The fruitfulness of the earth is a wonderful thing – to celebrate it as part of our worship of God is to connect with the deep realities that constitute our life. It also generates the kind of thankfulness which energises us to care for the world around us. We are all aware today that the earth is fragile, its ecosystems easily damaged, its fruitfulness easily depleted. The best motivation to care comes not from a sense of threat or duty but out of an experience of joy and wonder and worship. As we appreciate the wonder of the world God has made, we are moved to play our part in caring for it and sustaining it. Harvest thanksgiving might be an old tradition but it is also an urgent contemporary necessity.
Failure is part and parcel of human life. Often enough we find that we have got it wrong. Often enough we have messed up. The great thing with God is that this need not be the end of the story. There comes a fresh encounter, a renewed calling … and it is out of this that authentic Christian life arises. No matter what our failures have been there is still a question being asked that draws us back to that which matters most to us. There is still a task to be fulfilled that can define our lives in a new way.
The church has often been concerned about orthodoxy – right belief. It has also realised the importance of orthopraxis – right action. These need to be complemented by “orthopathy” – right feeling. Today we set a premium on the emotional dimension of life. We need a connection that comes not only from the head, not only from the hand, but also from the heart. Jesus related to folk on a heart-to-heart basis. He still does.
A small word with a big meaning in the Bible is the word “but”. The Bible is realistic about all that is set against us – all that has gone wrong in our world and all that has gone wrong in our lives. However, it does not leave it there. It says, “But” … something has happened that can utterly transform our situation. “But” … someone has come who makes all the difference. “But” … Jesus Christ is among us in the transforming power of his Spirit and whatever we might be up against he can turn it around. “I was lost but now I am found.”
“If you obey my teaching…,” said Jesus, “you will know the truth.” This is not just a matter of intellectual knowledge of certain propositions. It is about living a life that is true to Jesus. For the Christian claim is that, ultimately, the truth is a person. And that person is Jesus. Knowing the truth is about being in touch with him. It is about organising your life around the reality of who he is and what he has done.
Here is how we become disciples. Not through observing a set of rules and regulations, however sound they may be. We become disciples when we have faced up to our failure but been called by Jesus nonetheless. When we discover in him the power of love, the power of forgiveness, the power of a new life. This is what we can discover when he comes into the midst of the drama that is our life. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
“Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless calvaries; and people do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.” Martin Luther King Jr
Faith is a personal kind of knowledge. It goes beyond the factual knowledge of being aware that something is true. It is a matter of trusting someone. The action of trusting in Jesus lies at the heart of Christian experience. Once that connection of faith is made, a whole new life begins. This connection with Jesus opens up the path of discipleship by which our life is reordered and renewed.
As humans we are made with a God-sized hole at the heart of our lives. The trouble is that we are prone to trying to fill that hole with ourselves and we are not the right size for the job. Only when we turn to God does everything fall into place and we get ourselves in true proportion. As John the Baptist realised when he met Jesus: “He must increase and I must decrease.”