Be a bit player
When you work with children, and you decide youâ€™re going to put on a â€˜playâ€™,Â something like thatâ€”and youâ€™re getting organized and you ask, â€œWho wants to beÂ the Queen?â€ or â€œWho wants to be the father?â€ or â€œWho wants to be the lion?â€ orÂ whateverâ€¦there is usually a great rush of hands held high, and a lot of vyingÂ for attention in order to get the key roles!Â Â And we are thankful for the enthusiasm, and applaud the confidence, and evenÂ somewhat dread the day when, as they grow older, they become more and moreÂ self-conscious and inhibited.
Who gets to play the key role?Â AdultsÂ work with this idea a lot, too:Â inÂ marriage and family, in the work place, in sporting clubs, and even in ourÂ church community.Â We may have mixedÂ feelings about itâ€”sometimes itâ€™s a great opportunity to serve; sometimes itâ€™sÂ about control and power; sometimes itâ€™s just plain scary; sometimes it meansÂ recognition and affirmation; sometimes it means risk.Â And whether we like the key role or not, weÂ are often very conscious of it.Â â€œWhatÂ about me?â€ is a question that seems to hang around in our heads a lot, even ifÂ we donâ€™t often give voice to it.
Over the last three Sundays the Gospel readings have focused on a number ofÂ parables.Â And, as weâ€™ve been quiteÂ properly taught to do, and as weâ€™ve learned to do, we immediately hear theÂ parables and think:Â â€œHow does thisÂ parable, this story, apply to my life?Â Â How do I fit into this parable?â€
Nowâ€¦thatâ€™s all well and good except for one possibility:Â when we think about how to apply the parableÂ to our lives, and how we fit into the concepts of the parable, we run the riskÂ of giving ourselves the major role in the parable, in the story, in theÂ situation.
Who gets to play the key role?
Consider todayâ€™s Gospel, and these two veryÂ short parables:
â€œThe kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it,Â he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought thatÂ field.Â Again, the kingdom of heaven isÂ like a merchant looking for fine pearls.Â When he found one of great value, heÂ went away and sold everything he had and bought it.â€
My first tendency, in hearing these parables,Â is to think I am â€˜the manâ€™, or I am â€˜the merchantâ€™; therefore,Â what do I have to give up in order to get â€˜the treasureâ€™, to get â€˜the pearlâ€™?Â And I have no doubt that Jesusâ€™ parable doesÂ allow me to consider my relationship with God relative to other priorities inÂ my life.Â It allows me think about theÂ cost of discipleship.Â It allows me to considerÂ the joy in my own life of recognising and celebrating the grace of God which IÂ have repeatedly discovered as Iâ€™ve grown to new understandings through newÂ experiences of that grace.
And the same is true of the mustard seed,Â the yeast, separating fish, separating wheat and weeds, planting good seed inÂ different kinds of soilâ€”all parables that have got us thinking over the pastÂ few weeks.
But when you take the lead role in aÂ parable, and the focus is on you, then you expose both strengths and weaknesses,Â successes and failures.Â And, indeed,Â sometimes when you take the lead role you become so focussed on â€˜youâ€™ that you can feel quite isolated and alone, as if the whole thing depends on you,Â revolves around you, and the whole action is for you to workÂ out.Â And, from my own experience, I knowÂ that sometimes that leaves me thinking I have to be my own judge, my ownÂ saviour, my own comforter, my own encourager, my own guide.
When Jesus tells a parableâ€”when he saysÂ â€œthe kingdom of heavenâ€ or â€œthe kingdom of Godâ€ is likeâ€”and the two terms areÂ completely interchangeable; they are not referring to a â€˜placeâ€™, they areÂ referring to living in relationship with Godâ€”the point is never to get youÂ thinking so intensely about you and certainly never solely about you.Â He wants you to think about Godâ€™s kingdom,Â about God as king, about God as your king.
God is the key player.
Let me read again from the Romans readingÂ we heard earlier:Â â€œWe know that in allÂ things God works for the good of those who love him, who have beenÂ called according to his purpose.â€Â AndÂ Paul follows that up by reminding us:Â Â â€œIf God is for us, who can be against us?Â He who did not spare his own Son, butÂ gave him up for us allâ€”how will he not also, along with him, graciously give usÂ all things?â€Â And then, to underline andÂ emphasize:Â â€œI am convinced that neitherÂ death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present norÂ the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in allÂ creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in ChristÂ Jesus our Lord.â€
God is the key player.Â There is nothing that can get between God,Â with his love, and us.
Yeah, but what about when our faith isÂ weak, when we donâ€™t keep trying, when we donâ€™t keep trusting and praying and weÂ donâ€™t even know anymore what to say or what to pray for orâ€¦.?Â Paul reminds us:Â â€œThe Spirit helps us in our weakness. We doÂ not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for usÂ with groans that words cannot express.Â And he who searches our hearts knowsÂ the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints inÂ accordance with God’s will.â€Â When weÂ canâ€™t, the Spirit steps in and carries out Godâ€™s will.
God is the key player.
I push this point because I have aÂ privileged position of hearing people talk about their faith, their spiritualÂ struggles, their goals, and their worries about family and friends.Â And when we read the Bible, especially when weÂ are focussing on the life and teaching of Jesus in the New Testament, you and IÂ have repeatedly put before us teaching of how we should live as Godâ€™s children.Â And what Jesus teaches is very demandingâ€”soÂ demanding that more than once in the stories in the Gospel we see peopleÂ walking away in despair.Â What they doÂ not do is follow the journey through all the way to the cross.Â On the cross we see that every call to trustÂ and every call to obey is backed up absolutely by the God â€œwho did not spareÂ his own Son, but gave him up for us allâ€, the God who is absolutely andÂ completely â€œfor usâ€.
And I need to ask people sometimes, as IÂ ask you today:Â Do you think that the GodÂ who gives even his own Son, Jesus, to suffer and die for usâ€”do you think thatÂ he will then let your weakness, your doubt, your failed attempt to obeyÂ completely, or to serve generously, or to witness consistentlyâ€”do you thinkÂ that he will let your personality faults, your illness, your anxiety, yourÂ hesitancy, your impatience, your fearâ€”do you think that he is going to letÂ something less than perfect in you stop him from carrying out his loving plansÂ and purposes for you?Â If â€œneither deathÂ nor life, neither angels nor demons,Â neither the present nor the future, nor anyÂ powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creationâ€ can â€œÂ separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lordâ€â€”if none ofÂ those things can get between God and you, do you really think he will let someÂ other human weakness or struggle stop him?
And, Iâ€™ll add, if our doubts, or ourÂ failings, or our weaknesses were enough to bring down all of his plans, then weÂ are not saved by his grace, but by our works, our getting it right; not byÂ faith (trust in God), but by faithfulness on our part.
God is theÂ key player.
I remember a few years ago on an occasionÂ when I was so focussed on letting God work things out in my life that when IÂ read the parable of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price IÂ suddenly thought, â€œGod found me!Â God hasÂ given everything to make me and keep me his own!â€
Allow yourself, to be the â€˜bit playerâ€™ inÂ Godâ€™s great drama, which is your life as his child.Â Jesus has died to sin and risen to eternalÂ life, for you, with you, in you.Â TheÂ Spirit takes your needs straight to your loving Father, who has given andÂ always will give everything for you.Â Â Take joy and comfort and confidence in knowing that God is the keyÂ player in your life.