Sunday, June 22, 2008

Choice - Change - Challenge - the Parables of Jesus

Everyone loves a good story … and Jesus could tell a good story. So much of his teaching was in parables.

Which parable has made the biggest impact on you … and why?

Something to share with your neighbour.

Parables present each one of us with a choice

It is the choice of the kingdom.

It’s like two roads … one is broad and leads to destruction, the other narrow and leads to life – choose the narrow way.

It’s like two trees … one bears bad fruit, the other good fruit – choose to be the tree that bears good fruit

It’s like two house builders … one builds on rock and the other builds on sand … the choice is there for all to hear … hear these words of Christ about blessings about love for God, for neighbour, for enemy too, hear these words of Christ about prayer … and act on them and be like the wise man who builds his house on rock.

The choice is one we each have to make.

Parables change the way we see things.

Not least, they change the way we see religion and what it does. So often people feel that religion, Christianity should be a cure-all for all the world’s ills. ‘If God is real,’ they maintain, ‘then he will change the world and it will be a better place. The world is not a better place, therefore you can’t believe in God.’

Jesus sees things quite differently.

His parables help us to change the way we see the world and especially the way we see God in the world.

Make the choice for the narrow way, the good fruit tree, the wise house builder and it’s difficult to see why everyone doesn’t make the same choice. What a better world it would be if everyone did. All the world’s problems would go away.

But the real world isn’t like that. Not everyone is convinced.

Jesus recognises that too …and his parables have the power to reassure, though the reassurance raises questions that are perplexing, troubling even.

The centre point of Matthew’s gospel sees Jesus leaving the house he has made his base in Capernaum and sitting beside the sea. Such is the crowd that he has to get into a boat while the crowd stand on the shore. I’ve always felt you couldn’t have been sure where that happened – did it really happen. But there it was – it must have been somewhere very near there – on the shore line that was so similar, with just that kind of shore! And I was there!

And the world of today has just the same kind of perplexing problems. Why doesn’t everyone just see the light. Why do some hear and not act on what they hear?

So it is that Jesus tells a sequence of stories – Matthew 13 is a remarkable chapter of Parables of the Kingdom.

The Parable of the Sower … or better still, the parable of the sower, the seed and the soils. That word of God sown by Christ and his teaching is received in different ways – three quarters of those in the parable don’t take it to hear. Only one quarter of those who hear are changed by it … and bear the good fruit.

Takes some getting does that point. And the disciples are puzzled. Jesus lines himself up with the prophets – those who hold the authorities to account. And the tragedy of the story of the prophets is that they were as often as not not heeded. The same happens with the prophetic teaching of Jesus.

The parable of the sower explained, Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the Weeds among the Wheat. The two grow together – again perplexing, again pointing to the realities of the world – good and ill together – what a mixed world we live in.

Take heart, the parable of the Mustard Seed and of the Leaven – tiny beginnings have large end results – so too with the Kingdom. It may be tiny now … but ultimately, God will have the last word. Hold on to that.

Reassurance about the reality of a world that doesn’t leap to follow Christ’s way. IT builds up with excitement.

This kingdom is a treasure – it’s a pearl of great price. It’s worth the world. You can almost feel, in the way that Matthew builds towards a great climax in this sequence of parables, the crowd and the disciples being carried along with Jesus.

But then comes something that disturbs and unsettles. There’s a story about fishing when good fish and bad fish are caught – and then at the end they are separated out.

Fascinating that the separation is between the evil and the righteous. There is a contrast here.

God’s kingdom is about righteousness, justice. Ultimately, in having the last word, justice prevails. And evil does not.

Wow … have you understood all that, says Jesus. And he finishes with a comment that must leave them all wondering … follow the teaching in these stories and you will be trained for the kingdom. – just like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

Enigmatic if ever there was something to be enigmatic about.

Matthew’s gospel starts with the sermon on the mount, has at its heart this chapter of parables of the kingdom. The teaching of Jesus reaches its climax in another address Jesus gives towards the end of his ministry which just like the sermon on the mount ends with three parables that are full of challenge – these are parables that unsettle.
Parables challenge us to live the Kingdom

They spell out the challenge we must all face.

Of ten bridesmaids, five were prepared with oil in their lamps for the unexpected arrival of the bridegroom … but five were not. Beware – don’t be unprepared!

There’s the parable of the talents. Wonderful the one with five talents, gains five talents more. The one with two talents gains two talents more … and both are commended. But the one with one talent sits on it. Beware don’t be like that. Make the most of what you have received from Christ.

And then I reach the parable that along with the Parable of the Good Samaritan I think I would identify as the one that has made the biggest impact on me.

The parable of the sheep and the goats.

You can have all the right words and say, Lord, lord with as much reverence, dedication and as worshipfully as you like.

But …

The key thing to take to heart if we are to accept the challenge and choose for the kingdom, the key thing to take to heart as we are reassured about the realities of the world, the key thing is the ultimate challenge to us all to live out that faith we profess.

34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me

That’s what we must take to heart not only in the way we each lead our lives. We must also take that to heart in our concern for the wider world and the call of the Kingdom to justice in that world.

We began our service today, the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush from Jamaica, thinking of connections we have with Jamaica. How vital it is that we welcome all in the name of Christ and seek to build a truly multi-cultural society in these islands.

We lead into our prayers of concern as we recall Felicity’s visit to Zimbabwe with the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa and the visit we received from one of the ministers from Zimbabwe who presented us with a banner we have in our church.

We stand with our brothers and sisters in the UCCSA churches we are linked with through the Council for World Mission in prayer for the people of Zimbabwe as we do that we are with churches the world over in a day of prayer for Zimbabwe.

The parables of Jesus present us with the choice to follow him and stand by the kingdom and its values.

The parables of Jesus change the way we see the world and enable us to know that even when the evils of the world are not instantly changed we must still hold fast to the kingdom recognising that God is at work.

The parables of Jesus challenge us to recognise Jesus in the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty and prisoner and to stand alongside those in need wherever they may be.

As our reflections came to an end the following letter was read from the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa

UCCSA sends solidarity team to Zimbabwe

The United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) is sending a team to Zimbabwe to express its solidarity during the current crisis. The team comprises members from different synods of Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. The Executive Committee Leaders from these synods of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) are to pay a visit to Zimbabwe to stand in solidarity with church members in the run-up to the country’s presidential election on 27th June.

The UCCSA, which has members in five southern African countries, is very much aware of the pressure that is being placed on its members ahead of the run-off election between incumbent president Robert Mugabe of the Zanu-PF party, and Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

The UCCSA condemns the repeated detention of MDC leaders and the violence that is generally taking place in all areas of the country. This continued violence will only serve to throw the country into further turmoil, uncertainty and hopelessness.

We encourage Churches to join in with the World Council of Churches set aside 22nd June 2008 as a day of prayer for Zimbabwe. We urge you all to build into your services a moment to remember and lift in prayer our sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe.


Dr. Prince Dibeela
General Secretary

No comments:

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light