Sharing the Faith, Refining our Faith

‘Sharing the Faith, Refining our Faith’ – a sermon on Psalm 22/Mark 8:31-38 (Lent 2, Year B)

Aim

To show that we need to share the Good News that Jesus is the Christ – with each other and with unbelievers

Introduction – Sharing

‘You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian’, ‘my faith is my business’, ‘you can’t share your faith in a secular society’.

Psalm 22 tells us that God intends everyone to hear the Good News. It cuts across all divisions: rich and poor; in the church and outside; Jews and non-Jews; those living, dead and yet to be born.

The Psalmist says that everyone will turn to God and be blessed. How will they know that they should do this? How will they know how to turn to God?

Message for the Time

Peter had already confessed that Jesus is the Christ, but he totally misunderstands Jesus’ mission.  No one knows this until Peter speaks out, then Jesus corrects Peter and asks people to gather round – then Jesus explains his mission and that of his disciples.

Notice that Peter was correct given the religious assumptions of the day – but still wrong. The other disciples probably thought the same thing – but no one knew they were wrong until Peter spoke up! We all make mistakes, but if we view our faith as our possession and never discuss it then we will never discover anything new – our faith is closed, dead. We must share our faith and our experiences, thoughts and doubts with each other.

Message for Today

Notice also that Jesus then told his followers that they must deny self, take up their cross and follow Jesus (to death).  He also says that if we are ashamed of Jesus message, he will be ashamed of us on judgment day.  Clearly, Jesus expects us to share our faith with the faithless, even if this is not easy and earns us hostility.

What odd ideas do people have about: God – superstition, “a deal with God”; Jesus – “a good man”, “a wise teacher”; and the Holy Spirit – something for weirdos only?

What odd ideas do people have about our faith?  Are they hostile to Jesus because they think we think ourselves superior and are judging them? We need to tell them the truth about how we don’t deserve salvation!

We need to share our faith with each other, and with non-Christians, in order to make it real, vital and alive. We need to share the Good News, that Jesus is the Christ, that he died for us and is alive today as if our lives and their lives depended on it. Because it’s true!

Truth in Love

Speaking the Truth in Love – a Sermon on Mark 12:28-34 and Ruth 1:1-18 (Year B, Ordinary 31).

Mark 12:28-34

  • Although the man is wise – Jesus thinks so – I find him smug.
  • He says Jesus is right, but really he’s saying “we’re both right – aren’t we clever?”
  • Jesus says he is “not far from the Kingdom of God”:
    • Might expect Jesus to say The Teacher of the Law had ‘arrived’.
    • Maybe speaking the truth wasn’t enough – not spoken in love.
  • Contrast this with the words of my wife:
    • I had made some flippant comment about something on the TV;
    • She said “You can be a bit of an oaf sometimes” – how can you say that, just because it’s true?
    • What I hope she really meant was “don’t be an oaf, because I love you, and I know that you can be better than that.  You are worthy of my love and I am worthy of having a husband who is not an oaf.”

Ruth 1:1-18

  • Naomi has taught her daughters-in-law about God.
    • The women spend more time together – work/social convention.  [Muslim story]
    • She has no special knowledge of God but uses personal contact and example.
  • They have been together for a long time – a lot more ‘face time’ in those days.
  • Notice the contrast between the physical and the spiritual harvest.
    • They (and we) are used to good and bad times being defined by the harvest (work).
    • Naomi planted the spiritual seed in the good times and now harvests in the bad.
    • Orpah does not remain true when tested, but Ruth does.  Doesn’t God do the same?
  • Ruth ‘walked the walk’ AND ‘talked the talk.’

Meaning for Today

  • Today we face a difficult spiritual harvest.
  • Times are good in this country and people don’t seem to feel the need of God:
    • Some think that they can appease God by the superstition of religious ritual.
    • Some think that they can ignore God; he is distant, impersonal.
    • Some think that they can put God in a box, based on their theology.
  • However, the Bible tells us the truth about God:
    • Is personal, he is alive and wants to know us – all of us.
    • Wants us to know Him, this knowing not academic/theological, but personal.
    • God loves us, but He is Holy and those who reject Him are doomed.
  • We will not get through to non-Christians by just proclaiming the truth.
    • The teacher of the law did that – did you warm to him?  I didn’t!
    • People need to get to know God through us outside of a church.
    • We need non-Christian friends and we need to invest in them and believe in them for their sake, and because we value them for themselves.
    • Person of Jesus attractive; devotion to Him more attractive and reliable than knowledge.
  • Our challenge is to be disciples, to ‘speak the truth in love’, and ‘walk the talk’.  Integrity, consistency.

Wholehearted

Wholehearted – a sermon on Mark 6 and 2 Samuel 6  (Year B, Proper 10 / Ordinary 15).

Scripture

In Mark 6 and 2 Samuel 6, we have images of people joyfully worshipping God.

  • In 2 Samuel 6, King David has the Ark, the earthly symbol of God, brought to Jerusalem.
    • David has no problem letting God take centre stage in his capital.
    • He dances and celebrates with gusto – abandoning his dignity!
    • Michal despises David, perhaps seeing her loss rather than her people’s gain.
  • In Mark 6 (the almost King) Herod does not want Jesus, the earthly symbol of God, brought to Jerusalem – it was bad enough having him in the country!
    • Herod is a puppet King, put there by the Romans, not God.  He is insecure.
    • He is also a guilty man.  Despite himself, he liked listening to John.
    • Herod put his own comfort and dignity before justice, before God.

Meaning at the Time

Of course, there are two ‘times’ here – OT and NT.

  • When Samuel was written probably already referring to a bygone age:
    • A united powerful kingdom, ‘the good old days’.
    • Yet not a whitewash of History – David’s evil deeds show through too!
    • Lessons from the past, guidance for today and hope for tomorrow.
  • Mark’s Gospel was written down much closer to the actual events.
    • The early church was still working out what it was, where it was.
    • It was growing strongly – not in decline/destroyed like Israel (OT & NT).
    • People are shown that Jesus repeats the OT pattern, perfect/completing it.

Meaning for Today

What do these stories tell us about ourselves, our Nation, today?

  • What is the context – personal, corporate, national?
    • Our church in the UK is in decline, like the UK itself, affecting how we see scripture.
    • Worship/Witness/Work: I’m not good at being wholehearted in worship/witness – I like to be in control; work is OK, I can drive myself to do that.
    • Tony Blair (former UK Prime Minister) criticised by Anne Widdecombe (former UK politician) for not accepting the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching; he replied ‘I am a modern man’: i.e. ‘my reason alone will decide what I believe’.
    • Is our rich western society, that has so much to lose if it were to give up control, afraid of surrendering to God?
  • Our church reminds me of working in the declining Ministry of Defence (declining public sector in general?).
    • We seemed to have no confidence in ourselves, our judgement.  Bewildered!
    • Decisions made for jobs, money, etc, not what really needed for defence.
    • Our leaders had no belief in us!  They were open to outside influence.
    • Can you blame them?  We were not making decisions on what was needed for our mission, but for temporary, narrow, factional advantage.
    • We lost sight of what we should do rather what was expedient to do.

Conclusion

The message from 1,000 years of scripture: let God in! let God rule!

  • We, as individuals and an organisation, can surrender to God with complete confidence.  Let society turn away if it wants to.
  • What difficult things do we need to do to succeed in worship, witness and work?
  • Let us wholeheartedly celebrate putting God first, and thus instructed, guided and inspired, wholeheartedly focus on our mission.

God’s Leadership versus Human Leadership

Samuel has appointed his sons as judges, but their leadership is corrupt…a sermon on 1 Samuel 8:4-20 (Year B, Proper 7)

The People/Elders

A conspiracy!  They have planned this, rather than listening to God, waiting on his word.  The Elders don’t want to keep going with the current system – they want something new, better!

  • Why won’t they try and make the current system work? …
  • … you don’t make a name for yourself by keeping things the same!

The focus of the elders is ‘keeping up with the neighbours’ other nations.  Nevertheless, in vv19-20 the people want:

  • A tangible, visible leader;
  • To be the same as others – they desire to conform;
  • Someone to make the difficult decisions for them; and
  • They desire for security.

God and His Prophet

Samuel is horrified, (Moses held it together, but now it’s all going wrong on his watch) so he goes to God in prayer immediately.  God is the real authority here, Samuel is only his servant, his prophet; Christian leaders take note!  We see an incredible insight into God’s relationship with his people:

  1. God knows that His people are consistently unfaithful;
  2. Nevertheless, He commands His leader to listen to their demands;
  3. He ensures that they are warned of the consequences; but
  4. He does not force His will on them.

The Prophecy

Samuel warns the people that a king will compete with next-door nations for power and glory, which will lead to war.  Then the people and the economy will be devoted to war, which is costly.  That hierarchy between king and people will be costly – all those layers of self-important people will eat up what once belonged to the people and the 10% tithe to God.  They think that they would get a king to serve them, but they will serve him!

Application

Someone asked the question: ‘how do you explain war to children?’  Here is an answer.  When we humans are not busy loving God, listening to him and giving him the glory, we get busy looking after themselves and our possessions.  Then we begin comparing themselves to others and start looking at our neighbours with suspicion!  So, conflict begins…

Our church leaders may be weak and fallible, and we have those like Samuel’s sons among us, but our hope is not in them.  Our God is pure and can hold power and authority without being corrupted.  We have the Spirit – the mind of Christ – in us, the loving example of Jesus and God Himself.

What is our Response to Suffering?

What is our response to suffering … a sermon on Job 1:1;2:1-10 (Year B, Proper 22)

Introduction

Job’s sufferings are very well known, even outside God’s people.  This book has early Hebrew ideas about how God operates, with Satan working for God, rather than against him. Everybody goes to the same place (Sheol) when they die, there is no judgement after death, so the only punishment is during this life. These ideas changed later in the OT and then dramatically in the NT.

Most of the narrative is about Job’s friends offering him ‘wisdom’ and ‘advice’ but always based on the assumption that Job has sinned, and as soon as repents, he will be healed.  But in this passage, we see how it all begins.

Characters:

  • God – seen here as presiding like a judge in court over the reports of the angels who watch over the earth.
  • Satan (the ‘Accuser’ or Prosecutor) – who seems rather too eager to perform his role.
  • Job – a good and prosperous man, who has lost all his possessions (Chapter 1) and now his health (Chapter 2).
  • Job’s wife – who urges him to curse God and be done with it: die.

Exegesis

  • Is Job truly loyal to God, or is because he wants to hold onto the good things he’s got (an important lesson for rich, western Christians)?
  • Would we remain loyal like Job, when stripped of everything, including our health and vigour?

Application

I don’t know much about suffering, but I see it close by and on the TV; I also know what it is to receive well-meaning advice from ‘friends’ when in difficulties!

You will have varying degrees of direct and indirect experience of suffering. There will be no rhyme or reason to who has experienced what.  But, guess what: we’re still here!

God’s answer to Job is not an argument but a revelation of his overpowering greatness and goodness.  Whatever happens in life God can be relied upon.  We are much better off than Job, as we have Jesus (the Defender) – now ‘we know that our Redeemer liveth’, unlike Job, who was sure that a mediator existed, but could only hope for life after death.  In the face of suffering, we know God, we know salvation and we know that we are going to God after this life.  Hallelujah.