Sermon by Jan Betts 12th August 2018

Lord in your great mercy and love, may we hear your voice today in my words, and may your love be with us through them too.

You only have one thing to remember from this sermon and I will tell you what it is!

Jesus was born a gangster  – and that’s not what you have to remember!

The evidence for this is in Luke chapter 4. There Jesus’ impeccable pedigree as a Jewish man in his community is laid out by Luke. Jesus was entitled to consider himself part of a community with very stiff rules about who could belong and who couldn’t. He was part of a gang, that is, a group which defines itself by the people it keeps out. Us and them. Us and the enemy, us and those who aren’t like us, such as Samaritans or Gentiles. And St Paul was exactly the same.  Now of course it’s an exaggeration to call Jesus a gangster.  We wouldn’t  – on the whole – call ourselves gangsters because we’re British and make it hard for asylum seekers to be allowed to be formally British. But we are by our passports part of a group which is exclusive, and we know where the nastiness of arguments about Britishness have led us.

This sense of being pure and apart and part of a gang was very powerful in Jesus’ time and now. I’ve been reading a book called Letters to a young Muslim, by the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Russia. In it he describes how hard it was when he was a teenager and a young man to be the child of an Arab father and a Russian mother in the UAE. (quote) The point here is that if you’re out of the gang your out and it’s really tough to find a way to live.  That’s true in any and every society.

Now let’s hear what Jesus has to say about being outside the gang. . READING Luke 14 25-35

Imagine – Jesus has turned towards Jerusalem on a journey which he knows is going to end badly, in horrific torture and death because he’s not part of the gang.  He’s got his mind on teaching the disciples everything he can between now and then

And after him come the crowds which are so like, as Heston reminded us in the last two weeks, the pressing, chattering,  gaping, gossiping  misunderstanding crowds who followed Brian in Life of Brian. ‘Can’t hear him from back here – what did he say – blessed are the cheesemakers?’

Unlike Brian, Jesus doesn’t say actually ‘go away’. What he does choose to say as he rounds on them, is something to sort out the serious from the gawpers, to challenge them all.

If you really want to follow me, he says you have be committed enough to leave some things behind.

 If you really want to follow me you have to stop being part of a gang. You have to leave behind thinking that you are defined by your family lineage, your privilege, you r community, your money, your righteousness.  You have to be first and foremost committed to the way of love and forgiveness which I am showing you. Your gang is those who do this. Again as Heston said, this is about nationalism. Your nationhood doesn’t define you.

Jesus totally smashes the social structure, tells people all that they are, deep in their Jewishness, is not  their defining feature.

If you want to follow me, says Jesus, count the cost. Think about it! When you build a house (Jews) or go to war, (Roman soldiers)  you calculate the cost.  Are you willing to pay it? Do you love me more than these other things?

If you’re not that serious, he says, go home, because t it’s really hard to be an outsider. Jesus has said this before. He didn’t   let the wise young ruler off the hook when his money was too important to let him be a disciple. He didn’t  let the Pharisees off the hook when they pulled rank over how to approach and understand God and put rules in people’s way – being their own gang. The Jewish nation, says Jesus, needs to regain its saltiness, its commitment to  being the people of a God of justice and mercy  for all, and if not  they will be discarded in favour of those who are salt, who do follow Jesus’ way.

Because blessed, happy in God,  are the poor, blessed are the humble, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the Samaritans and the Roman centurions who believe in Jesus’  Way, blessed are the children, blessed are all those who count for very little.  Following Jesus makes us part of a different gang, a no borders gang.  Isn’t this one of Paul’s great themes? He had all the privileges, and gave them up gladly, his pride swept away in the torrent of the love of Jesus not the rules of privilege. . And blessed are those in Iraq and elsewhere who have also given up their lives for Jesus or for the way of peace. My way costs, says Jesus, and it’s not something we talk about very often.

This is not a threat, it’s a clear and direct invitation into the astounding world of the love of God. The rich young ruler might have suffered more but he would have been happier in the end if he had been like the man who sold everything for a pearl of great price.

Now here’s what you have to remember.

 What won’t you leave behind? In which bit of our lives does the gospel fall on stony ground? Which gang do you stay in which excludes God?

And why is it worth hanging on to? What is it doing for you?

And what would happen if you gave it to God?

Money, time, status, pride in what we do, fear of the consequences?

Maybe we need to talk about it as a church because sometimes it’s only the outsider who can tell us how they are kept out. Is it our picture of God? Is it our security?

I was thinking about how we decide what something is worth.

We can make that judgement with our pockets

I have a bottle of water. Would you pay me £2 for it? No, because calculating with our pockets says no.

Would you give me £2 for it for the roof fund? Well maybe…

Calculating with our considered heart says maybe, because £2 isn’t a lot and we’ve done a good deed.   

Or we can make a judgment about what something is worth out of pure love and compassion. My teddy Henry is beyond any monetary value. The only thing that would persuade me to part with him is pure compassion, say if a sick child wanted him, a very pale reflection of the compassion of God for us in Jesus. Only God’s compassion can totally break down the places where we hang on to things for ourselves, and keep ourselves out of God’s kingdom.  This challenging loving person Jesus shows us that the kingdom of heaven is given us freely and is beyond any price except our love for God in return for God’s passionate love for us. We were worth Jesus’ death and Jesus walks alongside us in the way of com – passion, of suffering alongside. Our judgments about whether we are part of the Kingdom are made out of the love we have for God.  

A week or two ago Heston used a quote from Richard Rohr which blew me away.

“When we attach, when we fall in love, we risk pain and we will always suffer for it. The cross is not the price that Jesus *had* to pay to talk God into loving us. It is simply where love will lead us. Jesus names the agenda. If we love, if we give ourselves to feel the pain of the world, it will crucify us.”  — Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

The cross is where love leads us.

It’s cross shaped.

To make a cross you need two pieces and one is God’s love for us love and the other is what the way of love leads us into.

It is hard. Some of us are reading psalms ad so many of them are personal lamentations about how the writer feels abandoned, lost, apart from God, God has hidden his face. Jesus knew and loved these psalms, a hugely important part of Jewish worship. But the writer nearly always come back to how God is faithful.

It’s hard to see the faithfulness of God sometimes. But we are called to be disciples with all of our scared proud, little ourselves and that’s what this invitation of Jesus is about.

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