Monday, 17 July 2017

I'm saved!

Isaiah 55: 10-13 (page 615 in our pew Bibles) God's living and active word never returns without watering the earth. So it was with the prophets and so it was ultimately in Jesus Christ.
Romans 8: 1-11(page 944 in our pew Bibles) A great example of how the Trinity functions in the economy of salvation. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in you, you have passed from death to life also!
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 (page 818 in our pew Bibles). The parable of the sower told and then explained. Unusual in its allegorical form; in the mouth of Jesus it may well be a parable about an incompetent farmer who nevertheless reaps a bumper crop prompting the question "Do you begrudge the unmerited, generosity of God? 

“There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. That is possibly one of the best known things that Paul ever wrote.

It is firmly based on the premise that there is a final judgement of course (not something we like to talk about much!), but at this final Judgement, those of us who have put their faith in God’s saving Grace  have nothing to fear because all our sins are forgiven in Christ. His sacrifice in our place is sufficient and once and for all.

When Paul writes about living according to the flesh or according to the Spirit, he is contrasting two different ways of living your life – one way under the power of sin and another way that is according to and under the influence of, the Holy Spirit.

And our salvation, our freedom in Christ – that is freedom from the fear of death and raised to life involves the whole of God – the whole Trinity is involved.

It is the Spirit of God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead so if that same Spirit – the Spirit of resurrection – lives in you, you too have been raised to eternal life.

This is the gospel – the Good news of Jesus Christ. And this knowledge transforms our life and the way we live it now. How can it not? It is so earth shattering.

But While Christ’s sacrifice is available to all people, not everyone can accept it in the same way and Jesus told us a parable that explains this to us.

This gospel, this word of the Kingdom, can meet four different states of humanity.

The first state is that the gospel can just not be understood – this is the seed sown on the path.

The message for us here surely, is that as ministers of the gospel, and we are all ministers of the gospel, is that the word must be expressed and presented in as clear a way as possible and I pray for the ability to do that and not wrap things up or obscure them in archaic language and ritual.

The second state of humanity the word reaches is the person who seems to understand and accept the seed with joy but actually it has no root – it is a superficial faith. For them the first sign of either trouble or persecution comes and their faith disappears very quickly.

This is surely a message to us to develop and deepen our faith and is the reason that Alpha and Discipleship explored were designed – to deepen discipleship, knowledge and experience to guard against that happening.

The third state of humanity is the one where God’s word is accepted but the cares and worries of life and Jesus states “the deceitfulness of riches” choke the gospel out of us.

This one is much harder to address,  and it affects a lot of us from time to time. We have to learn to place our trust in God and learn not to place our trust in material or financial comfort. We must raise our consciousness to place more trust in God rather than worldly success. Money cannot buy us salvation.
Salvation is priceless and is offered Free of charge and can only be appropriated by faith.
Our money is useless cannot buy us anything in the Kingdom of God.

Those who receive the word with joy, who hears and understands it are the ones in whom the word will dwell and bear so much fruit.

So the message from Jesus this morning is be clear in our presentation of the gospel.
To know what that gospel entails at a deeper level we must learn more and go deeper, and as a result of that we must raise our consciousness to learn to trust God more and don’t put our trust in money or material things.

If we build our church on these principles we are being faithful to God as a person and corporately as a church.  We become a Christ centred, Bible based church that seeks to make disciples of Christ and faithfully preach the gospel. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Jesus will give you rest!

Zechariah 9: 9-12 (page 797 in our pew Bibles) A prophesy of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem which symbolically challenged all the power structures of both his and our day.
Romans 7:15-25 (page 943 in our pew Bibles) The spiritual war I preached about last week rages within Paul also. The power of sin can corrupt anything, even someone with the noblest and truest of intentions so makes Paul's assertion in Romans 8:1 of the utmost importance to Christians. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus".
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 (page 816 in our pew Bibles) John is dismissed as a crazy ascetic and Jesus as a self-indulgent libertine by the critics who are compared to children squabbling in the playground by Jesus. But the wisdom of Jesus is recognised by people with other child-like qualities - sincerity and honesty - rather than the too clever by half scribes and Pharisees. 

The backdrop for the two New Testament pieces this morning is one of the best known prophesies in the Old Testament because it is quoted as being the prophetic backdrop to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
So why is it given here?

Well for one thing, the backdrop to all our own spiritual stories as Christians is the nature and character of Jesus himself and here he is presented as being eternally just and having salvation, and humility, and is a bringer of peace – not just peace between nations but that peace which reigns in our hearts also.

It is the nature, being and purpose of Christ in whom Paul invests his whole theology that says in Romans 8:1 that “Now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”

Which is just as well because Paul admits here to the internal spiritual warfare going on in own body today.

He tells us that he doesn’t understand his own actions.
He says he doesn’t do the good he wants to do, but he keeps on doing what is evil.
He has the desire to do what is right but he lacks the ability to carry it out.

And don’t we all know just exactly what he means?

If only I could have all my good intentions written on my tombstone instead of what I had actually done – warts and all, It would read a lot better, but not just for me, for every single one of us.

Hidden within this morning’s readings is the fundamentally Christian way of understanding the human condition which is that we are all intrinsically flawed - sinners who need forgiveness.

Anyone who doesn’t believe that has no need of Christianity. If you think you have nothing that needs forgiving you’re wasting your time in a church, because fundamentally the cross offers you forgiveness of your sins and with your sins forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice, joyful union with God, so that reconciled with him, you now call him Father.

Possibly the biggest barrier to growth in the church in Western Europe is not atheism or secularism per se but that western cultural shift that underpins them. The belief that we are born perfect and unsullied and are just marred by our environment is the dominant worldview nowadays. Modern society tends to believe that if we could control environmental factors, we would all live perfectly moral lives in perfect peace.

But while the Christian view has fallen out of favour, the idea that good and evil cut through every human heart, just by dint of being human, one brief look at the state of the world is in itself enough to make our case that belief in the sinfulness of humanity and therefore our need of a redeemer is sound.

Our greatest evangelist St. Paul in a moment of clarity describes how morally corrupted he feels.

It is the power of sin in his life that makes him do such things. And It is the power of Christ that redeems him from this morass and sets him upon a hill.
It is the power of Christ that can reach into everyone’s soul and separate the wheat from the chaff in our own bodies.

And the gospel story today tells us that it is only those who come to Jesus as a child – open eyed, ready to receive in sincerity and truth – that can embrace this truth.

The wisdom of the worldly wise was no good then and it is no good now. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t get it. The cleverest people of their generation were mostly on the outside of the kingdom looking in. Shut out by their own cynicism, arrogance, and learning or their power and wealth.

We are invited to come to Jesus with open hearts and open hands, ready to receive all the gifts that Jesus has to give. That is the only way you can gain access to the Kingdom.

And in that kingdom, we do have a master, but one who stands alongside us also, with whom we can battle against the power of sin. It is that same Jesus who sits alongside us and leads us. Yes, we have a yoke – remember last week I said that Paul’s insight is that we are all a slave of something or someone – but his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

"Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."  

Monday, 3 July 2017

Fight the good fight

Jeremiah 28: 5-9 (page 655 in our pew Bibles) Prophets giving contradictory messages was as disturbing then as now. Jeremiah asserts that the genuineness of a prophet is determined by results, so only in hindsight. Personal gain or loss (of the prophet in question) is one set of criteria that any sensible person may apply. 
Romans 6: 12-23 (page 943 in our pew Bibles) Paul contends that human beings are always a slave to something - whether that be God or sin. But there are consequences. The wages of sin are death and God's free gift is eternal life.
Matthew 10: 40 - 42 (page 815 in our pew Bibles) Whoever receives the disciples will receive a reward. The nature of the reward is not revealed. Perhaps hospitality to God's messengers carries its own reward? Maybe the fellowship that follows is the reward? In any case the notion of reward tells us that the act of welcoming does not go unnoticed by God.

Paul’s writing can be tortuous and difficult to understand and today is no exception and requires some unpacking..
On a human level, what is the point of Christianity, do you think?
In Paul’s words It certainly means being set free from the power of sin, suffering and death.
In Paul’s thought “sin” is not so much something you do wrong, more a “power” that has the ability to enslave you to habits, addictions, behaviours that are contrary to God’s will, and negative thought patterns that lead us to deny the redemptive power of suffering and convince us of the finality of death. We become slaves of nihilism, and without hope.
And that can affect any and all of us from time to time. Particularly when members of the family are having a tough time, when life has been cruel to them, it is so easy to lose hope and faith, and Paul calls this the power of sin over our lives. He reminds us in another place that our true battle is not against flesh and blood but is a spiritual battle.
So salvation means giving us freedom. Freedom from all of that which denies our status as created in God’s image, freedom from that power which seeks to dominate our life and thinking. We are released into a state of mind that sees goodness, generosity, hope and eternal life with our creator as both a future hope and a present reality.
But feeling saved is not our everyday feeling. We have these feelings from time to time and we feel great, but sometimes the power of sin can get the better of us. This spiritual battle is a fierce one with no quarter given. That is when we have to learn that this freedom or salvation is not dependent on how we feel. Our feelings oscillate – we can feel great or lousy within the same hour but salvation is presented in the Bible as an objective fact. It is in the fact of salvation in which we are to have faith not in how we feel about it.
So we have freedom. We are free as an objective fact and yet Paul calls this freedom from the power of sin a particular form of slavery. We are “slaves of righteousness”.
This is a difficult point to digest.
Paul’s theology here is quite challenging because he maintains that a human being is always a slave to “something”. True unfettered freedom is an illusion. None of us lead a neutral life where all decisions and behaviour are taken purely out of logic. We are led to do things by things greater than ourselves.  We are products of our culture, class, upbringing, education and yes our religious beliefs.
How much free will we actually possess is an age old philosophical conundrum of course.
Paul would say that we have a little wriggle room as we appear to have the ability to choose who will be our master – we can choose who we believe and follow. God or the power of sin.
This is placed alongside a reading from the gospel which uses the example of a generosity of spirit and kindness, towards others less well off than us physically but can be extended to those less well off than us spiritually as well as a product of this salvation.
It entails reaching out to others and perhaps reaching out in kindness sometimes at personal cost, so done, not because we are wonderful in ourselves but because we are slaves of righteousness.
So, while giving someone a cup of cold water in its literal sense to someone less fortunate than ourself is one example, yet another would be being kind and generous, for example, to new people coming to church for the first time, instead of avoiding them. Ungraciousness is hardly a Christian response and shows a self-centredness, which may be perfectly natural but which is at odds with being a part of a Christian community.
What God wants is not a “natural” response but a “supernatural” response
But at the end of the day, as we heard in Jeremiah, being close to God and doing and prophesying his will has never been automatically popular. People prefer to hear what they want to hear and do what they’ve always done, no matter how much that might lead to death and decay.
Christianity is not an easy option. It requires sacrifice, it requires listening to God. Jesus says that we will be recognised as his followers by what we do - by the fruit we produce as a “slave of righteousness” rather than a “slave to sin.”