Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 29th May
In all our readings today we can clearly hear the voice of God calling us to trust him.
In Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia his anger and frustration come across loud and clear.
Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was a personal Saviour who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within.
For Paul, used to living under the law and maintaining a strict regime it was a glorious experience and he set off telling others, introducing and inviting everyone he met into this free life.
Jews believed that when the Messiah came he would be Lord of all the world; so, Paul argues, he’d have to have just one family. Paul taught that Jesus’ death and resurrection mean that this God is now building a new family, a single family, a family with no divisions, no separate races, no one table for Jews and another for Gentiles nonsense.
And, though this family is the fulfilment of what this God had promised to the Jews, the remarkable thing is that, because of Jesus, the Messiah, you don’t have to be a Jew to belong. The God of Israel wants to be known as ‘father’ by the whole world.
On his early travels he visited the province of Galatia – now a part of modern Turkey – and founded a series of churches. A few years later he learns that religious leaders of the old school had come into those churches, called his views and authority into question, and were reintroducing the old ways, herding all these freedom-loving Christians back into the corral of religious rules and regulations.
Paul was, of course, furious. He was furious with the old guard for coming in with their strong-arm religious tactics and intimidating the Christians into giving up their free life in Jesus. But he was also furious with the Christians for caving in to the intimidation.
And, as with everything we read in scripture, this letter carries a message for us today. We don’t need to hedge the gospel around with rules and regulations of our own invention. The gospel is God’s and he will give it any protection it might need. Our job is simply to receive it and preach it with gladness.
Our gospel story from Luke exemplifies the freedom, through Jesus, that Paul describes and which is open to everyone.
A Roman officer, no matter how well regarded he is by the Jewish elders, is well and truly and outsider. Part of the hated Roman army, very likely a worshiper of more than one of the Roman gods and possibly of the Emperor himself.... but he had heard about Jesus, he was willing to be humble, to acknowledge that although he was unworthy he believed that Jesus could heal his servant. In Jesus’ own words this is faith. To hear the good news, to acknowledge our own ‘undeservedness’, and to believe and trust in Jesus.
It is a reminder that Jesus can reveal himself to the most unlikely persons and that we must never presume that a person is unfitted for the Christian life based on past behaviour or any other characteristics. God can call anyone and he does.
We are the ones who make it so much more complicated, imposing our rules and regulations and ways of doing things, creating barriers between us and those seeking to know our Lord and causing divisions amongst ourselves with our different denominations.
Not that we set out intentionally to do those things – indeed we have to have some structure to our gatherings to actually allow freedom in worship and fellowship.
But we must never take our eyes away from who we are worshipping. Our structures, our rules and regulations must never become so rigid that they cannot change in accordance with the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
We must constantly examine our assumptions and our motives in the light of the Good News. In the light of the one and only truth. Our God loves us unconditionally and through Jesus Christ we are redeemed – and we are commanded to express that love to one another and reach out to those who have yet to hear the Good News.
Our Old Testament reading tells of Elijah’s complete trust in God. Verses 22-29 that are omitted from our reading, tell of his challenge to the priests of Baal – 450 of them - to prepare and set out an oxen on an altar of firewood and he would do the same but neither would light the fire. They would then pray to their gods and he to God to send the fire.
They went first and Elijah really enjoyed making fun of them as they danced around cutting themselves and crying out to Baal – ‘call a little louder’ he taunts them, ‘maybe he’s off meditating, or off on a journey; or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened’.
He lets them continue until noon - and then it’s his turn .... when everything is ready he pours water over the sacrifice not once but three times – and remember this is happening during the third year of a severe drought – and then he called upon God who sent down fire from heaven and burned up everything, even the water in the trench.
A resounding success which spelt the end for the priests of Baal who were all killed. And more was to follow – Elijah told King Ahab to eat and drink because rain was on its way ..... and indeed it came and Ahab had to harness his chariot and ride off for Jezreel – but the hand of the Lord was on Elijah and he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.
Wow!!! Surely that would convince King Ahab and the people to turn their backs on worshipping other gods and return to follow the one true God again? Surely Elijah would be a hero and welcomed with open arms?
Actually no, as often happens when a victory is won or being won for God, things can turn very dark. For Elijah it came in the form of Jezebel, Ahab’s wife and a Baal devotee who hated Elijah, When she learned what had taken place, especially that her favourites, the priests, had been killed she sent a messenger to Elijah telling him he would be dead by the morning. He ran for his life and descended into a depression, asking the Lord to take away his life because he’d had enough.
Now none of us are Elijahs but it’s worth remembering that when we are faithful to God and when his light is breaking through and things we do are ‘successful’ we need to surround them and ourselves in prayer.
Remember, the darkness hated Jesus and hates anything that is done in his name.
We should keep this in mind and we should never become complacent and too confident in ourselves and our own abilities but it shouldn’t be where our focus lies.
We are to remain persevering in the love of God, surrounding ourselves and each other in prayer. God keeps believers in his love and enables them to keep themselves in his love.
As Paul said so graphically in his letter to the Roman church “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, no powers, nor height, nor death, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
As long as we remain open to that love, we can be sure of “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to life eternal”.