Sunday 8 September 2019
A fairly commonly accepted meaning of the word “crisis” is a decisive or vitally important stage in the course of anything.
Today’s readings place us all in a moment of crisis.
Deuteronomy expresses the sense of urgency right at the beginning of today’s text. Moses says: “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity”. The word “today” creates the urgency of time. This is not a decision that can be postponed. The choice has to be made today – Now!
And the alternatives are extreme in their contrast: life and prosperity; death and adversity. In order to choose the first option, the people of Israel must love the Lord God, walk in his ways and observe his commandments. They will choose the second option if their hearts turn away and they don’t hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them.
The choice is theirs, but they have to make it right now – today. It is a moment of crisis.
Paul has placed Philemon in a moment of crisis as well in the second reading.
“Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self”.
What is Philemon to do? Is he going to be moved by Paul’s calling to his Christian sensibility to welcome back and grant freedom to this runaway slave? What are the repercussions for the other slaves he owns? Is it going to force him to change his whole approach to financial security? Paul does not command him. He leaves it to Philemon to make a choice. It is indeed a moment of crisis for him.
The moment of crisis is also present for those following Jesus in the gospel narrative today. The costs of discipleship are made clear by Jesus. Discipleship involves putting Jesus before all others in my life, carrying the cross each day and following Jesus, putting the plight of the poor before my own need for possessions. And in the process of deciding in this moment of crisis, Jesus gives some warning about considering fully the consequences of what we might be taking on and whether we have the capacity to stay the distance.
And so the scriptures tell us that today, we are in crisis. Which way will we choose? Especially when we realise that there is going to be the need for significant internal reserves of strength if we are to opt for God’s way.
Well, can I suggest that there is something to note in the examples Jesus gives us of evaluating the cost and our personal ability to meet the demands. Jesus gives the examples of a tower builder estimating the cost to ensure he does not embarrass himself and of a king going to war sitting down and considering the relative strengths of the armies. On the surface, we can say that this is Jesus encouraging us to count the cost. But it stands to reason that, if Jesus is telling us to count the cost in advance of our endeavours, surely God has done the same in regard to the great undertaking of establishing the kingdom here on earth.
Do you see the logic? Jesus is the one from God, teaching us the ways of God. If Jesus is teaching us to count the cost prior to undertaking discipleship, then surely that means that it is the way of God. God has already done the same thing in regard to God’s mission.
That is why we never have to fear for the future of God’s mission on earth. God has done an accounting and God knows that God has the wherewithal to make it happen. The point of crisis for us is whether we want to be part of that endeavour with God. Do we want to join with God in discipleship of Jesus to help bring about the kingdom? Or, do we want to sit on the sidelines and say it can’t be done?
The encouragement that we have is that, if we want to go down the path of discipleship, God will hold us by the hand. God will help us to be the people we want to be. All we need to do is ask in prayer for the grace to follow where Jesus has led the way. There certainly is a cost to discipleship, but there is also the power of God available to us to help us see it through against all odds, just as God saw Jesus through, against all odds.
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen
- “A face in the crowd”
- “The Herald”