Sunday 8th September 2019

The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-18
Luke 14:25-35

In the name of God, creating , redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

One spiritual writer, Rev’d Mark Oakley, said that “the whole scriptural exercise is that of trying to read the love between the lines”[1]. Our task Mark Oakley says, as ones who reflect on scripture each week, each day, perhaps, is of trying to read the love between the lines, God’s love between the lines, of whatever scripture reading is set before us.

Scripture uses many different forms to help us know the ways of God. The reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah uses the image of a potter to give us insight. God speaks to God’s people through the prophet:

‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

 Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:2-6)

We are given a strong image of God the creator. God is portrayed as a potter. God is seen as one who reworks, reforms, restores, when things are going wrong with God’s creation. This image is of a strongly present God. This image is of God who is not afraid to play a strong part in restoring creation. Such images from scripture do not prove anything. But they might help us pray. What would we like to have reworked on the potter’s wheel? It might be painful, of course, but is there anything we would like to have God help us start again? Something in our own life, in the life of our community, in the life of the world? When we next pray the prayer of confession might we have the image of this potter in mind?

Is there anything we would like to have God help us start again? Does this image invite us to the possibility that God might help us start again? Is the love between the lines found in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah in the gift of the image of the potter? The image with which we might sit for a while?

Often the words before us in scripture seem challenging, perhaps not loving at all. In our reading this morning from the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Jesus is speaking with a crowd about being his disciples.

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-7)

In Jesus’ time and place a disciple was one who learnt from a teacher but not in the sense of a student attending school. A disciple learns from and follows that teacher, living life as the teacher lived life, guided by the way the teacher lives life. Discipleship is about our whole life. And so when Jesus speaks of hating members of our family he is not talking about disliking our relatives; he is talking about identity. He is asking us to reflect on where our identity comes from –in the ancient world it was the family – Jesus is inviting us to allow our identity to come primarily from him, from following him.

And then Jesus speaks about the cross.

Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

What does he mean by this? We know what it meant for him. It meant giving up his whole life. He was living a good life, teaching, challenging, healing, praying, shining a light for all who came near him into the great love of God. He loved his life. And then he gave it all up. Somehow knowing that the only way that this great love of God could redeem all creation was by his giving it all up. Is he asking us to give up our lives, all the things that make us who we are, all the things we love doing?

I think when Jesus asks us to carry our cross and follow him he is asking us to bring with us our whole life. I am sure he is not asking us to suffer. No loving God would deliberately ask us to suffer. But he knows that we will suffer and those we love will suffer too. He is asking us to bring “all that we are and all that we have” – a bit like in the marriage vows – along with him, living with him, following him. And he is asking us to do that prayerfully, reflectively. To notice what our lives, our crosses, look like. What are our gifts, our loves, our joys, … what are our struggles, our failures, … what are our sins? Jesus, I am sure, would have us reflect on these things, weigh up these things.

As we read on in our gospel this morning, we hear Jesus telling two small parables about builder and a king who weighed up a situation before entering into it:

For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? …Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?  (Luke 14:28, 31)

It is interesting that in the passage immediately before the passage from the Fourteenth Chapter of Luke’s Gospel that we read this morning, we hear Jesus telling a parable about a great dinner and those who made excuses for not attending the dinner. We reflected on this parable last Sunday night at evensong. Do you remember the story? The excuses made?

I have bought a piece of land … I have bought five yoke of oxen … I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come [to your dinner] (Luke 14:18-20) those invited said. That parable goes on to show the response of the host going out and inviting in others but it also gives great insight into those who shy away from this great meal. It is surely no accident that the writer of Luke’s Gospel has placed this parable just before he shows Jesus speaking with the crowd about discipleship, encouraging them to weigh up whether they can make the commitment, to ponder their excuses …

This is about our whole life Jesus seems to be saying. Think on it …

Where is the love between these scriptural lines?

The psalms are the prayers of the Jewish people, the prayers Jesus would have prayed daily. The psalms are our prayers, too. We treasure them often as sung to us by the choir, but we might pray them as the choir sings. This morning’s psalm, Psalm 139, is different from all the other psalms. It tells of the great closeness of God. We might allow the words of this beautiful psalm to ring in our ears as we ponder Jesus’ challenging words about the struggle and blessing of living as his disciple. The words of the psalm help us know that God sees and knows and loves us as we ponder these things.

O Lord, you have searched me out and known me: you know when I sit or when I stand, you comprehend my thoughts long before. You discern my path and the places where I rest: you are acquainted with all my ways … You have encompassed me behind and before: and have laid your hand upon me. … For you have created my inward parts: you knit me together in my mother’s womb … You knew my soul, and my bones were not hidden from you: when I was formed in secret, and woven in the depths of the earth. … How deep are your thoughts to me, O God: and how great is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they are more in number than the sand: were I to come to the end, I would still be with you.

In this beautiful psalm, I think, we hear the love between the lines.

[1] Mark Oakley The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry pxxiv.