Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’

“Let the dead bury the dead”

June 29, 2019

Pentecost 3 – 2019

Luke 9:51-62

Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to give our all, hearts, minds, souls and bodies. Amen.

The story of Father Rob Galea referred to in today’s Pew Bulletin is just one example of a convert who has carefully weighed up the consequences of becoming a Christian before taking the final step of faith.1 There are many well-known Christian thinkers and leaders who report that their coming to faith was costly or was met with a degree of resistance on their part. They have understood that giving one’s life to God is, as Father Rob recognized, a matter of complete surrender, a willingness to give up absolutely everything in order to place God at the center of one’s existence. Accepting Jesus is not a decision to be taken lightly – it could mean a complete change of direction, the relinquishing of wealth, relationships or intellectual objections to faith or, particularly in nations in which conversion is illegal, it could mean accepting martyrdom as the likely consequence of coming to Jesus.

I wonder how many of us have had this experience or whether, as those who have never known a time when we did not believe, really understand the cost of discipleship.

“Let the dead bury the dead.” Verse 51 begins a new section in Luke’s gospel. These apparently harsh words reflect Jesus’ awareness of what lay ahead of him. Jesus “set his face towards Jerusalem”. Luke is making it clear to us that this is no ordinary trip, it requires both determination and resolution. Jesus is not going to Jerusalem because he wants to, but because he must. He knows that what lies ahead of him is not recognition and acclamation, but rejection, suffering and death and he is anxious that those who want to follow him understand the dangers that they will face and be prepared to take the risks that discipleship him will entail. If Jesus’ would-be followers are not fully committed, they will be disappointed. Worse, they will be wasting their time. They might just as well stay at home because if they do not understand the costs now, they will be completely at a loss when things turn bad. Jesus knows that those who will last the distance will be the people who really grasp the world-shattering nature of his mission and his message. They are the ones who will be ready to sacrifice everything, even their lives, to be a part of Jesus’ project to change the religious and social culture of which they are a part.

After Jesus’ death the lives of his disciples will be radically changed – in ways that at this point they cannot even begin to imagine. “Let the dead bury the dead.” Jesus is saying: “do not come with me if you do not think that you will make the distance.”

Jesus’ words, harsh as they sound to us, should not be unexpected. Earlier Jesus had warned the disciples of his impeding suffering and death. He has informed them: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” Those who follow Jesus must understand the consequences of discipleship – there is no glory to be had, only acceptance of the call and a willingness to do or to endure whatever lies ahead.

Those who are willing to give up everything and follow Jesus are not abandoned or left to their own devices. According to Luke, Jesus uses the journey to Jerusalem to teach the disciples, to prepare them to continue his mission after he has gone. For the next ten chapters – up until his arrival in Jerusalem – Jesus will share with the disciples his radical understanding of God and of the relationship between God and God’s people.

Jesus’ will undermine their traditional views of God with parables like the forgiving Father; he will expose the rigidity and hypocrisy of the Pharisees; he will remind them that earthly possessions are temporary; he will challenge them to remain focused and to expect his return at any given moment; he will demonstrate in word and action that it is the intention of the law, not the letter of the law that is important; he will overturn concepts of honour and shame; he will shock them with positive stories about the Samaritans and negative stories about the rich; he will confront their narrow views as to who is and who is not included in God’s kingdom; and he will dare them to use their gifts to the very best of their abilities. In other words, he will open their eyes to a new way of seeing and equip the disciples to teach the good news as he understands it.

At the same time, Jesus will give the disciples confidence to carry on his mission. He will empower them to do all that he can do and declare that even the demons will submit to them. Jesus will give the disciples courage to endure whatever difficulties they might face – reassuring them that even the hairs on their head are counted and letting them know that if they are brought before the courts the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say.

From now until the end of November, we will travel with Jesus and the disciples towards Jerusalem. We, with the disciples will be challenged to see the world as Jesus sees it, we will be formed for ministry and prepared to face whatever difficulties may lie before us.

Today we have a moment to stop and think: “Do we really understand the cost of God’s call on our lives?” “Have we really committed ourselves to follow where ever it is that God will lead us?” and, if push comes to shove; “Will we put our hand to the plough and not look back, no matter what temptations lie behind and no matter what difficulties lie ahead?”

Father Rob Galea stands out because he is Maltese, a singer, and he lifts weights. He explained to Meredith Lake on the ABC that his decision to be a Christian was not one that he took lightly. He had to ask himself whether he was able to surrender everything – his music (which to that point had been his means of earning an income and which had given him a degree of renown across the world), marriage and family (which included breaking up with his girlfriend of 4 years whom he had hoped to marry) and anything else that God might be asking him to give up as part of this vocation. In the end, Rob felt that in order to have the relationship with God that he desired, he was willing to give up anything and everything.

 

 

 

 

100th Anniversary – Armistice Day

November 10, 2018

Armistice Day – 2018

Mark 12:38-44

Marian Free

In the name of God who sustains us in our darkest hours. Amen.

On the 24thof April 2015, Tony Abbot told the following story that was reported by The Herald Sun.

“It was on a still spring night a century ago that the ships carrying the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps stole in towards the high coastline of the Gallipoli peninsula.

The first boat landed at a small cove surrounded by steep slopes of thick scrub shortly after four in the morning. Two of the ANZACs who came ashore on April 25, 1915, were Privates Lance and Daryl Blannin-Ferguson. Hailing from Mt Martha, they were two of the first to enlist after the war broke out. They were assigned to the 7th Infantry Battalion, and left Melbourne on the transport ship Hororata on October 19, 1914. Lance was one of more than 750 Australians who were killed on the day of the landing. He was just 21 years old.

His younger brother, Daryl, was killed on May 8, 1915, during the Second Battle of Krithia, aged only 19.

By the time of the evacuation — the only successful part of the campaign — in December 1915, Lance and Daryl were just two of more than 8700 Australians who had died. Their older brother, Lieutenant Acland Blannin-Ferguson, also served on Gallipoli. He survived the campaign and transferred to the British Army in January 1916 before returning to Australia after the war. The Blannin-Ferguson family, like so many families across Australia during the Great War, paid a great price.”

I belong to a generation that has had a rather charmed existence. Both my grandfathers were too young to enlist in the first World War, my father too young for the second and my brother too young for Vietnam. During my lifetime our shores have not been threatened and civilians have not had to endure rationing or the other ordeals associated with a nation at war. I have not had to flee my home with only what I could carry because the enemy were advancing or the bombs raining down.

I have no idea what it is like to farewell a beloved father, brother or husband knowing that I might never see them again. I cannot imagine what it is like to open the door to the person delivering the feared telegram and to know that you will not see your husband, father or brother and that you will not even know where their bodies lie have no grave at which to grieve.

That said, the First World War did cast a shadow over our family life. Lance and Daryl were the older brothers of my paternal grandmother – great uncles whom I never knew, and whose stories were cut short.

The First World War, the Great War, the War to end all Wars was the costliest conflict the world has known. In total, the losses on both sides amounted to nearly 10 million soldiers and 7.7 million civilians  – a total of over 17 million dead (some estimates make the number 19 million). Over 21 million soldiers on both sides were wounded. It was a huge price to pay for a conflict that was driven by nationalism rather than ideals, by greed rather than a deeply held cause. It is much easier to defend our engagement in the second World War than our participation in the first. Yet it is possible to argue that “out of the war came a lesson which transcended the horror and tragedy and the inexcusable folly. It was a lesson about ordinary people – and the lesson was that they were not ordinary. On all sides they were the heroes of that war; not the generals and the politicians but the soldiers and sailors and nurses – those who taught us to endure hardship, to show courage, to be bold as well as resilient, to believe in ourselves, to stick together”[1]. It was, as many have claimed, the time when we identified the characteristics that made/make us uniquely Australian – mateship, youthful confidence, a certain “devil may care” attitude to life (especially in the face of danger or difficulty).

It is common to speak of the sacrifice these young people made for us, but we must be careful not to use the word sacrifice too liberally. The idea of sacrifice is idealised and it allows us to dignify what became a shocking, even wasteful loss of life. The young men (and some young women) who boarded our troop ships had no idea what lay ahead, many were signing up for the adventure of a lifetime. Few, I imagine, enlisted with the goal or ideal of dying for king and country.

Sacrifice can be a dangerous notion as today’s gospel suggests. Too often it involves asking those who are the most vulnerable to give the most – the widow to give her last coins to the Temple treasury, the youth of this land to face a hail of bullets, mustard gas and muddy trenches for what, at times, were futile gains.

There were 61,000 Australian soldiers who never returned home, 152,000 who were wounded and another 119,000 who served overseas. Whether the cause was noble or not, whether they were asked to do the realistic or the impossible, whether the leadership was wise and strategic or unwise and haphazard, all those who served, served willingly and did what was required of them. They faced the horrors and the losses with fortitude, resilience and courage, not to mention a dose of good humour and a determination to stand by one’s mates.

It is true that this day 100 years ago did not provide the world with lasting peace. WWI was not the war to end all wars, but it does remain the most devastating and wide-reaching war with the worst loss of life. We remember today those who did not come home, those who came home maimed and scarred, and those at home whose lives were changed forever by loss or by the changes in those they loved. We do not remember war to glorify it. We remember to remind ourselves how great is the cost of conflict. We remind ourselves of the cost, so that we will think carefully before we enter any future engagements and so that we will do all that is humanly possible to promote reconciliation and to work for peace.

We remember all those who bear the cost on our behalf – soldiers, medics and nurses.

We will remember them.

[1]Paul Keating http://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/speeches/keating-remembrance-day-1993Ar

God and slugs

December 24, 2015

Christmas 2015

Some thoughts

Marian Free

 In the name of God who could chose to be anything and yet chose to become one of, one with us. Amen.

 From time to time, I dip into a collection of daily readings that uses the writings of C.S. Lewis[1]. Recently, in the readings for December, I came across this statement: “The Eternal being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab[2].” I have to admit, that as much as I have pondered the nature of the Incarnation, I had never grasped the enormity of God’s decision as clearly. Lewis’s comparison really puts the concept of the Incarnation into perspective. In fact, as I absorbed the new point of view, it occurred to me that the difference between divinity and humanity is so vast that even Lewis’s distinction may not be sufficient to capture the chasm that exists. In fact it is almost certainly impossible to come up with an image that does the notion justice, but it might be more useful to consider our becoming an amoeba, a mould or some other microscopic life form.

It is beyond imagining that a human being would voluntarily trade their human form for something so base and so insignificant as a single-celled organism. Is there any circumstance under which a human being would make that choice? Is it conceivable that there would be a situation that would draw out the sort of love and compassion that would compel a person to make such a radical sacrifice?

I suspect that there is no way that any one of us would willingly choose to give up our independence, our rational thought, our self-determination. There is no imaginable state of affairs that would cause us to make a choice that would leave us completely at the mercy of the elements, adrift in the world with no power to change our position or to influence the direction that our lives might take. Human beings can and do make enormous sacrifices for others, but it is hard to imagine any human being giving up their humanness for any cause whatsoever.

Yet, God, the source of life and love, God who could and can do anything, who could choose to be anything at all and who could determine any number of ways to save the world, made the choice to fully and completely enter our existence. There were no half measures. God did not appear to become human. Jesus was not merely similar to us. God took on human flesh with all its frailty. God abandoned power and glory, imperishability and immortality to fully enter the human race. In so doing, God exposed Godself to all the indignities associated with being human. God sentenced Godself to all the restrictions, all the limitations of the human form – the spewing, mewling, incontinent state of infancy and old age, the vulnerability to disease and accident, the risk of being emotionally abused or abandoned.

We cannot come close to envisaging the cost of God’s abandoning the glories of Paradise for the uncomfortable realities of life on this planet. We cannot take lightly God’s love, commitment and compassion for the human race.

This is what the Incarnation, what Christmas is all about. God’s desire that we should be saved that is so powerful and so overwhelming, that what to us is an unimaginable decision becomes a realistic solution. God could see no other way to demonstrate God’s love and to bring us to our senses than to share our existence and to show us our real potential. I have no desire to become an amoeba or even a slug, but I will for this life and the next be overawed and filled with gratitude that God should love so much that God would become one of us.

 

Christmas 2015

Family service

If you could be anything at all when you grow up, what would it be?

(Take responses and comment – something like there are some pretty ambitious and amazing goals there. I hope that you work hard enough to make them a reality. If there are no outrageous comments, mention some that came up at our grandson’s Kindy graduation – princess, batman, Prime Minister)

God can do or be anything that God wants, and what did God decide to be? (Wait for answers or simply provide the answer.) Yes, God decided to be a baby. God could be anything at all, and yet God became a baby – a baby that cries, that needs its nappy changed, that throws up after it is fed. Yuk! Why would God want to become a baby? Why? Because God loves us so much, that God will do anything to get our attention. Why? Because God knew that we wouldn’t really trust God unless God became like us and that if God was to become like us, then God had to be just like us – starting as a baby. Why? Because God knows that everyone loves a baby and God hoped that if we loved the baby, we might learn to love God.

So Christmas is all about the baby, and the baby is all about love – God’s love for us that is bigger than anything we can begin to imagine.

God loves us, and hopes that we will learn to love God.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] In C.S. Lewis. The Business of Heaven. Ed Walter Hooper. Great Britain: Fount Paperbacks, 1984.

[2] op cit 300.


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