Sunday, September 23, 2012

No Fear!

A sermon preached in St. Columba's Pairsh on Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 7pm Evening prayer.

Aim - No Fear

There is a brand which young people today wear on hoodies and on jackets ... even now drinks bear this logo which originated in the United States ... which has a logo which says ... NO FEAR

as I did a bit of research on this I found that it orignated in Cage Fighting ... We’re strong enough we dont need to fear anything ... we can go it alone because of our own strength.

It’s interesting ... in light of our readings this evening.

When we look at the Old Testament reading I’m sure that the Israelite people were people who were exactly the opposite ... I would see them as complete the opposite of No Fear ... i’m sure they saw themselves as weak, When face with the prospect of meeting the Holy God on the mountain ... and needing to be made clean ... I’m sure that they saw themselves as weak and afraid ... before an all powerful and holy God... there was fear. Fear of Judgement, fear of the unknown, fear of God - literally!

As we turn the the new testament reading ... we see a different fear ...

We see the disciples going about with jesus ... fishermen & others who had left everything to follow this teacher. He had been teach on the mountain huge crowds and reminding them what they already knew about about God, his commandments and what they are to do. He also went further ... you have heard it said ... do not murder  ... but I say ...

In this teaching he also said ... as we think about fear & worry ... do not worry ... your father in heaven knows what you will need face whatever comes along.

and then the disciples are in the boat ... and the situation rises where they are worrying, where they are afraid ... a very natural response to the situation ... they do worry and they are afraid. Fear for their lives, fear of the wind and the waves crashing in on them, fear of the situation they find themselves

But ... God was with them literally! Jesus was in the boat!

God was with the Israelites as they journeyed in the wilderness ... yes he is a powerful  and holy God who cannot abide sin but he has always through the pages of scripture made a way for sin to be atoned for, for us to be in right relationship with him.

As we come to the New Testament times - God of the holy mountain stepped down, giving us an example to follow - to remind us that he is still powerful, that he is still creator God ... the disciples looked at each other and said ... who is this ... even the wind and the waves obey him.

Whatever we are afraid of ... whatever we may face ... whatever things we or others are going through we are called not to worry ... or be afraid ... and I know that that this theory is all very well ... and we have know idea how we’ll cope when the next squall or storm will rise ... as it does have a possibility of doing. But for us as Christians ... this is not just hopeful thinking, or a nice bit of academic theology
The disciples were in a very real boat, in fear and the situation looked bleak, but with Jesus in the boat ... in their moment of desparation they really knew who Jesus was when they called upon him.
'Worried!' photo (c) 2011, Alon - license:
Time and again through the pages of scripture at big and small events ... God reminds his people that they are not to be afraid ... he’s there and he knows what he is doing

At Christmas ... there is a command which we remember the Angel Gabriel giving to mary  Do not be afraid ... to mary ... to Joseph  ... to the shepherds

But this command is opened up ... in the Sermon on the mount ... remember the command about worrying ... do not worry about what you will eat or drink or what you will wear ...

Then time and again Jesus as he meet people he tells them DO NOT WORRY ... Mary & Martha ... do not worry.

Whats going to happen?, What about... whatever we are afraid about?

We worry about many things...

We at our Funeral services often read from Romans Chapter Tweleve ... whatever we are facing may we remember that God ... the God of the mountain and the sea ... and at the end of the day it’s God’s Love that will keep us ... yes things may happen but God will never leave us nor forsake us.

Listen to what Paul wrote to the roman Christians...

Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[b]
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[c] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.

May we wear the brand of no fear ... not because we are all powerful, or have all the answers but because we are people who have the Holy Spirit

No Not by might, nor even power but by the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Galatians - Introduction

Tonight in the parish Bible Study group we began a new Bible Study series looking at Paul's letter to the Galatians and worked our way through the first chapter.

With this letter it is so vitally important that we understand the situation in which it was written. All too often we look at the early church with rose tinted spectacles ... which this letter does not allow. ]

We are working our way through one of Tom Wrights study guides.

To this end it was useful to have Tom introduce the book in his way ...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Importance of Justice

'3D Scales of Justice' photo (c) 2012, Chris Potter - license:
May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen

Tonights readings as well as the Psalm which is printed on the sheet speak of law, speak of Justice and doing what is right as well as spreading the burden. 

Our first reading speaks of the importance the Israelites whilst they were in the wilderness placed upon doing things right, and judging of cases. Moses father in Law made sure that responsibility was spread out. 

Our psalm which we didn’t read 

Let your tender mercies come to me, that I may live, •
   for your law is my delight.
78  Let the proud be put to shame, for they wrong me with lies; •
   but I will meditate on your commandments.

In our Gospel reading ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.’

As I have thought and prayed over all of this … I am reminded of the many injustices in our world today … how can we live in such a world where there is poverty and pain and injustice … where so few have so much, where resources are so injustly shared. 

This summer I have been so challenged and as the team have come back from Zambia they have expressed this anger and these issues. I wonder have you ever grappled with this yourself. The fact that there is such an inequality … can the situation ever be changed? 

HIV/AIDS, Poverty, hunger, Malaria, lack of water, lack of access to education, rich, debt, 

The dream is one where these are turned on their head, where our everything we do to others, we would have them do to us. Imagine being caught in the spiral of poverty, injustice what would we wish someone to do for us. 

As I read the Bible, I know God has a heart for the underdog, the poor, the marginalised, the one who needs justice. What are we doing about it. Our faith has to go beyond simply saying Oh that’s terrible … we are called to action … to be people of action in our world … things will only change if we change them. 

I don’t know what this means for each one of us … but I do know that we are called to do something. Yes we come to church, yes we partake of Holy Communion but we are then sent out to action, to live out what we say we believe - fearlessly and radical. 
When I read of the disciples & the early church, I read of a church which is reaching out in power and deterimation to widow and orphan, to sharing of resources as each had need. 

In our world … which today is a global village … who are we called to help? whose suffering or issues are we called to allieveate … who needs justice,... who can we speak up for? 

You and I have tremendous power … and in this ever connected world we are called to work for those who going through troubling times. 

Whether it be people in our circle of family or friends who need our skills to help them with an issue they are going through - we are called to fight injustice 
From Zambia

Perhaps it is a cause which we need to support in terms of world poverty by supporting / working for … 

The big dream is that there would be justice, peace and the renewing of creation. 

We pray for peace, we pray for justice … in our small ways we try to live out peace and justice but sometimes we ‘ve  got to take a stand. How can we make a difference … The big question which I have been challenging the parish with recently is … What can we do … when faced with these big issues … are we shrugging our shoulders and saying what can we do? or are we rolling up our sleeves and asking “right, what can we do?” 

We all have something which we can contribute to our world. Let’s just do it!

Deciding & The implications of our answer

'Decisions' photo (c) 2011, Doug Wertman - license:

Aim: Do we know how to articulate who Jesus is & what does that mean?

Today’s gospel reading is one of the most challenging in the lectionary ... It’s challenging because it asks questions and then poses a big challenge to which we are called to respond to. 

If you look at the reading in front of you ... have a look at the first paragraph 

Jesus was in the region of Caesarea Philippi ... this was a place ... outside of Jewish Territory ... it is where Gentiles worshipped a whole variety of gods ... today you can visit this place ... in the hills ... there were temples and all sorts of shrines. 

and it is in this region that Jesus posed his first question ... who do people say I am? 

A general question ... a factual question ... which the disciples were happy to give an answer to ... some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, some the prophets ... 

Then the personal question ... who do you say that I am? 

I wonder if we were to pose these questions in corn market or in Kings Square  ... who do you say Jesus is ... I wonder what responses people would give? 

Which would we feel happy about giving a response to ... are we happier saying what others say or what response would we give to the personal question ... who do you say Jesus is? 

As we read on down through the passage ... things get a little more complicated ... when we realise that Peter got the first question right .... Jesus is the Christ 

but he didn’t understand what that meant ... and that is a feature of Mark’s Gospel ... that the disciples time after time put their foot in it, they say and do things which I am sure they reflected on later ... O I wish I hadn’t said  that... Scholars tell us that Peter probably was one of the people who Mark used as a source for his gospel so I am sure he would have recalled is stupidity. 

But Jesus uses Peter’s declaration here to tell the disciples what it means ... once they recognise him as the Christ that it’s not going to be plain sailing... its not going to be easy

Look at the words he uses: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,* will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

It is costly to follow Jesus - we must never forget that ... 

This morning I would like to pose two very simple Questions 
  • How do we articulate for ourselves the answer to “Who do you say Jesus is?” 
  • What does it mean for us 

Down through the years Christians have had to struggle with these questions

Who is Jesus? 

CS Lewis famously answered the question 

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God."[5]

or the Hymn Writter John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace puts it like this 

"What think you of Christ? is the test, 
To try both your state and your scheme; 
You cannot be right in the rest, 
Unless you think rightly of him."

If asked what of Jesus I think, 
Though still my best thoughts are but poor, 
I say, He's my meat and my drink, 
My life, and my strength, and my store."

For those of us who know Christ as Saviour and Lord then ... then are we prepared to live our lives as though we are bearing our cross ... taking up our cross and following him ... again a huge challenge ... when you look around the church you see crosses ... but the cross as we know is an unpleasant thing ... it is a place of sacrifice, of suffering and of pain. 

but when we understand it ... it there is nothing else that makes sense ... 

as Isaac Watts put it 

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

and concludes with the line 
... Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Are we prepared to answer the question ... “Who is Jesus to me?” 
If answer is I don’t know ... find out 
If answer is Lord and God ... then how are you living that answer out? 

A sermon preached at 10:30 Holy Communion in St. Columba's Parish Church on Sunday 16th September 2012


Saturday, September 15, 2012