Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A 'bag of bones' Conclusion


(Mark 7:10-13)


It is so easy for us who love God and love all that the Army stands for, and who are concerned for the extension of God’s Kingdom to get a distorted view of what service to God is. It is such an easy thing for us officers to think of our ministry as merely fulfilling the demands and needs of a corps, when our ministry should be our life, what we are. If we no longer live, but Christ lives within us, our ministry is merely sharing the Christ within us, sharing what we are with everyone, at home, on holiday, at the corps, everywhere and all the time.

We cannot separate Christ from his ministry for the two are one. Our problem as people is that we can so easily be busy fulfilling our religious duties, our human precepts, our rules, that they become an end in themselves. We then live in fear of defaulting as far as man-made regulations are concerned, whilst paying scant attention to caring for the intimate personal relationship that God wishes to have with each one of us. We admire that Good Samaritan for his goodness but sometimes forget the cost involved to him in helping the Jewish victim so callously mugged. The cost was more than money; it was facing his own people, and being so frequently humiliated and insulted by such as he whom he had helped. We quickly condemn those two religious men in the story, but perhaps they were too busy about their religious duties to actually help anyone. Their time was ‘corban’, given to God,and to have defaulted would also have been costly.

In an organisation full of procedures and orders and regulations and schedules it is so easy to become the system’s slave, to spend our time keeping the machine going, so much so that we never have time to use the machine for the purpose for which it was built. My children love to go to traction-engine rallies held in the summer, and who isn’t amazed at the skill, beauty and power of those lumbering great giants. Nostalgia for an age I never knew grips me and I look at the energy spent by the enthusiasts who polish and overhaul and maintain those old workhorses. It is a life’s dedication for many of them, standing high on the footplate with blackened faces and oily clothes. I admire them, but their love is for the machine, not the function it once fulfilled. The machine is obsolete, beautiful but obsolete; it has been superseded by smaller, more efficient, more easily maintained machines. It is merely maintained for show.

On a personal level, at corps, divisional and national level, we too are in danger of becoming promoters and maintainers of machinery. We may fulfil procedures, maintain traditions, proliferate programmes, all in the name of ‘corban’ but at the cost of God’s real requirements of us. Our motives may be far from those described by Jesus in Mark 7:11. It might not be a deliberate neglect of the God-given responsibility that we have for parents, children or neighbours, but the fact that we over-emphasise our Army service, and that our ministry within those confines is considered in isolation from every other aspect of our lives.

How sad it is to move into a quarters and discover that predecessors were so busy about their ‘ministry’ that they never found time to speak, let alone be a neighbour, to those next door. In the busyness of visiting and responding to the needs of the corps folk are there those of us who have failed to care for the spiritual well-being of that little congregation that God has entrusted to us within our own four walls? How concerned have we been for our children’s salvation, in helping them to discover the life-saving truths of God for themselves?

Satan is so subtle in his attacks; it is very gradually that he moves us from fulfilling the requirements of God to fulfilling the requirements of men, albeit godly men. It can happen for the individual as well as for an established organisation. In the name of ‘corban’ our man-made traditions and man-made rules, observances and precepts can become sacrosanct, so much so that preservation of the system can inadvertently become a motive for what we do. Our numbers decrease and so we emphasise evangelism in an effort to reverse the decline; money is short for all that we want to do, so we emphasise tithing; numbers offering for full-time service are insufficient, we feel, so we endeavour to solve the problem by an added emphasis in this direction. Almost unnoticed there creeps up a concern for ourselves, our organisation, our image, as opposed to a grieving burden for those who are like lost sheep without a shepherd. Both individually and corporately we forget Christ’s warning in Matthew10:39.

When we look at Jesus’ life, we see him receiving labels and judgements for things he said and did which would fill us with self-concern should we ever be labelled so. Having received Mary and Martha’s cry for help when their brother was so ill, Jesus spent two further days by the River Jordan before responding. It may have appeared (as it does at first reading) that Jesus was insensitive to their cry, that he was little concerned for their plight; certainly Martha felt let down by him (John 11:21), though she wasn’t without hope even then. Others certainly must have felt that his delay was purely self-concern because of the danger of stoning that he had experienced in Judea immediately before going to the Jordan. His record of Sabbath-keeping was not a good one as far as the religious leaders were concerned and added to this we have the company he kept, plus the accusations of gluttony, blasphemy and insanity, all of which one would expect in a sinner. And yet each thought and each motive was beneath his Father’s control. He was willing to lose everything, even credibility before the eyes of the leaders and the people, even to the point of a murderer’s death, to please God and save man.

In no way should we take the duties of our office lightly, nor should we arrogantly dismiss the authority of those under whom we serve. Nor should we be blind to the calls of those who make demands upon us. But if we live in close and intimate harmony with God there will be times when we will be out of accord with men and misjudged for it. There are those who use their duties to others purely as a means of avoiding the service he requires (Luke 9:57-62) and expects. On the other hand there are those who deliberately or inadvertently neglect the needs at their door to ensure that every religious duty expected of them is fulfilled. The way, thus, is a very narrow one and should we sensitively tread it we will be misjudged at times and be considered a party to those who care more for themselves than their Lord. That is part of the cost and the cross. But Christ makes us a promise, that ultimately they will know us all by our fruits and, as God told Eli, so indulgent with his sons, ‘I will honour those who honour me’ (1 Samuel 2:30, GNB).

May we avoid the snare that Isaiah warns us all to be wary of(29:13, GNB): ‘The Lord said, “These people claim to worship me,but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorised.”’ Jesus reiterates the danger for all religious men, ‘It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach man-made rules as though they were my laws!’ (Matthew 15:9, GNB).

Emlyn’s case is an extreme one and we would agree with his priorities, but there are others who are similarly tortured and need help to discover for themselves God’s prior demands in their lives, wherever that might lead them and whatever it might cost them. May we, by our very lives and example, show how every area of life, private and public, should be equally ‘corban’ and thereby reveal the secret of our tranquillity of soul.

Howard Webber

Bournemouth, UK

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