responded to this? One group has said that they have had enough, they pride what has been an ‘all accepted’ attitude of their area, regardless of culture, class or sexuality. Rather than retaliating with anger – as would be all too easy to do – they have decided to respond in a subversively loving way. Meeting together at Shoreditch Town Hall, they walk around the nearby area, and whenever they discover a ‘gay free zone’ sticker they deface it, either by replacing ‘gay free zone’ with the word ‘love’ or by covering it with a poster saying ‘help yourself to love’, including tear-off quotes expressing messages of love and tolerance by various poets and authors.
One of the group, Wendy Richardson, explained their rationale,

“Rather than get angry with the people who did it, we decided to counter it with some love,” she said. “We’re a cross section of people; of all races and sexualities – gay, straight and bisexual – saying it’s just not appropriate. But we thought- you know what? We’re not going to hate you back. It sounds a bit wet, but takes a lot of courage. With all this bad news and negativity in the press, we thought it would be nice to see a sticker on the street that makes you smile.”

This group share a similar philosophy to that of Martin Luther King Jr. the anti racism campaigner, who once wrote,

‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ’

Of course these words echo the subversive words of Jesus himself,

‘But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’ Luke 6:26-27

Church newsletter article for Sunday 27th February 2011

Luke 24 – Experiencing the Risen Christ!

Notes from an All Age Easter Celebration Service, Easter Day 2009 (12.04.09)

When today’s passage was first written, it was a brand new story and that was the problem, which was why Luke had to stress that Jesus’ death and resurrection had always been intended.
• The women who went to the tomb were told by the angels that Jesus had promised them that he had to be crucified and would then rise again. (24:7)
• Stranger on Emmaus Road explained how the Moses and the Prophets explained what would happen to the Christ. (24:26-27)
• Jesus opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures – that the Christ would suffer and rise (24:44)

But Luke also knew that the time would come when it would no longer be a new story, but an old one. Now the story is two thousand years old. It’s all very well and good Luke saying that Jesus was raised back to life, but how can we know that this is true?

Luke doesn’t try and prove the resurrection by reasoned argument or scientific proof. Instead, he does something even more exciting. He tells us a number of different ways in which we can get to know the risen Jesus for ourselves today!

Series of items – to add to the Garden step by step…

EASTER GARDEN: Bring on the plants!
o Every year we tell this story, we remember how Jesus rose from the dead.
o The same thing happens in this chapter. Time and time we have the story being told and retold, with the resurrection as its ending. The women tell the disciples, the two on the road to Emmaus tell the stranger who joins them, then they tell the disciples when they discover the stranger is Jesus. As you finish the chapter with the disciples heading back joyfully to worship in Jerusalem, you also get the impression that they are bubbling to tell everyone they meet!
o By telling the story, we remember that Jesus is alive, and share that with others!

BIBLE:
A good book is more than just words. As you read a good book, the characters in it and the places and situations they experience come alive, that’s what it’s supposed to do. Through the voices in this passage, Luke is telling his readers that this is what the Bible is there for too. As Jesus talks to the two men on the road to Emmaus, he explains all that the Law and the Prophets had to say about him. The Law and the Prophets was an expression that meant the Old Testament as we now know it. Luke tells us that as he spoke to them, their hearts burned within them. He is also showing us that as we read the Bible today, that God will bring Jesus to life through its words for us, our hearts will also burn as we read it, the divine speaks through its pages.

COMMUNION CUP:
It wasn’t until Jesus joined the two men on the Road to Emmaus for diner that they realised who he was. What was it that gave him away to them?
o As they ate he took the bread, broke it and gave thanks and gave it to them? Does that phrase sound familiar to you? It’s just like the Last Supper isn’t it, where Jesus took the bread and wine from the Passover Meal and used it to talk about who he was and what he was going to do for them, for us. No doubt they recognised the words. For us, I’m sure that like me, you thought about taking Communion where we regularly read those same words. Is Luke saying that we can come to know the risen Jesus in communion? How?
o Powerful symbol of what Jesus did for us – how he died so that we could be reconciled to God, made friends with him again.
o Promise of what to come – life after death!
o Opens our imagination and awareness of God in the present

£20 NOTE:
What is this? It’s a bit of paper with some pictures printed on it and some writing. Doesn’t sound particularly amazing does it! What’s it worth? Not much I wouldn’t have thought.
o What does it say on the note though? I promise to pay… Does that change anything? Still looks like a piece of paper to me! How am I supposed to know that its worth something? How do I know if it is really worth £20? By trying it. It is only by testing the promise that you can find out if it’s true.
o When the disciples first saw the risen Jesus in the room they were scared. They didn’t know if he was really who he looked like he was. Maybe he was a ghost? An Illusion? A delusion? That’s why Jesus told them to touch his hands and feet. By touching him they would be able to see that he was who he promised he was.
o Luke is telling us that at the end of the day, the only way to discover if Jesus is real is to test his promises. If we try to live by his promises, if we test him, touch him, we shall find that he is indeed trustworthy.

DOVE/FIRE:
The final way in which we can get to know the risen Jesus today is found at the very end of the chapter. Jesus tells the disciples to go and share the great news of Easter with the rest of the world, but before they do so, they are to wait for God to give them power to do this – the Holy Spirit.
o Jesus is not with us now, he has left us, ascended into Heaven
o But the Holy Spirit is his way of being with us today,
 reminds us what Jesus taught us
 helps us to become like him
 and enables us to continue his mission of love in action

The story of Jesus rising from the dead may be an old story, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t know him today. We can know him through retelling the Easter Story, letting the Bible bring him alive for us, finding him in Communion, testing his promises, and enjoying his Presence through the Holy Spirit.

Luke 19:28-48 – The Visit of the King

Notes from an All Age Service Talk on Palm Sunday, 2009 (05.04.09)before a prayer walk around Wormley

Lot’s of fuss earlier this week about Obama visiting the UK. Did you see his car! (Show picture)

Observers say the car is likely to include:
• bullet proof glass
• armoured body,
• a separate oxygen supply,
• completely sealed interior to protect against a chemical attack.
• Some joke the car is so tough it could withstand a rocket-propelled grenade.

David Caldwell of General Motors who made it joked: ‘One of the specifications is that we don’t talk about the specifications’. What a contrast to Jesus coming into town, not in ‘The Beast’ but on a donkey…

But like the coming of Obama, Jesus coming to Jerusalem caused great celebrations!
• Cloaks on road – like red carpet
• Joyful praise!
• Other versions – palm branches, waving flags

But like Obama coming to London, not all were happy. The protests then were by the Pharisees who told him to make his disciples be quiet.

Why?
• Jealous? Afraid that the crowds might shift their allegiance from them to him?
• Afraid? Afraid of what the Romans might do? Would they decide that the Jews were crossing the line?
• Didn’t think it was right – should be celebrating Passover, God’s rescue, not Jesus

I wonder what Obama felt this week about all the fuss? How did it make him feel? What did it make him do?

Jesus looks over the city as he came, and cried over it
• Not self important, but concerned for people
• Prayerful
• Upset as Jerusalem didn’t recognize him for who he was

I’m always struck by this part of the passage. Struck by the humanity of Jesus, the emotions he feels. Struck by the depth of his feelings too – even for those who he knows are against him, or will turn against him in a few short days. Always challenges me to ask how much I care for those in my communities. Do I see through those outside the school, or in the shops or at the doctors, or even judge them? Jesus didn’t…

As we walk in a moment – try and see Wormley as Jesus does. Pray for the people and places we see. Pray that they might enjoy God and recognise him.

But was Jesus just concerned about that town, those people, his people?
He was inclusive, concerned for foreigners, those who came from elsewhere – turning over tables so that the Gentiles could pray and meet with God.
As we walk, let’s pray for those of other cultures and backgrounds in this area, that they might be made welcome. Pray too that we might be open to those outside the church

Luke 22:66-23:56 – Who Was That Masked Man?

Notes from a sermon preached on Good Friday 2009 (10.04.09)

For many the sound of the William Tell Overture will conjure up memories of radio and TV westerns with a masked man with American Indian companion confronting conflicts and problems, with the famous question, ‘Who was that masked man?’

Whilst the Lone Ranger may now be a figure of the past, others queue up to take his place. Superheroes with their secret identities are all the rage on the big screen right now, with Spiderman, Superman, the Hulk, X-Men and Watchmen generating big bucks at the box office. Again the question is asked by those who come across them, ‘Who is that masked man?’

There is another such figure who has hit the screens again in recent years whose identity prompts the same question – who is that man? Films such as the Da Vinci Code and The Passion by Mel Gibson have thrust him back into public consciousness, if he ever went away. Last year at this time, the BBC made their own adaptation of the passion story, the last week of Jesus’ life.

There are many haunting portrayals of Jesus’ final week before his was crucified, not the least those of the Gospels themselves. Whenever I read them I am left asking that same question, who was that man? In many ways, that’s what the rest of the New Testament is about, trying to answer this riddle that the Gospels present. Who was he? What did he stand for? Why did he die? What did his death achieve?

Today’s passage in many ways focuses no this mystery as Jesus is jostled from one kangaroo court to another.

The Council of Elders
It starts with the chief priests and the teachers of the law, the council of elders. They are the ones who have detained Jesus with the help of the Temple guard. Jesus is thrown before them at first light, and they demand of him, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us.” In other words, who are you? Are you just a man? Or are you God’s chosen one, the one sent in his power and authority that has been long awaited?

This figure of the Christ is one that emerges gradually in the Old Testament. Hint by hint, the suggestion of someone coming in God’s power and authority develops, one who will restore Israel to her former glory, a king like David, a prophet like Moses. One who will set her people free! And yet this Messiah remains in the shadows, unclear, disguised. They do not know what he will look like and when he will come. At the time of Jesus, many thought that in those days of occupation by the Romans, the time for the coming of God’s Saviour was nigh…

Was Jesus that man? The religious leaders pose the question that was on many lips, and it hangs there in the air for us today. Was Jesus the Christ, God’s appointed one?

Of course, they had already made up their mind. It was not Jesus. This question was just to give them, the excuse they were looking for to dismiss him, to remove him. If he said no, then it was all over. If he said yes, that was blasphemy.

Are you the Christ?… They did not expect the answer they got, ‘I’m not going to tell you, as you wouldn’t believe me even if I was!’ They certainly didn’t expect what he suggested next…

Pilate
Off to Pilate. Again the question rears its head. Who is this man? Here’s a trouble maker who preaches rebellion against the state… There’s a contemporary ring to that isn’t there. Pilate, here’s someone preaching race hate, campaigning against taxation, radicalising the people. He claims to be the king! So goes their suggestion – not what they really think though is it. Pilate is a sharper politician than they thought though. He wants to find out for himself. Perhaps he sees through their motives…

‘Who are you?’

Perhaps he sees in Jesus a deluded preacher. Perhaps he sees him as a challenger to the religious leaders, but no more. He certainly doesn’t see him as a threat. ‘I find no basis of a charge against him!’ But the Council won’t back down. They press their allegations, and to Herod he goes…

Herod
Herod’s heard of Jesus. He’s heard of the walking on water, the feeding of the five thousand. Maybe even rumours of Lazaras. News like that spreads. Jesus is the hot property on the entertainment circuit, the darling of the Tabloids and Glossies. Eat your heart out David Blaine they announce. This man is the real deal, a true magician!

You know what they say about meeting your idols? Herod was disappointed. Jesus was nothing like the figure he’d been told about. The hype failed to live up to the reality. No tricks on show here. No illusions. No response to his demands or questions. ‘Who are you?’ When no answer comes, no display of power, Herod concludes he’s a joke. He’s got one illusion of his own, and egged on by the jeering troops and priests, he drapes a royal robe upon Jesus’ shoulders – look, the masked man has become a king indeed!

Back With Pilate
But Pilate’s not into jokes right now. Perhaps being woken first thing has put him in a bad mood! He just wants shot of the Jews and their accusations. I see nothing wrong with this man. I’ll humour you by having him flogged, but that’s it, then he’s out of here. But the gathered crowd aren’t so keen…

The BBC’s Passion last year suggested that the crowd were in fact a rent-a-mob gathered together by the Jewish leaders. Although the Gospels don’t say as much, it makes sense. Not everyone is against Christ – there’s a crowd that follows him to his crucifixion, mourning his loss – but here not a voice cries out in his support. How else would they know about Jesus being presented to Pilate?

Remember Peter the night before warming himself beside a fire, whilst denying three times that he knew Jesus? What follows is a strange contrast. The crowd keep calling for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus. Three times Pilate appeals to them, saying that Jesus is innocent. The crowd cannot be appeased though, and Pilate finally relents. Jesus, the innocent one, is locked up awaiting execution, whilst Barabbas, the guilty on, goes free. Isn’t it strange that unlike Peter, the Jew, Pilate, the Roman Gentile resists the temptation to deny Jesus. And yet, despite this, in the end both Jew and Gentile abandon Jesus to his death… What is Luke trying to say here? In the innocent Jesus taking the guilty Barabbas’ place? And in Jesus being denied by Peter, and yet defended by Pilate? But how about when Pilate finally gives in, and surrenders Jesus to his fate?

The Jewish Leaders are guilty. Pilate is guilty. Herod is guilty. The crowd are guilty. Both Jews and Gentiles are guilty. Even the disciples are guilty – Peter as well as Judas. Jesus, the innocent man, is killed because no one stopped it from happening. Jesus is killed because no one was prepared to find out who he really was…

But Who Is He Really?
The danger of thinking about Jesus is that we decide who he is. As with the characters in this story, we look for what we want to see, what our labels suggest, and what our prejudices want – or don’t want. Rather than us trying to decide who he is, perhaps we should let him talk for himself.

• What does it say about Jesus that we find him hanging between two Criminals rather than in the court seated alongside Herod, or presiding over the ceremonies alongside the priests?
• What does it say that as the voyeurs watch him, the rulers sneer at him, the soldiers mock him, and one of the criminals throws insults at him, what does it say about him when Jesus says nothing, does nothing?
• Why does Luke point out the humiliation of Jesus losing even his clothes which are gambled for by the guards below?
• What does the irony of the sign ‘King of the Jews’ above a man hung on a tree, cursed by God, reveal about him?
• How about when he dies? The sky goes dark, the earth shakes and the curtain separating the people and God in the Temple tears in two – what does this mean?

To the women following him, he tells them to mourn for what is about to happen to them rather than what is happening to him. About those executing him, he asks his Father to forgive them as they don’t know what he is doing. To the criminal who asks to be remembered by Jesus in his kingdom, he says he will be there with him in paradise. And as he dies, he cries out, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’

Jesus identity is marked by power, but not power as the religious leaders and political top-cats know it. It is marked by the power of extreme forgiveness, forgiveness offered to friends and enemies. It is marked by surrendering the chance to save your self in order to save others, including those who’ve betrayed you or let you down. It is marked by the wealth of relationship, the Son offering relationship that lasts beyond even the grave, security in the Father.

The apparent end of this King is marked by irony. The King of the Jews is so different from the kings of his day – and indeed ours – that he is rejected; not recognised by his religion or by his country. But this is not to say that all reject him. A Centurion – a Roman occupier – announces him as a righteous man, and the women, so often rejected by their time, are those mourning him before and after his crucifixion.

All that is left is a question. Who is that masked man?

The Unrighteous Manager – Luke 16:1-9

“Morning, Slippery Sam’s the name, surviving’s my game! I’m the master of duckin’ and divin’

My Boss, he owns all the land around here. Rich as they come he is! You should see how much money he’s got stashed away… I have, I collected most of it for him. That’s my job you see, I’m his manager, or steward. He’s too rich to do a proper day’s work like what you and me do, so ‘e pays me to do it.

My job is to go around all the folks that live on his land and collect the rent money from them, or those that sell the produce what they grow on his fields. Not always a pleasant job – now I’m not a tax collector, I’m not like them no, but some folk see me like one of them. It probably doesn’t help that sometimes I add a bit to the bill when no one’s looking and keep it for myself!
Of course I have to be careful playing that game. If my Boss sussed, well there’s no doubt that I’d be out of here, and if anyone else sussed, well that would be getting the Boss’s name a bad reputation… Catch is you see, there’s a queue of others waiting to take my place.

Why? Why do they want my job? It’s the money of course. I may not be rolling in it, but I’m a darn sight better than all these pheasants around here you know. A bit of ‘agro’ from the commoners is endurable if you’ve got some cash to spend.

Anyway, the other day I got in trouble, big trouble. Don’t know what it was, but that Mrs Jones, she must have realised that I’d been pulling a fast one on her, asking for too much money. I thought I’d been careful too. Anyways, whatever gave it away, she worked it out. Next thing I know the Boss has called me into his office and demanded to see the books – no not the latest Harry Potter, but the accounts where I record all that is owed to the Boss and all I’ve collected. Of course I take it to him straight away.

Did I know I was in trouble? Immediately. He’s never asked me to hand over the accounts before. Blindingly obvious that he was going to check them, and if he checked them, he would soon know that I’d been tricking him and his tenants, and taking a small share for myself. That was it. I was about to lose my job.

What’s the problem with that? This job is all I know. I couldn’t be a gardener, or a teacher. I can’t fix things. I’m no good with my hands – if you are by the way, don’t forget to sign up for the workday or the set-up teams. No, this is the only job I know, its all I can do. If the Boss sacks me for fiddling the books, then no one else is going to take me on are they? Who’d trust a cheat like me! All that would be left would be to beg. I don’t want to beg money from others…

You know sometimes when you have a problem, you can think about for hours and hours and come up with nothing? Then there are those days when something comes to you in a flash of lightening. This was one of them days.

I ran around those who hadn’t paid up yet and cut their bills…

You see, I wasn’t the only one cheating. Of course my Boss was at it too. Everyone’s doing it! The Bible says that when someone owes us something, we should get them to pay interest, to pay extra because we’ve done them a favour. No, we’re to charge them just what they’ve borrowed. Now of course, everyone ignores that don’t they. This was my plan. I’d run around everyone who hadn’t paid yet, and cancel the extra that my Boss had been demanding. That would make them happy. If they were happy and told everybody how good my Boss was to them – of course they would think my Boss had told me to do this – then my Boss would suddenly become very popular. He’d like that. And because he liked that, he would be pleased with me. If he was pleased with me, then he wouldn’t sack me. To be honest, even if he wasn’t pleased with me, he wouldn’t dare sack me, because everyone now liked me!”

*****

Reading Luke 16:1-9

This is one weird story isn’t it? Everyone in this story is being selfish and devious. What on earth are we to make of it.

Made even more confusing by Jesus’ comments that we should be like this manager. He’s called unrighteous. That’s not normally a good thing to be called, it means that you’re involved in wrong doing, and that spoils your relationship with God.

So why does Jesus say that we should be like him?
One suggestion – he is unrighteous because he is relying on ‘dirty money’ to make a living. He’s caught up in a way of life, a system that is corrupt. Jews weren’t meant to charge interest, or cheat and take money for themselves like he was. But by the end of the story, he’s stared living a different way. He’s cancelled the interest, stopped taking that little extra for himself too. And because of that, the world has become a better place. It’s changed, and those who were poor and being hard done by are being treated better.

Now of course, we know that the manager is still acting if we’re honest, selfishly, he’s only doing it for himself, but it’s a start at least. He’s beginning to leave behind wrong ways of dealing with others, and being to treat others with respect. Because of that, they are beginning to like him, and he keeps his job.

Is this Jesus’ point?

Like the manager, our lives are so intertwinned with the way the world works that no doubt there’s no end of ways in which we’re living a little bit like the manager, doing this wrong, because that’s the way its done around here, and hurting others as a result. It’s so easy just to copy everybody else and not actually stop and think about whether or not God would be pleased with what we’re doing.

The challenge of this story is to stop and think about our lives, how we live. Are there things that we’re involved in maybe deliberately or without realising it, that we need to stop and put right. Ways in which we’re not living out God’s instruction to love him and those around us.
Perhaps its in the way we shop – is what we buy harming others because they aren’t paid enough for what they grow or make for us. Is our trade fair?

What about the banks we use – do they use our money for good things, or bad things – do we even know? Is our banking ethical?

How about the amount of power we use – the more we use our cars, the more we use electricity and so on, the quicker climate change comes about. Who’s that going to affect first and hardest – it’s going to be the poor everytime. They can’t afford to protect themselves like us.

What about the way we join in gossip about celebrities, politicians or even those closer to home?

The message of this parable is that if we step away from these things, and start living fairly and with love and compassion, then the world will begin to change. Not only that, but like the manager we shall receive approval. It might not be from those around us, but God will be pleased with what we do, and what is better than that!

Revisiting ‘A Family in Trouble – the Prodigal Son’

After the recent sermon on ‘A Family in Trouble – The Prodigal Son’ this intriguing comment was posted…

I would really like to know what happened next in the story…
How did the two brothers get on after this? Were they able to get on OK ? Did the older brother “wake up” to what he’d been missing in the sense that he too had his inheritance? (I dont mean that he ran off and wasted it…)
Were they both able to forgive , forget and move on? Did the farm go from strength to strength with their joint hard work?
Or was life intolerable for all ? What do you think?

I thought this deserved a post in it’s own right. So what do you think? Answers on a comment please!

A Family in Trouble: the Prodigal Son Revisited (Luke 15:11-23)

What’s the point! Am I bovvered? Do I care? In so many ways the younger son sounds very much like Catherine Tate’s famous adolescent. He certainly doesn’t come across as a pleasant specimen, but let’s try and get into his head and see what’s going on there.

For all Jews, life under the Romans was depressing – theirs was a highly restrictive regime. There were all sorts of rules and regulations to follow and taxes to be paid. There wasn’t too much joy in everyday life. For the Younger Son, this was compounded by his position in the family. As the younger son (you might remember an earlier sermon in this series dealing with children arguing over their inheritance) he would expect to get the smaller share of his Father’s wealth. This particular Father wasn’t as poor as many others – he had property and hired men – and so their would be something for this young man to inherit, but chances were that it wouldn’t be enough to bring him security and financial freedom. Chances were, it may not really be even enough to earn his keep from.

As the youngest Son, I suspect he probably also was desperate to be seen as a person in his own right – not his Father’s Son. Can identify with this being the son of the local headmaster in a village school. Everybody knew me, I didn’t know them. Thought I would escape when I went to Uni. – but surprised when one of my lecturers knew of me because of some connection with Mum. No doubt he was sick of always being compared to his Older Brother too.

So how could he find the freedom he so desired? The freedom to find his own identity and life the life he wanted?

His desire was to escape – up sticks and leave. Leave behind those who knew him, those who held him back or oppressed him. We know the story – he had no money and so went to his dad and asked for his inheritance.

I remember my younger cousin Alan taking a fancy to my Grandparent’s reclining garden chair, and in complete innocence asking if he could have it when Grandad died!

This Son is not so innocent. He knows I’m, sure, that what he was saying to his Dad is I wish you were dead…

I wonder if he was caught by surprise when his dad said okay and divided his property between them!

Anyway, he took the land that his dad gave him, sold it, and left, heading off to a distant land where know one knew him, and where the regime was much more relaxed. In many ways, this part of the story reminds me of what often happens when students first get to University. For the first time have some money of their own, and freedom to do what they want with it and their lives. Party time! The Younger Brother, like many students, squanders his money on wild living. I suspect though, that his living is wilder than your average student. We’re not told exactly what he got up to, but the comment by the Older Son, ‘this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes’ suggests that it was truly wild living, and not the odd party.

Not having really dealt with money before, it is no surprise that before too long he runs out of money. To make it worse, the land he has gone to is hit by severe famine. In desperate straits he ends up ‘hiring himself out’ to a Gentile – totally degrading to the Jews who prided themselves on keeping separate, pure. To make it worse, he is put to work feeding the pigs – unclean animals – and eating their food when the boss isn’t looking. There isn’t much further he could sink. He was alone, away from the safety of family and faith.

In the midst of this darkness, it says he ‘came to his senses’. If I go back to Dad and say I have sinned against Heaven and him, then maybe he’ll take me in as a worker and feed men…

Some read this to be like a conversion experience – here in the darkest pit, the Son realises the error of his ways and determines to repent and come back to his Father. I fear it is nothing of the sort! Does the phrase ‘I have sinned again heaven and you’ sound at all like a heartfelt apology? It may be true, but there is no sense of love or regret in this – except that he regrets having got himself into this mess. It really does feel as if he is working out the right set of words to get exactly what he wants

This son is really quite contemptible isn’t he! We might be able to see contributing factors behind the way he behaves, but there’s no getting away from the fact that he is a self-centred, calculating, scum-bag.

Listening to Jesus tell his story are a range of people, Pharisees, disciples, tax-collectors and various ‘sinners’. Many of them would share the Younger Son’s desire to escape from oppression. For some the dream of getting away from this life would be a real one. Reminds me of the sentiments expressed by many of my friends in Sierra Leone in West Africa. If they could they’d leave, leave behind the poverty and corruption and seek a better life elsewhere. But at the same time, they would also despair of this young man. He’d broken every rule in the book. He’d abandoned his faith, he’d dishonoured his Dad, he’d deserted his family. Worse than that in fact. By selling up his share of the property, he was forcing them to live on a smaller patch, lowering their status in the community and their security and income.

The Younger Son was taking a real risk here. There was every chance that his Dad would reject him completely here – quite right too everyone in the audience would have felt. Maybe the more generous amongst them might have some sympathy and let him come back as some servant, but he forfeited his rights… When he rehearses his line ‘I am no longer worthy to be called your Son’ he was telling the truth.

But then there’s this magical scene. The Dad sees him coming and is filled with compassion. Dignity would require the Son to come grovelling to him, but it is the other way around. The Father abandons all dignity and runs to him. He doesn’t care what everybody else thinks. He just wants his child back. He throws his arms around him and hugs him. This is the embrace of Father and Son. He calls for his best robe to be put on him, and places his ring on his finger. Kill the fattened calf, let’s celebrate the return of my lost son. He was dead, but now is alive again, lost now found.

The Father by putting on the robe and ring is treating the Younger Son as an equal – he is letting everybody know that this Son is his Son, part of His Family. There’s as always a scandal here. The mercy of this Father is beyond the scope of usual mercy. He doesn’t need to hear sorry before forgiving. He doesn’t need to see signs of repentance or to say I told you so. He pours mercy on him unconditionally, unsought for, undeserved. The only thing that matters is the restoration of his relationship with his Son.

But of course this isn’t the end of the story.

Out on the field the Older Son is working. He is the responsible one, the one who stayed behind to care for his Dad to work hard. He was a good Jewish Boy that any parent would be proud of.

Imagine what he has gone through these last months. Before his brother left, life was hard, but his leaving had made it so much worse. First of all there was the emotion strain of supporting his grieving Dad. Then there was the simple fact that they had had to make ends meet with less manpower and less land on which to do so. He had done the right thing, and all that he had to show for it was stress and sweat. His brother had swanned off having wrecked the family home, lived it up, and had now come back at was accepted without so much as a sorry and was being given a party at their expense. It wasn’t fair!!! There is certainly a lot to be said for the Older Sons complaint.

Maybe you can relate to him? I remember working alongside a bunch of guys doing community service and thinking how come you all have nice cars and gear, whilst I who have done nothing wrong have so little to show for it.

Certainly many in Jesus’ audience could relate to this. Whilst the younger Son had sought freedom in escapism, many thought that freedom would only return to the Jews if they worked harder at keeping the Law and maintaining the Jewish way of life – the Pharisees were prime examples of this. How many of us seek approval from our peers and the powers that be by working hard and striving to do the right thing?

The older son’s response to the return of the younger son would have been mirrored by many listening to Jesus.

So what does the Father do? No sooner has he got one son back, the other one threatens to leave him! He heads straight away to track him down, to try and sort things out. ‘All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

The Father’s reply is again stunning, ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

The truth is that his Father hadn’t given him a young goat, he’d given him everything! Right at the beginning of the story he divided up his property between them. It had been the Older Son’s choice not to use it, not to celebrate and make the most of what his Father had given him.

Is there actually a sense of regret as he lambastes his brother’s wild living – a touch of jealousy, I would have liked to have lived a little…

I love you Son, says the Dad, and I love your brother too. I have and will give up everything for you both.

Are either of the Sons on the right track, trying to discover freedom? Do escapism or grasping to rules and the traditional ways help? Or is the Father’s approach of putting relationships first a better way? Is freedom actually found in caring and accepting beyond the call of duty?

And how about the Father’s love? Is he misplaced? Naïve? A soft touch? Or does such love cut across barriers and offer the chance of transformation and hope?

It is fascinating that Jesus doesn’t comment on this story. He doesn’t say which is right and which is wrong. He just tells us the story and leaves us to let it do its work upon us. Let’s take a moment now to reflect on the story and to ask God what he wants to say to us through it…

The fruitless Fig Tree – Luke 13 v 1 – 9

Notes from Tim’s sermon on the 11.02.07

Here is a fairly straight forward story about gardening – if a tree doesn’t perform it has to go! We have a Paulownia tree which is very beautiful but has got too big and if we prune it then it fails to flower – so, sadly, it is going to have to get the chop! But sometimes stories, and perhaps particularly foods conjures up images in our minds: cucumber sandwiches? (more tea vicar?) beef steak, beer and sandwiches (remember the TUC at no. 10?) so it was with figs for the Jews

Context of the Parable

Some horrible massacre had taken place and maybe in the act of worship, people had been slaughtered and desecrated. This was a shocking incident and maybe there was a bit of a self righteous attitude “they must have deserved it” Jesus challenges that complacency by preaching the need for repentance for all – starting with his hearers!
The same goes for 18 people who had perished in a building site accident – they didn’t die because they were worse than anyone else (and so those who didn’t die were better than those who did) but rather everyone is in the same boat and in need of repentance – no-one is good enough!
Here is the message of the Gospel – it is not about how good or bad you are but will you change direction and accept Gods forgiveness and make a new start! It may seem like bad news – we are all sinners – but the fact that repentance is open to all is good news!

Symbolism of the fig:

· Symbol of security – during the reign of Solomon “…lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree (1 kings 4 v 25)
· Symbol of healing – 2 kings 20 v 7 – prepare a poultice of figs and apply it to the boil…and he recovered
· Symbol of Love – Song of Songs 2 v 13 – the fig tree forms its early fruit, the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.
· Picture of judgement – Good and bad figs (Jeremiah 24) – two basket of figs – one those who feared God even though they were carried off to Babylon and remembered him, the other the rest under King Zedekiah –

Zedekiah King of Judah
11 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. 12 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the LORD. 13 He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him take an oath in God’s name. He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the LORD, the God of Israel. 14 Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the LORD, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem

· Symbol of the Lords blessing and blessing withdrawn –
· Jeremiah 8 v 13 – ” ‘I will take away their harvest,
declares the LORD.
There will be no grapes on the vine.
There will be no figs on the tree,
and their leaves will wither.
What I have given them
will be taken from them
· Amos 4 v 9 – Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,
I struck them with blight and mildew.
Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the LORD.
· Haggai 2 v 19 – ‘From this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid. Give careful thought: 19 Is there yet any seed left in the barn? Until now, the vine and the fig tree, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.
”‘from this day on I will bless you.’ “

For the Jews the Fig was not just a source of food – it was a symbol of much more and a reminder of their history and position.
God had chosen them to be a place for:
Love
healing
Security
Provision
They were to be a people who showed what God was like so that others could come into a relationship with God – that through them all the nations of the world would be blessed – God has tremendous expectations and plans for his people!
So when Jesus tells this story about a fig tree it resonates with his hearers in lots of ways and maybe it makes them think about what has gone wrong (cf. Elders meeting when we had divided up some of the responsibilities and I had missed the meeting (or the point) and realized I was supposed to have prepared a report…..)
Here was a Fig tree – a beautiful source of Gods great provision – planted in a vineyard – a fertile and protected place – and nothing had been produced! This fig was a waste of space! If you wanted food then you had to go elsewhere
Suddenly the stories of Gods judgement and his threats of infertility seem very dire! – Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
yet you have not returned to me,”
declares the LORD.
Fig leaves are beautiful – good for covering things up (ask Adam & Eve) – but unless they produce fruit, fig trees fail to serve their purpose!
God looks to his people to fulfil his purposes – to bear fruit that will last not to simply be a beautiful tree that makes us look respectable!
This parable may challenge us about fruitfulness in our own lives and our life together as a church. Jesus told it to people who had missed their vocation – they were unfruitful because they had forgotten what they were about. And so he calls them to repent!

Gods Grace

This is not the end of the story but it is a cross roads – here is a God who does not give up – leave it alone for one more year – put some more work in – forgive – have mercy. God knows the situation and we must see in ourselves our need of the work of the Holy Spirit to “dig around and fertilize” in order that we may bear fruit
The word for repentance that Jesus uses is “a present imperative and an aorist” – it is a one off event and an ongoing action. We need to be shaken out of our complacency, to have our eyes opened, to see what God ahs for us and to allow him to produce fruit in our lives.
It is a wake up call, a challenge, an encouragement, a reminder of what we are and what we should be. It is to bring us to the great love and wisdom of the one who knows how to get the best out of us and to make us depend on him.
Often, fruit trees that are growing beautifully will not produce much fruit – a fruitful tree may look a bit manky and some of the leaves will be damaged but the fruit will be wonderful –

Love healing security provision
A Twist?

This “man who took care of the vineyard” – lovely picture of the Holy Spirit – but has God planted in us his life to bear fruit there – and could we have a responsibility for cultivating that life? (At house group over the past few week we have been looking at a course which has practical exercises – fasting, silence, specific prayer and meditation etc)
To dig around – to remove the weds and allow the air in to the soil – bring our lives into line with God – removing the rubbish that competes and distracts – to bring our faith and life into the open
To fertilize – to feed on Gods word and to allow it to make a difference – to exercise in prayer and bible reading, to stand for God in his battles.
Sometimes God comes to us and shows us things that have gone wrong and we need to repent and throw ourselves on his mercy – and do something about it!

Luke 4 v 18
18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”[e]
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Parable of the Rich Man (Luke 12:16-21)

Here are the notes from today’s service – written before I was reminded it was to be an all-age one!

The backdrop to today’s parable is one that has a definite contemporary ring to it.
It’s a story of the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots.
It’s about two brothers. Chances are there were more of them than that. In a world without contraception, there were problem a number of brothers and sisters, each with their own families to support.
Their Dad has died. As was the custom, his land would have been left to the eldest child, or at least that largest portion of it. That’s the way it would have worked.

Now I don’t doubt that that would cause problems if it happened today. It isn’t particularly fair. No doubt tempers would flare as siblings rowed over their place in their father’s affections and grab what they can.

For the First Century brothers, however, the squabble was more serious than that. You see, it wasn’t just a case of which Dad loved the most, or who was lucky enough to get the fine piece of porcelain that had been his pride and joy. No it was a matter of survival.

Remember as we’ve touched upon already in our look at the parables, most of the land was held by the wealthy few, bringing them comfort and riches, and leaving the overwhelming majority to scrape a living as peasants of the scraps that were left. A bit like trying to buy a house in Broxbourne – unless you inherit one you’ve got no chance, unless you are unusually well off! For these peasants, the only way of getting land for themselves was to inherit it. The catch is, for each peasant landowner who died, there were more than one child waiting to inherit. The land that was available for the common man was decreasing by the generation.

The eldest son had inherited. He had land, he probably wasn’t secure, not enough land or money for that, but at least he stood a chance of supporting his family now. The other son? He had nothing. No land, no money, no chance… No wonder he wants Jesus to speak up on his behalf. Of course the catch is that if he managed to persuade his brother to hand over some of the land, would that really make a difference? Or would they both end up below without enough…

Of course their real argument is not with each other, its with the wealthy, those who in their greed to have lots, have preventing them from having anything.

Maybe their argument is also with God. After all he had promised the land to them, and now, here they are having it taken away from them, piece by piece. What was he going to do about this injustice…

Does their story sound familiar? Think of these situations that are regularly in the news:
· Multi-nationals like Tesco squeezing out the humble family run high street shop. The same few chains run the high street in every town. No one else gets a look in…
· A major TV deal has just been brokered for Premiership football clubs, giving them enormous bonuses for simply being in the league. Even the losers get something like £30M. What chance have clubs in lower divisions got…
· There are constantly complaints about ‘fat cat’ directors awarding themselves enormous bonuses, whilst their work force face cut backs and we foot the bill…
· The West have 70%+ of the world’s wealth, leaving the poorest to scramble over the remaining pennies.

Seeing Jesus, the younger brother calls out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” What’s he doing here? Trying to get Jesus to put religious pressure on his good Jewish brother? Seeking the moral high-ground?

Of course Jesus is no fool. He sees that to get involved in this one is to ask for trouble. If he sides with the younger brother, he’s endangering both of them and their families. If he sides with the older brother, where’s his compassion for the younger one and his family. This is a no win situation. He’s not daft, he realises that he’s being used, he’s simply a tool here. It’s not his responsibility to deal with this family dispute. It’s not his place, his business, sensibly he backs out of getting drawn in, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

He goes further, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

What is he saying here? Is he saying that the younger brother is being greedy? I don’t think so; to desire enough to survive is not wrong. But having said that, these words are a true warning to all, poor and rich. Greed is a danger for those who have. That is clear. But it is also a danger to those who have not. Over my visits to Sierra Leone I have seen that. The troubles of that nation have in so many ways been caused by the greed and corruption of the powerful, enslaving again its people, but also, those that have not are enslaved by the desire to have what they have seen we have, and the wealth shown off by their leaders. This greed robs them of the ability to see and think straight, the ability to go out and work hard, to live the honest life. Greed is a curse to those who have and those who have not.

Some say that faith and politics don’t mix. They clearly haven’t read what comes next. Having dodged getting embroiled in a family feud, Jesus turns his attention to the root of the problem, and tells a simple story…

16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18″Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
20″But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21″This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Ouch! I am sure that all of those who heard this knew exactly whom Jesus was talking about here. This wasn’t a tale to warn either of these two brothers about the perils of greed. Jesus is talking about the wealthy of the country. Those who had bought up the land and abandoned the poor to scrabble over the scraps. He was talking to those who had hoarded wealth and kept it to themselves, when on their doorsteps were the hungry, the sick, and the desperate. He was talking about the Jewish leaders who were more interested in their own status than the welfare of their people. He was talking about the Roman leaders who had come and taken their inheritance away from them.

Some people ask the question, ‘why did Jesus die?’ Our answer is that he died for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. He died that we might become children of God and inherit eternal life. And of course he did.

But that isn’t the only reason he died. Why was he arrested and crucified by the Romans? Why was it that the Jewish religious leaders were so riled by him that they demanded his demise? It was stories like this that killed Jesus. His was an age that didn’t practise freedom of speech or democracy. If you challenged the powers that be in this kind of way, then you were literally putting your life on the line. And yet here is Jesus, deciding to side with the poor and unjustly oppressed. Crucifixion was the sentence for revolutionaries, for treason, and it is because of his public stance that he ended up on the cross.

Jesus died because he claimed that those who selfishly hoarded wealth when those around them were suffering were fools. The word he used here ‘fool’ sounds quite harmless in English doesn’t it. Calling someone a fool today won’t get you locked up. But to his contemporaries, his word for fool was a grave slight. A fool was someone who lived his or her life without reference to God.

Listen to his warning to this ‘fool’. Already life is not so good. No family or friends are mentioned. Is he already alone? Is he lonely? His desire is to save up enough to feel secure, and then he will eat, drink and be merry. To be honest, this sounds to me to be an empty life… This man thinks he has everything! He thinks he is secure! And then God turns up and takes away his life, leaving his possessions for others to enjoy. A lifetime of accumulation in order to enjoy in the future. He had so much, but never enjoyed what he had, and now it’s gone.

Is this a parable without hope? It sounds bleak doesn’t it? And yet, even in this passage there is a hint of redemption. To the oppressed, Jesus is saying that ultimately the reign of tyrants and oppressors come to an end. Death is God’s ultimate tool of justice, God remains in charge, no matter how big we might think we are. The riches of the wealthy man are no longer his, they are redistributed. The simple fact that there were good crops reminds us of God’s provision.

It is also a warning, a warning to those that have and that want, that they live in reference to God. To do that means to share what we given, and not to hold on to it and hoard it. The fate of this certain rich man doesn’t need to be the fate of all rich people. There are other stories in the Bible where the landowners are generous and the employers caring.

*****

Let me finish by telling a story…

St. Somewhere was a good church to be in. Whilst others around it suffered, it was dynamic, vibrant even. God had blessed it, and it had grown. It was good being God’s children.

St. Somewhere was renown for its worship. With a top-notch band and fine speakers, it worked hard to make the services stimulating and pleasurable, always seeking to get better. As a family they felt proud that they could put on a good show, that they were slick, well organised. The midweek meetings were times of intimacy with God, and the prayer meetings on fire!

Of course they couldn’t take all this for granted and so the people of St. Somewhere put lots of effort into getting it just how they wanted it. There were debates about seating arrangements, about who should do what and how everything should be organized. Committees were set up, minutes taken. Occasionally they would fall out, disagree about the best way, but this was inevitable, as these were important matters that they were dealing with and they felt deeply about them.

Outside St Somewhere on the wall sat two non-Christians. Jesus looked upon them and considered all that their lives lacked. Turning to his Father he asked, ‘Who is going to pass on to them the inheritance that you have so freely given…’

*****

“Watch out! ” says Jesus, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” What makes a full and successful life? It is not wealth. Not possessions. Not structures. It’s our relationships with each other. It’s how we treat one another. Loving each other is loving God.

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37)

Here are the notes from David’s sermon:

A very familiar parable – maybe the best known of all! Repeated over and over in Sunday Schools across the land…all over the world.

I read, one Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead.

She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama. Then, she asked the class, “If you saw a person lying on the roadside, all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?”

A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, “I think I’d throw up.”

Who was the Good Samaritan?

I was driving along the M25 from the airport the other day, I asked my passenger who doesn’t have any significant Bible education: Who was the Good Samaritan?

His first answer was: “Someone who helps old ladies across the road.”

I pressed the question: “OK but where does all this “Good Samaritan” thing come from?”

He came up with a suggestion:

“Maybe he comes from a place called Samaritania… could be in Eastern Europe… where everyone always helps old ladies across the road…. It’s a dreadful place because the traffic is always badly congested… cars can’t get through…’cause of all the old ladies being helped across the roads…. ”

What he knew was that, in common usage, the word Samaritan, or Good Samaritan, means someone who helps somebody in trouble, or sick, or less able. It’s now virtually a universal concept…. Not just in Christian countries and cultures…. You’ll find the idea of a “Good Samaritan” in most countries of the world, even China and Japan which have very different cultural histories from the west.

Did you know, many countries have “Good Samaritan” laws. They vary in character:

In the USA and Canada, they’re mainly to protect from blame those who choose to help others who are injured or ill. ‘Cause in America…the priest and the Levite wouldn’t stop to help because they’d be afraid of a law suit?…….

That says something about litigation and the “Blame” culture that’s growing even here in Britain…. Which to us is quite ludicrous…

Good Samaritan laws are slightly different In France where there is actually a legal obligation to help people in distress, unless it puts you at risk.

(Paris police considered applying these laws to prosecute the photographers who took pictures at the scene of the accident that killed Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed.)

In Germany it’s an offense to neglect one’s duty to provide first aid to an injured person. All drivers have to know first aid to get a license.

Now… all over the world… there are Hospitals, Hospices, Foundations, Charities, Crisis Centres, Nursing Homes, Churches and… of course… pubs called: Good Samaritan. On Thursday, I drove past a Samaritan hospital.

It’s a universal concept that originates with a little story told by Jesus in answer to… what was, basically, a trick question:

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26″What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b]”
28″You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

And Jesus told this parable.
And as parables go, it’s pretty straightforward. Anyone would get it, wouldn’t they?
Someone is lying injured by the side of the road. Two men walk right by but the third stops to help… clearly he’s the hero… he’s the good man…. He’s the neighbour! The Law says….
Love your neighbour….
Therefore we have to love people who do good deeds…or help others in need… or rescue you when you’re injured?
That would be a bit too easy, wouldn’t it… it might satisfy a lot of the world… but somehow it doesn’t really seem like that’s quite what Jesus intended to say.
No, that doesn’t work at all. Maybe it’s the other way round. When Jesus says “go and do likewise” he means be a neighbour to the one in distress… show love like the Samaritan. That’s a bit more likely, but is that all there is to this story?
If only passersby always showed kindness like the Samaritan.
Have you ever been rescued by a good Samaritan???
(describe experience)
Another time….
I was on a bus once, in Serbia, it was hot and sticky and I felt faint and a bit sick. We told the driver and he stopped the bus straight away, by the side of the road. If this was an English bus we’d have had to get off and wait for another… but we got out and so did some of the other passengers…offering help… one offered me some milk (milk!) … the bus driver waited patiently… there was lots of concern about me… none at all about the bus meeting its schedule… But that’s normal in Serbia.
I was just some foreigner… and these good Samaritans stopped to help. If that was all it was about, this parable would be pretty good.
But I wonder if maybe it’s not so simple….. after all… We’ve identified it as one of God’s riddles…. And maybe there’s a bit more of a puzzle than it seems at first reading.
Let’s look a bit deeper…
One thing we probably should be aware of is who are these three potential rescuers, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan? The first two are leaders among Jewish society. They’re respected, educated, upright believers in the Law of Moses. They know word for word what it says in Leviticus 19:18
‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.
The third is a Samaritan. To put it mildly, Jews didn’t like Samaritans…. the Jews were not all that concerned about political correctness. They didn’t have anti-discrimination laws to worry about – so they discriminated gleefully….they openly hated Samaritans. As far as the Jews are concerned…Samaritans were dogs. Not fit to be in the same house or the same room as a Jew… not fit to eat at the same table… worse than dogs because they wouldn’t throw a Samaritan the scraps from their table
Now the story seems to take on some depth. This isn’t just about an act of kindness…it’s kindness flying in the face of prejudice, injustice and intolerance. Now it’s about mercy, grace and forgiveness. Now who is the neighbour? He’s the one who is detested and hated and discriminated against. The one who is despised, rejected and persecuted… and yet…. shows mercy
The Law says….Love your neighbour.
To the expert in the law that Jesus was speaking to, this parable was rather like telling Iraqi Sunnis to love their Shiite neighbours (I live in fear of that word… getting it wrong),
despite generations of oppression, persecution and mistrust…
now it’s a much tougher lesson than it first appeared.

much more challenging… but is that all?

Rather like the parable of the persistent friend that Ben was talking about last week, this is how far the standard sermon about The Good Samaritan usually gets. The lesson that preachers have brought to congregations over the generations… and a brilliant lesson it is….

Show love and mercy to your neighbour even when you are despised, rejected and persecuted by him.

Preachers might dwell on this point…. They might remind us that the Samaritan’s love isn’t some kind of cushy-mushy, namby-pamby, cuddly warm feeling he has for the man he rescues. It’s tough practical love… doing what is right, despite whatever feelings he might have towards the guy and his race.

That’s could be where the sermon ends.

But is there more…. ?

This Samaritan… the despised…. Rejected…persecuted… who does that remind you of.

Jesus, of course….

Not a Samaritan though. A Jew like those around him…. At the start… admired and respected as a teacher… a man of miracles and healing…. but at the end…. As we know…. The crowd turned on him… the mob, inspired by people like this “expert in the law” who was questioning him now. They began to despise him “who is this King of the Jews”…. They rejected him in favour of a known murderer….”Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!”

They persecuted him… “Crucify him! Crucify him!” the crowd shouted.

They crucified him.

Yet still he loved them:

“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

And even as Jesus, despised, rejected, persecuted, crucified… even as he hung on the cross he reached out to rescue one who hung beside him.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the parable of The Good Samaritan… is Jesus, then, describing himself?

Is Jesus really the Good Samaritan… the alien, despised, rejected and persecuted who still shows love and compassion for society’s victims.

What do you think?

But is there more?…. Is there another way of looking at this?

We’ve been talking mostly about the three passersby… the Priest, the Levite and the Samaritan. What about the victim. Who’s he??

They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

Who is he…. Is that you or me lying broken by the road…in need of love…in need of rescuing…?

OR could it be that man who is Jesus? Lying broken and beaten, half dead at the roadside. Is he calling to us to reach out and love him? Is this Jesus putting himself at the mercy of the people he came to save? Making himself dependent on the mercy of someone who cares… someone who will stop and tend his wounds… Someone who will love him?

What do you think?

Who’s who in this story? The Traveller… The Samaritan…

And which one are you?
Love your neighbour

I’m going to leave you with another, slightly different twist. From an alternative viewpoint…. There’s other characters in this story… the muggers.
Any social workers here today?………………………….
Two social workers were walking through a rough part of the city one night. They heard moans and muted cries for help from a back lane. There, they found a semi-conscious man in a pool of blood. “Help me, I’ve been mugged and viciously beaten” he pleaded.
The two social workers turned and walked away. One remarked to her colleague: “You know the person that did this really needs help.”
That may be a joke, but it’s no less true… the one who did this bad thing, no matter what he may have done, he too is in need of a good neighbour…one who will pick him up, care for him, look after his needs, help him to overcome whatever led to this …

People stumble and fall by the wayside for all kinds of reasons. Our traveler just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time…and got mugged… Some might say it was his own fault….wandering around on a dangerous road, what does he expect. … maybe, like me you’ve sometimes been in the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing… and maybe it was your own fault.

How do we react, when someone is in some kind of trouble, and we think it’s somehow their own fault? Do we give them a wide berth, like the Priest and the Levite? Pass by on the other side, glad that we’re better people… we’d never do such a thing.

Is that too, when someone needs a true friend and neighbour? A good Samaritan.

Love your neighbour.