Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff


Sunday 11th October

The word of God is living and active ..... it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart – so says the writer of the letter to the Hebrews.

When we speak of God’s word, our thoughts tend to turn to scripture – words on a page.  Words that can encourage, teach, inspire, lead and guide - but do we think of them as living and active, able to judge?

Well, verse 11 of Isaiah 55 tells us:

my word that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

How can words do that?

Because Jesus is The word of God, the logos.  God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light.  His word brought forth creation, His word became incarnate and brought salvation, it is His word that sustains all life.

We can read and study scripture, we can memorise verses, we can interpret and explain and write learned essays on bible passages but if THE word is not living and active in us, if we aren’t reading through the lens of His cross, then the words on the page will not touch us, we will not be formed and transformed into His likeness, we will not be able to play our full part in His purpose.

To begin to understand this we need to be rooted in the fact that we are loved by God.  If we cannot accept that God loves us, really believe it, then we will never be free of fear, we will always, even if only subconsciously, be expecting to be punished for our failings and we’ll be caught up in the relentless struggle to make ourselves good enough and, of course, we never can be good enough. 

If we could, then God would not have needed to become incarnate and come and rescue us.   We are not and never can be good enough without Jesus, without God’s Word, who came because God LOVES us so much he isn’t prepared to lose a single one of us.

He knows exactly what we are like, we can hide nothing from him

the word of God – Jesus  ...... is sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow ‘

nothing is hidden.  As the psalmist wrote in psalm 139 ‘Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?  We can hide nothing from him, there is nowhere we can go where he isn’t present, there is no tiny, fleeting little thought that He isn’t aware of.  There are things hidden so deeply within us, even we aren’t aware of them .... but He is.  

And because He loves us and wants us to be alive and free, He wants us to give up all those things which prevent us being who He intends us to be.

Our gospel reading may sound a bit harsh – he tells the young man ‘you have to give away everything you own to follow me’ – but Jesus looked at the young man and loved him.  Jesus knew that the young man’s attachment to his wealth and possessions was preventing him becoming fully alive – free to be his true self, safe and fearless in God’s perfect love, by trusting Jesus.

For the young man it was wealth and possessions that he needed to give up ..... but the disciples had already left everything to follow Jesus, their homes, families and livelihoods – what they had to give up was their preconceived notion of what being his follower would mean – and to surrender their lives, their very beings, to Him believing and trusting Him.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’

Jesus doesn’t pretend that there won’t be persecution ....... and he doesn’t promise a smooth painless journey .... but He does promise the peace that passes all understanding, perfect freedom and eternal life in God’s kingdom. 

We are Jesus disciples .... and the message is the same - it’s only by living in the truth that we can be free. 

What’s the point of pretending? Where is the need to pretend if we believe that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life and that we are loved unconditionally.  What are we frightened of, if we are certain of His unconditional love?

When we love somebody we become sensitive to their unspoken communication and if we allow our love for Jesus to become central to our lives, spending time in prayer, we will be sensitive to the touch of that two-edged sword as it seeks to prise open the things which we cling onto, the things which we need to let go of if Jesus is to be living and active in us. 

It won’t be a one off thing, it will happen many times and it will be different for each one of us and different each time we have to do it ...... and I will be bold and suggest that without the sharp stab of the two edged sword we may never recognise those things we have to relinquish at all – they often come in the guise of worthy things. 

The young man’s wealth and possessions would have been perceived as a blessing from God – notice the reaction of the disciples.  It was his love of them that came between him and following Jesus, his dependence upon them – perhaps not even for the comfortable lifestyle they provided but for the prestige they afforded him, being well thought of, respected.  Jesus wanted him - as he wants us - to depend upon Him and Him alone – not to have a back up plan.

What are the things we need in our lives – things that give us a sense of security or even things that have become so familiar that to let go of them seems impossible.  It may not be material possessions, it could be our need to be approved of ...... our need to be in control ...... our inability to not worry ...... our anxieties and our fear of the future ...... as I said for each of us there will be different things.

but if they prevent us from truly following Jesus, totally trusting and relying upon Him then we remain in slavery, we’re not free to be fully alive.

Such a lot depends upon our belief that God loves us.  The knowledge that  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

because in the words of St John in his first letter (1 John 4:18):

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

So in the words of Amos in our OT reading today, ‘let us Seek the Lord and live’ by asking the Lord to

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts ...............
and lead me in the way everlasting
Psalm 139