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The stories of Jesus’ life in the Bible are full of challenge. We can studiously avoid this or pick and choose what we adopt in our own lives a comfortable or acceptable to us. The challenge, when we look at the life of Christ, remains the same though. What he says to others he could as well be saying to us and Jesus’ attitude to those who have much and those who have little or nothing is one of the biggest challenges to us. In our materialistic and status oriented world we can do worse than consider Jesus’ response to a ‘seeker’ in his own day.

Another day, a man stopped Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus said, “Why do you question me about what’s good? God is the One who is good. If you want to enter the life of God, just do what he tells you. The man asked, “What in particular? Jesus said, “Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”The young man said, “I’ve done all that. What’s left?” “If you want to give it all you’ve got,” Jesus replied, “go sell your possessions; give everything to the poor. All your wealth will then be in heaven. Then come follow me. That was the last thing the young man expected to hear. And so, crest-fallen, he walked away. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and he couldn’t bear to let go. Matthew 19:16-22 (The Message)

All the don’t’s of the law this zealous young Hebrew did! He even claimed to do the one do, to love his neighbour as himself. I am sure that Jesus lifted an eyebrow at this assertion. The greatest challenge that Jesus gives to any one of us is to love our neighbour as ourselves. Doing the don’t’s isn’t hard it just takes our moral compass to see these things as wrong, but doing the do is virtually impossible unless this young man excluded certain people from being his neighbour. Jesus saw that in him and he sees it in us too. We include those people we like and feel comfortable with but, too easily, exclude those who have less social inclusion. We include the haves and we exclude the have nots! So, Jesus, having the insight of the godman makes a demand on this young man that will shake the foundations of his belief in his own goodness, ‘Reject the value of your material wealth and give away your valuables to others less well off than yourself.’ At this the young man’s belief in his own goodness crumbled and he could not follow what Jesus asked. He went away with food for thought!

Does the gift of eternal life require that we live the life of a monastic? No, of course it doesn’t! If we are Christian, we have a gift that is freely given that we can not earn. The cost of following Jesus fully, not simply relying on grace but wanting to live his life today, means giving it all we have got. If we fully rely on God we will be willing to take whatever steps he asks, and he asks a great deal of us. But if we are obedient to his will we receive a much greater reward from him in the spiritual than we could ever earn in the material. If God can be that generous to us then, in following him, we should be as generous to our neighbours.

Thank you Jesus for the challenge to follow you fully. Let our reliance on your will shine through in our day to day lives through what we do and how we do it. Let the faith that we would own be the most important possession to us as we seek to live a spiritual life and do what is right in your sight. Amen.

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In the gospel stories we see people who follow Jesus. There are the fishermen who leave their nets and the tax collector who leaves his job. There are countless people in the crowds that follow him to hear his message, even so far as walking all the way round the sea of Galilee when he went across it in a boat. Those people gave no thought to where their next meal was coming from but we read (in the story of the feeding of the five thousand) how God fed them. But what about those for whom the cost of following was too much?

On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said. Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.” Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!” Luke 9:57-60 (The Message)

Homelessness in order to follow Jesus is not something we often consider. Some, in this day and age, may move from one place to another, one continent to another, in order to follow Jesus. Leaving home and having no other is not something we think about though. The prospect of leaving home, letting down our family and friends, forsaking all so that we might be in the company of Jesus isn’t comfortable but it is needed. Even if it is simply our spiritual attitude of putting nothing and no one before our call to follow him maybe it is something that will benefit us. Empathy with those who have left house and family because of issues affecting homelessness can be ours if we will let go of our expectation of comfort and embrace the call of Christ. Leaving all only counts if we look to the person we left it for, looking to the person we are called to follow then makes our material comfort a secondary concern at best.

Jesus I hear your call to leave all behind and follow you. Let my affections and my priorities be to face forward and follow in the way you want. Create in me empathy with those who have no home or family so that together we can unite in the community of faith in you. Amen.

As I drove in to work there was a news report that said, despite moves to decrease the divide between rich and poor in the last decade there remains an enormous disparity. Those in the higher earning occupations can accumulate over £900,000 in assets for their retirement while those in low income may have as little as £8000. How low our income and how high does not create a disparity in how generous we can be in the eyes of God. Take this story from Jesus’ life as a look at God’s point of view.

‘Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.’ Mark 12:41 (The Message)

Jesus watches as people bring their offerings of money. He sees the careless way that some of those with expendable income put in their offering. He is not impressed that appearance is the only consideration they give. When the widow puts in her two small coins it catches Jesus’ attention because it goes deeper. Out of her poverty she gives more generously than those who give much simply because what she gave, she gave with her heart.

Lord Jesus, help us when we give, whatever our income or how much we give, to give generously with our hearts. Whether we support others less advantaged than ourselves with little or much, let it be generous in your sight because we do it with a heart of love. Amen.

It was Shabbat in Nazareth and, as was his habit, Jesus went to the synagogue. The leader of the synagogue gave him the scroll of Isaiah to read from to the gathered congregation. He found the passage from, what we now call chapter 61:1, and he read:

“God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” Luke 4:18 (The Message)

Every eye in the place was turned to him expecting some insight into the mind of God. That day they got more than they bargained for. Everyone admired and revered the Prophets but no one expected that their words would be fulfilled in their life time. Their shock, at Jesus’ words, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” would have made the room all the more silent. Accepting the fulfilment of God’s words, spoken through Isaiah so many years before, there, in this back water town on the banks of the Galilee, would not have resonated with their religion. Their small expectations of God were being challenged by the big picture of Jesus’ words.

Anyone remember the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign ( http://www.makepovertyhistory.org ), which had its most visible year in 2005? It still goes on because, despite all the grand promises of world leaders and the mobilisation of tens of thousands of supporters, poverty is still not history! Did we fail, well no. Those of us who supported MPH and wore our white bands, went out on the streets to solicit support and signatures, and lobbied parliament and the G8 (as it was then) continued the work of Christ. When Jesus spoke of the fulfilment of Isaiah’s words, all those years ago in the Synagogue at Nazareth he challenged, not only the congregation, but the whole world to respond. The silence continues in the hearts of many but in our hearts, those who hear Jesus’ words and know the work of the Holy Spirit, to eliminate poverty and set humanity free, the fulfilment of those words continue today.

Lord of the poor, the dispossessed and oppressed, poor out your Spirit into our hearts today. Let our voice continue to speak of the fulfilment of your will in Jesus and let your people not be silent but speak up for those who have no voice. Amen

Jesus was sharing a meal with his friends. Suddenly an uninvited guest finds her way to the table and behind Jesus. Quickly and quitely she poors the ointment over his head. She is known by those hosting the meal as a disreputable woman, not the kind of person you would want at a dinner party. The oinment is expensive and the response they make is typically religious, ‘That’s criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year’s wages and handed out to the poor.’

Jesus’ response is different, not religious at all, clearly seeing into the heart of this woman and speaking with compassion he says, “Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them. Not so with me. She did what she could when she could—she pre-anointed my body for burial. And you can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she just did is going to be talked about admiringly.” Mark 14:5-8 (The Message)

It is clear from the outset that Jesus means our devotion to God preceeds our need to help the poor in importance, but he carries on to say, ‘You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them.’  The quiet civility of the dinner party is shattered by an unwelcome figure who does something ‘wonderfully significant’ for Jesus. Yet his words to the guests are about doing something for the poor. We don’t need to have a great deal of money to help those who have nothing or very little. What we need is the will to do what we can with what we have. Back in 1963 US President John F. Kennedy said, ‘We do not lack the resources to end world hunger, what we lack is the will’. It appears still, in 2010, we still lack the will not the resources.

Lord, in the light of our self-satisfaction help us remember that where there is a will there is a way. Let our wills be open to your call to do something for the poor today. Bless the poorest people who do not have enough to meet their daily physical need and especially at this time the people of Haiti. Amen.

There is a saying, ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear’! Which means, in brief, if something is rubbish and ugly it is going to stay that way! Of course there are exceptions to this rule. In the regeneration of our cities which has been taking place over the last few years there have been some victories. Areas of urban and industrial deprivation have received a lick of paint or new landscaped areas where there were slag heaps and derilict buildings. There have also been land clearances which have just left brown belt sites that sit waiting for the developer that never comes and pieces of ‘art’ in our cities that leave us wondering who ever thought ‘that’ is art!

I do believe that regeneration is good, as a rule, but that transformation is better. Transformation only happens if the heart of a community is affected positively by the change that takes place. If we feel that the change is one that benefits us personally then we can feel the power of transformation within in us. This is the role of faith and, whether it is faith in the seen or unseen power that regenerate and and transform the positive effect is only felt inwardly and outwardly if the heart is touched – put right.

Jesus said, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, ‘”You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.’ Matthew 5:8 (The Message)

It takes a renewed faith to turn the sows ear that we sometimes feel our lives and the world around us into the silk purse of blessing that God intends. If we place our faith in the love of God in Jesus for our lives then whatever the view we have of ourselves our the world in which we live, God will be turning it into a silk purse by Christ’s sacrificial love.

Lord, help me to see today your love at work in me and in the world in which I live. Let the sows ears in me, that people may see as hopeless cases, be the object of your work of regeneration and transformation. Amen.

I am still incredibly new to West Bromwich and District YMCA. I have been tasked with ‘settling in’ until March and I have a brim full of ideas of where to start and what to do. I do feel that the ‘settling in’ time will take longer than three months. It isn’t because the reception from staff, clients, and residents has been anything other than fantastic and enthusiastic in their welcome. It is simply that this is a newly created post and I am the newby that is taking on the role.

My first question is, ‘What does it mean to develop Christian spirituality in a community that, for many, is a workplace, and for others, is a nursery or out of school club, a healthy eating cafe, a gym, or a place to live with support?’ I am enjoying getting to know so many different people, in both the YMCA community and Sandwell at large. I have a plan and want to listen to both the voice of God and that of the people I serve in this work. I will try to be constructive and co-operative in all I do. Most of all I am looking for the inspiration of God’s Word and God’s Spirit in order to bring the Christian Spiritual life into the life we share. Of all the things I do not yet know in the approach to developing the work, one thing is certain. I will only be able to take the work to where others are willing to go. God grant me the serenity to accept the things that are not changeable, courage to seek change in the areas needed, and the wisdom to know one from the other. Amen.

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