A Celebration of Service
Matthew 4: 1-11.
(During this service many members of the choir and eldership were awarded with long service certificates)
Months and months and months ago people were coming to myself and Lesley and saying, ‘Did you know that Margaret had been playing the organ for churches in Alva for nearly 50 years. Shouldn't we be celebrating that?’
And we agreed.
And we then forgot about it because it was something to be doing in the future.
And then they nagged us again.
And we said, ‘Yes that is in order. We are meaning to do something to recognise it but the anniversary isn’t till 2020.’
And then we forgot about it again.
And then at the back of our mind we remembered in November/December last year that something significant was happening in 2020 and it was our turn to ask the people who had asked us before just to confirm dates.
We then decided that it would be good to recognise others who had given significant time and energy to the church.
I would ask those who have been recognised today to be even more generous.
Because instead of just praising them I would like to praise all of you who do acts of kindness, especially acts of kindness that don’t get seen or don’t get recognised.
All those people that take neighbours to hospital appointments.
All those who check up on folks to make sure that they have enough food in the house.
All those who put out the rubbish bins for neighbours who can’t.
All those who generously give of their time to charity shops, or voluntary organisations, or community councils, or unions.
All those who pray for others who are struggling.
All those who bake and knit and do all kinds of things for others.
I would like to give thanks for those who bring their faith into their work, for those who don't just do their work at work, but bring hope and joy and comfort into their work by bringing their faith into that environment. Who don't see their workmates as just people with a function, but who care about them, support them, encourage them.
I would like to give thanks to those who live their life in such an open way that they are alert to the possibility that the next conversation they have is one where they can share God’s concern and care.
Here’s the thing. When I read the passage which was to be used today I felt it was especially fitting to our theme. I didn't pick the passage, it was picked for me. But it is so relevant to our theme today.
Here we have Jesus at the start of his official ministry.
And I want to make that point clear.
Jesus didn't start his ministry at this point, just the official part.
Before this point in time, Jesus had a ministry of bringing God’s love to the world.
He was to show that love in how he behaved in his family, how he behaved to his neighbours, how he behaved to his customers when he worked as a carpenter, how he studied the scriptures, how he acted in the synagogue, how he gave his sacrifices in the temple, how he lived with others.
Now at this point Jesus was going to start the official ministry.
And before he starts, God led him to the wilderness to be tested or tempted.
Does that seem fair?
I would suggest that fairness or unfairness is irrelevant; I think testing or tempting is just a fact of life.
Every moment of every day we are tested or tempted in the choices we are going to make.
And it is a pretty basic temptation we face...are we going to be thinking of others or ourselves?
I was listening to a BBC podcast on The Science of Resilience and they were suggesting that the way that many live their lives today make them poor at resilience. Resilience is that capacity to survive when things are tough.
When we are hit by life's struggles, are we able to grow or do we collapse?
The presenter was especially concerned because of the high rates of suicide in young people, that there seems to be a greater capacity to for people give up on life completely. And this is strange because it isn’t as if in the past there were generations of people that had it easy and now this generation is finding it especially hard.
I am sure that those that went through the Second World War or the First World War had it really hard.
I am sure that Britain during the industrial revolution would be hard on many, a time of great uncertainty.
Each generation has had its struggles, but this generation seems to cope less with them. And the broadcaster was trying to work out if we can instil a greater resilience in others.
And you know their conclusions?
Resilience comes from a life of kindness to others; the lack of resilience comes when our lives are basically selfish and inward looking;
that one of the problems we have created for ourselves is that we have become a very inward looking society.
We have put our lives on face-book, detailed it down to what breakfast we have had, what photo opportunity we have created, what places we have been to, what experiences we are going through.
Look at weddings.
Stag does and Hen nights are about the experience we create...pamper weekends in foreign resorts. My daughter was at one recently and she said it was the worst Hen-do she had been to, it was about doing things because they thought they should be doing things.
They went to this pub because that is the pub that people are seen in. They did cocktails because that is what people do and you always get great photo’s with your special cocktail.
The weddings themselves have become so expensive because they are about the photo experience we are creating. The wedding dress has to be amazing because they are competing with every other wedding dress out there. The hotel or venue has to be amazing because they are competing with every other venue out there.
When did weddings become competitions?
How bad is it?
Well a couple of weeks ago a young bride died because she was getting a bum tuck in Turkey so that she would look good on her wedding photo’s.
This obsession with ourselves twists everything.
Gyms. Gyms are meant to be healthy places where you can, through exercise, become healthier. But our obsession with self means that we are now obsessed with not just getting fit, but having that six-pack. So gyms have become a place where drug abuse is high because they are taking steroids to get that perfect body.
It is not just a modern problem.
These are the same temptations that Jesus faced.
Jesus had this amazing gift of life and he could do anything with it.
But was he going to use that gift for others or for himself.
All the temptations are basic choices.
Jesus' hunger...he was hungry, was he going to think of that and satisfy that need and turn the stones into bread?
Jesus’ glory and significance...was he going to jump off the temple and let the angels save him? Let the world see how important he was? Have the whole world look at him and recognise him for who he was?
Jesus’ security...how much power would he need before he felt safe? If he was the ruler of the whole world would he be safe? Would he be in a place where no one would dare challenge him?
There is this temptation to believe that we are basically good people; that once we have our own needs supplied then we can be, will be, good to others.
Once I am well fed and the house is just right and I feel content, then I will help others do the same.
The only trouble is that if that becomes our start-off position then we never move from it.
Yes I am well fed but I need to store food rather than give it away, what if the Brexite negotiations collapse and there is a shortage of food? Or what if I have to be isolated because of all the cornovirus going about just now?
Yes I have enough money but I need to save the rest because the government might increase my taxes and then how could I afford the car?
Yes I could help out with the community council but that’s the night my soap is on and it helps me to be happy.
There is always a reason for not doing good.
Jesus had the same temptations.
Once his life was sorted; once he had the wealth to help others, the empire to help others, the reputation to help others, then he would help...but these things would take time. And once he had these things how much of his effort would have been used trying to keep hold of all that stuff, protect all his stuff?
Look at it this way...
Imagine that tonight there will be a special event.
The moon will be purple.
Imagine that lots of unusual and special circumstances occur that for one time only the moon will be purple. You need to take a picture of it to show future generations that it actually occurred, that the moon turned purple for one night.
How much of the world would take pictures of the purple moon, and how much of the world would take pictures of themselves in front of a purple moon?
Think about it, they are facing away from the one thing that is amazing, looking at a camera with the amazing thing behind them.
And that is what temptation does.
It asks us to look away from the thing that would bring us joy.
And as it turns out what brings us joy, it is not looking out for ourselves, but bringing joy to others.
That’s why today is such a special day.
That’s why celebrating service is so important...because it reminds us to look outwards.
You want to have a healthy life? Do life with others.
You want to have a life of significance? Do life with others.
You wants to have purpose in your life? Do life with others.
You want to enjoy life? Do life with others.
You want to have a life that is resilient to all the problems that life flings at us? Do life with others.
When Jesus was asked how to find a life worth living he didn’t say, ‘Create a nest egg of some size, make sure that you eat the healthiest of foods and have sufficient holidays, make sure you buy a house in a secure neighbourhood and more than anything else, have multiple insurance policies.’
What he said was, ‘Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbour as you do yourself.’
Look beyond yourself, do life with others.