Obedience - Jon Fryer

Jesus once told a story to the religious people:

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

*****************

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the robbers and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you, because you do not repent and believe him.

This story is all about obedience and what it looks like. You see, obedience is not about what you say you are, or what you say you will do, its about what you actually do. And its not necessarily about keeping rules, but rather about being in the place you need to be, doing the things that need to be done.

There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament – these include not eating shrimp, and not wearing clothes made of two different types of cloth.  These rules set out a way of living for the Jewish people that will keep them healthy, keep their land safe and secure, and make them different to every other people group on earth. Do we have to keep all of these rules? Of course not – we’re not Jewish! So how can we tell what God wants from us if even the rules in the Bible are not meant for us?

At the end of the Old Testament there is a verse that tells us what God wants – What does the Lord your God require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly before God. So what does that mean?

The first requirement is to act justly – many of those 613 commandments are  about how to treat people in order to ensure justice. Although they don’t apply directly to us today, they point us towards the kind of thing that God is interested in – feeding the hungry, protecting the weak. A man once went up to a great rabbi, a great teacher, and said to him ‘You’re supposed to be this great expert in God’s law, so go on then. Teach me everything God commands whilst standing on one leg!” And the rabbi said to him “Don’t be ridiculous! The law has 613 commandments – how can I possibly teach them all to you in one go while standing on one leg!”. So the man went away, and went to the other great teacher in the land. He said to him ‘You’re supposed to be this great expert in God’s law, so go on then. Teach me everything God commands whilst standing on one leg!”. But this rabbi just smiled, stood on one leg, and said “Love everyone as much as you love yourself – this is the only commandment – all of the rest are just commentary, all of the rest simply explain what that looks like.”

Love everyone as much as you love yourself – everything else is just commentary. You see, the first teacher didn’t understand what the rules were for, he didn’t understand what God wanted. He thought obedience to God was all about the rules themselves, when its actually about results. Unfortunately
you often come across religious people who make the same mistake – they keep all of the rules (and even make up new rules to keep!) and then they want everyone else to keep them too, and they call you evil, they call you a sinner, if you don’t behave the way they want you to. They think obedience to God is all about the rules, and they miss the point – the rules are about loving people, and yet the way they keep the rules is not loving – they do not speak of God rightly. An acquaintance of mine was once writing on a blog, and there was an argument about “if only Christians go to heaven, what happens to babies who die?”, and because his rules said only Christians go to heaven, he answered that obviously they go to hell. Now hang on… God is love. God loves everyone so much he would die for them. God is good all the time. God is merciful and compassionate. How does that work then? I suggest to you that this guy’s rules are wrong. He did not speak of God rightly, because he was more interested in having black and white rules then he was interested in what God is like. And what God is like is that God is good.

You see, people who think God is about black and white rules have forgotten the second part of God’s requirements – to love mercy. You see, God’s rules are good and perfect, but we’re not, so we don’t know how to understand them properly. And so God gave us a bigger requirement – to show
mercy, to take a look at the rules and say ‘You know what, that doesn’t apply here, because God loves you, and its gonna be ok’. The law says ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, but if we carried it out everyone would be blind and toothless – there is a bigger law that says forgive, let it go, be better than that. I have a friend who is gay, and she says to me ‘Every church I have ever been to says that God hates me because of my life, because the Bible says that gay sex is wrong. What do you think?’ And I say, they seem to have missed the other bits of the book that say every sin is wrong and is the same so by their rules God must hate everyone. The bits that say that God loves you anyway. That Jesus has a plan to put right everything that is wrong with the world. That some things are so broken that they can’t be put right no matter how hard you try, and that we all just have to wait until Jesus fixes them. And that love, however it looks, is the whole point of the rules. They have got so obsessed with obedience that they have forgotten to show mercy. Let us fall into the hands of God, for his mercy is great; but do not let us fall into human hands. Do not judge, because how you judge others is how God will judge you. Be kind to everyone you meet, because everyone is fighting a fierce battle.

And then there is the third part of God’s requirement – to walk humbly before God. What does this mean? We have seen that Gods rules are important, because they describe how we should love each other, but we have seen that love is more important than any particular rule, because it is the results and not the rules themselves that is of primary importance to God. This last part is also about results. It was the son who worked in the vineyard even
though he said he wouldn’t who actually did what was required. The other son talked a good game, but his actions proved he was all chat and no follow
through. I suggest that to walk humbly with God is to be one better than the son who worked, to not only walk with God and be in the right place and time, but to do it with the right attitude as well. To say yes, and then do it.

The Bible says that everyone has certain good things that they were created to do, things that were planned for them before the creation of the world. Whether you are a Christian or not, every now and then in your life you will find yourself in a situation, a single place and time that will never come again, where God wants you to act, where God wants you to make the world better. And the choice is yours – to do what God wants, or to walk away.
Once while I was at university my friend Nikki seriously damaged her ankle playing some sport or other, and God said to me very clearly, so clearly it
might as well have been a voice from the sky, go and pray for her and I will heal her ankle. But she was a sarcastic and bolshy ginge and I knew she’d
probably take the piss, to I told God equally clearly ‘No’, and I went out instead. My other friend Rachel, who was a Christian, went and prayed for Nikki, but nothing happened, because although she was doing what she supposed to do, I wasn’t, and I needed to be there. So Rachel looks stupid, and Nikki
gets the idea that prayer doesn’t work and has to put up with a busted ankle for months. Meh. I screwed up. I am convinced that God would have healed Nicki if I had been obedient, and who knows, maybe she would have met with God. Its not the end of the world, life goes on, no one died, and God still has other plans for my life, other things that he needs me to do. I pray often that God will meet with Nikki another time, in another way so that the results of my failure to obey are not permanent, and God is gracious, so I’m sure he will, but that particular moment in that time and place will never come again, and I can’t go back. I pray that I don’t miss the next unique moment.

The Bible is full of people who don’t miss the moment, who are in the time and place they are supposed to be, and who humble themselves to doing what God wants. About 2000 years ago, around this time of year, give or take a few months, a teenage Jewish girl was doing whatever it is that teenage
Jewish girls did back then – reading, working, practicing music, whatever. And then suddenly an angel turns up and says “Hail Mary! Blessed art thou amongst women. The Lord is with you!

Mary was somewhat concerned by this, ‘cos you know, shining great archangel and all. But the angel said to her “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have
found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever and his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. For no word from God will ever fail.”

And Mary replied “My body belongs to God. It will happen as you say”.


Now Mary was obedient to God, not because of any rule to keep, not because of any choice (you’ll notice the angel doesn’t give her any), but because of her attitude. Mary is humble before God – she hears what God wants, and simply accepts it. Some people make out what a great honour this was – she gets to be the Theotokos, the God-bearer, and it was – but to a young teenage girl, this is going to be a nightmare.  But Mary is obedient to God, and her obedience is then walked out through her life – she could have been bitter and angry about the way the baby Jesus screwed up her life (friends and neighbours thinking she sleeps around, soldiers trying to kill them , becoming a refugee in Egypt etc) but she doesn’t – she simply pays all of those costs with good grace, and simply tries to be the best mother she can be to Jesus. Likewise Joseph is faced with someone elses child, but once God speaks to him he obeys and simply tries to be the best father he can be to the child. Again, he walks humbly with God down the path put in front of him. The best examples of obedience in the Bible are not about keeping rules or not, but rather how you react when God puts a hard task in front of you – most important is whether you do it or not (as with the sons in the vineyard), but the thing that really wins favour with God is the attitude you do it with – do you moan, and complain, and slack off, or do you go for it with good grace and all the effort you can muster?

Jesus is the best example of all. When faced with his imminent execution he prayed to God and said “Please don’t make me do this”, but God said ‘There is no other way’. To which Jesus says ‘Then we’ll do what you want, not what I want’… and at that moment the soldiers arrive to take him away. You see, Jesus had to go through with it, he had to obey and walk the path God had put in front of him. He had to, because God had a plan to put right everything that is wrong with the world. A plan to fix everything that is broken. A plan to save everyone in slavery to evil, and sickness, and suffering and death. And it all depended on Jesus doing the right thing, in that specific place, in that one instant of time. And so Jesus was obedient even to the point of dying on a cross.

Has anyone seen the Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson. I absolutely love the way the movie is put together because it shows that, whatever else you may think of Mel’s theology, he absolutely gets what the cross is about. For example, at the start of the movie, just after the garden scene, Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of Jesus are uneasy – they can feel something is going on. Mary Magdalene asks ‘Why is this night different?’, which is the traditional question asked at the Passover meal. Mary gives the traditional response ‘Because once we were slaves, and now we are free’… and at that instance John Mark bursts in and says ‘They’ve taken him’. You see, the film maker knows that Jesus being taken is the thing that will set us all free
– it all depends on this one moment in time in where Jesus humbles himself to what God wants rather than give in to his own fear.

Later in the movie as Jesus is being dragged all bloody to the hill where he will be crucified, Mary catches his arm, and he says to her ‘Look mother, I am making everything new again’. For those of you who know the story, that’s not what Jesus is supposed  to say to her at that point – instead, its Jesus line from the very end of time at the reconciliation of all things, when he returns in power and puts everything right again… again, the film maker knows that one depends on the other – that there will be no happy ending at the end of time unless Jesus suffers death on the cross. Jesus power to make all things new again comes from his bloody, painful obedience to death in this one special moment of time and space, and all of history depends on him.

Thank God that it all depended on Jesus and Mary and Joseph and others like them, rather than on people like me! And may God make each one of us more like Jesus, more like Mary and Joseph, more like those who are humble and obedient to God regardless of the cost, regardless of the cross, and who give their all without complaint to bring good into the world. May God teach us to love others as ourselves, to know when rules should be broken in favour of love, and to accept humbly our place in God’s plan, so that we might see that plan come into being through our actions and before our very eyes.

*****************

Jesus commanded that his followers should eat bread together to remember his death and drink wine together to remember his blood spilled on the ground. More, he commanded that we should do this so that we actually take part in his sacrifice – as we obey and eat and drink, we take part in his obedience to death, and we become part of the new life that resulted from his obedience. This moment of obedience in this place and time becomes part of that one moment in time and space on which everything depends.

I’m not going to use the normal words – instead I’m going to read a poem. As I read, take the time to think of those moments when you have not loved others, not shown mercy, not accepted the path God has put in front of you. Think of the example of those like Mary and Joseph and many many others who have set us a good example in how to walk humbly and obey. And ask for strength to follow their example. Then, when I have broken the bread and poured the wine, come to front and take and eat once you are ready.

This is called ‘Announcing the Time’ by VM Kimball:

With God there is no time …
and yet, God made time,
made the day and made the night.
God called the light Day,
and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening
and there was morning,
one day.
God placed a sun, the stars, a moon
so we can measure and call it time,
so all things then are made right,
so only time when God ordains reality,
and only time can man mark it down.
There is an appointed time
for everything.
And there is a time
for every event under heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die,
a time to plant, and a time to pluck the planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal,
a time to tear down, and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh.
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to search, and a time to lose.
A time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to tear apart, and a time to sew.
A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate.
A time for war, and a time for peace.
But there was a time, in the time that God made,
when God entered in. God in time called Miryam,
a young girl, to embrace God’s time,
and find it was a time to love, no time to hate,
no time for war, but time for peace.
I trust in thee, O LORD,
I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand.
From the time of the rupture, from the time
God knew, from the time when man and woman
wrenched themselves from the Timeless,
the righteous prayed and hoped for God
to enter in, yearning for YHWH (the One of Being),
archaic past, before, during, now, and future …
Sow for yourselves righteousness,
reap the fruit of steadfast love;
break up your fallow ground,
for it is the time to seek the LORD,
that he may come and rain salvation over you.
So the tender daughter of Zion sewed
righteousness. John preached in the
wilderness: The time is fulfilled,
and the kingdom of God is at hand.
God found Mary joyful in his Presence,
and came upon her with Spirit and Life.
When the time had fully come, God sent
forth his Son, born of a woman, born
in the truth, redeeming those who lived
in the truth, so they could live with
the Timeless One.
Time is an illusion, not a measure,
according to a Greek philosopher.
But science uses time, clocks time,
not definable since other quantities
are defined in time and space!
Is it a mental measuring system
of mankind’s limited mind? Or is it hung on the sun as it faithfully
rises through our sky? Or perhaps the moon,
phasing full to nil, marking seasons
for the seeds, and moons for woman’s
time. Or is it a swing of pendulum, an
oscillation of some Cesium atoms?
The rising of the Nile, shadows on pillars
set to catch the time? Is it a time that only
earth can hold, a time that disappears
in space, and then is it the space that
time ignores. Big Bang began it all
but one Planck moment didn’t pass,
before the moment came, before the
moment past. And so we call it mystery
when Mary stopped in time, stopping
time itself, and God entered in …
He sent forth Christ as a plan
for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.
In God’s time, which is no time,
it was beginning with her,
to bring the world to God,
to start creation again,
to initiate this holy birth, so
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee, Blesséd art thou, and Blesséd be Jesus,  the fruit of thy womb.

Amen.

 

(Pour wine)

What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love
mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.


LORD, we have heard of your fame; we stand in awe of your
deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; and in our
disobedience remember mercy.


Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives transgressions?
You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

(Break bread)

Behold, I am making everything new again.

Your sins are forgiven. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Take and eat, and learn what it means.


Come. Take and eat.

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