The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      30th June 2019
If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit
Handley Stevens

Trinity 2, Year C

1st Lesson  : 1 Kings 19.15-16, 19-end

2nd Lesson : Galatians 5.1, 13-25

Gospel       : Luke 9.51-end

Today’s Gospel reading is profoundly challenging.  Jesus has just set his face to go to Jerusalem.  He has embarked on a journey which he knows will bring him to that moment of destiny when he must fulfil the purpose for which he has come to dwell on earth.  In his human condition he may not know how it will all unfold, but he is deeply conscious of the charge which has been laid upon him, which indeed he has laid upon himself. 

Sensing the magnitude of the challenge facing him as he turns his face towards Jerusalem, Jesus’ response to those who would seek to follow him is stern, sterner even than Elijah, the archetypal hard man of Old Testament prophecy, who called Eisha to follow him, but did at least cut him some slack to say goodbye to his family. Jesus call is even more urgent and uncompromising.  Give up the security of your home, he says to one – the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Abandon all your family responsibilities he says to another.  Let the dead bury their dead.  No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.  Even allowing for the deliberately exaggerated language of the Jewish rabbinic tradition, this is strong meat.  If you and I had to face such brutally insensitive demands, when we stepped forward to follow Jesus, I think we too would be baffled and saddened.  Yet we have an uneasy feeling, when we mentally soften the challenge to ourselves, that we are copping out, or at least falling short. 

Those of us who accompanied Ayla through the liturgies last Saturday and Sunday in which she embraced the wonderful but onerous responsibilities of a priest within the Church of God, will have been struck by the magnitude of the special charge which every priest assumes.  But the rest of us face challenges too, as we seek to follow Jesus in the exercise of our responsibilities.  Just imagine the burdens which rest on our political leaders who have been meeting in Osaka this week; or the domestic challenges that any of us may face as we seek to deal lovingly with a bolshie adolescent, a tiresome neighbour, or an elderly relative struggling with dementia.  So last week-end I thought: I have to say something this morning about how we should respond – clergy and laity alike - to the immense, open-ended, potentially unlimited challenges which we all face as we seek to follow Jesus.  We are all in this together.

Our reading from Galatians is helpful.  No one could accuse the apostle Paul of shirking his responsibilities or the perils which he repeatedly faced as he carried the gospel to every corner of the eastern Mediterranean.  In his second letter to the Corinthians he lists an impressive array of imprisonments, judicial floggings, even a stoning, three cases of shipwreck, every imaginable hardship and danger.  Yet he writes to the Galatians not about being enslaved to a hard taskmaster, but rather about being set free to become slaves to one another under the direction of the Spirit of love which dwells in our hearts; and this Spirit is not a burden laid upon us, but a gift which we receive with the promise that it will generate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness , generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  What a privilege it is to have access to such a Spirit through our communion in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  And what an awesome privilege it must be for Jeremy and Jan and now Ayla to mediate that blessing to us at the Lord’s table.

It would be misleading to gloss over the costs of discipleship.  We are reminded of the enormity of that cost every time we gather around the Lord’s table.  But it would be equally wrong to deny our experience of the love which reaches out to us and embraces us, even in times of sorrow, trial and adversity, even when our lives seem to be falling apart.  Many of us would say that it is precisely in those circumstances that we discover what it means to experience the compassion of one who has shared our human nature, and known its sorrows and its challenges as well as its joys.  

A key part of the secret which Paul wants to share with his Galatian disciples, and with us, is summarised in the last verse of this morning’s reading.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  That is Paul’s advice, and he knows what he is talking about.  I am persuaded that the prayer which never goes unanswered is the prayer for guidance, especially if we also follow our Lord’s example in accompanying our own anguished indecision with a trusting appeal to his wisdom and love  – nevertheless not what I will, but what you will.  If we spend time prayerfully in God’s presence, as we know Jesus himself did, as I’m sure Paul did in the midst of all his frenetic activity, we shall be enabled to discern what we have to do, and no less important what we don’t have to do, where we should draw the line.  Time spent in that sort of prayer, as we wrestle with the meaning of our discipleship, with the continual need to balance responsibly the conflicting demands of work and leisure, friends and family, such time is never time wasted.  It is quite simply how we find our way.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Guidance seasoned with grace.  In the words of the ancient hymn:  Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire … Enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight.  Where thou art guide, no ill can come.  Thou the anointing Spirit art, who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.  

In this Trinity season let us seek the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit for ourselves, for one another, and for our leaders in Church and State, as we place our trust and our hope in the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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