Sunday, 14 October 2018

Sermon 14 October: What Must I Do?

Hebrews 4:12-16; Mark 10:17-31

The encounter between Jesus and the Rich Young Man is one I have turned back to, time and again; it features in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels too; and it tells us something about priorities, and motives.  – whatever our status, hearing the assertion that it is virtually impossible for the wealthy to get into heaven is one which disturbs and resonates in equal measure.
The story is multi-layered, but all too often we look at it and assume it is a simple story about the way God looks upon rich people – blessed are the poor after all.
But this story is much, much deeper than this. And Jesus is saddened by the man’s inability to shake loose from his chains.
This letter to the Hebrews could well have been addressed to that rich young man...
As I explained last week, we do not know who the writer of this letter/sermon is; but we do know he cuts to the heart of things: in this passage the word of God is alive and active!
There is nothing that can be hidden from God
And it is to God we must give an account of ourselves – thus we see the tie to the gospel as the rich man – approaches Jesus – clearly troubled and anxious about something
His question is to the point “What must I do to receive eternal life”

Jesus had spent the majority of his time with others being asked to heal; to relieve and to soothe. For this young man to come along and ask about eternity must have been a heart stopping moment of joy for Jesus. And of course, Jesus knew the heart of this young man; he wanted to tease out of him the nub of what was really bothering him.
When Jesus gave him the received answer: “keep the law”, the man is not satisfied
He is a righteous and good man
He has studied scriptures
Loved God
Been faithful and true to all the commandments
But in his hearts he knew there was something missing
Something not quite right
He was discomfited
And Jesus looked at him
And Jesus knew him
And Jesus loved him.

Up to this point in the narrative he could have been any one of the hundreds in the crowd
But now we know that he is different
He is wealthy
And he loves being wealthy and all it gives him
And he cannot let it go
He cannot let it slip
He is bound by it; chained; restrained and restricted by his wealth.

His despair at being told to sell it all; give it away and follow Jesus is too much. And he is unable to let go
So he turns to leave
To walk away...

If Hollywood was writing this script at the last minute he’d turn back – leave his wealth behind and claim the life Jesus is offering him – and they would all live happily ever after.
But this isn’t Hollywood; this is scripture; and scripture teaches us about life.
Real life
Not soap opera life; not movie town life
No happy ever after ending recorded here
Instead, Jesus turns to his disciples and makes a sweeping statement which seems totally at odds with everything else they know about Jesus
How hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom!!

This is shocking enough
What follows is worse
It’s a conundrum: easier for the rich to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.

To the disciples, this is so impossible; so devastating a suggestion that we can feel their despondency – and identify with Peter as he wails – “but we’ve already given up so much!”
What on earth are we doing?
Why are we following?
Is there no one who can be saved?
We have already given up so much
Jesus, as ever is turning things upside down
Those who are first in this world will be last
And the last will be first

God knows us
Our weaknesses
Our indulgences
The things which test us
The things that we love
Things are not important
People are
Things are replaceable
People are not
Things are useful and used
People are loveable and loved
Don’t confuse the two!!
People were created to be loved
Things were created to be used
The reason why the world in is CHAOS
Is because things are being loved
And people are being used

The writer to the Hebrews said, “have confidence then, and approach God’s throne where there is grace – grace to help us just when we need it”
Grace is there to help us, when like the rich young man we cannot let go of that which holds us back.
Jesus, God, knows exactly what is on our hearts; and, God gifts us grace – riches that will support us.
Grace: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
Grace – enough to lift us and inspire us; to move us from where we are, to where we need to be.
We do not know what happened to that rich young man – we are told he went away, grieving for he had many possessions.
What do you think?
Did he think about it and start to give away all of his things?
Did he carry on as before, loving God, being faithful but always aware that something was missing?
 We can only speculate about him; in our own lives though, we can do as Jesus asked
Not literally giving everything away – but looking at our priorities; loving God, knowing we are beloved by God; and remembering what else Jesus said: “for God, all things are possible”.
That is our hope; that is our answer
In the age to come – eternal life.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

What is Cleanliness?

sermon 2 September 
James 1: 17-27  Mark 7: 1-8, 21-23 

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
Why did Jesus talk in parables?
·      Disturbed
·      Raised questions
·      Challenged behaviour
·      Answers had to be sought – not obvious
From now to end November we are going to consider lots of questions raised by Jesus’ teaching, and God’s word.

Today, we heard about one of Jesus’ many encounters with authorities
They were obsessed with sticking to rules, exactly as written. 
Jesus wanted them to realise that the rules were no protection in themselves, but the motivation – so are you doing this in order to be seen doing this?
Are you doing this to tick the box and add to your “score”?
Or, are you doing this because you want to, you need to, because you value your own life and that of others?

The apostle James’ Epistle has long been a source of contention; it very nearly didn’t make it into the bible.
Luther called it an epistle of straw, with no real substance; and James’ theology of works which we hear a little bit about today was a huge talking point:
Saved by our works?
Or saved by belief in Jesus as our saviour?
Saved by what we do?
Or saved by God’s grace?

James does not say we are save only by our works. But that if we are truly followers of Christ, then others will see that by our behaviour.
What he was observing was people who said they were followers of Jesus, but who did nothing to show it.
The crux of this is the final verse, highlighted on the front of today’s service  sheet:
Pure and genuine religion means caring for orphans and widows and refusing to let the world corrupt you
Society in the first century was very different to now; widows and orphans had no status; they relied on family for support, and if they had no family they were literally destitute.
The new Christian Fellowships that were springing up were trying hard to exercise care and compassion; living as they had witnessed Jesus live; remembering his teaching, his parables, his arguments with the authorities.
Maybe there had been an argument about how far they were to go?
Maybe some were complaining about how many orphans and widows they had to support?!
We don’t know.
But what we do know is that there was sufficient discussion for James to write about it; we do know that James had paused to explain about what “pure religion” was.

Ironic that the Pharisees who had argued so vociferously with Jesus thought they were protecting “pure religion”
How easy it was then to slip into old ways; how easy it is still.

What are the things that cause us to slip?
What are the rituals that have become precious to us?
What are the things we hang onto to keep our religion “pure”?
And what would Jesus really say about that?

One of the most enduring memories I have of the two weeks I spent with our friends from Malawi is when we took them to visit two Food Banks, one in Selkirk and the other in Edinburgh. They were shocked that we, who seem to have so much in their eyes, have people who are genuinely poor in our communities. But they also saw that our churches are responding, and feeding the widows and orphans of our community.
The other memory is of the exuberance and joy they felt and showed when they were in worship.
My Scottish-ness keeps me from dancing in the aisles, but I do know, that there are times when I too feel the Spirit bubbling up in me…
What is cleanliness really? It is to live out Jesus’ teaching as it applies in our context today. Not ritualistic hand washing, but to keep away from things which distract us; to help when we are able; to allow God’s Spirit to bubble up occasionally; and to do our best to speak out, to act kindly and to give generously.

What do we need to do?

Sermon notes 26 August (actual sermon unscripted!!)
Micah 6: 6-8 John 6: 22-29

School’s back
Groups are starting up again
And the seasons roll round

As we begin a new season; a new session it is good to take a moment’s pause and ask…

What does God require of me?

Over the past three weeks I have been privileged to be part of a group that has hosted guests from the world church.
So many things we held in common; so many things that were different.
So many things that comforted; so many things that challenged.
We as a church family have, over the eight weeks of  summer witnessed four baptisms, welcoming families, committing to pray for and support babies and their families; and of course, last week, one young woman, who told us why baptism was important to her. 
Why faith and prayer, and knowing God in her life, was the core of her life.
As I have conversed with Rev Nellie about how we each serve our parishes in two very different parts of the world I have asked myself that question again…
What does God require of me?

And today, in our readings we have heard both the Old Testament prophet Micah and Jesus in the New Testament explaining what it is that God requires of any of us.
Micah’s explanation was threefold:
Do what is just
Show constant love
Live humbly with God
Jesus’ description was even simpler:
Believe in the one sent by God.
Believe in Jesus.

We don’t have to make life complicated.
And that is probably the thing I have learnt above all else from our visitors.
Life does not have to be complicated.
Life is simple.
And, as those of you who hear me speak regularly will know, love is the answer!

Each other
Because if we live in a loving manner, then everything else falls into place.
If we are loving, we won’t be unkind; we won’t be unjust; we won’t ignore God.

It really is that simple.
If we truly believe in Jesus’ message and teaching, then the world becomes a kinder place.
What does God want us to do?
Do what is just
Show constant love
Live humbly with God
And, believe in his son Jesus.

Everything else will fall in beside that.