Monday, 13 February 2017

We're all in this together!

Deuteronomy 30: 15 - 20 (page 172 in our pew Bibles) God has set before us life and good or death and evil. The wonder is that we have the choice, and that choice is always now. We know what to do because the word of God is near us as it says in the verse immediately before this extract. The word of God is in our mouth and our heart.
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 (page 953 in our pew Bibles)We are still spiritual children until we acknowledge that God is the soul source of our authority. Paul writes about the church, "For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building."  
Matthew 5: 21-37 (page 810 in our pew Bibles) A piece of teaching that amplifies what I preached about last Sunday. Anger and insults, will be judged by God because they come from the same source that leads to murder. In the same way looking lustfully at a woman is the source of adultery in the next section of scripture. Jesus looks into the heart of our being and knows the truth about us. It is pointless to try and run and hide or deny the truth about ourselves.

The church at Corinth must have an exciting and dynamic church when you read what Paul says about it but that wasn’t the whole story. Paul calls them immature. In a Christian sense he calls them children rather than mature Christian adults. He was hoping to stop feeding them milk, and get onto solid food
The Corinthian church was a dynamic one where spiritual gifts abounded, but at another level they were also immature and lacking in understanding.
What was their downfall? It is about the very nature of the church and the nature of ministry. He calls out their immaturity by talking about them comparing himself Paul, with another pastor called Apollos and pitting them against each other in their minds.
You are missing the point says Paul, because to use an analogy (verse 6) from nature, one man plants and another nurtures, but true growth comes from God alone.
Paul and Apollos are not people to compared with each other, they are both simply servants of God with a common purpose and responsibility. They were though both set apart for their God given tasks – set apart, but not above. He refers to himself and Apollos as God’s fellow workers, and the church community as God’s field, God’s building.
That for me is a great template for all ordained official ministry in the church today. Not set above, but set apart for a specific role for the benefit of God’s field, God’s building. God’s church – that’s us.
That is what God wants us to do in order to grow to maturity as Christians. Recognise God as the final arbiter, God as the final authority.  Recognise all ministry and the Christian life and gifts, not as reflections of talent or hard work but as part as our service to God.
But there is also something within Paul’s writing that might be seen as quite unsettling or unreal. At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking that Paul elevates the Spiritual life over and above the physical aspects of life.
But what Paul rejects is not the “evil” body in favour of the Spirit, he is explaining his understanding of what makes for maturity in the Christian community.
When Paul contrasts flesh and spirit, he refers to the flesh not as inherently evil, but in terms of having a flawed perspective that characterises purely human decisions which are flawed and transient.
In contrast to this, decisions made by a spiritually mature Christian person, informed by God are true and clear sighted.  This is Paul’s description of the difference between Spiritual people and people of the flesh.
What Paul mentions today for us is amplified in the same letter – chapter twelve of Corinthians;
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body”, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[e] yet one body.
What this means is not rocket science. We all have gifts and a contribution to make to the Christian community. If anyone here today had decided not to come today, the whole body would be the poorer for it. We all have a contribution to make to the whole community. We don’t all have the same gifting; just as Paul points out in today’s reading, not everyone can plant a church like Paul, not everyone can nurture a church like Apollos, but we all do have a role and none of us can do without eachother.
I can’t lead the Sunday school like the Sunday school team do, my gifts lie elsewhere. At the end of the service I’ll want a cup of coffee. Someone makes that, and someone supplies the cakes. No one person can do everything.
If I were to want you to leave with one message today it is that whoever you are, you have been put here by God and you are valuable. You have a contribution to make no matter how small you might think that may be. And you are valued just for exactly who you are.
A body needs everything there are, just being and contributing their gifts where they can. That way we get stronger

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Walk the talk!

Isaiah 58: 1-9 (page 617 in our pew Bibles). God condemns our hypocrisy in seeking him yet at the same time ignoring his commands. A lot of us, including a lot of ministers, are in constant danger of being functional atheists. just like the ancient Israelites as the words of Isaiah describes it. By which I mean that the words, creeds, prayers, sacraments, and hymns, appear to leave no impact on their character or nature or outlook whatsoever.
1 Corinthians 2: 1-16 (page 952 in our pew Bibles) Christians come to an awareness of the wisdom of God through the gift of the Spirit of God. It is a Spiritual gift and not something we work for. Rather it is to be prayed for.
Matthew 5: 13-20 (page 810 in our pew Bibles) There is no compromise in Matthew's gospel which can be very appealing as well as disturbing. We are called to be different, and part of this difference is to practice righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the pharisees. Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfill the law and the prophets, and He interprets the law even more rigorously for his followers in the sermon on the mount. 

In Isaiah we have what could be one of the most insightful pieces on the difference Jesus makes to religious practices written hundreds of years before Jesus was born.
It is not the religious practice itself that has any validity of its own but the Spirit of the practice that has practical consequences that underlies it.
Verses 6 -8 of today’s except from Chapter 58 very clear. The practice of fasting is not rejected but the true Spirit behind it is expressed only through the “doing” of righteousness.
The practice of fasting is useless unless it is backed by a reaching out to the oppressed, practicing Justice expressed as sharing our bread with the hungry.
This is a profound insight as we will be entering the period of Lent soon which is a period of fasting.
The lesson we might take from this is not that the practice of fasting has died out, not just in secular society but also within the churches as well – and this is a bad thing. If we interpret Isaiah correctly, God doesn’t care whether we fast quite so much as he cares as to whether we practice his sense of justice, the spiritual underpinning of the fasting process.
Jesus himself has no problem in fasting. Jesus says in Matthew 6:17 “When you fast” not if you fast but then goes on to decry those who do so in the wrong Spirit, for public recognition rather tha anything real or godly.
So what is Jesus and Isaiah both arguing for? It is personal integrity – thought, word and deed going together.  Our faith must have practical outcomes or it is, as Jesus described it – hypocrisy.
That is a Greek word that means you are an actor because our faith is an act and our religious practices are empty. There must be real life consequences.
It is just as Jesus said in Matthew “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored. It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet”.
Jesus then explains his whole relationship with the law that echoes exactly what Isaiah said. Jesus did not come to get rid of the law – he came to fulfil it and to reveal the spiritual underpinning of the law as the most important thing.
This was the very core of his fight with the Sadducees and Pharisees, who amplified exacting devotion to religious practices like fasting and ritual purity above all things.
The best example of that I think is when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath and the religious people thought that was terrible because Jesus had broken the strict Sabbath observance law and “worked” on the Sabbath.
The sermon on the mount is reckoned to be some of the finest Spiritual truths ever uttered but if you read on to the end of this chapter in Matthew you will notice something which can hit people rather hard.
You just need to look on Jesus’ next teaching on the law that says “Thou shalt not kill or murder”.
Jesus explains the spiritual underpinning of this law and says that even if you’ve ever been angry it is exactly the same in God’s eyes.
Jesus makes it much tougher and by the time you have got to the end of chapter five you are certain that God’s righteousness and purity, which underpins the law is so Holy that you probably fall short of it every day of your life.
This is why Christianity says that (1 John 1:8) “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”.
The standard set by God is so high that we constantly miss that high standard and we are all sinners. The word we translate as sin in the new testament is hamartia which means “missing the mark” falling short of the standard.
But in our reading from 1 Corinthians we have the answer to that problem. God’s standards of purity are so high that we all miss and we all deserve God’s judgement. But God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to take the judgement on all of us, on himself and die in our place instead.

Faith in His love for us revealed on the cross as Paul writes is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Don’t put your faith in worldly wisdom, which has no power, put your faith in the Love and promises and action of God who expressed his wisdom in Jesus Christ on the cross who died that we might live.