We learn best by experiencing the consequences of our actions. For example, if we forget that a pan is hot, we will get burned when we grab it.
What is the natural consequence when a child hits a ball through a neighbor’s window?
What is the natural consequence of locking your keys inside the car?
What is the natural consequence of giving someone a gift?
Consequences can be negative or positive. Today’s readings suggest some natural consequences of living with God in our lives or of rejecting God’s purposes.
… I think most of us have seen how pottery is made. A lump of clay is thrown onto a flat wheel, and is worked higher and higher as the wheel turns. If the shape of the object is wrong, the potter smashes it back onto the wheel and starts over. I was surprised to learn that in ancient times, if a potter needed more clay, he would grind up hardened pots to get clay dust. When water is added, it’s like having new clay from the earth.
God speaks through Jeremiah, telling the people that God wants to shape them into God’s people, like a potter shapes clay. The consequence of obeying God is the good that God has promised.
The consequence of turning away from God is that they might they be smooshed back onto the wheel. They also know that they might be ground into dust so God the potter can start over.
… In contrast is Psalm 139. I love this psalm because it tells us that no matter what we do, no matter where we go, God is always present with us. From birth to death, from morning to night, God is with us. The consequence of this assurance is that we can always rely on God being with us even if we turn away from God.
… In the Gospel reading, Jesus uses practical examples of natural consequences. If a king decides to go to war, he needs to make sure he has enough money, enough equipment, and enough soldiers to carry out the war. If not, he will lose the war.
If someone decides to build something, he must make sure he has enough material and enough workers to complete the project. If he does not have what he needs, the people will ridicule him for his failure.
In the same way, if we decide to follow Jesus, we must face the consequences of being his disciple. It is not always easy or convenient to be a disciple of Jesus. If we are really going to follow Jesus, if we are really going to be Jesus’ disciple, for most of us, our lives must be different. Really following Jesus means carrying the cross, proudly, and taking risks because of the cross. There are consequences to being Jesus’ disciple.
… The Apostle Paul is serious about being a disciple. He sends a letter to his friend Philemon, asking him to receive his slave Onesimus back into his household. For Paul, the consequence of following Jesus is to live differently, to make different choices. Philemon’s culture tells him that he has the right to kill a run-away slave. Paul challenges him to accept Onesimus at least as a brother in Christ, and hints at giving him his freedom. This change would have social as well as financial consequences for Philemon. We don’t know how Philemon responded, but we know what Paul wants.
… In the US, it’s pretty easy to follow Jesus. It is definitely not against the law to worship, read the Bible, gather for social events, feed the hungry. The consequence of living in a country with the freedom to worship, or not worship, as we choose is that it can be too easy to say we follow Jesus. Since we have such freedom, let’s use it to follow Jesus better.
· We can be willing to be embarrassed by asking someone to join us at worship, and having them say ‘No thanks.’ Again.
· We can be willing to stand up publicly against an injustice, and have people disagree with us. Pope Francis is not afraid to speak out against attacking Syria.
· We can be willing to closely examine our day-to-day priorities and make changes when we discover that we rarely put God first in our decision-making.
· We can be willing to look at our household budgets and determine how much more we could give to God through the church by making some changes in our spending habits.
· We can be willing to believe that we cannot perfectly follow Jesus, no matter how hard we try.
In today’s readings, God’s consequences for us are: God never leaves us alone, and God loves us, no matter what. Yet, it is not good for us to turn away from God. Living as Jesus’ disciples helps us recognize the value of doing so.
What choices have you made in the past? What were the consequences?
What choices are you making today? What consequences might there be for those choices?
Your challenge for this week has two parts. First, as we discuss and vote today on changing the time for worship, I ask you to consider carefully the consequences of voting yes, and of voting no. What are the reasons you hear for voting yes? What are the reasons you hear for voting no?
Especially, this is a time to consider not our individual preferences for getting up early or late, but what the vote means for the ministry and mission of the congregation as a whole. Which option gives us the best chance to reach our neighbors who are not here yet?
Second, I challenge you to reflect on the choices you make all week. What consequences do they offer? Consider what place God has in your life, your priority list. Consider how you spend your time and your money. Are there changes you want to make?
The consequence of living with Jesus at the center or our lives means that God’s purposes, God’s love, God’s mercy are more obvious to us. God is easier to find if we live more deeply in God’s presence.
Please pray with me. Holy God, help us shape our lives to your purposes. Give us the courage we need to follow you more closely. Assure us each day that you are never far from us. Amen