What about me!

Be a bit player

Romans 8:26-39

 

When you work with children, and you decide you’re going to put on a ‘play’,  something like that—and you’re getting organized and you ask, “Who wants to be  the Queen?” or “Who wants to be the father?” or “Who wants to be the lion?” or  whatever…there is usually a great rush of hands held high, and a lot of vying  for attention in order to get the key roles!   And we are thankful for the enthusiasm, and applaud the confidence, and even  somewhat dread the day when, as they grow older, they become more and more  self-conscious and inhibited.
Who gets to play the key role?  Adults  work with this idea a lot, too:  in  marriage and family, in the work place, in sporting clubs, and even in our  church community.  We may have mixed  feelings about it—sometimes it’s a great opportunity to serve; sometimes it’s  about control and power; sometimes it’s just plain scary; sometimes it means  recognition and affirmation; sometimes it means risk.  And whether we like the key role or not, we  are often very conscious of it.  “What  about me?” is a question that seems to hang around in our heads a lot, even if  we don’t often give voice to it.
Over the last three Sundays the Gospel readings have focused on a number of  parables.  And, as we’ve been quite  properly taught to do, and as we’ve learned to do, we immediately hear the  parables and think:  “How does this  parable, this story, apply to my life?   How do I fit into this parable?”
Now…that’s all well and good except for one possibility:  when we think about how to apply the parable  to our lives, and how we fit into the concepts of the parable, we run the risk  of giving ourselves the major role in the parable, in the story, in the  situation.
Who gets to play the key role?
Consider today’s Gospel, and these two very  short parables:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it,  he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that  field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is  like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he  went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

My first tendency, in hearing these parables,  is to think I am ‘the man’, or I am ‘the merchant’; therefore,  what do I have to give up in order to get ‘the treasure’, to get ‘the pearl’?  And I have no doubt that Jesus’ parable does  allow me to consider my relationship with God relative to other priorities in  my life.  It allows me think about the  cost of discipleship.  It allows me to consider  the joy in my own life of recognising and celebrating the grace of God which I  have repeatedly discovered as I’ve grown to new understandings through new  experiences of that grace.

And the same is true of the mustard seed,  the yeast, separating fish, separating wheat and weeds, planting good seed in  different kinds of soil—all parables that have got us thinking over the past  few weeks.

But when you take the lead role in a  parable, and the focus is on you, then you expose both strengths and weaknesses,  successes and failures.  And, indeed,  sometimes when you take the lead role you become so focussed on ‘you’ that you can feel quite isolated and alone, as if the whole thing depends on you,  revolves around you, and the whole action is for you to work  out.  And, from my own experience, I know  that sometimes that leaves me thinking I have to be my own judge, my own  saviour, my own comforter, my own encourager, my own guide.

When Jesus tells a parable—when he says  “the kingdom of heaven” or “the kingdom of God” is like—and the two terms are  completely interchangeable; they are not referring to a ‘place’, they are  referring to living in relationship with God—the point is never to get you  thinking so intensely about you and certainly never solely about you.  He wants you to think about God’s kingdom,  about God as king, about God as your king.

God is the key player.

Let me read again from the Romans reading  we heard earlier:  “We know that in all  things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been  called according to his purpose.”  And  Paul follows that up by reminding us:   “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but  gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us  all things?”  And then, to underline and  emphasize:  “I am convinced that neither  death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor  the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all  creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ  Jesus our Lord.”

God is the key player.  There is nothing that can get between God,  with his love, and us.

Yeah, but what about when our faith is  weak, when we don’t keep trying, when we don’t keep trusting and praying and we  don’t even know anymore what to say or what to pray for or….?  Paul reminds us:  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do  not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us  with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows  the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in  accordance with God’s will.”  When we  can’t, the Spirit steps in and carries out God’s will.

God is the key player.

I push this point because I have a  privileged position of hearing people talk about their faith, their spiritual  struggles, their goals, and their worries about family and friends.  And when we read the Bible, especially when we  are focussing on the life and teaching of Jesus in the New Testament, you and I  have repeatedly put before us teaching of how we should live as God’s children.  And what Jesus teaches is very demanding—so  demanding that more than once in the stories in the Gospel we see people  walking away in despair.  What they do  not do is follow the journey through all the way to the cross.  On the cross we see that every call to trust  and every call to obey is backed up absolutely by the God “who did not spare  his own Son, but gave him up for us all”, the God who is absolutely and  completely “for us”.

And I need to ask people sometimes, as I  ask you today:  Do you think that the God  who gives even his own Son, Jesus, to suffer and die for us—do you think that  he will then let your weakness, your doubt, your failed attempt to obey  completely, or to serve generously, or to witness consistently—do you think  that he will let your personality faults, your illness, your anxiety, your  hesitancy, your impatience, your fear—do you think that he is going to let  something less than perfect in you stop him from carrying out his loving plans  and purposes for you?  If “neither death  nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any  powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” can “  separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”—if none of  those things can get between God and you, do you really think he will let some  other human weakness or struggle stop him?

And, I’ll add, if our doubts, or our  failings, or our weaknesses were enough to bring down all of his plans, then we  are not saved by his grace, but by our works, our getting it right; not by  faith (trust in God), but by faithfulness on our part.

God is the  key player.

I remember a few years ago on an occasion  when I was so focussed on letting God work things out in my life that when I  read the parable of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price I  suddenly thought, “God found me!  God has  given everything to make me and keep me his own!”

Allow yourself, to be the ‘bit player’ in  God’s great drama, which is your life as his child.  Jesus has died to sin and risen to eternal  life, for you, with you, in you.  The  Spirit takes your needs straight to your loving Father, who has given and  always will give everything for you.   Take joy and comfort and confidence in knowing that God is the key  player in your life.

Amen.

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