The film “Wall Street” (1987) tells the story of a stockbroker who is willing to do anything to get to the top. This includes trading on the (illegal) inside information he obtains through the ruthless exploitation of a young man he takes under his wing. Profit and position are the immediate priority and the ultimate goal: as Gordon Gecko says in the film “Greed is good.”
The material extremes of 1980’s New York are just the latest manifestation of what has existed throughout human history. There has always been – and until the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom, there will always be – the “haves” and the “have nots.” This is starkly illustrated in today’s reading where the focus moves quickly from the circumstances of the Rich Man and Lazarus towards the underlying attitudes and behaviour.
Our misplaced priorities, finding practical expression in self centred behaviour and self indulgence at others’ expense, are not representative of the values and attitudes of God’s Kingdom. If not addressed there are significant consequences for our relationship with God.
"True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that - it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth." (Charles Spurgeon)
What does that spiritual transaction really look like for us? How can we really engage with God when on the one hand we have a long list of concerns, and on the other, we readily pray “thy will be done?”
Something always happens when we pray. If we really mean business, then we begin by recognising that prayer says something about God - both His character and His intervention in everyday lives and events. At the same time, there’s some very specific advice in our passage today about the way we approach God – it’s a privilege not a right, borne out of our need for Him.
When John Keats described this time of year as “a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” he portrayed what might, to our modern eyes, be seen as an over romanticised view of the English countryside. His words paint a picture of a rural Eden bursting with fruit, watered by warm rain, slipping slowly into the grip of winter.
Celebrating the harvest in the form we know it today began with a celebration service first used by Reverend Hawker at Morwenstowe in the middle of the 19th century. Then, it was an opportunity for small communities who were wholly dependant on the produce of the land, to thank God for all He provided.
Today our involvement with the harvest may not so be personal, but we are still dependent on the fruits of God’s creation. At the same time as giving thanks to God specifically, harvest is a time to thank God generally for all the good things he provides for us. It’s an opportunity to thank God for what we have as well as celebrating the fruit that God brings into our lives through knowing Jesus, His Son.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The opportunity to be part of something special from ground zero takes a lot of beating. Starry eyed idealism is no substitute, though, for a real life understanding of what we may have let ourselves in for. The benefits seem clear enough but they can obscure the level of personal commitment demanded in the task if we are to make the most of the opportunity that’s available.
Who do you resemble the most – the person who jumps forward to be first off the blocks for the newest and latest or someone who’s always got a reason to put things off? Whatever we are really like, however we behave – there’s one thing that’s clear: building the Kingdom of God will demand real commitment and it’s not something which can take second place to anything or anyone else.
Some things are pretty clear from the outset, others need significant consideration before we commit to doing anything.
Fear can often leave us rejecting what might be a perfectly reasonable course of action. If rejection is taking things too far, we might try to avoid a decision in the hope that it all goes away or put tests in place to confirm the decision down to the finest detail.
There’s a strong element of fear running through this story with very good reason. Although God has confirmed his calling, Gideon needs to really grasp it in his own mind even though his first steps in clearing out the spiritual rubbish have proved very successful.
What steps do we need to take to ensure we are walking by faith?
It’s not all plain sailing even once you’ve set your course to follow the master
You can get blown off course by listening to or by following some very plausible people. They come with the right credentials and speak the “in house” language. Trouble is, their own lives don’t stack up to the lofty ideals of their words it’s question of “do what I say and ignore what I do.”
It all comes back to prayer. Prayer helps us to determine the rights and wrongs of particular actions because it reveals the will of God.
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.
Sports fans generally have strong views on who should be picked to play for “their” team. Although we all have our favourites, the best team is normally a mixture of tried and tested maturity, alongside up and coming talent with clear potential.
Gideon doesn’t have a track record and, nor on first sight – with him threshing grain in a small wooden box under an oak tree– does he appear to be the stuff of potential legend.
As is often the case with the people God uses (that’s you and me too), appearances can be deceptive. Even though he is the least of his family and his family is the weakest of all the tribes, his willingness to follow God’s lead make him the deliverer Israel needs.
Given the means and the opportunity, most of us like to make the lives of others easier or better. Very few people will promise to help then turn up with something that goes beyond a sick joke – you wouldn’t give your 5 year old a house brick when he asks for a bread roll, would you?
If that’s how generous we are prepared to be – often with limited resources – just imagine what it is like to be truly blessed by God. God does not withhold His gifts but is willing to share them. We just have to ask, making sure that it is really what we need, not simply what we want.
Desperate times demand desperate measures.
A failure to follow God’s instructions to the letter, alongside a wilful determination to sort things out in their own way, led Israel deeper into trouble. Eighteen years is a long time by anyone’s counting but that’s what it took to bring these people to their senses.
Then, a hero emerges. He’s ready to strike the decisive blow even if it means putting his own life at risk by infiltrating the enemy’s defences. Inspiring the scattered people, a famous victory was achieved.
When we step forward for God, are we more likely to count the personal cost rather than see the bigger picture? Are we ready to use our skill and the opportunities we’re given to get to the place (both physically and spiritually) where God wants us to be?
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 – 7 is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a description of the personal character as well as the public commitment required of every believer if we are to see the Kingdom of God expressed through the church.
Given our human tendency to rank, list or otherwise take sideways glances at other people, Jesus reminds us that it is not our place to judge the spiritual condition of anyone else apart from ourselves. Whilst it is important to be able to recognise the difference between right and wrong and to act accordingly, that doesn’t mean that we should inflict our perspective onto or into the lives of others.
It’s a matter of being wise, sensitive and realistic – and of being able to deal with our own “issues” before we presume to address the more minor concerns of everyone else.
Things have come to a pretty pass when a man's religion begins to interfere with his private life(*).
Is it really possible to claim to believe in God yet behave in such a way as to suggest that your goals are really only set at meeting your own needs? Is God really concerned at what we bring into doing “church” as well as what we take away from it?
Contemporary concerns mirror OT history. In settled times it’s easy to drift if you are not one of the pioneers of a new life. The drift doesn’t have to be a quantum leap but is as easy as ABC – abandoning, blending, confusing. The big question is how this move might be addressed. and who will lead us through it.
(* Lord Melbourne, UK Prime Minister the time of Victoria’s accession as Queen of England)
Does it matter what we do? Can those things we put real effort and substantial resources into save our souls? What should be top of the priorities – who we believe or how we express our faith?
Without dismissing the nature or the importance of the law, Paul makes it clear that only faith saves but a holy life (works) is the fruit of a life committed to God. In other words, works represent faith being the fruit of our belief, they do not produce it.
The evidence Paul presents is indisputable: he has history on his side (Abraham and God’s Covenant), as well the immediacy of the readers’ own experiences and faith stories. Above all, it is Christ’s work on the cross which frees us from the condemning of the law, whilst at the same time bringing us total freedom to live as God’s children.