Sunday 3rd September: Matthew 16 21-
From that time on Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Far be it from You, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to You!” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me. For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will repay each one according to what he has done. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Jesus was lovingly trying to prepare his disciples for what was going to happen – but they found it impossible to accept. How could their friend and teacher be facing such an awful future? Being a Christian doesn’t mean we have an easy life, that problems melt away, that we do not have to face challenges. On the contrary, there may be more for us – for many people, more challenges because of their faith – and Jesus wants us to face these with courage. And that courage is because we know that he is with us, whatever happens in our lives. Standing beside us, leading us, supporting us, guiding us – and providing us with whatever we need to cope.
Are you at this moment facing challenges in your life? Some of these may be truly daunting, affecting our health, our family, our jobs, our peace of mind. Yet in all this we are assured that God is with us. May we all feel his blessing upon us as we face life today, tomorrow, and in the future.
10th September: Matthew 18 15-20
f your brother sins against you, go and confront him privately. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, regard him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them.”
We all make mistakes, and get into disagreements with other people, and sometimes it can be a really serious falling out where we feel hurt and betrayed – and rather self-righteous in feeling it was all the other person’s fault. Yet Jesus calls on us to try and sort this out by going to see whoever you feel has done you wrong; by facing things together to see if a solution can be found. Rather than dwelling on it, and even sharing one's anger with others – which only serves to make things even harder to bear. It's not easy to try and do this calmly and quietly – but we do know that God is with us when we attempt reconciliation, giving us the right words to say, curbing our anger, helping us see the other person’s point of view.
Is there anything in your life you feel needs sorting out in this way? Any lingering resentments or bitterness? Can you find the courage to try and deal with it, asking God to help you? It could well be the other person or people would welcome an approach – and it is worth trying.
17th September: Matthew 18 21-35
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times! Because of this, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlements, a debtor was brought to him owing ten thousand talents. Since the man was unable to pay, the master ordered that he be sold to pay his debt, along with his wife and children and everything he owned. Then the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Have patience with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ His master had compassion on him, forgave his debt, and released him. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ So his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay his debt. When his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and recounted all of this to their master. Then the master summoned him and declared, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave all your debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should repay all that he owed. That is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Again Jesus is teaching his disciples and all who listened about forgiveness – how many times are they to forgive people who hurt them and do wrong to them. Jesus says we need always to forgive other people – which seems at first an impossible task – until we remember how many times God forgives us. Remembering the many times we have failed, messed up, hurt other people either intentionally or carelessly, not seen when others are looking for compassion rather than criticism – we all fail in so many ways. Yet God each time lovingly forgives us, wiping the slate clean, and helping us to make a new start.
Should we too therefore not be willing to try at least to put behind us the wrongs others have done to us – leaving it to God to enact punishment, rather than trying to inflict this ourselves. It does mean we can move forward and in time come to terms with it, rather than let resentment build inside us. And though it isn’t easy, with God’s help it is possible.
24th September: Matthew 20 1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. ‘You also go into my vineyard,’ he said, ‘and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ he asked. ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. So he told them, ‘You also go into my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last ones hired and moving on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when the original workers came, they assumed they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarius. On receiving their pay, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Did you not agree with me on one denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Do I not have the right to do as I please with what is mine? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
On the face of it, this does seem an unfair story. Why should the workers be paid all the same when some have been hard at it all day and others just for a few hours? Yet the landowner wasn’t backing down on anything – he paid them what had been agreed. And so it is with God. For some people they seem to have an easy life, with everything falling into place at the right time and few problems to deal with. For others life is a continuous challenge with one thing after another seemingly not going to plan. How can God let this happen in his world? Because we are human things don’t always work in our lives – yet God goes on loving and helping us. And the amazing thing is he provides as much help and support as we need, no matter how great that is.
Do you feel you are being treated unfairly at the moment? Do you wonder why you are facing problems others are not? Can you take strength and courage from God’s promise – he will never let you face anything you cannot cope with – with his help. And that help is a prayer away. He is ready beside you, waiting for you to ask.