The chosen hymns for this week, Jesus stand among us and In Christ alone can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
What do we do now?
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 5th July.
I don’t know about you but I hate when politicians are given a question and the answer they give is to another question completely. They answer the question they wished the questioner had asked.
The thing that I have realised is how much I have done that in my life.
My children, when they were teenagers, often asked questions of me and I was answering a completely different question.
I thought that they were challenging me on what time they were allowed to stay up till, who could be their friends, what careers they could explore, what boyfriends or girlfriends they could have.
And like any parent that thinks they know best and who is overprotective I would have rows and arguments about all of that.
I was the adult; I knew best, I could see the dangers.
But as I reflected on the rows and arguments we would have, as I had to deal with the atmosphere in the house that was less than calm, I would realise that I was fighting the wrong war, answering the wrong questions
This wasn’t about who they were going out with or what they were doing and at what time they did it.
This was about how much I trusted them.
Did I care enough about them to let them make the mistakes that they would learn from?
Was I willing to let them grow and mature with all that entailed or did I want them to become totally dependent on my wisdom?
I think Covid-19 is having that effect on all of us.
We are trying to answer all these question about how we will get back to normal.
Instead of answering the questions that are really there
What are we supposed to do with our lives?
What in our lives make it meaningful?
What about church, is that just a building that we meet in once a week so that we feel comfortable?
But if we can’t meet in a building, then what is church, where do we meet God, how do we meet God?
Before we get into the heavy stuff, let me give you some good news, we have started to encourage the worship team to stretch their faith muscles again.
And the first one to do this will be Kay leading us in our prayer and reading today
KAY: Reading Matthew 11: 16-19
Some readings have deeper tugs on our hearts than others.
This one always takes me back to before I was a minister; to a time when I was just thinking of, struggling with the idea of, becoming a minster.
But before I tell you about that, let’s look at why Jesus said what he said.
The situation was this.
Jesus was trying to reform the Jewish faith.
He felt that people had misunderstood the idea of purity, or holiness.
They had this idea that people had to be worthy to be near to God, that they had to be good enough to talk to God, pure enough, holy enough. And they showed that purity or holiness by what they did.
And that all sounds reasonable. If you claim to be one of God’s people then that should show in your life.
Imagine you claim to be a Christian and no one in your work could tell; because you swear at everyone all the time, you are mean and horrible to those who work under you,
you are sexist and homophobic and a bigot and racist and you steal stuff from the work all the time...would you really be a Christian?
Surely if you are a follower of God then that will have an effect on the way you live your life.
All that is reasonable.
But the problem was that they had concentrated so much in the rules they forgot the reason for the rules.
The rules were there to help regulate how we treat others, that we treat others with respect and care, that we treat others with the same generosity of spirit that God treats us. The rules are there to remind us to have times of rest to reflect and consider our relationship with God and with others.
With that in mind rules about stealing and murder and not being envious of others and not committing adultery and keeping the Sabbath all make sense.
The problem was that they had somehow got it all reversed.
Instead of the rules being there to guide us as to how to treat others, they saw the rules as the end, not the means to an end. It didn’t matter how much others suffered as long as you followed the rules.
In fact sometimes they used the rules to justify treating others badly.
So a priest and a Levite, both very religious people, could walk by a dying man in the middle of the road because to touch him would be to make them impure and then they couldn’t worship in the temple. Somehow the rules became twisted so that following the rules became a way of making sure other people didn’t contaminate our lives.
Because Jesus was successful in trying to get people to reform how they saw their relationship with God the establishment started to push back.
They attacked Jesus because he was reaching out to people that they thought weren’t worthy to be part of the Temple worship.
Jesus saw the role of the temple was to bring people closer to God.
They thought bringing in these people to the Temple would contaminate the goodness of the Temple.
And they attacked Jesus for being near these people. Jesus must be impure because all the people he hung about were impure.
So Jesus then retaliated.
He asked them under what conditions they would change, because it seemed to Jesus that they didn’t want to listen to anyone.
If people play wedding music then you should dance, but they didn’t want to do that.
If people play a funeral dirge then they should be sad but they didn’t want to do that.
They were like selfish children who just wanted to do their own thing.
John the Baptist had come and they had complained that people shouldn’t listen to him because he was too strict.
Then Jesus comes along and they were complaining that people shouldn’t listen to him because he isn’t strict enough.
So there was Jesus, trying to help them but it didn’t matter what he did, they weren’t going to listen.
So where does that leave us?
Actually it gives us great freedom.
At the start of this sermon I promised you the incident I always think about when I read this passage.
I was in my late teens, nearly 40 years ago, hadn’t even started training for the ministry
I was at a church called St James’ in Pollok.
At that point in its history the ministers were living under a curse.
They once had a charismatic minister called Jimmy Currie who had hundreds of people involved with the church. And when he left no one had been able to live in that shadow, they were always compared with Jimmy Currie.
When I worshiped there people would say, ‘Oh you go to Jimmy Currie’s church,’ even though the guy had been dead for years and they had at least three ministers since he had been the minister there.
So I am worshiping there this Sunday and the minister is terrible. I can honestly say it might be one of the worst sermons I have ever heard.
And at the end of the service I am about to shake hands with the minister and I don’t know what to say. It had been a truly awful service.
So instead of being polite and saying, ‘Wonderful service minister.’
I said, ‘You seemed to be struggling today, are you Ok?’
He said he would see me later.
And when he did he told me that minutes before the service started the session clerk had come in and said, ‘You were rubbish last week. I’m telling you now that if this week is as bad there are some people that have said that they will walk out the church.’
Seconds before the service was to start this guy had completely undermined him.
He spent the whole service worried that someone was going to walk out and hurt the church he cared about.
Then came the phrase that I have never forgot.
He said, ‘Jim, you’re going to be crucified no matter what you do; you might as well be crucified for what you believe in.’
And it is true.
Jesus could have decided to bend all his principles, or maybe even give up his principles so that the religious leaders would come on board. But the truth is that they were never going to come on board, they were always going to try to get rid of him.
So if he was going to loose anyway, he might as well be true to himself.
And in being true to himself, true to his heavenly Father, his message continues to this day, his message is still valid today.
I think Christians need to take this on board.
If we are going to be criticized, if we are going to be ignored, if we are going to be attacked, no matter what we do, why bend to what others think?
If we try to be hyper-liberal so that we don’t offend anyone then they will say we are wishy- washy and it doesn’t matter what we believe in.
If we try to be hyper-conservative so that we don’t offend those that believe the earth is flat and that getting an inoculation is against the will of God then people will think we are just part of some weird clique.
It doesn’t matter what others think; what God wants from us is to be in relationship with him, and to be honest about that, with all the doubts that it brings, with all the struggles to work out how to live our life in the modern world.
To take the principles of the bible and try to work out how they work out; what that means with living wages, or genetic manipulation of babies in the womb, or spending money on aircraft carriers or nuclear weapons rather than care of pensioners unable to stay at home.
All the struggles about how we interact with people of different cultures.
All the struggles we have with how we interact with the environment.
We don’t need to worry about what others think, they are going to do their own thing anyway, all we are asked to do is be true to our beliefs.
If we are going to be crucified anyway, we might as well be crucified for what we believe in.
But that is really tough.
Because what do we really believe in?
That watching the TV and being entertained is more important that talking to our neighbours?
That the church has enough finances to fix the wet rot is more important than volunteering in some kind of outreach to the elderly or the young or the single mums?
That making lots of money for my retirement is more important than seeing what the Bible says about our personal morality?
Earlier I talked about giving my teenage children the freedom to a make mistakes so they could learn and grow.
Just because I gave them that freedom didn’t mean I was happy with the pain that they caused themselves.
Just because I stayed quiet didn’t mean I wasn’t waiting for them to learn or to seek guidance.
Don’t mistake God being quiet about our actions as meaning he is content with us or supporting what we do. It may be he is hoping we have the sense to change our ways and learn from our mistakes, that he is waiting for us to ask His opinion on what we are doing and where we should be going.
If you’re going to be crucified anyway, you might as well be crucified for what you believe in.
When that time comes, can we truly look back and say, ‘It was worth it. This was what I believed in, this was the kind of person I wanted to be.’
If not, then why are we living that way?
Let us pray.
Remind us that one life is all we get.
So what we do is important.
The people we help, the people we are indifferent to.
The conversations we avoid, the struggles we run away from.
The chances we miss.
At some point opportunities will disappear, and the chances to do the things we want to do will fade away.
If this pandemic has taught us anything it has taught us the limitations that can suddenly be forced on us.
So what we do today matters. The opportunities of this day only last this day.
Are there people we need to see?
Are there things we need to do?
Is there something we need to stop doing?
Help us to see that it doesn’t matter what others think
our shame, our guilt don’t matter, what matters is what you ask us to do in your name.
For what you call us to do changes us, changes the world for the better.
May we hear you voice, and may it make a difference in our lives,
This we ask in Jesus name
That you can give to the foodbanks through the special trolleys in the supermarkets.
Please look at the webpage or facebook page to see contact details if you are struggling and need someone to talk to.
Until next time...
May God’s grace go with us as we walk our journey of life,
May the goodness of God deal kindly with us as we seek to be a blessing to others.
And as we walk this day, may we be aware that you walk with us, may we acknowledge your presence, and seek you will in which way we should go.