It’s really quite easy.
These are the words which raise trepidation for me, especially when I am in a conversation about computer stuff. I am purchasing a new programme, or hardware, or struggling when a problem has arisen which is beyond my capability, and I ask the obvious question “How does this work?”
It’s really quite easy.
At this point, my concern traditionally gives way to assertiveness and I am inclined to make comments which cause harm to the salesperson-customer relationship. If it was so easy, do you think I’d be here?
I have similar conflicts and response with people proclaiming the ease of their discipleship. When people talk about their faith in Jesus as if it’s a walk in the park, and all their “struggles” are cosmetic; when discipleship is dissipated to such a degree that it fits snugly into the culture around us; when people quote bible verses about suffering as they deal with traffic, or a head cold, or a computer programme.
The readings this weekend, about Hagar and Ishmael [Genesis 21] and persecuted disciples [Matthew 10] are not easy, because the lives of those to whom they are originally addressed are not easy.
The story of Hagar and Ishmael is always hard to bear, but particularly so in our current world context, as people are forced from their homes as refugees all across the Middle East. To think that Sarah and Abraham had a deliberate hand in their suffering is equally hard to understand.
We can see from their story that God resolved their struggles, towards life and hope, but only at their uttermost point of need, after a despairing mother is unable to watch the impending death of her only child.
When we teach memory verses to children saying that “all the hairs on your head have been counted”, do we do acknowledge that those heads may well be in the noose, or on the chopping block, because of what Jesus is saying?
When we talk about discipleship, it is not easy to preach on following Jesus when it leads to divisions – especially in our families. Following Jesus can lead us to places and people we would not choose to see.
In this week of Uniting Church celebrations, we acknowledge our discipleship of Jesus. If we are honest – and that is one of the hallmarks of our Uniting Church – then we also acknowledge that as we rejoice in our life in Christ, much of this journey is rigorous and costly. One of our claims as Uniting Church, is that we are “a pilgrim people, always on the way towards the promised goal”.
It is not easy to live out this life of faith in our world, especially if we take Jesus seriously and live in the world, not hiding in our ecclesial bubble, or singing songs of praise so loudly we cannot hear the cries of those in need.
The assurance we have – even in the appalling story of Hagar and Ishmael – is that God has not abandoned us, and will not. Knowing that I will not fall without my God’s hands beneath me is nice when I’m struggling to prepare a sermon, but everything when my life and the lives of those around me are under threat.
Forty years of the Uniting Church is a robust, biblical number; memories of exile and exodus, wanderings in the wilderness, and rising above flood waters. Where may our travels with God lead us next?
Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.