The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
I might sound like a swot, but I remember loving doing exams. Well, not actual exams, but practicing past papers. I remember setting myself up in the Engineering library and working through past papers. I would time myself and work on each question. Then I’d go back over the answers and look up the best solution. The thing about it is that there always was a tidy solution. You would always be given just the right number of variables that there would be a way of finding the answer, inevitably using one or more of the tools you had been given in a lecture.
Of course, real life isn’t like that - there isn’t always a perfect answer. That’s why Engineers always have to build in margins. But even then there are tough decisions to make. Assumptions which need to be thoroughly understood. I can remember agonising over the shape of a nut, because it needed to be a certain size to take the load it would carry, but if it was made that size, it wouldn’t fit onto the aircraft. Eventually we found a way to make it a different shape and make it able to take the loads it needed to.
At some level, I’m sure we would all like life to be easy, we’d all love it if we could just pick up new skills. Become experts overnight. I remember being 8 and loving the idea of being an olympic cross-country skier. I drew sketches of what my kit would look like. I begged my parents for a better pair of skis and fancy kit. My dreams were quickly squashed by the reality. Whatever kit I used… I was not an athlete: Neither my fitness nor my skill measured up. If I had really wanted to become a competitive skier, I would have needed to put in a lot more time and practice.
Sometimes things come to us easily, but most of the time it takes hard work and sacrifice. Whether it’s completing a degree or starting a business or being in a relationship with somebody. It can take a great deal of concerted effort to achieve one’s goals - whatever they are. Last week the Queen’s Birthday honours were announced. And those on the list will have inevitably sacrificed themselves, family, friends, career, and worked hard to be recognised for the contribution they are being recognised for. But then, the best things are worth working for.
In Today’s Gospel Jesus has called together his disciples and is sending them out to proclaim that: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ He tells them to: ‘Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.’ Great - no problem. Even unpacking what they were being called to do is no small task it wasn’t then, it isn’t now. And we are all called to be disciples -though how we live out that calling depends on our own vocation, our own God given skills and interests.
In a passage shortly before the one we heard today Jesus says: ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ Jesus knows following him isn’t easy. Whether it’s loving your neighbours, all of them, caring for them, serving them, forgiving them or letting them know that God loves them. It isn’t always easy. As if to make this point, that being a disciple of Jesus isn’t easy, the passage we read today is really difficult. Why must this God of Love, the Prince of Peace, come to put us into a state of war against our own family. To sideline our loved ones to go out and care for those we have never met. To take up the burden of our own cross, and to do it with humility, not drawing attention to ourselves.
As Paul says in today’s letter to the Romans, we have died to sin in our baptism. But how impossible is the idea that we could live without making mistakes - but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Of course these passages are originally written for early Christians - people whose families had been driven apart by their choosing to follow Jesus. People who knew the literal sacrifice of trying to follow Jesus. And these passages are intended as a reminder that, even though things are hard, all will be well, by the power of God, in the end. For us it is an important reminder that holding faith isn’t always going to be easy, sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it can feel degrading. Sometimes it can seem empty in the midst of terror, or sorrow, or temptation. But then, what worth would it have if it was easy. So yes, there are passages that are challenging, that force us to think, much like life itself challenges us to think more carefully about our faith. And responding to God’s call to each of us by name to live our lives for others isn’t easy either.
Today Aliyah is being baptized, and in doing so she is, or at least her parents are, responding to God’s calling to her. Her name actually refers to the passage of the Israelites out of Egypt into the wilderness, led by Moses. Now that was no easy task. Moses resisted being called by name, doubting he was up for the task. But God assured him that he would not be alone, and it would be worth it, and boy was it worth it. So Aliyah has a big name, and maybe she’ll be a doctor or a nurse, caring for the sick, maybe she will be an artist or a singer, inspiring others with what she creates, maybe she’ll be a business woman who employs others, supporting and caring for those in her charge. Whatever she finds herself called to do, However we are all called to live our lives, Let us pray that we have the patience to accept the challenges and sacrifices which are part of living out God’s calling to us, because it’s worth it.