Be a bit player
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.