Who wants to see a miracle? I know you do! We all like a show. We all like to be entertained. I love to see a magic show. I love to try and figure out how it was done. It is great entertainment. It is fun. I like to be entertained, but no one would say that I should base the way I live on that entertainment. I know that my life values need to be based on something more than shadows and mirrors.
So, again I ask, “Who wants to see a miracle?”
If anyone thinks, “Wow, yes!”, and that includes me, then the next question is, “Why?” Why do I want to see a miracle? Why do you? Why do I?
Do I want to see a miracle for the entertainment? Probably, if I’m honest, I have to say, “Yes”. A major healing, or walking on water, or calming a storm, would be amazing things to see. I could dine out on a miracle like that for the rest of my life. Yes, I would be impressed by whoever seemed to have performed that miracle. Yes, I would definitely go to see them again. But, would I remember what they were saying, would I even care that much? I’m not so sure, I am a weak human being, so part of me would be going for the miracles; for the show.
What would happen if the miracles stopped? If the person, stopped doing the entertaining things and started to demand my attention, to demand that I listen to what they were saying, even that I should start to question the way I was living; what then? Well if that happened, I would probably walk away disgusted at being taken in. I had come for the show, not to be preached at!
Now I see why Jesus so often wanted people to keep quiet about his miracles. People were healed and he told them not to tell anyone. I can see now that the miracles he did were just signs, or perhaps ‘sign posts’, to something far more important. Signs pointing to who he was, and is. Signs pointing to his message of hope.
Don’t get me wrong, I have seen miracles. I have seen them, but I am also glad that they are not so common. That way I’m not distracted by the side show and I can listen to the Spirit. I’m not distracted by the side show, and I can let the real miracle happen: I can learn to love.
I’m writing this with that ache behind my eyes that say that tears are not far away.
Yesterday I heard that a good friend had died. There was no warning. He was in his early 60s (not very old), but he just had a massive heart attack at work. I still feel numb. He was known as “The Gypsy” and he never stayed in one place for long. He would vanish off to some far-flung corner of the world, then a year or so later there would be a tap on the window or a knock on the door, and there he’d be. In later years he learned to give us a little warning from down the road. He would arrive; we would talk. He would stay for a few hours, or perhaps a day or two; perhaps longer. Then off again, but always to return with amazing tales of his adventures. He went to war zones, and the lawless places of this world. He always came back but I had always feared this day. Only, I had never expected him to be ‘safe’ in this country when it happened.
It doesn’t seem real yet. Maybe, it never will. I have a feeling that I will always be waiting for that tap on the window, or that out-of-the-blue phone call from down the road. I know though that that call will never come. But that vain hope has set me to thinking about another caller that I’m expecting but I don’t know when. I remember that I’m to expect that call from Jesus telling me to come home. I am also to long for the return of Jesus in triumph. I hear again those words of Paul, “You know what sort of times we live in, and so you should live properly. It is time to wake up. You know that the day when we will be saved is nearer now than when we first put our faith in the Lord.” (Romans 13.11)
I read that and I recognise my own mortality. I also recognise the times I live in. I only have to look at the news to know that this world can be an evil and corrupt place. Don’t get me wrong, there is also lots of goodness, love, generosity, kindness and wonder in this world. I do though want, desperately want, to see far more of the goodness and love. Indeed, I want to see an end to evil and suffering; for people and for the whole of creation. That is what Jesus has promised. I work for that now and pray constantly for its completion.
My loss has reminded me to focus far more on what is really important and not to let the distractions around me take over. I need to “wake up” and let Jesus work in me to make me more like him, to make me more loving. I need to not lose sight of the wonderful hope that has been given to me to share. As I wake up the division between worlds becomes thin and I can almost taste the air of God’s kingdom.
Then as I look forward this Advent to celebrating the birth of hope at Christmas, I remember where that hope leads. I remember the cost of the cross, the resurrection and I remember the victory over all that binds this world to sickness and death. I pray my Advent prayers and I look forward with joy and hope for Jesus’ return.
I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Please come soon!” (see Revelation 22.20)
I then reflect. I’m still sad and those tears are still not far away. I’ve lost a good friend, but I know that I have a hope that is greater than my loss and pain.
For me, for my friend, for all people and for all things, I pray, “Jesus, you’re needed back here.” I pray, “Jesus, please come soon!” Amen.
I’ve been pondering Jesus famous words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9). I’ve been reading words of peace but I’ve been thinking about war and violence and particularly about the tools of war and violence. As I pondered I realised that I grew up with knives. I was out and about in the woods and hills of Yorkshire, and a knife was a tool for all sorts of things from sharpening sticks to skinning rabbits. A knife was a tool, not a weapon – I even had one on my belt as part of my Scout uniform.
Then I learned to shoot, first airguns, then a rifle, then a shotgun. Again these were fun, but they were tools, not toys. Perhaps this attitude to these deadly weapons comes from my scout leaders, perhaps it comes from my father. My father was PT sergeant; he wouldn’t say much about guns, or knives, except to say that if you are ready to point them at someone, you had better be ready to kill them. A gun, a knife, any weapon is not for show. A serious lesson for which I am very grateful.
But that said I still played commandos with toy guns and knives, but this was always different. They were toys and it never entered my head to play games with my friends with a real knife or a real gun.
As a young child I had already learned the simple lesson of cause and effect – that weapons used on people do terrible things: that weapons kill. I want the same for all children today. I want them to know that war, even wars that aren’t called wars, are brutal.
This is one of the good things that has come out of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. With all of the media coverage it is hard to turn on the tv without seeing something about the horrors of that conflict – for soldiers, and for those suffering at home. I am not sure I agree with spending so much time remembering the start of a war but I can’t deny that so many children and young adults have been reminded of the seriousness of war – That there is misery and fear and mutilation, as well as death for innocent men, women, children and babies, as well as for soldiers.
I know that young people from our High School go to the First World War battlefields each year, and are never quite the same again. A real lesson has been learned. I know that I still remember my own trip to those battlefields when I was barely into my teens. They remain a haunting reminder of what war can be.
War is horror, not glory. That is why Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5.9). So today I commit myself again to working for peace: To working for peace here between my neighbours, and to supporting those working for peace between countries.
There may come a time again when the only right thing is to go to war. But I pray that soldiers are the last resort, and only that.
As you and I remember the bravery and sacrifice of so many who have fought for the freedoms of this country, in two world wars, and in more recent wars; that as we remember and honour their sacrifice, I ask all of you to do all that you can to work for peace. If you share my faith, then work for peace knowing that it is the call of Jesus spoken to you. If you don’t share my faith in God, then still work for peace for the good of all in this country, indeed for the good of all.
Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God. Whether you believe or not I dare you to be a peacemaker – someone who makes this world a better place.
“My friends the Lord loves you…” That is just one phrase from 2 Thessalonians 2.13, but it probably says all that needs to be said. Said to me, to you, to the people around us, to our world, “My friends the Lord loves you…”
I look around me every day and I see so many people that do not know that they are loved, not really. I go into schools. I look at the happy successful children and almost all of them are children that very clearly know that they are loved and cherished. I look at the children who are disruptive, violent or self-harming and almost every time they are very clearly children who do not know that they are loved. Indeed, they feel unloved, neglected, irrelevant; they are hurting and they need love. Yes, I also agree that they need discipline, but they also need love, real love, and I don’t think that the two are incompatible.
I look into myself and I see both. I see a small child who knows love and is happy and loving. I also see a small child in me that feels unloved and abandoned. Both are there and the whole of me needs to know that I am loved. Sometimes, people show me that they care. However, my ministry also requires me to do and say things that will not always be popular. Everything can just become too much, too much effort, and what’s the point anyway. My life can feel grey and lifeless – that little unloved child in me becomes very real. I’m not moaning or griping, it’s just a fact.
Then it is verses like 2 Thessalonians 2.13 that I need to hear. I need to hear, and feel inside, the truth of Jesus saying to me, “My friend the Lord loves you!” That is the message at the heart of my faith: I have turned to Jesus and I’ve found that God loves me.
A few verses earlier Paul warns that this world is not perfect and the “wicked one” is very real. Going astray is a constant danger, even a reality for most of us. So, I am concerned about the things that I do wrong, not out of guilt, but out of love. Paul’s warning needs to be heard because the wrong things that I say and do cut me off from God, they limit my ability to be loving, they hurt me and they hurt the people around me. It is the love of God, poured into me by the Spirit, that makes me want to be more loving. Paul makes this point better than me a few verses later in verses 16 and 17 where he says, “God our Father loves us. He is kind and has given us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope. We pray that our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father will encourage you and help you always to do and say the right thing.”
I read again and I see the flow of thought: Love first, love then leads to encouragement and help, finally love results in the hope of always doing and saying the right thing. I really wish that I could always do and say the right thing. Life would be so much better! In reality I can only manage to do and say the right thing for a fraction of the time. But Paul’s words encourage me and help me too. They remind me that it isn’t about me, it is about God. It is about God’s love for me from before I was even born. It is about the love I’ve discovered when I discovered Jesus. It is about the love that is pouring into me from God through the Holy Spirit.
In short, I may not be perfect, but I am perfectly loved. I am loved, loved and loved some more. In return, nothing is asked, nothing is required of me. But I have found that I’ve become very leaky. I’ve found that love poured into me keeps leaking out. It leaks out to the people around me through the things I do and say.
This sort of love isn’t just for nice words and feelings. It has changed my life, so I try to share the love I’ve been given with those I meet, in school, in church, in the street; wherever I am. After all, if I need this love so badly, I’m pretty sure that they do too.
So, for myself and everyone on this planet I say, “My friends the Lord loves you…”, receive it, live it, and you’ll see what I mean.
I’ve been out on my bike this week but even though the roads have been mostly dry, and the colours bright, I’m sad. I’m sad because my current bike is dying. It will last until Spring next year but then it will need too much work doing to keep it on the road. So, I’m sad, and feeling a little guilty about it. After all there is so much real suffering in the world, and so much human loss and tragedy in the people I see around me that my petty sadness seems just self-indulgent.
Then I think some more and I realise that my sadness is real and that if I start pretending about important things like my response to the things of this world, however trivial they may seem, then I will start to lose my ability to truly feel. I will not have more emotion left for ‘real’ tragedy and loss, I will simply be hardened against it, and the real people that are suffering.
Just as I have learned not to judge how a person reacts to the good and bad in this world. I need now to learn not to judge myself either, just love. Love, true and holy and precious; love is what gets me up on a morning. Love is simple and practical. Every time I am tempted to make things complicated, and get in a mess I need to turn back to Jesus. The Church has so often made faith complicated, while Jesus made it nice and simple, simple enough even for me.
No lists of laws. Just this simple creed (Mark 12.28-31 CEV):
“One of the teachers of the Law of Moses…, he asked him, “What is the most important commandment?”
Jesus answered, “The most important one says: ‘People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The second most important commandment says: ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.””
Thinking about the bike, made me think about why I like it. I thought a little, not an easy thing when you’re a bear of little brain. But in the end I think it is the simplicity of it. Just me, the bike and the road. It’s hard to explain, but the world just seems a simpler place when you’re on a motorbike, and simple is good. My sadness at the ending of my current bike is my reaction to the ending of a source of simplicity and for me holiness, in a complicated and corrupted world.
Over the last week I’ve been dealing with all sorts of rules and regulations. Rules and regulations about churchyards, and faculties. It all seems so complicated, so I could have done with getting out on my bike and making the world a simple place again. I’ve also come across lots of people who seem to think that Christianity is complicated. Lots to learn, lots to believe, lots to do and lots not to do. When I listen to them I understand what they mean but totally disagree.
Me and my fellow Christians seem to have made our faith complicated; while Jesus made it nice and simple. Simple enough even for me. Jesus took pages and pages of rules, condensed down into a few words. Put even simpler, I could say that my faith demands this, “Love God, love my neighbour, and don’t forget to love myself.”
I find that clarity and simplicity on my bike, hence the sadness. After all, God’s simple wisdom is the key to all the complicated problems in life and to all the difficult theological questions.
A simple faith for a simple biker:
“Love God, love my neighbour, and don’t forget to love myself.”
All the rest is commentary.
There is a colourful saying from my native Yorkshire (clean version), “The higher a monkey climbs, the more he shows his backside.” I’m a Rector of a large benefice of churches, a Rural Dean, a Cathedral Canon; I’m dressed like a peacock most Sunday’s to take our communion services; I wonder, in all of my grand titles and finery, am I just giving everyone a good show – of my backside?
It’s a sobering thought. It’s a worrying thought. It is deeply unsettling. It feels like standing in front for a whole high school assembly and suddenly thinking, “Did I fasten my flies?” There is nothing that I can do; nothing that nobody will notice that is! Being unsettled can then lead to paranoia: Are those girls sniggering discreetly?!
Jesus did something very similar to the ‘important’ (self-important?) people of his day (Luke 18.9-14 CEV):
Jesus told a story to some people who thought they were better than others and who looked down on everyone else:
10 Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. 12 I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.”
13 The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.”
14 Then Jesus said, “When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured.”
This story makes me feel uncomfortable, and I’m glad that it does. I like to be well thought off, I like praise, it is flattering to be looked up to – AND it is a deadly trap that better ministers than I have fallen into. My only hope is to listen again to Jesus. To let him in to me. I need to let Jesus burst the bubble of pride. That way I have a real chance of thinking and living a humble life – a life with love and generosity at its heart. That way I am more and more likely to look at anyone, whoever they are (a prostitute, a drug dealer, even a paedophile or a terrorist), and look with only love and never revulsion or judgement. That does not mean that I agree with the lifestyle or actions of any of those people, but if I believe that God will always love me, no matter what, I have to believe it possible of others too. I’m not there, not by a long way. I still feel revulsion and even hatred when I hear what some people do.
I need once again to let Jesus in, to be humble before him, to let him change me and trust Jesus to judge, in a way that I never can. I need also to remember that, “The higher a minister climbs, the more he shows his backside!”
One Sunday a young child was “acting up” during the Communion Service. The parents did their best to maintain some sense of order in the pew but were losing the battle. Finally, the father picked the little fellow up and walked sternly up the aisle on his way out. Just before reaching the safety of the door, the little one called loudly to the congregation, “Pray for me! Pray for me!”
A little boy was overheard praying: “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.”
Prayer is a strange thing, something I often struggle to understand.
A Sunday School teacher asked her little children, as they were on the way to church service, “And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” One bright little girl replied, “Because people are sleeping.”
I bring to mind the Christians I see in church and I don’t think they are asleep. Perhaps, next Sunday I should go and give them a prod, just to check? We may not be asleep but, looking at myself, perhaps I’m not fully awake either. I don’t know about you but some mornings I get up and go through the routine, feed the cats, feed guinea pigs, go for a run, have breakfast… At least I think that’s what I did. It’s what I always do, but now I think about it, was that yesterday?
When I used to commute to work I would get in the car and then I would arrive at the office, but often I had no recollection of anything in between. Obviously I was awake, I wasn’t in a ditch so I must have been awake enough to drive… but I had missed all that was around me. I will have missed the barn owl out late, or the marsh harrier up early. I had missed the mist over the marshes and the colours in the hedgerow. I was awake but I couldn’t say I was fully alive!
That brings me to prayer. Is my prayer, “A real good time”, at least sometimes? Does my prayer make me more awake, more alive, or is it just putting me to sleep?
I know the theory about prayer – it is a gift – it is access, direct access with the creator of all things – it is direct access to the ruler of all things – it joins me with the God who is love – through the Spirit prayer makes me more loving, more forgiving; a little more like the person that I should be. That’s the theory, but if I’m honest too often my prayers are more like me driving to work, or stumbling around on a morning. I prayer, I am technically functioning but certainly not firing on all cylinders. Am I really just sleepwalking for God?
I need to pray some more, and let the Spirit transform my prayer. I need to stop thinking of prayer as something squeezed between business, and start realising it as the thing that links me to the source of life. I’m tempted now to start exploring all that prayer can be. But not now, now that would be a distraction; perhaps another time. For now I am just asking my Father to wake me up each morning, really wake me up. I’m asking the Spirit to inspire me, so that I can be transformed to be more and more like Jesus.
A question for me and for everyone: Is my prayer, “A real good time”, at least sometimes? Does my prayer make me more awake, more alive?
I became a Christian at Liverpool University when I was 18. When I did my life changed. It was as if a light had come on, the world had so much more to it. It was now full of meaning, but also love and acceptance: It was full of God. I was 18 so everything was urgent and important and learning about my faith was no exception.
I was baptised in the Spirit which had a further profound affect on me and is something that I will talk about another time. All I want to say today is that being baptised in the Spirit made every thing so much more vibrant still.
One of the things that was so important to me was to find out more about the God to whom I had only just been introduced. I prayed, I fasted but more than anything I read my Bible. I carried my Bible round in my pocket and read it any time that I could sneak a minute or two. Initially I had no guidance so I started at the beginning with Genesis, and worked my way all the way to Revelations. For someone like me who had no experience of religion, no experience of God, this was like exploring a strange new land. Everything was new and different and so real.
These were the recorded experiences of all those people of faith who had gone before me. They had experiences of God and had written them down. I understood some of what I read and other passages just washed over me, but all of it fascinated me. That is what the Bible is like when the Spirit opens your eyes to the wonder of it all.
As St. Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3.16 &17). Those words referred mostly to the Old Testament that Paul and Timothy had been immersed in since birth, but they are just as correctly used to describe the New Testament, including Paul’s own letters.
Scripture, the collection of books that we call the Bible, is God-breathed. The pressurised wisdom squeezed into those pages, or smart-phone memory, makes the Bible like a air tank for us to breathe in the breath of God. With this book we can be like a deep sea diver exploring all the mysteries of the ocean depths. We can be like Jacque Cousteau.
I grew up watching Jacque Cousteau and his team travelling the world and diving down to see amazing reefs, sharks and shoals of fish. It was dangerous and exciting, and just watching was enough to make me want to set out on adventures of my own. As a boy I could never go diving but I did explore the local woods along the banks of the River Tees. I remember swinging out on a tree branch over that rushing and filthy tidal river to get further along the bank. It was dangerous but exciting, and that is what the Bible became, once my eyes were opened.
We cover this book, and read it solemnly in Church, as though it were a pretty ornament to be admired or or a jewel to show off. Indeed, the Bible is to be admired and shown off. But these images make it sound safe and tame – It is not. This book is the very breath of God, given to us through the Holy Spirit.
Through this book God changes lives. It is far from safe. The Bible is more like an incendiary device, just needing a spark from the Spirit before it goes off, before flames flare out and cover us; burning away all that is not of God. That is what this book is, or more accurately, that is what the Spirit uses this book to do.
So, please be careful. Don’t open that book, don’t what ever you do pay attention in Church, or the words may catch you, the Spirit may burn out and you? – Well let’s just say the Spirit will burn and you and I will be changed beyond all recognition.
The Bible is dangerous – Are you brave enough to open it and read. Go on – I dare you!
I am away today but from my conference I still say – Go on – I dare you!
It is good to be in a country church at harvest time! I look around and feel close to the harvest and the natural rhythms of the earth. I have been able to watch the fields sown, grow, ripen and then be harvested. I can see the sugar beet in the field for later in the year. Before I even look into the fields I just have to look at the changes in the hedgerows. It’s clear that it’s now harvest time because I’ve managed to get a dirty face and stained fingers from the blackberries!
I always get a sense of security when I see ripe fields being harvested. I know we get food from all around the world but the act of seeing food coming in somehow reassures me that there will be food for the future.
But there’s another side too. Leaves fall and get wet making the road slippy as I ride around on my motorbike. Tree branches come down in autumn winds but still I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else. I wouldn’t be anywhere else, but I need to remember that the countryside is not a natural idyll set up just for my pleasure. On our crowded island our countryside is all designed by human hand, the woods, the hedges, we even try to control river courses – with mixed results. The countryside is no less managed than the town, there is just more green and more space. The countryside needs to be that way or we would all starve.
I looked at the fields and I only saw the country idyll; that is until I started to really get to know a few farmers. Then I began to learn a little of the joys and sorrows of food production. The hours and the work, and the uncertainty. There are rich farmers but there are also many that are not. And when things go wrong on a farm you can be very isolated indeed.
Figures from Farming Community Network (http://www.fcn.org.uk/resources)
- One in four farming families are living on or below the poverty line.
- The average income for an upland tenant farmer is £8,000 per year.
- Debt of tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds is commonplace.
- Bovine TB is spreading fast around Britain. Last year almost 40,000 cattle were slaughtered in Britain in an attempt to arrest the disease. The effect on farmers and their family is devastating.
What can I do?
- I can support the Farming Community Network (FCN). The FCN has a Christian ministry in the farming community, with wonderful volunteers across the UK providing support and help to those who are in difficulty. They are showing the love of God to farming people in a very practical way. I need to consider joining them.
- I need to let the farming people that I know, know that they are valued; buy local food; ask FCN to keep me updated on its work;
- I need to consider whether I can donate; volunteer; and pray for the farming community and FCN.
So the realities of the world are here in the countryside too. People still need to make a living. After all you can’t eat the scenery!
In the countryside, like in the town, I need to remember Jesus words from Matthew 6.25-34:
I tell you not to worry about your life. Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn’t life more than food or clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky! They don’t plant or harvest. They don’t even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren’t you worth more than birds?
27 Can worry make you live longer? 28 Why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow. They don’t work hard to make their clothes. 29 But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth wasn’t as well clothed as one of them. 30 God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow. He will surely do even more for you! Why do you have such little faith?
31 Don’t worry and ask yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?” 32 Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. 33 But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well.
34 Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today.
I need to look at the harvest, my bees and the apples in my garden and give thanks for the abundance all around me. At the same time I need to let the Spirit fill me and free me from the temptation to worry about what might happen tomorrow; will there be enough grain? will grain prices rise and food prices with them? have all the apples been spoiled by wasps? will the bees make it through the winter? All of these whispered questions sneak in under my guard, trying to rob me of the joy of now that God has given to me.
“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” There are so many problems in the world, and I hope to do as much as I can to reduce them. Last harvestide I planned to contact FCN and see how my rural churches could help. I was snowed under with work and I forgot. So this year I will get in touch. If nothing else I can pray and I can encourage others here to pray.
There are so many problems in this world but I can’t let them act like a wasp or a worm in an apple, eating into your heart, spoiling the blessing. God’s blessings, including the beauty and abundance of harvest, are for us to celebrate. I need to let the colour, smell and texture of the autumn leaves make me smile. As worship of the Creator I vow to do all I can to enjoy all of the wonder of this time of year in this most beautiful of places. I will allow the Spirit to fill my heart so that I become a little more free to trust God; to enjoy and celebrate. I will let the Spirit fill me so you don’t have to worry about tomorrow, what I will eat or wear or anything else. I will bring my worries to God in prayer and leave them there… I wonder how I will get on.
I’ve been reading Jesus word’s from Luke 16.1-13 and I’m shocked. I’m shocked because he seems to be saying, “Blessed are the sneaky and dishonest!?” Read it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
Now, I know that in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus lists all sorts of people who are blessed by God (Matthew 5.3-12). He includes the peacemakers and the merciful, and even those who mourn but here Jesus seems to be adding another group: Blessed are the sneaky and dishonest. This is what Jesus said, “My disciples, I tell you to use wicked wealth to make friends for yourselves. Then when it is gone, you will be welcomed into an eternal home.” Luke 16.9
I have been thinking, pondering, worrying over this for a while. I’ve stomped around grumbling at Jesus. Why couldn’t he be simple and straight forward? Then I went back to what Jesus was saying. Particularly, my eyes were drawn to what he said right after these puzzling few words. My eyes were drawn to, “You cannot be the slave of two masters. You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than to the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16.13)
The light came on in my head, not a very bright light, but at least a light. Jesus isn’t saying that I should be sneaky and dishonest, to be wicked in the way I use money. No, Jesus is telling me not to worry about money one way or the other. I need to focus on serving God then all the ‘wicked money’ in the world can’t hurt me. I can spend money wisely, make shrewd use of what is given. I can use it… and let it go.
I am to love God with all that I am, then the love of money can’t get a hold of me. I need to remember that. I don’t think that I’m ruled by the love of money, but I do like having it around. I do like knowing that I have enough to pay the bills; or to fix the car if I have to. But I’m slowly learning that that healthy respect for the usefulness of money can go rotten. It can go from a healthy stewardship of the gifts given, to hording “what’s mine”! I keep slipping into this. The difference is so subtle that I fail so easily.
I’ve found that the only answer is to stop and spend some time with God. I can’t seem to fight it head-on, I just get stressed and more worried about money. But if I stop, and pray, and let the Spirit in, then and only then, do I find the worry about money losing its power. It is as though it is a bad dream that is fading as I wake up. There was nothing for me to worry about. I just needed to trust and be generous, and everything else falls into place. I know it, I’ve lived it. But still, I fall into that same old trap again and again. And God has to pull me out, again and again.
I’m now letting God calm me and the love of money is fading away. But still I hear a whisper, faint, at the edge of hearing, “You keep failing”, “Give up”, Give in”, “Love me more”. The whisper, louder now, says, “Blessed are the hoarders”, “Blessed are the rich”’, “Blessed are the sneaky and dishonest”… “Follow me and I’ll show you how”… “Just look at the news”… “Just look at those rich bankers, they’ve no cares”… “Just give up, give in and love me more”…
I’m now letting the Spirit fill me again, and the whispers become fainter… Strong in the Spirit, I laugh at the whisperer, the muttering fades and the Tempter retreats. I smile.