Each time I read Jesus’ words, I am skewered by the radical, generous, loving and totally challenging nature of his message. He offers hope and love, he sees us, really, truly sees us and I am always amazed at how we continue to live the way we do even after we hear what he’s saying. Now I have heard his message, I cannot unhear it and I cannot ignore it and do nothing. Today, the message is as critical and life-changing as it was 2,000 years ago.
In today’s context, as we think about Jesus’ message, I’m aware there’s a Federal election coming up in the next few months, and we’ll be given a choice as we are every few years, to think about what Jesus desires for all God’s people, and what we desire for ourselves and then how this comes together to present us with choices and highlights our consciousness of our worldviews alongside our beliefs.
This context has been stark over the last couple of years with the impact of the pandemic, which in 2020 showed the reality of what happens when people have enough money to live on as money was paid to keep people alive. It meant emergency relief was not needed, people paid down debt, took care of health bills, fed their families and stopped being stressed about surviving economically. Housing remained certain as banks and landlords couldn’t evict people; hotel rooms were provided for the homeless so they didn’t have to live or die on the streets.
In contrast, the broken nature of our relationships showed us what happens when we don’t pay attention to abuses of power and oppression, unbearable controlling attitudes, sexual abuse and domestic violence, bullying and intimidation; and, the increasing demand for mental health support which is desperately needed when no-one listens or talks to us when we’re lonely and despairing and the church is forgotten or has become irrelevant. Our lives and our truths have been laid bare in these times of choice.
Jesus shared his message of hope and love with his disciples as he sat down to teach them:
Jesus reminded his disciples this was not a new message coming from nowhere. Remember Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Isaiah 61:1-2a whom Jesus quoted as he began his ministry (Luke 4:18-19). And what about Hannah (1 Sam.2:1-20) and Mary (Luke 1:46-55) who also remind us of God’s new creation being spoken into the world with justice, love and peace, what it means and what we can expect.
The upside down, radical nature of Jesus’ message as God’s anointed one in the world and his commitment to love and active peace-making means he is not a comfortable man with a comfortable message. As we listen to Jesus speaking to us as his disciples, we are asked again today, what are we hearing Jesus say to us? Jesus’ message of hope is ringing out so loudly if only we have ears to hear.
And then Jesus reminds us:
It is a sharp, clear message. Simple to remember. A call resonating throughout the world: it is time to make our choice again and stand for God’s kingdom, for God’s love. To show it in our actions, words, values and behaviours, in the way we live and invite all to share at God’s table.
Jesus was teaching his disciples in what is called the Sermon on the Plain, as he sat on the ground and spoke his message clearly for the disciples to remember, making it easy to share with others, to spread the word about God’s love for everyone. The simplicity of it is profound, radical and life-changing. Let me be clear, it absolutely and unequivocally disagrees with everything we are taught in life about success.
Here’s the challenge. Jesus’ message is an invitation for all of us. Do we continue as we are, listening to false prophets in our world today or do we start to make choices which Jesus is inviting us to do? Will we upend your lives, and our world and step away from fear and complacency and start to challenge the exclusions, discrimination, the contempt and unkindness, the world’s beliefs about who is acceptable and who can be trashed.
I find it challenging when I reflect on how easy it is for us to believe contradictory things. Believe in Jesus and then act in ways to protect myself, my goods and my family, first before everything. Believe in Jesus and behave badly and rudely to others, disbelieving, ignoring, discarding and disrespecting, while always prioritizing myself.
We heard the text in Corinthians last week:
Love is patient; love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor.13:4-8a)
If this is how God is with us, the glimpses we catch as we lean into Jesus and his teaching can take our breath away and we can begin to imagine a new creation, spoken into being, Jesus incarnate. We can become excited and hope-filled by Jesus’ message.
Jesus reminds us in the following verses, being kind and loving to those whom we love and who love us is not what this is about as we all do this. The important learning is to realise God does not exclude or judge, it’s we who do this, its you and I who make our choices and so turn from Jesus’ message to maintain our own version, keeping ourselves safe and prioritised. If only we can stop hoarding and lording and start sharing and caring in Jesus’ way, the world changes person by person, in God’s direction.
Each day offers us new opportunities to pray and practice giving God’s love away, with profligacy and extraordinary wastefulness, with generosity and abundance without counting the cost, for then, we are in God’s kingdom, overflowing with laughter, and good things, for we will be filled.
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth and former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;…no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it or the cry of distress….they shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit…they shall not labour in vain or bear children for calamity for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. (Isaiah 65:17-25)
It is indeed a kingdom of God in which you and I are deeply joyful in labouring and harvesting with God and in which we can be reassured of God’s loving mercy and kindness and we need not be frightened of our choice and discipleship as we are abiding in God’s love.
The Lord be with you.