In the reading (Luke 9.51–62) earlier this evening, Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem for the last time.
Along the way, He meets three men who have heard His call in their hearts. These encounters teach us three tough lessons about what it means to follow Christ. This evening I am focussing on just one of them.*
To follow Christ, we have to transfer our sense of security. We have to relocate it from ourselves to God. Throughout our lives we have been taught to rely on ourselves for success and happiness, but we have to unlearn that lesson. We have to learn to rely wholly on God, plugging all our efforts in life into His Grace.
This is what was meant when Jesus answered and said,
Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
Christ is trustworthy, but He is not predictable. When we follow Him, we have to agree to go one step at a time – He refuses to give us a full-life outline in advance. When we follow Him, we have to stop pretending that we can keep our lives under control by our own efforts. Accepting Christ’s friendship, we agree to follow Him, to put our lives under His leadership.
We are on an unpredictable adventure. We do not know where God will lead us, nor what He may ask us to do. When we join Christ’s army, we have to hand him a blank cheque.
We all want to make this transfer of security from self to God. Many of us are here because we know that we know God. By depending more fully on Him, our lives will be brought the meaning and fruitfulness that we all long for.
But how do we do that? How do we become more faithful followers of our Lord, more hope-filled disciples, more stable Christians? This transfer of security from ourselves to God is a virtue – the virtue of hope. Like all Christian values, it was planted in our souls like a seed when we placed our trust in God. It’s already there, we have to help it to grow, which we can do by exercising it.
One of the mot effective ways to exercise this virtue is by practising a long-standing tradition of beginning each day with a prayer – often called a morning offering.
This is a prayer we say before the day begins – perhaps immediately on getting out of bed, or perhaps after our shower and before we head to breakfast.
It’s a short prayer,† putting everything in perspective: thanking God for the gift of another day; asking God for guidance and protection; renewing our promise to accept and do whatever He asks of us as we continue on the adventure of following His unpredictable path.
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Sunday 30 June 2013.
* The other two are: 1. Following Christ means persevering through difficulties; 2. Following Christ means actively taking risk.
† One example is: “Lord, you have brought me to the beginning of this day. By your power, keep me on the road to salvation ; do not let me fall into any sin today, but grant that all I say, all I think, all I do may glorify you. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (catholic-forum.com)
We have just read [in John 21:15-19] that, after the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. To Peter’s confusion, the question was asked three times. Each time Peter answered in the affirmative. Jesus responded with “Feed my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus wanted to make absolutely clear what he wanted Peter to do. He wanted Peter to look after the other early Christians, as a shepherd cares for his sheep.
Earlier on in his ministry, before the crucifixion, Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.” (John 10:11)
As well as making sure that Peter knew he was to be a leader, Jesus was reminding him that he would have to make personal sacrifice, perhaps even sacrificing his own life, in his leadership role. As today’s reading said, Jesus “said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” According to tradition, Peter was executed by crucifixion, but at his own request he was crucified upside down because he didn’t think he was worthy to be executed in the same way as his master. This is why the symbol of St Peter is an inverted cross, and there is at least one knealer in this church with St Peter’s cross on it, although it is quite common to see it turned upside down by mistake.
In this country, we are very lucky. By the grace of God, we don’t have to fear the kind of persecution that Peter did. So what do “feed my lambs”, “shepherd my sheep”, and “feed my sheep” mean to us today?
The answer to that comes in another passage from John’s Gospel, this time from the Last Supper. John 13:34-35:
Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other
For Peter, discipleship meant taking on the mantle of the Good Shepherd, even following Jesus in the way that he died. For us, discipleship means loving one another as Christ loves us.
Loving one another as Christ loves us.
To fully appreciate the power of that statement, we should ask “What does discipleship not mean?”
In my mind, the first and foremost thing that discipleship does not mean is hours of Bible study. That is not saying that it is not a good thing to read and try to understand the Bible, but the Christian who spends many hours in dry dusty libraries—as I have done, and I enjoy doing—is not a better Christian simply because of that study. The Christian who, because of circumstances, opportunity, inclination, or other reason, does not spend hours engaged in Biblical study is not a worse Christian simply because of the lack of study. Being able to open your Bible and find the 4th chapter of the Book of Habakkuk is not a measure of someones Christianity.
Discipleship does not mean anger. There were plenty of synagogues in Palestine in Jesus’ day. I think that pretty much all of them taught things that Jesus disagreed with. Did he camp outside them, waving placards with Old Testament quotations on them? No. He preached his message to whoever would listen, and in love he welcomed all those who came.
Discipleship does not mean holding a grudge. In today’s reading, Jesus appointed Peter as the new shepherd of the church. He appointed Peter. The man who had, a few weeks previously, denied him three times. In love, Jesus forgave.
Discipleship means love. Love for one another, as Christ loves us.
Peter fed the sheep with his ministry. When we love one another as Christ loves us then we are becoming like Christ. In our own small ways, are acting as shepherds for each other. It is with Christ-like love that we feed each other.
This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.
This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Saturday 29 June 2013.
Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy.
Hard words indeed. In fact if they weren’t said by Christ himself, we might question whether or not they were actually Christian at all. Christ is about love, and meekness, and compassion, yet he said “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.” (Matthew 10:34-39)
Very hard words.
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” That is a quote, not from Jesus Christ, but from Winston Churchill, but I think it helps us understand today’s reading.
If you have enemies it means that you have stood up for something, sometime in your life. There are many things a Christian must stand up for, and therefore being a Christian can sometimes mean you attract enemies. Your life is not cozy when you have enemies.
You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution [, said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:10-12.] The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
There are things you stand for when you are a Christian—things like love, and compassion, and meekness—and because you stand for those things people sometimes don’t like you.
Between us, my husband Michael and I run Faith and Pride. We believe that you can be gay and Christian. That is what we stand for when we stand in our pink hoodies. As you can imagine that attracts a certain amount of negative attention, both from the Old-Testament-placard-waving and tract-distributing Christians that everyone in Belfast is familiar with, and from gay people who are aggressively secular, the gay people who would prefer that Christ is completely absent from Pride Week.
I won’t lie. That negative attention can be very wearing at times.
Don’t think that I have come to make life cozy.
Those aren’t really hard words. Like everything else Christ said, they are words of compassion. Like Winston Churchill, Jesus knew that standing for something means you make enemies. He warned us about that. When your life as a Christian is difficult, because of your Christian stance on any issue, we can be comforted in the knowledge that these difficulties were not unexpected. “What it means [said Jesus] is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds.”
Being a Christian isn’t always easy. Walking as Christ would have us walk, turning the other cheek and forgiving seventy times seven is hard in and of itself. Somewhat oddly, that meekness sometimes gives us enemies. When those enemies make our walk difficult we should remember that, because it is a Christian walk, all heaven applauds.
Today is Belfast Pride‘s parade day. We are holding two events.
- A group of gay (and gay friendly) Christians will be supporting the parade. We will be gathering at St George’s Church on High Street from 10.30. More details… (Facebook event page). If you are on the parade, give us a wave as you go past!
- Our final 15 minutes with Christ is at 6pm in St George’s. More details… (Facebook event page).
For full details of Belfast Pride itself, check their website.
A few people have suggested to me that I gave my Faith and Pride talk, Jonathan Loved David, to be offensive. Nothing could be further from the truth. I gave that talk because it was what I sincerely believe, and I thought other people would be interested in what I had to say. Faith and Pride isn’t about being argumentative or offensive, it is about putting forward an alternative point of view. It is about saying that you can be gay and Christian.
There are some Christians who find that offensive. Equally well, there are some Christians who find it offensive to say that you can’t be gay and Christian. However, just because one group has beliefs that are offensive to another group, it doesn’t mean that the first group should be afraid to say what it believes.
This isn’t just confined to issues surrounding gay people and Christianity. Roman Catholics believe that the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church. The Westminster Confession of Faith has this to say about the Pope.
There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXV, section VI
There can be no doubt that that statement is offensive to Catholics. Does that mean that churches that adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith, such as the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, shouldn’t be allowed to express their beliefs? Or maybe Catholics shouldn’t be allowed to express their beliefs because they are offensive to Free Presbyterians?
This even goes beyond issues that only concern Christians. The majority of Jews and Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the son of God, which is a position that is offensive to the majority of Christians. Does that mean that Jews and Muslims should not be able to express their beliefs, lest a Christian is offended? Or maybe it is Christians who should remain silent, for fear of offending people from other faiths. Taking it a step further, many atheists find any expression of a belief in god offensive, and many people of faith find an expression of atheism offensive. Should one group be silenced to avoid offending another?
In Northern Ireland, we understand what it is like to live in a society without religious tolerance. We know how damaging that can be. In Northern Ireland we are learning what it is like to live in a society with religious tolerance, and we are seeing how wonderful that is. Religious tolerance means you can freely believe whatever you want, but that means you must also allow other people to believe what they want. Putting it another way, you have the right to stand up and say what you believe, but you do not have the right to stop someone else standing up and saying what they believe, no matter how much it offends you.