Featured

Welcome to My Blog

Preacher & Veteran

Resources For Preachers and Leaders

Welcome to all you preachers, Bible-study leaders or anyone looking for some resources.  If you need to give a message, homily or sermon then I hope you will find these posts helpful.

I have been a preacher for over twenty years, and I am steadily adding messages from my back catalogue to this site.  I have led worship and preached in Uniting Reformed, Methodist, Baptist and Anglican churches.  I have also been privileged to worship with Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Seventh-Day Adventists and members of the Greek Orthodox Church.  Therefore, I am confident that you will find Bible-based words here, without sectarian bias.

Finding what you are Looking For

There are three ways to find your way around these resources:

  1. By Title – every sermon has a title, which outlines its theme;
  2. By Tags/Categories – these describe the book(s) of the Bible that the sermon is based upon; and
  3. By Liturgical date – this captures wherein the three-year cycle the sermon belongs.

Hopefully, these three methods should allow you to find what you are looking for!

Revised Common Lectionary

These sermons are organised using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).  This is a three-year calendar of Bible readings used by many churches.  Each year the RCL cycles through the Christian year – seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter & after Pentecost.  Some churches label Sundays between Trinity Sunday and Advent as ‘Ordinary’ or ‘Proper’ Sundays.

If you want to know how Bible books relate to the readings in the RCL, a helpful resource is the Reverse Lectionary.  This shows when Bible readings appear in the cycle.

Finding Sermons without the RCL

However, you don’t need to use the RCL at all, you can just find a sermon on any book of the Bible by using the post hashtags. 

The Nature of Faith: Gift or Possession?

Scripture: 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and John 6:1-21 (N.B. Psalm 14; 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; and Ephesians 3:14-21- also on Year B Ordinary 17)

Introduction

We’ve heard two passages today, one about a fallible leader during a middle-eastern war, another about the hungry being fed.  You might be expecting a modern political parable! 

Two Passages from the Bible

What can we learn from the meaning then, and now?

  • King David’s fall from grace, to greatly displeasing God.  
    • David is not where he should be, leading his troops; he’s not governing his kingdom or even having sex with one of his many wives.
    • He see’s something that he wants, takes it and devises a cunning plan to cover his deeds. 
  • The feeding of the five thousand.
    • We can look at this as a miracle, a supernatural gift of food from God and a sign.
    • Or is it that all the people had brought food and were inspired to share it?
    • How we look at this is important, not so much about accepting miracles, but our attitude to our religion – is it a gift from God or a self-help exercise?

Observations

Keep hearing about people talking about ‘their faith’, ‘losing faith’, ‘my faith’.

  • What is faith?  Is it something that we maintain by dint of our own efforts?  
  • I once read a description of faith as “believing things that you know not to be true”, but this was written by a hate-filled atheist!  
  • King David was God’s chosen one – in Jewish understanding the Messiah of his day, but even he couldn’t stay right with God though his own efforts – on the contrary!

Application

Is any of this important?  If so, why?

  • I remember a Minister telling me “faith is a gift from God”.  If faith is a gift from God then that means three things:  
    • We should be thankful for it; 
    • We should relax and forget about trying to ‘work at’ our faith (joy not slog); and
    • because we can ask God for more of it.  
  • If we think that faith is ‘ours’ then we will be tempted to put a fence round it and defend it, to decide for ourselves what the limits of our faith are, rather then let the Holy Spirit decide.  
    • I often read commentaries and other guides to the Bible and I am often disappointed to find that scholars have decided that there is only one way for scripture to be interpreted – it seems that they have labelled themselves as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ and that’s how they see everything.
    • I am often surprised by what’s in the Bible – it’s brutality and beauty – it isn’t comfortable, but isn’t that the way it should be?  

Conclusion

It’s very tempting to think of faith as being ‘ours’ that it’s something we’ve gained and can therefore lose.  But if we start to think like that then we begin to separate ourselves from God, because we start defending what is ‘ours’ and rejecting any ideas that are new to us.  As soon as that happens, God finds it more difficult to reach us and we can quickly go astray, either in our behaviour, or in the way we think about God; if we’re not careful, faith can becomes just another dead possession.  But that isn’t the way it’s meant to be – faith is a living thing, powered by an uncontrollable Holy Spirit, informed by a surprising, even shocking Bible.  Having a relationship with God through Jesus (‘God with us’) might not be a comfortable religion, but it is live and real.

We Belong to Jesus, Not the World

Note: I wrote another sermon that I posted on the same passage that is the basis for this one called 'In the World but Not of the World'. 'We Belong to Jesus, Not the World' has a different message to the other post, so please continue to read this one even if it does seem familiar.

Scripture: John 17:6-9 (N.B. Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Pslam 1; 1 John 5:9-13 also this day- Easter 7 Year B)

The Scripture

God gives the disciples to Jesus and they obey Him.  Now they see God at work in Jesus: they accept his teaching, they know that Jesus is divine and they believe (v8).  Jesus here prays only for those who know this (but later he will pray for those that the worldly will know him).  Glory – appreciation for who Jesus really is – comes to Jesus through the disciples, and Jesus (God with us) prays for their protection in unity as Jesus and God are one (that they will receive the Spirit to protect them?).  Being given the word will make the World hate them, as it hates Jesus, so he prays for their safety.  They are not of this World now, as Jesus is not, and Jesus prays that God will sanctify them, as he prepares to sanctify himself and them on the cross; sanctified means to be set aside from the ordinary, to lead holy lives by God’s power.   

Meaning at the Time

Jesus has nearly finished preparing the disciples for his imminent arrest, trial and execution.  Jesus wants them to understand the cross as his victory and sanctification – and their salvation – not defeat.

Meaning for Today

This passage teaches us the important lesson that we are in the world but not of it.  It explains why the world will be hostile to us.  We have something that the world does not – the word, the way, the truth, the life.  The world will resent this and us for having it.  The world will see it as a criticism, a judgement by us on them.  If we keep this blessing to ourselves we will be called hypocrites and ‘God botherers’, if we share it we will be accused of religious imperialism and offending others.  

This has always been an issue for believers: how close should we get to the world?  At one extreme the religious sects try to cut themselves off completely, at the other Christian leaders may become part of the establishment, never challenging or criticising it – indistinguishable from it.  Both are wrong, both are lethal for the church.

Perhaps more relevant is the decision on where to place the emphasis of our mission – to evangelise and see others saved, or to serve in the community?  Some churches do one to the exclusion of the other and this is also wrong.  Some fundamentalist or conservative churches seem only to focus on salvation and the afterlife, whereas some seem to focus on doing good (the “social gospel”) and Jesus hardly gets a mention.  It’s worth reminding ourselves that here Jesus prays for his followers to stay in the world, but he prays only for his disciples.  We are saved to be in the world for at time – it’s not either/or it’s one and then the other.

To me the Methodist Church seems quite good at service but not so good at telling others about Jesus, which is odd given John Wesley’s approach.  There is a danger that in our efforts to care and do good, we might become too professional and therefore suppress our distinctive Christianity so as not to offend and get in the way of the caring.  Our spiritual side might be too strange, too spontaneous, too uncontrollable for a secular society and an orderly institution.  Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that Jesus was ready to offend or even use violence; they didn’t crucify him because he was a nice, polite chap who fitted in.   

Conclusion  

We are his disciples.  We accept Jesus’ teaching, we know that he is divine and we believe in Him.  All else flows from this: our personal morality, worship, fellowship, evangelism, our distinctive lives and service in the community.

God Put the Spiritual and Physical Together in Jesus- Let’s not separate them!

Scriputre: 1 John 5:1-6 (N.B. Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; John 15:9-17- also on this day Year B Easter 6)

Introduction

On the surface this passage it seems like a statement of the blinking obvious, doesn’t it?

Exegesis: Explanation of 1 John 5:1-5: Unpack these verses and look at them on the slide.

  • The source of everything is twofold: belief in Jesus Christ; and love of God.
  • Look how all these things are joined together: they are intimately linked and not to be separated.

The Message Then (v6): Rejecting False Thinking about Salvation and Jesus

Water = baptism; Blood = death – the whole of Jesus’ ministry.  Why did John say this?

  • False teachers claimed physical things (e.g. the body) were evil and God/Spirit was good.
  • Salvation was to escape from the body, not through faith in Christ but secret knowledge.
    • Some therefore said that the Christ descended on Jesus at his baptism and left before his suffering and death – it was only the man Jesus who died.
    • Others said that Christ only appeared or seemed to have a body.   

John reminds us that the Sprit testifies to Jesus being God in two ways:

  • The Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism.
  • The Spirit lives in us, confirming that Jesus is the Christ and that his death and resurrection really have made us one with God.  

The Message Now: So What? Why Believe These Things? What Should We Do? 

What we believe will come through in our attitudes, speech and actions. Right belief = right living.  This idea of separating the physical & spiritual is a Greek idea, not Biblical (Hebrew or Christian).  

If we accept this false teaching then we could treat ourselves harshly or not be concerned about other’s suffering; or we might indulge ourselves believing that the body is of no consequence.  We would certainly be inconsistent in our beliefs and behaviour: hypocrisy – the opposite of integrity.

How attractive the idea of secret knowledge still is.  Conspiracy theories are so popular (Rowan), the endless popularity of detective shows on TV – finding out hidden things.  How cynical we are, ready to believe badly of others, particularly those in authority (e.g. MP at Spring Harvest).  All of these things can shut out the simple Good News – that salvation is freely available to all through Jesus Christ.  It can put us off obedience, but not to choose God’s will is to sin.  How can anyone be his disciple if they don’t surrender to Christ?

Why do people invent such false ideas?  I have a theory.  Reggie Perrin, on TV, is having a bit of a crisis and asking what he’s done with his life.  He’s the age when people look for significance; some try new things and some go off the rails!   But if we are looking for significance then we could do no better than knowing the Creator of the universe personally?  What could be more satisfying than pleasing Him?  And to do this we don’t have to lose connection with the real world, rather we stay right where we are and do what we can.

Conclusion.  

A wise man in the OT said “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”[1]  Even John, the disciple Jesus loved, did not find it necessary to add anything to this, a thousand years later.  God put the Spiritual and Physical together in Jesus – let’s not separate them.


[1] Ecclesiastes, 12:13b

The Rock of the Church, the Keys of the Kingdom

Scripture: Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Matthew 16:13-20 (N.B. Psalm 124; Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; and Romans 12:1-8 – also on this day Porper 16 Year A)

Introduction

  • While I was thinking about what to say today, riots swept across Britain.
  • Afterwards, I saw the PM talking about people selfishly destroying their communities.
  • My first thought was that he was talking about Investment Bankers.
    • The Banks got s £multi-Bn bailout, the rioters were threatened with losing their benefits and homes.
    • Perhaps we should put both groups in a stadium and let them fight it out! 
    • Or we could just cut their ghoulies off!  (In a loving and Christian way!)

Moses in the Basket (Exodus 1:22 – 2:10).

  • Seems a strange thing to do, but desperate people do desperate things!
  • The Kings daughter takes pity on the child and acts with kindness to him.
  • Moses’ Mother & Sister and the Princess do everything but are not even named.
    • They live in a Patriarchal society and even the Princess is not valued (like a man).
    • Did the Princess know what it was like to be a second-class citizen?
  • Why did the Princess take such a risk be defying the Pharaoh’s rule?
    • Was her act a kindness an act of rebellion against her father?  
    • Did she ‘do the right thing for the wrong reason’?

Who is Jesus? (Matthew 16:13-19).

  • Why do the disciples need to know who Jesus is?
    • Some think doing right is all – no need to believe (plurality).  Jesus didn’t think so:
      • This belief is the rock on which the church is built; (the basis of community)
      • It is the reason that Peter is given the keys to the kingdom (to do right).
  • Why does he ask them, rather than tell them?
    • The answer was so strange that it had to come from them – they had to ‘own’ it.
    • People tend not to accept the truth, even if it’s blindingly obvious, from others.
    • In my job, I sometimes have to tell customers bad news – they go into denial.
    • I also have to avoid giving them the answers – Not Invented Here!  
    • Jesus had to accept his crucifixion and we have to accept his discipline.

So Why Did God Inspire Moses & Matthew to Tell us these Stories? (Application).

  • God’s people are to be different in belief, attitude, words and actions & we may suffer for it.
    • God wants us to be these things not just when it’s fun and easy, but when it’s not.
    • He wants us to do things, not dependent on the circumstances, or for our own reasons and motivation, but because doing right pleases Him. 
  • In the introduction I judged rioters and investment bankers.
    • I must confess that I did a bit of vandalism as a teen – I enjoyed it, I didn’t think about others.
    • In my current job, I’m on a bonus scheme – sometimes I find it warps my thinking: I’m thinking about what will earn me my bonus in the short term, not about being a team player for the long haul. 
    • We need a focus that is greater than ‘me, me, me’.

Conclusion.  

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.

I asked for health that I might do greater things. 

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy. 

I was given poverty that I might be wise. 

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God. 

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life. 

I was given life that I might enjoy all things. 

I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for. 

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. 

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey. 

What’s the Healing of Naaman got to do with me?

Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-14 (N.B. Psalm 30; Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-9; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; or Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 also this day- Proper 9, Year C)

Aim of the story

“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel” (v15).  There is humour at the enemy general’s expense, and rulers/oppressors in general.  But much more…

Naaman

Naaman is a powerful general, well regarded and of high personal qualities – but he has a problem.  The point is though that he knows he has a problem – how many people have problems but won’t admit them even to themselves?  Then again, Naaman’s problem is obvious to others, so he can’t delude himself. 

That’s like so many people today, isn’t it?  Most people around us have a vague belief in God, but don’t know Him personally.  Nevertheless, they can apparently get along quite nicely without God, so they don’t realise that they have a problem.  It’s not until they face something that they can’t solve with own resources, or understand in their own wisdom, that they realise they lack something they need.  Even then some refuse to see the truth.

The King of Israel

In the story, the King symbolises a lack of faith, but perhaps this is unfair.  We know that Israel has suffered at the hands of Aram, so perhaps the King’s suspicion is justified; perhaps we need to be sensitive to others, because we don’t know what they have experienced in the past.  Also you can see the King’s horror at the prospect of war and the thought that, even if Israel wins, he will be responsible for leading some of his men to their death.  Perhaps we should try to understand over-zealous officials who don’t want religious controversies disturbing the peace.  

Elisha  

Elisha is the “man of God”, and he is not impressed or awed by Naaman’s earthly power, regard or qualities.  He also chides the King for his fear and lack of faith.  Some would see Elisha’s behaviour as arrogant, but let’s not forget that Elisha has got something that Naaman needs – the General hasn’t come to call out of friendship.  

We are in a similar position to Elisha.  Because we know God personally we have something that is beyond mere worldly power and prestige – we also have a God-given authority and freedom.  In these days of diversity, tolerance and “my rights”, it’s not fashionable to say that we have The Truth, of The Faith, but we do.  We are very blessed and fortunate people and we don’t have to apologise for that; we are free to tell others about our relationship with God.  Elisha wasn’t interested in being popular or fitting in – he had a God-given job to do.  So do we.      

The Girl Servant of Naaman’s Wife   

The girl has been captured and taken away from her people by Aram, a nation who do not know the true God.  You would think that the girl would have no love for her master, but she tells his wife that the prophet in Samaria can cure him.  What faith and courage in witness!  Perhaps also the girl can see good in her master, even though he is author of her misfortune and the enemy of her people.   

Naaman’s Servants  

Naaman’s servants also chose to take a risk to help their master who was in a rage.  Let’s not forget that Naaman could have killed any one of them if he so chose.  Remember, that there was nothing in it for them – they didn’t know that the cure would work!  Once again it is the courage and love of the servants – who are not even significant enough to be named in the story – that enables God’s miracle to happen.  Without them there would be no story and no conclusion:  “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”

Conclusion  

Just read ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee, a humorous story about prejudice.  The book made me think that religion can do two things to people: it can encourage them to stop thinking and feeling compassion for others; or it can do just the opposite, as we’ve been shown by the story of the healing of Naaman.  Jesus’ victory over God’s enemies enables us not to take them too seriously, and to have courage in the face of their power.  Then we can pray for them, tell them the good news and serve them.  Let’s pray.

Miracles- How Close Do We Want To Get?

Scripture: Mark 5:21-43 (N.B. 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Pslam 130; Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; and 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15 also this day- Proper 8 Year B)

Introduction  

Mark 5:21-43 is about miracles, as are so much of the Gospels.  I can think of two mistakes we could make about miracles: deny them; or demand them:

We could say “my theology doesn’t allow for miracles” = I will impose my limited understanding on God, who is no greater than I am. 

Paul, a man of great faith, is not healed from “a thorn in my flesh” despite praying for this three times[1].  Miracles are not a reward for faith (salvation is, followed by our relationship).

If we believe in a God who created the universe then accepting miracles need present us with no logical problems, if we are comfortable with God breaking his own rules

How close are people to God? 

With the coming of the Messiah, anyone can have God’s Spirit, “the mind of Christ”[2], live inside them.  So what keeps them away?  Is it the desire to be independent, to be masters of ‘our’ world and ourselves?  Is it to accept only what we think is reasonable, or what is demonstrated to us?  Jesus did demonstrate His power to the disciples, but they spent three years 24/7 with Jesus, sharing his life and sufferings (even the prospect of death), submitting to him as an apprentice to a master. 

Jairus and the Woman  

OK, that’s enough theory: what about the specifics?  

Jairus and the Woman believed that Jesus could help them.  However, getting close to Him involved risk for both of them in different ways.  Jairus was a public figure and he could have looked foolish if things went wrong – imagine if Jesus had refused him or his daughter had not been healed.  The Woman’s bleeding made her ‘unclean’ she shouldn’t be out in public, let alone approaching a Rabbi, a man, this was potentially scandalous behaviour.  Imagine a woman doing this in Saudi Arabia today!

Unusually I find myself preaching how little we need to believe.   We don’t know whether Jairus & the woman believed that Jesus was the Messiah – probably not.  The woman’s bleeding made her ritually ‘unclean’ and she could never make herself clean, yet she approached Jesus anyway and received.  Jairus did not sit in his Synagogue and wait for Jesus to come to him and worship there, but met him in the street. 

My own experience is that it took me almost ten years reading the Bible and praying alone before I was ready for fellowship.  Once I started going to church I realised who I had been getting closer to.  I knew the living Christ, and in fellowship with others who knew Him, my life was much richer and my faith grew much more quickly.  We are running an Alpha Course at the moment, encouraging people to think about, hopefully to meet, God and Jesus, but on their terms, without necessarily ‘fitting in’ with us.

Conclusion  

Jesus’ miracles make it clear that he is God and man: perhaps the fact that we can approach God so closely is the greatest miracle of all, a sign of God breaking through into our universe to be close to us.  Whatever we think about miracles, we are encouraged by example to get close enough to allow him to surprise us.  The question is: will we take the risk of allowing Him to? Will we allow others to do so in our fellowship?


[1] 2Cor 12:7-10.

[2] 1 Corinthians 2:16.

God Grows the Seed

Scripture: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 (N.B. Pslam 20; Ezekiel 17:22-24; Pslam 92:1-4, 12-15; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10, [11-13], 14-17; and Mark 4:26-34 – also on this day, Proper 6 Year B)

Introduction. 

Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  I wonder if the Queen isn’t a bit embarrassed about all the hype, and having ‘God Save the Queen’ sung at her morning, noon and night!  Maybe she has an ego the size of a house – “come on, scum, amuse me”?! but I doubt it.

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13. 

King Saul has selfishly disobeyed God and been rejected as King. God has moved on but Samuel mourns Saul’s fall from favour and does not.  God sends Samuel to anoint a new king, and this happens secretly as Samuel fears Saul.  God does not choose the strong, tall, eldest son to be king, but the youngest.  David has earned nothing, does nothing and says nothing.  Even Samuel does nothing but obey, once he has quibbled with God a bit.  This hardly an advert, or propaganda for human leadership! 

Mark 4:26-34.  Two parables of growth, and a word on how Jesus used parables:   

In vv26-29 we hear how the seed grows without the farmer knowing how.

In vv30-32 we hear about the smallest seed growing to a big tree; the image of the birds perching in it is a common image of an empire and it’s client kingdoms.

In vv33-34 we hear how Jesus pitches his message, proportionate to the time his hearers have to devote to hearing it. 

Application. 

The Queen doesn’t have a conventional job.   She didn’t go to school, get qualifications, apply, interview, do probation.  She doesn’t clock in, do hours, get a salary, have a boss or workmates.  She doesn’t promote herself, she doesn’t give interviews, we don’t know what her views are.  The only clues we get are her Christmas speeches, which give little away about her.  Most people put such a lot of effort into their work and careers, most public figures put huge effort into promoting their image.  Now I am sure that the Queen cares about these things deeply, but she just is the Queen.  Does she do that unwittingly, or does she understand the message in these passages?   

It would be easy to think that we can do nothing worthy of almighty God, so perhaps we shouldn’t even try?  But God needs things from us.  He needed Jesse’s and David’s obedience, he needs the seed, and he needs us to plant the seed.  Then he needs us to allow Him time to make the obedience and the seed grow.  We praised the Queen for doing her duty for 60 years, but she did this one day at a time.  So will we.

Balancing the Trinity

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, and John 3:1-17 (N.B. Psalm 29 also on this day- Trinity Sunday Year B)

Trinity Sunday. 

Think about God as three persons in one: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Picture one person in 3 roles – son, husband and father for me.  What would you be?     

Doctrine and Trinity.  

Said that Doctrine of the Trinity[1] is not in Bible; true but, I think, misleading. 

  • First, ‘Doctrine’ is “what is taught”, what we teach about God from the Bible.  
  • Know Doctrine not in Bible, as it’s from debate between two theologians in C4.
    • Discussing whether Jesus was divine, whether he was really God as well as man.
    • One thought connecting God with humanity demeaned God’s holiness; therefore Jesus should be viewed just as an exemplary human being.  
    • The other said that’s a sterile God, distant, unloving & unconnected to His creation.
    • God is love, Jesus name means “God with us” and Jesus is God.  
  • Second guy won debate, so the idea of Trinity became established teaching, or Doctrine.
  • To say this is not in Bible is wrong: that’s where the theologians got them!  

Bible Readings for Today. 

Three samples of scripture emphasising 3 aspects of God: Isaiah – God (Holy); Romans (Spirit inside us); and John’s Gospel (Jesus the example we can copy).  

Application.  

The problem is when we over emphasise one part of the Trinity at the expense of the others.

  • (Keith ‘H’ D).  We might see a church or church leader who emphasises the Holiness of God, making us fear him, tempting us to worship intermediate things (ceremony? Wesley? Preaching?).  Sounds familiar? “that’s a sterile God, distant, unloving & unconnected to His creation”.
  • (Leyland/Bad R).  Some churches seem to focus on Jesus as a man only (keeps God at a safe distance!) a man of action; take this one step further and focus on the action only (‘social Gospel’).
  • (St James).  Perhaps it’s most tempting to focus on the Holy Spirit.  Faith becomes not about God, or Jesus as objectively described in NT, but subjective, ego-centric (HS agrees with ME).  Me, me, me, worship; manipulation of those near; and lack of compassion for those far away.  

All these odd versions these diseases of church end up putting God at a distance and deluding the sufferers. Interestingly, I have to mention three lopsided churches where one person of the Trinity is over emphasised, as there is no perfect example to look at.

Conclusion.  

A three-legged stool is stable.  A balanced Trinitarian approach is stable.  But losing one aspect or focussing on just one aspect is unstable and can be destructive and hurtful.  It hurts us because it keeps God at a distance, prevents us relating to Jesus and shuts the Holy Spirit out of us.


[1] N.B.  Beware the heresy of modalistic monarchianism: God does not merely appear to be three persons outwardly, but actually truly is three persons in one!

In the World but not of the World

Scripture: John 17:6-9 (N.B. Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Pslam 1; 1 John 5:9-13 also this day- Easter 7 Year B)

Introduction

In John 17:6-19 Jesus prays for his disciples reminding them that: Jesus has connected them with God; they know that Jesus’ connection with God is real; Jesus would leave them to return to his Holy Father; and God would protect them and maintain their joyful connection (vv6-13).  

He then goes on to explain to the disciples that they are sanctified (made holy, or set apart from everyday things) by the word, which has provoked the world to hate them, and that his death on the cross, taking this hatred vicariously on their behalf, will complete their holiness.  Thus he encourages them to be ‘in the world but not of the world’; John, in turn, passes this explanation and encouragement on to us.  

This Raises Two Questions for Us Today…

Are We in the World Enough?

Now, lots of people believe in God, but less often do they see the need for or the possibility of being connected with God, let alone be changed significantly by Him.  They just need the occasional use of a church building for ‘hatch, match and despatch’.  That’s what they think a church is – a building.  Are we sufficiently in the world to be visible, or are we hiding away in our church buildings, worshiping and fellowshipping quite comfortably, thank you very much?  

Are We not of the World Enough?

That said we can’t really blame ‘them’ can we?  Are we telling them anything else?  Would we have any credibility if we did?  Are we sufficiently different to the rest of the world to stand out?  Are we challenging our comfortable society? I say comfortable, not because everyone is well off and happy, but in the sense that we seem to accept things as they are, inequalities, injustices and all.  Are we sufficiently different to stand out from the world? If there are things wrong in our society, what are we doing or saying about them?  

Application.  

In the Bristol Circuit I see a lot of tiny, isolated, elderly congregations in empty buildings; often they are close to other churches – but do they come together to turn things around?  They do not!  Perhaps it’s too late for these congregations and we should accept that those churches have failed. 

I also see a small number of churches doing OK, thank you very much.  There are a few strong Churches who are different and reaching out to their local communities (e.g. Zion?).  Are they helping out their sister churches?  There are many churches in the middle, not really thriving, but not dying either (e.g. Alveston?).  Are they being realistic about their futures and planning accordingly? Are they working with other Christians to turn things around and sustain themselves ‘in but not of the world’? 

Conclusion. 

 Are we too comfortable in our little congregations, isolated even from other Christians?  Jesus calls disciples to be so changed, so different, so connected to God that we make the world uncomfortable.  I wonder if we respond to God’s call or whether we will, like limpets, cling on to what we know – until it is too late, and we fall completely asleep. 

‘Let Us Love One Another’

Scripture: 1 John 4:7-21 (N.B. Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; and John 15:1-8 also on this day- Easter 5 Year B)

Introduction.  

John urges his church to love one another, probably in response to false teaching, bad behaviour and divisions among early Christians.

The Scripture.  

Looking at John Wesley’s commentary for inspiration.

4:8 God is love – God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is … his reigning attribute, that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.

4:12 If we love one another, God lives in us – This is treated of, 4:13 – 16.  And his love is perfected, i.e. has its full effect, in us – this is treated of, 4:17 – 19.

4:18 There is no fear in love … But [‘perfect’], adult love casts out slavish fear.  A natural [person] has neither fear nor love; one that is awakened, fear without love; a babe in Christ, love and fear; an adult in Christ, love without fear.

4:21  He who loves God [should] love their sibling – everyone, whatever their opinions or mode of worship, purely because they are the child, and bear the image, of God.  Bigotry is the result of lacking this pure and universal love.  A bigot only loves those who share his opinions and way of worship; he loves them for that, and not for Christ’s sake.

Divisions.  

Multi-cultural debate going on around us: religious freedom/ tolerance/ acceptance.  (Could say that not relevant as John is addressing Christians, but N.B. the Good Samaritan[1], Phillip and the Ethiopian[2]).  Tolerance is a poor substitute for love, as it implies distance, ignorance of the other person (which secular society is comfortable with).  None of this come close, relates, to the love John demands as an essential part of a Christian community.  

False Teaching. 

False ‘Gnostic’ teaching had emphasised knowledge of God (c.f. collecting, possessing), but John says that knowledge of God is properly defined only in loving the person of God (v8) – and hence loving all those who share his image (v21).  Recently I’ve been reading a book about stories, what shapes them, why people tell them.  Well the theory is that stories stem from the basic need for humans to grow up and be united with their ‘other half’ and carry on the human race.  This is described as the triumph of the mature whole person over the selfish ego; the maturity of the person defined by their relationship with others in the same and over successive generations.

Bad Behaviour.  

Example: Pearl’s a Singer!  I’m sure we can think of times when others have hurt us, but perhaps we don’t recall so well when we hurt them!  Conventionally we might think that right belief (orthodoxy) leads to right behaviour (orthopraxy) but here John is saying the reverse, that practicing loving behaviour is the surest way to God. 

Conclusion.  

Secular society keeps God at a distance and others too, especially different others.  We are commanded to love God, our Christian brothers and sisters and to extend this love to our neighbours.  True knowledge of God, true religion, is through love of God, which we perfect by loving others in our everyday lives.   This intimacy, this integrity of our beliefs, our behaviour and our lives with others brings us to perfection in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 


[1] Luke 10:25-28, Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-31.

[2] John 15:1-8, today’s Gospel reading in the Lectionary.

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: