Monday, 9 July 2018

All Change!

Ezekiel 2: 1-5. Ezekiel is addressed as "Mortal" (literal Hebrew: "Son of man"). Yet this mere human being is being commissioned to carry the words of the living God, whose glory Ezekiel has just glimpsed. He will convey them to an impudent and stubborn people whose rebellion against God is never ending. The message is that God never gives up on his people and continues to call them to repentance  despite their rejection of Him.
2 Corinthians 12: 2-10. A powerful piece of writing in which St. Paul recounts his powerful "road to Damascus" experience that turned his life around 180 degrees. Paul says the cause of, and the proper understanding of it is down to God alone. Most powerfully, he is being forced to defend his ministry by boasting about great visions and performing great wonders but he boasts only of his weakness, and his famous "thorn in the flesh" which despite praying intensely for its relief three times, he learns (or is told) that God's grace is sufficient for him; a hard lesson for anyone at any time
Mark 6: 1-13. There are two distinct sections to this gospel offering this morning. Verses 1 to 6 deal with the rejection of Jesus by the people he grew up with. Their expectations and preconceived notions of who Jesus is "the carpenter" whose family they know well, preclude them accepting that Jesus can be anything but a home town boy putting on airs and graces.
The section that follows is the sending out of disciples to the villages to bring people to repentance. All disciples, then and now, are called and commissioned by Jesus Christ himself. The reality of rejection is real and has to be acknowledged. It will be like casting pearls before swine. The disciples are schooled to travel light in order to simplify their mission - a lesson currently being learnt by the church of England in our reduced circumstances!

All three readings this morning deal with the necessity for change. And I don’t mean a few tweaks here and there, I mean a fundamental about turn in our state of mind, body, and soul.
The kind of change that would transform Saul, an active persecutor of  Christ’s followers, who presided over the stoning to death of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, who was on his way to Damascus to drag back in chains anyone who followed this renegade Jesus;
To change that man into the humblest and greatest protagonist for the Christian faith there has ever been; a man who travelled the known world, despite all opposition, trials and tribulations, to spread the good news of Jesus.
An extraordinary 180 degree turn around. When we use the terms repent and repentance in the church, this is what is meant; not merely being sorry for our sins although that is a small part of it.
This is kind of change that is meant. Called “conversion”, it is a spiritual event that transforms every aspect of our lives.
For Paul and for others it is a cataclysmic event, like the one he describes in 2 Corinthians this morning. I know many Christians who experienced a life changing incident where all of a sudden everything changed, but I know an awful lot more Christians, for whom this spiritual awakening is far more gradual, like a slow dawning like the sun rising in the morning, slowly but surely suffusing everything with light.
For such people, the overwhelming majority of Christians I suggest, repentance is a growing and progressive change in outlook and demeanour.
What I want to stress is that whether it happens as a sudden “road to Damascus” experience or a gradual dawning over a lifetime, the desired result, the endpoint, is the same.
In the Old Testament, God commissioned and sent his prophets to bring people to that moment when a change could be provoked, cajoled, out of people. Prophets speak the word of God into any given situation and one of the roles of the ordained person is to be prophetic. To bring not his or her word, but the word of God to people’s ears.
In modern times, this is why adherence to the Bible, God’s revealed truth is so important and why I keep to the text as my source of everything I say.
God’s revealed and inspired word is our authority for bringing to anyone who is ready to listen, God’s truth – not my truth – not my opinions – God’s truth and God’s ways.
It is no coincidence that the churches that are growing in this country and around the world are churches that emphasise the word and the Spirit.
But not everyone is ready to receive the truth.
As we have heard this morning, they weren’t in Ezekiel’s day, they weren’t in Jesus’ day, they weren’t in Paul’s time and they aren’t in our day.
This is to be expected. The parable of the sower is not just a nice little story – it is true. Some will fall on rocky ground, some will fall amongst thorns and be choked, some will have shallow roots, but some will fall on good soil and flourish.
But for that to happen, the good news has to be preached. People need to hear it in a way they can relate to and understand.
In our modern culture there is a huge gap between the churches message and the culture we inhabit but that is another sermon for another time.
In Jesus’ time he commissioned his followers to go out into the villages and take the good news to them.
How that translates to our situation in the RMC is what we need to ponder and pray about.
What needs more emphasis? What can we change? What do we promote and what do we need to lay to one side? We need to connect with our culture and we do so in many different ways I am so pleased to see here in the RMC from “Open the book” in the schools, to providing meals for people on their own,  to cultural engagement via things like the music festival, the scarecrow festival, flower festivals – all brilliant and worthwhile.
But alongside presence, and all three churches have a great presence in our communities, there also needs to be proclamation. Why do we do these things?
Is the underlying reason for all this social action getting through?
Are people in our communities aware of why we are doing anything at all, aware of why we exist? Other than “those people from the church are very nice: I’m glad they’re there.”
This is the challenge: to become more aware of  proclamation, and the person we proclaim is Jesus. He is the only reason we as a Mission community exist.
Our mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives and to challenge other people to make that same leap. But we do so in a way that people can relate to. Banging people over the head and saying “Jesus is the answer” doesn’t work, but sensitive, intelligent engagement and being able to give a reason for your own personal faith is the best evangelistic tool we have.
All the social engagement is brilliant. But if someone were to ask you;
Why do you go to church?
Why do you believe in Jesus?
Why do you believe in God?
Are we sure what we would say?
Jesus sent people out in pairs. We are not alone – we need support and we need a little more confidence in who we are and who we represent.
Collective prayer, to build up our self-confidence as a mission community, to ask for God’s Spirit to anoint us and give us the words to say is what is needful to build us into a strong body; an attractive and confident body, to be able to evangelise with a smile on our faces, with peace and love in our hearts, effortlessly and confidently.
Confident that we have something that will enhance the other person’s life.
I’ll end this sermon with one of the simplest and most effective prayer that any church needs; Pray this prayer for yourself.
Come Holy Spirit
Lord, I pray you would move the Spirit more boldly in my life and in the collective life of our church. Help me grow in the fruit of the Spirit and so walk closer with Yourself. I pray for guidance from your Spirit to let your will and promises always be a meditation of my heart. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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