Saturday, 22 October 2016

All or nothing at all

Jesus said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength... and your neighbour as yourself. Mark 12:30-31.

Some of you will know that most of my life I have been a keen supporter of Crystal Palace Football Club. (Some of you, I can't think why, even seem to think it’s rather funny.)

I say "keen". But I have to admit that perhaps that word isn't really right. If the mighty Palace win, yes, I am pleased. But if they lose (like today: grrr...) - well, to be honest I tend to shrug my shoulders and get on with life. I'm not, I suppose, a real fan. ("Fan", of course, is short for "fanatic" - and the real fan is the person who is absolutely “over the moon” when their team wins, and “as sick as a parrot” when they lose). I'm a bit lukewarm, really, if the truth is told.

This isn't a lukewarmness I feel particularly guilty about. How a football team gets on isn’t really that important, after all.

But of course when it comes to things that really matter, lukewarmness is a serious fault.

No married person should be lukewarm about their marriage. None of us should be lukewarm about work or family. We shouldn't be lukewarm when it comes to helping those in need, or standing up for those who get a raw deal in life. We shouldn’t be lukewarm about honesty, kindness, integrity, courtesy... I’m sure I needn’t go on. These things matter, and they deserve our wholehearted commitment.

And so it is with Jesus. The verses I have quoted, about loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, are what could be called "a big ask". And as for “loving your neighbour as yourself" - that too takes some doing. Have we ever really seriously pondered what Jesus is asking of us?

Jesus’s first followers were quick to reinforce his words. Paul tells us to "offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1). Peter, quoting Leviticus, tells us to “be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’ ”(1 Peter 1:15). Only the very best is good enough.

It sounds a bit forbidding. Who can possibly measure up to this calling? But what we need to get hold of is this: it is this attitude towards life and towards God which brings fulfilment and joy.

Go back to football. As a rather lukewarm fan I know nothing of the despair some people feel when their team loses. Fair enough. But then neither do I know anything of the ecstasy when they win. It's all a bit flat, really.

And so, again, it is with Jesus. True, the half-hearted Christian won't experience much of the struggle, the wrestling, the pain, of following Jesus, because he or she will just breeze along as best they can. Ah, but neither will they know anything of the joy, the pleasure, the delight, of prayer at last answered, of spiritual battles won, of perseverance in faith yielding lasting results. It's all a bit flat, really.

Somebody once put it like this: Many of us have just enough Christianity to make us miserable, but not enough to make us happy. To put it another way (with a nice mix of metaphors), we fall between two stools, and end up with the worst of both worlds.

When I was a teenage Christian I knew someone who had a favourite expression for the kind of disciple the Bible is talking about: such a person, he used to say, is "on fire for God". That expression has stuck with me ever since. It may seem a bit corny, but in fact it is based on a New Testament expression, where we are told not to "put out the Spirit's fire" (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

So what about it? Just enough Christianity to spoil life, but not enough to enrich it?

That’s a sad way to be!

Lord God, you are worth the very best I can give. If over the years I have become careless and lukewarm in my love for you, please forgive me and help me to consecrate myself afresh, holding nothing back. Enable me to lay my life on your altar, truly a living sacrifice. Amen.

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