Monday, 19 September 2016

To tell you the truth....

Honesty is one of the most important virtues there is – if not the most important virtue. I’ll bet that every single person in this church has been lied to at some time or other, and some of us will have been lied to consistently and often. Recall what that felt like – how did it make you feel about the person and about yourself.
Honesty is essential because it builds trust and trust is essential in all relationships. Trust is essential in our human relationships and in our relationship with God.
Once trust has been broken and is gone it is terribly difficult to build up again because from that point on, you never are really sure what is true or false. The biggest cause of marriage break ups is the breakdown of trust because of betrayal and all the attendant lies that surround it.
The biggest cause of breakdown in people’s trust in God is the perception that they have been misled. They thought that God was a kind of big fluffy security blanket and no harm or struggle would ever come to them if they believed and prayed and then life throws them a curve ball and their mum gets cancer, or their sister dies young, or they lose their job and security, or a million other things, and they feel betrayed.....lied to.
Of course that understanding of God is a false one, but it is a very common one.
So honesty is vital and Jesus was always honest. He never promised that being a Christian would ever be easy, but he did say that we should be shrewd or wise in our dealings with people, especially with non Christians
You can take this lesson from today’s parable in Luke’s gospel and apply it to many different areas of church and personal life. We sometimes need to be much more canny, to use a N.E. phrase, in the way we approach people and situations, as Christians.
We need to be cleverer in using mass media, more creative in the way we present ourselves, creative in the way we present the gospel without watering down the essential truth of it.
We need to be realistic, down to earth, honest, but also gentle and persuasive. We can start by treating people’s current beliefs and perspectives with respect and using them as a starting point to introduce gospel values.
Sometimes that is the way but in some situations we need to be much more direct, and our dilemma is how to tell when which approach is the right one.
You can tell from our first reading today that Amos was no diplomat. He was harsh and direct but perhaps even there, that very boldness can be very attractive in a world where people are jaded, used to spin and lies. So there will be times when it is wise and prudent to use such a harsh approach.
In certain circumstances, bald, unadorned truth can be revolutionary and fresh in a world of warm empty words, compromise and political correctness.
But I still say that in most situations, we need to be cleverer than that. Even a person consumed by vanity and overwhelming self interest is not beyond reaching and being touched by God.
In my experience, appealing to someone’s sense of entitlement to the best of everything can often open a door to a materially wealthy man to the riches of heaven.
In short, we need to be honest and trustworthy, but we also need to be wise. Jesus as ever summed it up perfectly.

He said. “ I am sending you our as sheep amongst wolves so be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Choose Life!

Choices, choices.  Life or death?
Mind you, even if you choose Life – Jesus says it isn’t an easy ride.
There are no riches or social status on offer. In fact Jesus says, it is probably a good idea to sit down and count the cost of following the one who proclaimed himself to be “The way, the truth and the Life”.
After some careful thought you might decide that you don’t have the stomach for it!
Jesus says that He has to be your number one priority, outranking everyone, even your mother and father, wife or children, brothers or sisters. I even outrank what I know is your number one priority – yourself.
With typical Semitic hyperbole Jesus says you have to “hate” those members of your family if you decide to choose Life and follow me as a disciple. In another place Jesus describes it as “taking up your own cross and following Him”
Discipleship calls for a particular kind of blinkered single minded belief that there is nothing greater or more important in the whole world than following Him.
If a sweetener were needed though, Jesus does say that if you are that single minded and really do seek first the kingdom of God then everything else will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33).
Many would see slavery and freedom as  natural opposites as Life or death, but of course the slave doesn’t have the freedom to make that choice for himself.
Paul’s friend Philemon has a slave called Onesimus whom Paul clearly wants to be set free, but Oaul doesn’t want to strongarm Philemon or issue a decree: Philemon is his friend and he dearly want him to come to the same conclusion for himself – from within.
If he can convince Philemon that Onesimus is a brother in Christ, just as Paul is, could he not convince him to see the truth that a brother in Christ can never also be your slave.
Paul treads a tightrope, wanting Philemon to see the light but without ordering him to set Onesimus free. We don’t know what happened but we can hope that Philemon did just that and within this short letter we have an example of how to persuade and cajole and get people to see sense and make the decision themselves.
There is a saying that goes “One willing volunteer is worth ten pressed men”.
Ordering people to change their ways because you say so doesn’t pay dividends, but if you persuade someone that it is the right thing to do and it was, after all, their own decision to do or believe something you have made a powerful convert convinced of the rightness of what they are doing.

Persuasion, with respect and gentleness is always more long lasting and effective than issuing orders no matter how self evidently right we may feel they are.