Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Hand to the plough!

Peter Lockhart

‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

You will hear within my preaching again and again that there is an emphasis on God’s unconditional grace. You will hear that it is by grace alone through faith that we are saved. You will hear me say that we cannot earn our salvation but only accept what has been offered to us as a free gift and in this I believe you will hear the good news.

However, in Jesus words to his followers and Paul’s admonition to the Galatians we also hear the challenge for us to live appropriately in response to this good news.

In the reading from Luke we hear Jesus rattling off a list of challenging sayings, ‘the Son of Man has no where to lay his head’ ‘Let the dead bury the dead’ and ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ These should be heard for what they are - uncomfortable words. And whilst this response is not about saving ourselves by following Jesus it is about being a part of what Jesus is about. It is about living a kingdom life, a life that witness to the grace that we find in Jesus Christ and so living in the coming kingdom of God now.

These give us a sense of looking forward, of moving ahead. These words confront us with leaving everything that we might hold dear possession and relationships as secondary to being a part of Jesus work.

The image of the hand on the plough is an extremely powerful one and an extremely helpful one. To plough
effectively and keep the furrow straight means fixing our sight on a point in the distance, a goal, and moving forward towards that goal. As Christians we are moving forward towards the goal of the fullness of the coming kingdom. Our focus is ahead, we see our goal as we look through Jesus, through the cross, through the resurrection and ascension to our destination with the Father in the Son and through the Spirit.

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If we look back, which is O so tempting, the furrow will deviate and the work will be wasted. Those of you who drive know that you cannot drive in a straight line if you are turned away from the way that you are going. It’s just downright dangerous. Jesus calls us to be committed as his followers to looking ahead and working the plough. It is his field, his work, and it will be his harvest, but we are invited to share in his work, his mission and his ministry.

Sure we do not always do this perfectly but ours is to concentrate on the goal - the freedom of life in union with the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

Paul’s admonition further elucidates for us something of what this might mean. It is important for us to understand that part of what Paul was addressing was an inappropriate attitude of liberty within the early Christian community. There were those who believed that because Christ had already set them free it did not matter how they behaved. To them the law no longer applied and they could do anything they wished.

Paul certainly agreed that they had been set free by Christ but he believed that such behaviour enslaved people once again to sin and all its consequences. The freedom won for us in Christ is a freedom to live in the light of who God is. It is not an invitation to self indulgence and self gratification.

‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Alongside the commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind this is the primary commandment. Through love become slaves to one another. Just as God has given graciously to each one of us being a Christian, working the plough, is about what we do for others not just we get out of it ourselves.

Paul exhorts the Galatians to live by the Spirit and he presents to them two list one negative, one positive. These will be signs that you are being lead by the Spirit.

The negative list includes a range of issues fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these.

Now the truth of my life is that as I read that list I have to tick a few off. It is easy to distract others and ourselves by concentrating on those we perceive as more severe, but all of us get angry, all of us are part of factions, most of us are jealous at times and we quarrel. We are not perfect and these things remind us of this truth and thus our need of God’s grace.

Yet within us and among us we also see the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These fruits are the ones we should nurture that we should open ourselves to. These are the fruits that we should seek to live by to the glory of God.

Love, not mushy stuff, but the self-giving sacrificial kind of love that God shares with us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Love that does not expect to be loved back but goes on giving unconditionally, even in the face of being nailed to a cross.

Joy, deep within our souls radiating out to warms our hearts so that we might live in thanks and praise.

Peace, reconciliation with God and each other. Peace celebrated in worship, in sharing in communion and in our care for one another and the whole creation.

Patience, so difficult in an instant society when we want what we want and we want it now. Channels flicked, burgers as soon as we order them, information online at the press of a button. Patience, stillness before God and before the rush and hurry and necessity we feel that we have to be doing things.

Generosity, giving not simply tithing but giving of all that we are and all that we have for the glory of God. Generosity, giving abundantly of our time our talents our money, serving God and this world for which Christ died.

Faithfulness, being in the relationship regardless of how we are feeling. Faithfulness, committed to and drawn into the covenant promises of God through Jesus Christ.

Gentleness, tenderness and caring for each other. Gentleness, the soft word of encouragement and the embrace of love.

And self-control, putting self in the service of God and others and disciplining ourselves to stay on track.

In being here on this day you are declaring that you want to follow Jesus. In being here this day you are declaring at least a passing interest in what it means to be a disciple. On being here this day you are the church. Are you ready with your hand on the plough? Are you looking toward the goal? Do you see signs of the coming kingdom ahead? Are you listening for the guiding of the Spirit?

We are here, because God has called us to be here so let us follow where he leads not in competition or envy of one another but in service and as slaves of one another in freedom to glory of God.

In the next few moments of silence listen for God’s word to you this day. Ask yourself what you are focussed on? Ask yourself what is holding you back from being totally committed to celebrating the grace of God in your life family? Work commitments? Boredom? Sport? Entertainment? Institutions and traditions?

Hear the voice of Jesus as he invites and challenges us to be work in his field, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Consider are you looking back or are you looking forward?

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