Free to be a Slave.
Lord, let your Spirit reside over us this morning as we reflect on your word, may we absorb your truth afresh and rise refreshed as the morning dew. Amen.
I wrote this sermon amidst the backdrop of the horrendous atrocity that occurred in Kenya. That a human can shoot another just because they do not know the words of a prayer defies understanding. It challenges our call to forgiveness. How can we forgive such evil?
The first reading today which we heard from, suitably called Lamentations, was initially thought to have been written by Jeremiah, but is now considered to have been written in the years after the destruction of the temple in 587BC by Nebuchadnezzar. It is likely that a lot of energy and thought had been put into the meaning of the disaster – why did this happen to us? I am sure we can all resonate with this at one time or another. Certainly the picture that the author paints for us is bleak to say the least. The picture is one of complete loss and humiliation – take Chapter 1 v 8. “Jerusalem has sinned greatly and so has become unclean. All who honoured her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness, she herself groans and turns away”.
However in the midst of all this bleakness, there is the realisation of a solid hope in God, because his compassion and mercy never fail. Jerusalem has sinned because her leaders have failed to rely on God and instead have sought to rely on their own resources, and they have forgotten that they can ALWAYS rely on GOD. Within this story from Lamentations is the suggestion that because the compassion and mercy of God NEVER fails, God is showing an ongoing forgiving nature towards a people who hardly deserve it and repeatedly miss the mark.
Our New Testament reading shares some of these themes. This is no doubt probably why they co-exist within the lectionary. Our Story in Luke has Jesus giving the Apostles some teaching regarding faith and duty. If they had faith as small as a mustard seed they might actually achieve something, and conversely if they do they shouldn’t feel as though they have been all that clever. At first reading, they don’t seem to be immediately related, however, it is a story about power and arrogance.
Jesus intentionally juxtaposes two stories to purposely make the point of just how important it is not to become arrogant in the face of any position of power. This reflects of course Jesus’ message of servant leadership, and could almost be a curtain raiser to the famous foot washing scene at the last supper (John chapter 13). There, Jesus, made it crystal clear that the role of leadership within the apostles was to become as a slave, just as Jesus was mirroring the role of a slave in washing their feet, and further when he was crucified on the following day, the traditional form of execution reserved by the Romans for terrorists and Slaves.
Jesus was making it very clear to his apostles that they needed to avoid at all cost any sense of arrogance in their dealings. He continues this argument with his debate with them a little later in Chapter 22 in Luke when the apostles were arguing amongst themselves about who should be the greatest. Jesus said to them, “The Kings of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called “benefactors”, but it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest , and the leader like the servant.”
It is an example of the topsy turvy world of the Kingdom Jesus was introducing and has introduced. This is the set of rules if you like that was instituted at the resurrection. Bit by Bit, the world is being transformed and changed. Jesus’ call to us today is to carry on the daily transformation of the world in his image, at home, at work, who knows, even at church!
At the heart of that call is the choice of who we devote ourselves to. Who do we become a slave to. It is so easy to let ourselves be enslaved by money, status, greed, position, sex, belief, denomination, ethnicity, hatred, the list goes on. We can be a slave to our own lives or to God. It is worth remembering that just earlier in Luke, Jesus spoke of the importance of just this point. The NIV translates it as serving God or money; for money you can replace any of the other human entrapments. And here lies the key to forgiveness. Forgiveness of cours is the topic that Jesus is teaching to his disciples about in Luke 17 v 3-4 just preceding our reading today. If we remain slaves to ourselves how can we forgive others, why should we? If we are however enslaved to God, who forgives ALWAYS, then we also will be able to forgive those who sin against us.
To put it another way, and this is something that came to me the other day. Left to our own devices we just can’t do it alone. We can’t forgive the unforgiveable. Why should we? How could we? I have spent two weeks thinking and praying and talking to people about that awful event in Nairobi, when people were allegedly shot just because they did not know the words of a muslim prayer. I guess it is the modern equivalent trying to understand from a modern equivalent the feelings of a soldier kept prisoner by the Japanese in Burma or perhaps a Jewish prisoner in one of the camps in Nazi Germany.
I spoke a few minutes ago about being enslaved by God enabling us to forgive. I want to clarify that because it is really important that it doesn’t sound glib. Really I am saying that without God, I don’t think it is likely that most people would forgive really bad things. God knows this, and that is why the relationship with him is so important. That is why digging the foundations are so important, so that when really bad things happen God can step in can sort them out. God can forgive when we can’t. Perhaps all we can do is rest in the arm of God at that point – who knows. Knowing that we don’t have to rely on our own resources but that we have a deep and abiding live in God.
Which brings us right back to the problem of the ancient city of Jerusalem, in “Lamentations” that we experienced right at the very beginning.
So, here we are, with a challenge for today. To avoid arrogance and embrace instead an attitude of servanthood. We need to beware of the pitfalls that surround us in our lives, especially the comfortable ones, embrace instead being grasped by God. It doesn’t necessarily bring an easier life, but it is the only meaningful life.
May we all have the courage to accept God’s call to us today and walk with him, in courage, in humility, in love, in acceptance, in forgiveness
In Jesus name