Thursday, February 25, 2016

LENT 3 - Focus Makes you Fabulous

“Focus makes you Fabulous”

I have seen these words above the computer of people’s work-stations and I suspect that it’s meant to encourage them not to be distracted by the many things that can distract you at work.

But there are times when I find it hard to tell the difference in someone between this admirable commitment to doing what needs doing and being simply stubborn.

A few chapters earlier in Luke’s Gospel from where we read today, Luke says:
“As the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind and set out on his way to Jerusalem.

Your older translations say “Set his face towards Jerusalem”, a phrase that gives a stronger sense of being focussed on that one thing, with a determination not to be distracted.

Now I would not be surprised if some of his disciples thought this was rather fool-hardy – indeed there is a story of gloom Thomas saying in effect “let’s go to Jerusalem and die there with him.”

In our text today, we have a rather extraordinary story of a small group of Pharisees even being so concerned about Jesus fool hardiness in going to Jerusalem.  “Don’t go!” they said.  “Herod wants to kill you.”

One thing is certain – Jesus knew that by going to Jerusalem he would ultimately meet his death; he knew that the religious and political leaders would not let him live.  But we can see from his response to his kind insiders what he had been doing along the way as he headed towards Jerusalem.  He was still teaching the common people, telling creative parables, healing the physically and mentally ill, and making time for dining out with disreputable characters.  He even makes it clear that he knows he is going to die – all the prophets die in Jerusalem.  So he keeps on going.

He would not be deflected from going to confront his critics in the Holy City.

Was that being stubborn?

In hindsight, we know that he was not just being stubborn.  In fact Jesus was being loyal to the cause of his God, understanding that no matter how much the prospect of crucifixion appalled him, it was nevertheless the right thing to risk it.  He realised that by being willing to lose life something far larger can be accomplished.

What Jesus did has been an example to all followers.

Many have put their faith in him and his way.  The single-mindedness of Stephen saw him stoned to death outside Jerusalem.  James was beheaded; Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome, Thomas in faraway India.

But it did not end with the apostles.

There continued to be notable examples throughout the Christian story.  The witness of those who stuck to their belief at the cost of their well-being, their health, their freedom or their life.

Many but not all became official “saints.”  We don’t hear many sermons about the saints these days – perhaps in our season after Pentecost this year I will take s on a journey with a few.  But there are a lot of amazing stories of amazing people.

Like the aged Polycarp in the 2nd C. AD.
A much loved pastor who, when asked to curse Christ and worship Caesar as Lord or face death by burning at the stake, replied: “Eighty and six years I have served Christ, and he has done me no wrong.  How can I then curse my Lord and my Saviour?” 
Was he just being plain stubborn?

Or the young mother Perpetua.
She walked boldly into the arena to be killed for her faith, then loosed her hair and declared: “This is my day of coronation!”

Was she being stubborn or one of Christ’s true servants?

Francis of Assisi and his disciple Claire.
For much of their lives they were misunderstood and hassled by church authorities. Yet they persisted in their way of Christ’s love, welcoming poverty and hardship for the cause of Christ. 

Stubborn or genuine followers of Jesus of Nazareth?

There are many more of them – Australian ones, too.
John Wycliffe- Oxford scholar and English Bible translator, 
Martin Luther the determined German reformer.
Mary MacKillop who persisted in her mission to establish schools for the poor.

Each of these refused the advice of people close to them to stop doing these things because they were causing too much trouble.

Stubborn or people focussed on doing God’s will?

What about you and me?  Are we keen to emulate them in forethought?  Are we ready in mind and spirit to be so single-minded?

As I said at the beginning – sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between admirable commitment to doing what needs doing and being simply stubborn.  It is not always easy to be sure of the right path when we are suddenly faced with a conflict between apparent truth and error, integrity and compromise?  We need to have fortified ourselves in advance by “dwelling in Christ.”  Fore-thought is not anxiety; it is calm preparedness.

My Confession time
I think I need to make a little confession to you before I proceed.  You know that I have been a Christian for a long time and most of that time now I have worked in one way or another for the church.  Over those years there have been a good number of times when I made what I thought was a firm stand in line with what God wanted in that situation – sometimes at great personal cost.

Looking back now with time for quiet reflection and a perspective that only comes much later on I think there may well have been more occasions that I feel comfortable about where my motives were rather mixed or even dubious.

Sometimes I was just plain stubborn.

It is so often a tricky thing to judge your own motives.  Are we being highly principled or just stubborn (intent on our own way)?  That is the tough question.

That’s why it’s probably a good idea, when you are faced with something tricky to:  
  • Pray carefully about it – seeking out what God may require of us.  
  • What would Jesus do? is a trite question but it is meant to make us consider how the things he taught and did might guide us in the situation.
  • Finally, seek out a second opinion.  Ask a wise friend or pastor what they think you should do.  

Lent is a good time to assess how we are going.  

Our calling is to follow in the Way of Jesus – where he goes.

Our calling is to do so without distraction, without deviation, with focussed determination to do it.

I think it would be fair to say that we need this kind of courage in the church today.

The people involved with #LoveMakesAWay try to live with this kind of courage.  Those Doctors in Brisbane who wanted to #LetThemStay were trying to live with this kind of courage.

May we have the same courage when called on.

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