What a friend we have in Jesus: sermon on Luke 12: 32 – 48

SERMON CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD 7/8/22

Trinity 8

Proper 14. Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Lk 11: 32-40

What a friend we have in Jesus,

all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

all because we do not carry

everything to God in prayer!

I don’t know about you but my friends are a pretty rum bunch.

Sometimes I wonder how I know them, what attracted us to each other.

Some of them I have quite a lot in common with, some of them nothing in common at all.

I like the hymn What a friend we have in Jesus a lot.

But often I like to imagine that first line with an exclamation mark at the end of it: 

What a friend we have in Jesus!

What an extraordinary, exasperating, irritating, challenging friend Jesus must have been.

In our year long reading of Luke’s gospel we are about half way through and today’s gospel reading contains a set of statements by Jesus, some of which St Luke shares with St Matthew some of which come from another source, that Luke has woven together. 

There isn’t really a single theme to the passage and in some ways the reading cuts the flow of Luke’s narrative by choosing these particular verses. As so often with the gospels the phrases can seem so familiar to us that we ignore or just don’t notice their force. We don’t notice what an extraordinary, exasperating, irritating, challenging friend Jesus is.

Many of you will be in church today to see this wonderful historic, sacred building. For many of you this may be the only time you worship at Christ Church. Some of you will worship at your own churches when you get home, for others this may be the only Christian worship you attend this year or this month.

Wherever you come from, how ever often you find yourself in church I’d like us to look together at this remarkable collection of sayings and think about our friend Jesus. What state is our friendship with him in? How does this collection of sayings help us to think again about Jesus?

What a friend we have in Jesus: he doesn’t want us to be afraid, that’s how the passage begins. It might seem quite consoling and comforting; but I wonder if actually it is to help us face the really quite frightening and challenging journey of friendship with Jesus that he is about to describe.

I am certainly challenged by the next statement. Sell your possessions and give alms.

I expect most of us contribute something to charity from our spare income. But I certainly don’t envisage selling any of my possessions any time soon to be able to give more to charity. Filling out my tax form this week I had to add up how much I spent on books in the last financial year. If I had given all that money to charity it could have changed lives. Why do I need to buy all those books when I have access in Oxford to one of the best libraries in the world?

And this passage about possessions goes on:

Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I spend quite a bit of my time seeing people for Spiritual Direction. Everyone loves to talk about their prayer lives. The spiritual experiences they may or may not be having. But Jesus, our extraordinary, exasperating, irritating, challenging friend is much wiser than that. He knows that the real test of what we value of where our hearts are is how we spend our money.

If you want a spiritual practice this week take a look at your bank statement and see what you value. Jesus is much more interested in how we spend our money, what possessions we have than in spiritual experiences.

Then the passage changes tack. 

Now we are the servants waiting for our master to come back from a wedding party, no doubt late, no doubt in the middle of the night.

We can’t afford to put our pyjamas on and go to bed or to turn the lights out.

In fact we can’t sleep at all.

This following Jesus is no easy life. We can’t coast through it.

But then look at what happens.

The Master comes home. But he doesn’t expect to be waited on, he becomes the servant, serving the servants.

Jesus is never predictable. This turn in the passage is revolutionary, it changes the world. Masters become servants, slaves get waited on.

What a friend we have in Jesus!

And then the passage turns again. No longer are we thinking about servants waiting for their Master to get back late at night or early in the morning. Now suddenly Jesus is thinking about a house being broken into.

There is a thief about.

Jesus shows us that there is a conflict. This might even be called the real spiritual conflict.

What or who has stolen our hearts?  If we are not waiting to welcome Jesus what are we waiting for, who breaks into the house of our lives? 

You must be ready, Jesus says, for he is coming at an unexpected hour.

What a friend we have in Jesus! Because he comes when we don’’t expect him.

We all like to see our friends, we make arrangements to see them, we invite them over at certain times. But Jesus is not that sort of friend. He turns up when we don’t expect him, perhaps even when we are busy doing something else, perhaps even in the middle of the night.

These sort of passages are sometimes interpreted as referring to the end of the world when Jesus will come again.

Others interpret them as being ready to meet Jesus in our worship, in the words of Scripture or in his body and blood received in the Eucharist as we will in just a few minutes time.

All those interpretations may be true. But I want to end by thinking of a slightly different way of understanding this.

This service, this act of worship is not the unexpected time. Quite the opposite we are here because we knew the time of the service. We expect perhaps some of us to have a spiritual experience.

But what about this time tomorrow? 11am on Monday. 

Perhaps we will meet Jesus then? perhaps we will see where our treasure is, what we really value in the way we answer an email, speak to a colleague spend our money when we go shopping or online.

What a friend we have in Jesus,

all our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

all because we do not carry

everything to God in prayer!

If Jesus is not our friend in every moment, everything of our lives he is no friend at all, we are no friend to him.

If you are serious about friendship with Jesus carry everything to God in prayer, your work, your social life, your spending, your eating, your intimate relationships.

Whether we choose friendship with Jesus or not, and the choice is entirely ours don’t do it without noticing what an extraordinary, exasperating, irritating, challenging friend Jesus is.

What a friend we have in Jesus.

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