The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The news this week of the murder of the Year-11 pupil in Croydon and the felling of the landmark tree at Sycamore Gap, beside Hadrian’s Wall – and, of course, I could have chosen many other news items – testifies to the effects of sin and that humanity’s ultimate end point is death. Gloomy. Depressing. Sad. I know. Whether we are talking about civilisations, a tree reportedly 300 years old, or a 15 year old school girl, we know that they will not continue to infinity but to hasten the end, to deliberately act to destroy is what makes us shudder, get sad and angry, become fearful or more determined to protect ‘our own’ because deep down we all know that life wasn’t meant to be like this.

Whether it is corrupt and conceited leaders, someone with skill and a big chainsaw, or a teenager with a knife, the event that shocks us doesn’t occur in a vacuum, in an instant. They’ve all had some sort of build-up, a rationale, something that made sense to the perpetrators but which blinded them to another point of view. We are also unlikely to think that all perpetrators of evil deeds are totally evil because we can imagine that they are nice to someone in their life and they do kind things for someone. Nevertheless whether we’ve hurt someone’s feelings, done wrong to someone, broke the law because we thought we could or we wanted to, or gone down a dark tunnel consumed by something like hurt or revenge or self loathing we know that we can and do act in ways that harm ourselves and others but we’re either blind at the time about the consequences or we don’t care.

Living has been described as walking, being on the move. Christian discipleship picks up that image and is described as following Jesus or that Jesus is walking with us. Walking in and with Christ is a description of Christian obedience – and of course, not from fear but as our lived experience of being held, comforted, supported, blessed, loved by God in Jesus Christ. Sin is described variously as missing the mark (as in the archer shooting the arrow) or as rebellion but I am drawn to the image in Psalm 1 of the walker slowing down, of stopping, of sitting down and thus one is stuck or imprisoned. Trapped. Consumed now by one’s single world view, blind to the ‘big picture’ and it is from this position that actions flow – a knife is drawn, the chainsaw goes for hours, the refusal to stop corruption and do the right thing. All these actions have justifications in the minds of the perpetrators. They are reasonable in that moment. They make sense for them no matter the consequences or the actual truth and reality – and the end product is death and destruction. 

That is why Jesus offers us the best way to live – a new identity loved and forgiven by God – and his presence through words, water, bread and wine come with us as we walk and encourage us not to stop and sit and become stuck in thoughts and deeds that will only lead to death. Following Jesus – listening to him, receiving from him – is the best antidote to inertia that seeks to imprison us in our world of ‘me first’. Following Jesus offers us the best resilience to the words we say to ourselves, to the poor behaviours we do that seek to imprison us and harm others. Christians are like moving trees because the living water of Jesus – the Holy Spirit – moves with us so that we can always be fruitful (for others) and never wither (eternal life is ours already, we’ll just get to experience it in the heavenly realm). After all, we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) and our goal is life – living in all its fulness – for us and for those around us.