Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 31st July
It is one thing to become a Christian, to recognise God’s love in Jesus Christ and to make the choice to turn around from the direction we were heading – another way of saying repent – and to turn and follow him, into a restored relationship with God.
We are baptised into this new way of life ....... a new beginning ....... but that is exactly what it is, a new beginning. It takes a lifetime to work out what it means to live out our faith.
Our readings today seem to paint a very bleak picture. Ecclesiastes is particularly depressing .... the writer puts me in mind of Eyore from Winnie the Pooh. What’s the point, he questions, of making any effort at all – we’re all going to die and all our hard work will just benefit somebody else who probably won’t even appreciate it .... and according to him it’s all God’s doing, so he finds no consolation in God’s eternity.
Jesus’ story in Luke seem to endorse this gloomy outlook ...... the man had made a comfortable living and was all set to sit back and enjoy it ..... when death was about to snatch it all away from him, what was the point?
Paul’s remedy in Colossians isn’t, at first glance, very encouraging either. A long list of earthly ways which we have to put to death! And while everything on the list may not apply to us I’m pretty certain that there will be something there that we are guilty of and with the best of intentions can we honestly say that we will never feel anger or greed again?
So, if there is anybody here today who has come along to church for the first time because Christians have been trying to persuade you that you can be a Christian and enjoy life, you’re probably thinking that you were right all along, it’s a miserable business and God is mean and just waiting to punish you.
But hang on a minute, don’t go rushing off .... what Jesus and Paul are saying is that it is only if our focus is on finding fulfilment from worldly things that our efforts are futile and as with everything in the present creation, doomed to decay. The good news is that we have a choice. We can choose to seek the things that are of God’s kingdom or we can choose the things that are of the world.
The rich man in the story Jesus tells has already decided what is important and he has lived his life by that decision. This is what Jesus wants his listeners to understand. We decide day by day what to value, what to give our heart to. The brothers, fighting over their inheritance, have come to the Jesus - they have a chance, now, to listen to him and choose the kingdom ..... or to allow the squabble about money to distract them.
So what is the kingdom of God all about? - if it isn’t about dogged self-protection; about accruing possessions, about making ourselves and our families secure, perhaps to the exclusion of all others?
Well the kingdom of God is, at its heart, about God’s reign and rule sweeping the world with its love, grace and power, so that human beings, each made in the image of God, and each one special and dearly loved, relax in the knowledge that God is in control.
God, the creator, loves his world, loves to give good gifts, loves to bring his sovereign care and rescue right to our door – in other words he loves to give us his kingdom. He is not waiting to punish us or threatening to have nothing to do with us if we don’t behave.
The people Paul is writing to in Colossians have already made their choice. They have chosen a new life in Christ. They have stripped off the old self and clothed themselves with the new self, for the old self has died and their life is now hidden with Christ in God.
But old clothes can be very comfortable, they are familiar and we feel at home in them and we can cast a wistful eye over them if we are struggling to keep our new clothes clean and live Christ’s risen life.
It can be difficult for us to grasp, but it’s not all about keeping rules and regulations, as those who were advocating circumcision wanted the new Christians to do, it’s about accepting that we have been made new through the death and resurrection of Christ.
We are heirs with Christ, we are God’s children, loved unconditionally and precious to him. We have to keep reminding ourselves of that fact and make the choices that will reflect that in our thoughts, words and deeds.
In the words of Tom Wright, theologian. One day God will flood the present creation with the new life which is currently hidden in the heavenly realm. One day Jesus the Messiah, who cannot at the moment be seen within the old world, will appear again – when God transforms the whole cosmos so that what is at present unseen will become visible and earth and heaven be joined forever in the fulfilled new creation. And when that happens, all those who are ‘in Christ’, whose present true life is ‘hidden with the king, in God’, will appear as well, as the glorious renewed human beings they already really are.
Once you realize that, there appears before you the new way towards a genuine, fulfilling holiness. ‘If you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above!’ Learn to think about the things that are above, not the things that belong to the present world of change and decay. If fact, learning to think, rather than merely going with the flow of the world on the one hand, or blindly obeying what look like stringent regulations on the other, is part of the key to it all.
He goes on to say that our minds must grasp the truth: ‘you died, and your life has been hidden with the king, in God!’ Once our minds have grasped it, our heart and will may start to come on board ..... and once that happens the way lies open to joyful Christian holiness.
But there aren’t any short cuts. It’s a lifelong process, all the small, seemingly insignificant choices we make on a daily basis are either helping us to understand what it means to be a genuine human being made in the image of God or leading us to remain ignorant of the God revealed in Jesus and his kingdom. So over and over again, in the big and in the little things we have to go on making the choice to follow Jesus. That one great decision to commit to Christ has to affect everything.
Every time we resist anger or malice, having a go at someone; every time we praise and encourage rather than criticize; every time we ‘give’, every time we ‘care’ the image of God becomes a little bit clearer in us.
It’s also a choice between illusion and reality, between pretending (having to wear masks all the time) and being real. We’re being called to be part of a new kingdom. And it’s one in which we don’t need to pretend anymore, because we’re loved.
But we have to remember it, live it. Let it be the voice that shapes us. Let it be the voice that we attend to first and foremost.
Just like in any relationship - we have to spend time with someone to get to know them. It’s in talking to God and listening to what he says, that we get to understand.
God knows - and understands - every aspect of our daily lives. He knows
the trials and the heartache. We’re
even told that Jesus “ever intercedes on our behalf before the Father in heaven”
– continually intervening so that all things work together for our good.
When we turn to Christ we’re not twisting God’s arm so he forgives us – he’s already done that in Jesus. Forgiveness comes before repentance. God has already forgiven us because of what Jesus did on the cross – it is we who need to grasp that.
This is where the relationship with him is so important. If our Christianity is
based on abstract truths about a God
whom we hold at arm’s length, whom we don’t really trust, then they’re hardly
going to be become our ‘lived’ experience. But when we’re connected to him,
growing in him; when we doggedly trust him, we’ll be able to see those things
that we’ve never been able to see apart from him – the deep peace he offers;
something of his magnificent glory in a dark world.
As we are told in Isaiah 40:31:
Those who trust in the Lord
will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
I will end with the words of Jane Williams ‘The reality is that the world was made by God, and is utterly loved by God. To choose Jesus is to be part of what the world is actually for. It is to choose to be part of God’s image, his life that fills the world and redeems it.’