Sharing: A Christian Characteristic

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

An Easter greeting to you all. Sharing is the topic of discussion today, so I share my words with you. Enjoy.

Blessings

Roger

Sermon No 68

Sharing: A Christian Characteristic

Easter 2

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 8th April 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Acts 4:32-35 and John 20:19 – end)

‘Peace be with you’ And also with you! (John 20:19).  According to those more learned than I, if you capture the concentration of the congregation within the first 30 seconds of speaking then there is a chance that they might stay with you for the remainder of the sermon? So, I thought I would give this a try and start with a little joke this morning to see if that principle might work today?

So, Little Timmy didn’t want to put his money in the offertory plate one Sunday morning, so his mother decided to use some hurried and creative reasoning with him.

“You don’t want that money Timmy,” she whispered in his ear. “Quick! Drop it in the plate. It’s tainted!”

Horrified by his mother’s command, he obeyed without question, but after a few minutes little Timmy began to think about what he had done, so he turned to his mum and whispered, “But mum, why was the money tainted? Was it dirty?”

“Oh no dear,” his mother replied. “It’s not really dirty. It just ‘taint yours’, and it ‘taint mine.’ It’s God’s”

So, are you with me now? Good!

In my last sermon during Lent, which seems ages ago I know! I got you to consider the question about who Jesus was and is? And so hopefully through the many Easter services, the liturgy will have enabled you to get somewhere close in being able to answer that question for yourselves?

The basis for that sermon sprang from a question that was asked by Jesus to His disciples in Matthews gospel when He said, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Which was answered as you may recall by Simon Peter, who replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matthew 16: 16 NJKV).

These words of course were said in light of Jesus being alive in His pre-resurrection body. Today, our gospel reading shifts that emphasis to the same question, but to a later period, post-resurrection, when Jesus has died and risen from the dead.

Now this morning’s sermon is not chiefly about who Jesus is in terms of His divine status, but I think it is important to just consider that shift in time in the sense of understanding that Thomas came to the same conclusion only after he had seen the risen Jesus in person when he was able to see for him-self, and physically examine the wounds of His crucifixion.

And this aspect of the time line is an important thing to acknowledge and to take hold of just as Jesus did. For Jesus recognised the difficulty that faced Thomas when he heard that He had risen from the dead. After-all, this was not something that was on the agenda for the disciples. They were not looking at the message of Jesus as we do now in retrospect, but were actually living through that most special time in the story of God’s people.

Jesus recognised that shift in time and was able to see a period in the future when such tangible evidence as His resurrected body would no-longer be available in allowing others to determine such a conclusion that He was indeed LORD.

And thus, we hear in v29 at the end of our gospel reading that Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who have not seen the physical incarnation of Himself and ‘yet have still believed’ anyway. (John 20:29)

And this blessing is on us, it’s on me and you. A blessing that allows us to take the gospel forward and to share it with others. And it is in this aspect of sharing where I want to go today.

For Jesus is all about sharing. Every aspect of the life of Jesus was about sharing, sharing His peace, sharing His stories and parables, sharing His company with others, sharing His healing powers, and ultimately sharing Him-self with each and every one of us, through His death and resurrection.

And this sharing comes into sharp focus in our reading from the book of Acts and hopefully will cause us to reflect on this aspect of Jesus’ ministry which is requisite in all of us who claim to be Christians.

In-fact, I would go as far as saying that without a willingness to share ourselves and our possessions it is not possible to be a Christian at all.

So, if that is then the case, and sharing ourselves with others is fundamental to our practicing faith, then it is important that we take stock of our faith now and perhaps ask ourselves how much sharing of the good news of Jesus we actually do?

For it is so easy to become materialistic and play lip service to a faith where religious observance can hide a less than Christian attitude. I know Father Paul spoke on Maundy Thursday of going beyond this type of shallow faith and finding the joy in sharing with those that might on first appearance seem less than desirable!

Yet it is only by sharing what we can, and being prepared to get our hands a bit dirty do we fully become what God wants us to be.

I don’t know how many of you watched the recent series on BBC2 called Pilgrimage? But the programme followed 7 celebrities, some of which were not Christians, tackle some of the 500-mile pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela? A place where the bones of St James the Apostle are reputed to be buried

And by watching those celebrities, as they travelled together on the Camino path across Spain, the viewer was able to witness a depth of conversation that could only be progressed and worked through as the pilgrims spent time together sharing their most inner most thoughts and views on life. And in watching them journey along the route mile by mile, it reminded me of the shared experience, that we all must partake on the road of life, which becomes particularly important for those on a Christian journey. For it is only by spending time with others and building trust that barriers can be broken down allowing Christ to enter into our lives.

For the Christian faith is a relational faith and demands from us a sharing of not only our physical self with others, but also a share of our spiritual side too.

The book of Acts, or sometimes known as the Acts of the Apostles, is in many ways seen as Luke ‘part two’, as it is widely accepted as being written by the same author, but more than this, Acts could also be viewed as the Acts of the Holy Spirit, through the Apostles.

For it is by and through the Holy Spirit that men and women of the early church were directed, causing it to grow in numbers to influence and change the world forever.

Indeed, almost half the book of Acts is devoted to the ministry of Paul, revealing how he and others practiced in a literal sense the great commission, taking the message of Jesus and sharing it with others.

And so, as Christians we need to be conscious that we are all commissioned to go out and tell others of Jesus, to share the ‘good news’ and make further followers. And with that same divine influence, like it was for Paul, Peter and the other disciples, will move the church into the next generation. And this I believe will sit firmly with Fr Pauls vision for us all collectively to meet others in our own community and share with them our faith with openness, tolerance and compassion wherever they might be in their own lives?

So how might we go about this task of sharing our faith with others? Well let’s look at what our reading from Acts says: –

  1. Firstly – v32 says ‘Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.’ (Acts 4: 32)

So, we need to have a recognition that all we might have doesn’t really belong to us, it belongs to God. Yes, we might have custody of our possessions on a temporary basis, but none of it truly belongs to us, but to God alone.And we need to work together as one beating heart.

  1. Secondly – In v33 we read, ‘And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them’ (Acts 4:33)

We need to be confident in our witness to Jesus. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean shouting from a soap box (from the waterside in Crayford although it might!) It might be simply going about and getting on with doing good deeds, but the difference will be in knowing that we will be doing it in the ‘great power’ (v33) of Jesus and not being afraid to say, if asked, ‘Yes I am a Christian and I go to St Paulinus Church.’ Not always easy to do in certain company- but be bold!

For your good deeds will be seen and recognised. Remember much Christian service is indeed done quietly and in the background with little public acknowledgement, but people will see Jesus through your actions.

St Teresa of Avila said in one of her poems that ‘Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours’ And this is so true, we are the body of Christ.

  1. Thirdly – v34 says ‘Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold’ (Acts 4:34)

You will not be left short in living as a Christian. Now I don’t preach a prosperity gospel as some more unscrupulous preachers may do, but I do preach a gospel that says God will provide for all of our needs; which might not necessarily mean in financial terms, but it is in that act of being prepared to sell, or give away if required, that God wants to see.

But there is nothing wrong with having money and wealth, however, it is in that act of giving or acting when called to do so, that others will see Jesus.

  1. And fourthly v35 says ‘And laid them ‘that is their possessions’ at the apostle’s feet, and they were distributed to each as anyone had need’ (Acts 4: 35)

Now v36 which follows our reading this morning, we can read that   Barnabas the disciple of Paul did just that, he did sell all his possessions and laid them at the feet of the apostles, and in so doing became a prominent figure in the sharing of the gospel as recorded later in Acts.

On the back of this passage from Acts I heard a nice story this week following the sad news of the death of the footballer Ray Wilkins. Now I don’t claim to have much knowledge of football, it being the wrong shape ball and all that!

“But an unknown former soldier who had previously fallen on hard times rang into the radio station talkSPORT and recalled a meeting with Ray Wilkins and I would just like to recall that conversation as it was recorded in the media: –

And the former soldier told presenter Jim White just what Wilkins meant to him, having asked after his welfare as he sat on a piece of cardboard outside London’s Brompton station.

The caller said, “I recognised him straight away. We sat on my bit of cardboard together and he took time to sit and talk.

I was a gambler at the time – I still am, but I’m recovering – and I told him about that. We talked about my time in the Army.

He took a phone call while we were talking but said to the caller, I’m busy at the moment I will call you back.

He gave me £20. Told me to get myself a hot meal and then we went across the road for coffee.

When the bill came, I said to him, let me buy this one. I want to feel like a man and he said that he totally understood that.

I used the money he gave me and got shelter that night and I met a guy who helped ex-soldiers.

Choking with emotion, the soldier added, I am not gambling now, I have a place and have met a beautiful woman who I am about to marry.

I put it down to Ray Wilkins. I just wanted to thank him for talking to a man he never even knew, who was nothing to him really – a stranger.

He was a hero, a real hero, to me and millions around the world.” (thesun.co.uk, 06/04/2018)

Now I don’t know whether Ray Wilkins was a Christian, or had any faith in God at all, but what I do know is that the kindness he showed to that stranger is the sort of act that Jesus would do. He met a stranger in a time of need and shared, not only his money, but he shared his time and he shared his kindness. And God used that kindness to give back even more than was given.

The bible does of course have plenty to say on the matter of giving and how God rewards the faithful giver, but the one passage that I find quite revealing is from the second book of Kings, when the prophet Elijah is about to be taken from the earth and Elisha, his prodigy only concerned with serving God requests a double portion of Elijah’s spirit in order that he may carry on his ministry (2 Kings 2:9) And interestingly scripture records exactly twice as many miracles through Elisha as took place through Elijah’s ministry (28 miracles v 14 miracles respectively)

Maybe it’s just coincidence! Or perhaps it is God being faithful to His faithful servants!

The joke I started with about Little Timmy and how he didn’t want to give his money away is a good place to end this sermon, for if we remember that all we are, and all we have, ‘taint ours’, but belongs to God, and if we share both ourselves and our goods as though they really did belong to Him.  Then I think God would be extremely pleased.

Peace be with you.

Amen.

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Who Do Say That I Am: A question to consider?

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome back, looking at the divinity and humanness of our Lord today. Hope it will inspire you to ask that question that Jesus presents to His disciples ‘Who do say that I am?’ and then to meditate on your response.

Blessings,

Roger

Sermon No 67

Who Do You Say That I Am? A question to consider

Lent 3

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 4th March 2018 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 2:13-22)

One of the fundamental questions that we all must wrestle with in terms of our own personal faith is the question about Jesus and who He was? And who He is?

‘Who do you say that I am?’ was a question that was posed in Matthews gospel by Jesus to His disciples (in the region of Caesarea, Philippi, which is in the modern-day area of the Golan Heights), which was answered by Simon Peter, who replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matthew 16:23 NJKV)

And it is this question that I want us to reflect on this morning. For if Jesus was in this place here, right now, (of course He is a spiritual sense), and asked you that same question, what would your reply be?

It is a question that is at the very heart of our faith, and is a question that must be considered, and a conclusion drawn, in order that we might come to faith in Jesus, or alternatively we have to dismiss Him completely as a fraud! For there is no other credible alternative! As CS Lewis put it in his book ‘Mere Christianity’, Lewis uses what became known as the ‘Trilemma’ argument where Jesus is either ‘Lord, liar or lunatic!’ (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)

I was prompted to reflect on this very question myself recently, in the context of other faiths, and how difficult it can be on two counts, firstly in coming to a conclusion in the first place about who Jesus was, and secondly, if we are to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, then where does that leave us in terms of other faiths and how we might relate to them or with others of no faith.

Yesterday (Saturday 3rd March 2018), a great man called Billy Graham was laid to rest in the presence of over 2,000 mourners including the American president at his home in Charlotte, USA.

Now Billy Graham was perhaps the most influential preacher and evangelist of his generation, maybe even of all time. And it is difficult now to imagine the influence that this man had in the prime of his life, for at his height, he filled stadiums such as Wembley to capacity with people eager to hear his message of salvation.

Billy Graham was an extraordinary man of God and conducted many rallies throughout his life and these rallies become known as ‘crusades’, a term that seems quite outdated now and even offensive to others.

His headstone, will be inscribed, at his own request, with the words, ‘Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ And will also refer to a passage from the John’s gospel, which states, ‘Jesus answered, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14:6) Powerful words, which really leave little room for debate as far as Graham was concerned at least, on who Jesus was.

His daughter Ann Lotz, when asked about her father’s passing said, that her father’s death had an important meaning and is quoted as saying these words, ‘I believe that this is a shot across the bow from heaven, I believe God is saying, wake up church. Wake up world. Wake up Ann. Jesus is coming’ (quote from AFP, BBC News 02/03/2018)

Now this might sound a little over dramatic but bear in mind the current world events and news in general over a range of subjects such as sexuality and gender and how they might affect our core beliefs and doctrines. And all this exasperated by the plethora of other faiths on offer to anyone seeking an alternative spiritual experience, making any decision on that most important of questions, ever the more difficult.

Our gospel reading that we heard this morning tells us of Jesus and how on His arrival in Jerusalem attends the most holy of places in the Temple for the feast of Passover. (a festival that commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, when the angel of death ‘passed over’ Jewish homes whose doorposts were sprinkled with blood – Exodus 12:23-27) 

And it is through this account that we get a good glimpse of Jesus and who He was on many different levels.

Now just one of those levels that I want to concentrate our minds to this morning is the real humanness of Jesus, leaving aside any divine attributes for a moment, it is that humanity that can help in bringing his divinity into focus.

One of the big debates over many centuries was the issue of who Jesus was and the connection, if any, between any humanness and a divine nature, and this relationship went onto be known, in theological terms, as the hypostatic union. A phrase taken from the Greek word hypostasis, meaning the ‘substance’ of Jesus, or in other words, How Jesus was made up.

Our current doctrine and belief is that Jesus was a person who was fully God, yet fully man at the same time. Now this union is quite a difficult concept to figure out, let alone try and explain it to others, and it is precisely why, the nature of that union defies human comprehension, that this union is sometimes referred to as the ‘mystical union’.

But what ever we call it, as Christians we must accept that Jesus, as well as being divine, did have an element of humanness. And nowhere better was it displayed here in this passage from John when Jesus cleanses the temple.

So, what do we see? Well we see an angry Jesus, a passionate Jesus, and what appears to be a violent and determined Jesus. We see a Jesus that reflects the behaviour that on first sight, we might see on any night out in a city centre environment. A behaviour that doesn’t appear very ‘godly’?

This is a Jesus that displays all the character traits of a human just like you and me. This is not the Jesus that we commonly see portrayed in Christian literature, healing the sick or sitting amongst the homeless and hungry distributing food.

As a police officer we tend to see things from a slightly different perspective, so to try and put the passage into a more contemporary scene, I have imagined the scene in terms of a typical 999 call for assistance, which would probably go something like this.

Control – Sierra Oscar 22 are you available for an I graded call? (immediate response)

Officer – Yes, go ahead

Control – We have a report of a large disturbance at the Jewish Temple on Pilgrim Street. Access will be via the Huldah gates in Southern Wall

Officer – Yes, no problem, any further details?

Control – Yes, we have a number of calls on this one, with reports of a man going wild and behaving aggressively towards others inside the temple, possible mental health issues. There are animals running free and damage being caused to property.

Officer – Received, Any information on any suspects?

Control – Yes, the main suspect believed to have caused the disturbance is an IC1 male, 5’ 10” tall, aged around 30 years old, slim build with full beard and wearing a white toga. The male is understood to be known as Jesus of Nazareth

Officer – Any intel on that male’s details?

Control – Yes, He is known not currently wanted, but often refers to himself as the ‘Son of God’ and speaks both Latin and Aramaic. but he does show warning markers and flashes ‘W’ Whiskey

Officer – Roger that, any weapons seen?

Control – Yes, a witness has stated that the suspect was seen armed with a weapon and has used that weapon against members of the public present.

Officer – In that case can I request one more unit and a taser unit be deployed to the scene asap?

Control – Yes, received, you have Trojan unit 52 en-route. ETA 4 minutes.

Officer – Roger that, making my way now.

So, picture the scene for yourselves on arrival, Jesus enters the temple and is angry. He is angry because the Temple, the most sacred and revered place in Judaism is being used as market place. It is filled with Jewish traders taking advantage of the festival and making as much money as possible selling animals for sacrificial purposes. And not only that, they are making further profit by utilising an exchange rate mechanism where only the Jewish or Tyrian coinage could be used, due to their higher silver content,

In His frustration, Jesus becomes so angry that he makes a weapon, known as ‘whip of cords’ and physically drives out the traders from the sacred space.

Jesus turns over the tables and sets the animals free. I guess it must have been an absolute chaotic scene!

And I suppose if I had’ve been deployed to a similar incident as a law- enforcer, I would probably be looking at arresting Jesus myself for a number of offences such as public order, criminal damage, assault and possession of an offence weapon. This was real life at the sharp end.

And so, this display of Jesus’ real anger and frustration can really connect with perhaps our own lives in facing the problems of this world on a daily basis, but this debate over Jesus’ ‘humanness’ is not something new, it has been present, as I have suggested throughout history, and if you want to look deeper into the argument then you would do well to delve into one of the more famous of those debates on the ‘substance of Jesus’ by looking at the 5th century show downs between two Bishops called Nestorius and Cyril.

However, I have highlighted the human nature of Christ primarily because it is an essential part of any study in order to draw any conclusion on who Jesus was and is.

For in this present world there are many religious groups that understand Jesus to be something quite different. And we need to be aware of those differences, if only in having a passing understanding of them and what they will argue, and try and persuade us to believe.

And I make no excuse in highlighting just two of those religious groups namely, Islam and The Watchtower Movement, commonly known as The Jehovah’s Witnesses (J. W’s). For contrary to what they might suggest, their understanding of Jesus is something quite different to that of the orthodox Christian faith.

Islam, for example, whilst recognising the existence of Jesus and revering him as a Holy Prophet, do not observe him as a divine being in any shape or form. In-fact on the contrary, the Qur’an clarifies this in chapter 5, verse 75 where we can read, ‘The Messiah Jesus was only a messenger: other messengers had gone before him. His mother was a virtuous woman. They both ate food like other mortals. See how clear we make these signs for them’ (Qur’an, chapter 5, Verse 75). So, the Qur’an in this and other passages contradicts Christian understanding on the basis that anything that has a need like a human being cannot be God (www.irera.org/jesus)

Likewise, the J. W’s, although like Islam recognise Jesus as a prophet, they do not believe either in His divinity, precisely because of what they purport to be his ‘created human nature’, and therefore conclude he cannot be equal to the Father. (pg. 41, What does the Bible really teach, JW.ORG)

There are of course many other religions, faiths and cults that conclude different understandings, and you can research them yourselves should you so wish?

But in this gospel reading as well as seeing quite clearly the humanness of our Lord, if we look beyond that physical display of anger and violence, we can see His divine nature too.

The nature of that anger, so clearly displayed, occurs because Jesus is so passionate for that reverence to His Father, and it is only He Himself that has the right and authority to regulate any worship to God.

And it will not surprise you to learn, that  the act of cleansing the temple is foreseen too by the prophet Malachi in the late 5th century BC when he tells of the coming of Jesus, Malachi says, ‘And the Lord whom you seek, will suddenly come to his temple, For He is like refiners fire and like launders soap, He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver’ (Malachi 3:1-3)

But the key part of the passage that links both that human and divine natures comes right at the end of our reading when Jesus is questioned by the Jewish leaders about His authority and Jesus says, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’ (John 2:19), Jesus of course was not talking about a physical temple of stone, as the Jewish leaders in their ignorance presumed, but he was referring to His own body by resurrection.

And there are of course other references to the divinity of Jesus scattered throughout John’s gospel. (John 10:30 we read ‘I and the Father are One’ (John 10:30), in John 14:9 we read ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9) And to those that doubted Him Jesus said, ‘Even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that the Father is in Me and I in Him’ (John 10:38)

So where do we go from here, if we truly believe Jesus to be the Lord? For I accept it does present some difficulty in today’s world, especially in communicating the gospel to other faith groups. Well consider it an opportunity, and never be afraid to speak of Jesus as Lord, to whoever that may be. And so, in consequence, interfaith dialogue becomes more paramount than ever in keeping that line of communication open, for Jesus is not just Lord of Christians, but He is Lord of all humankind.

At Billy Grahams funeral his son Franklin said, ‘The world with all its political correctness would lead you to believe that many roads lead to God, but that’s just not true. Jesus is the only way’ (https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/02/us/billy-gra-funeral/index.html)

Brothers and sisters, seek out the truth for yourself today, look at both the historical and documented biblical evidence and imagine that Jesus is asking you that question today, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And hopefully you will conclude that Jesus is Lord of all.

Amen.

The Holy Family: A Jewish tale

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My last sermon of 2017. So a Happy New Year to you all and I pray that 2018 brings you happiness and peace.

Blessing,

Roger

Sermon No 66

Holy Family: A Jewish tale

Holy Family Sunday

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 31st December 2017 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on 2 Samuel 7:1-11,16, Luke 1:46-55, Romans 16:25-27, and Luke 1:26-38)

Good morning. Well you have made it! A week since Christmas Day and here we are today remembering the Holy family that caused all that stir some two thousand years ago.

Well traditionally Holy Sunday is a time that we reflect on that family unit consisting of Mary, Joseph and the boy Jesus, and to think of it as a model family on which we might all wish to emulate in our own lives in their faithfulness to God.

Now there are many aspects to this family model to which I might refer, some even considered being quite controversial and exclusive in today’s western society, where anything seems to go!

However, what I would like to do this morning is to widen the parameters in what we might generally view Holy Family Sunday to be about and to concentrate our thoughts and minds on the Jewish lineage of that family, to mix that up with a bit of prophecy and relate that in turn to our current time and the middle east, in particular around Israel and the City of Jerusalem. Quite a challenge for around a 10-minute sermon! But here goes, let’s see what we can do?

Now some of what I may mention this morning, might be things that you may not have considered before in the past, which is good of course, for one of the jobs of an evangelist and preacher is to hopefully open eyes to what might not hitherto been considered.

It is also the prerogative of a preacher to speak on what is on his or her mind, which if the preacher has listened correctly, is hopefully what God is wanting him to speak about, however difficult or controversial that message might be?

So, if you were awake during our readings, apart from the fact they were different to those in the pew sheet, you will have realised that there are several things going on, but as usual, these themes are all interwoven. We have in our Old Testament reading from second Samuel, an event documented which we refer to as the ‘Davidic Covenant,’ (recorded between 1105 and 971 BC) which sets the scene really for this whole season of Christmas, as it infers that the Messiah will come from the line of King David and from the tribe of Judah.

But our other readings also connect us with that covenant.

Our gospel reading tells us of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that her son will be that Messiah and how He will sit on the ‘throne of His father David’, where ‘He will reign over the house of Jacob forever’ (Luke 1:32-33)

The New Testament canticle from Luke is filled with Old Testament allusions too and teaches us something about how Mary who saturated with the Word of God, was able to understand just how God worked (Luke 1;46-55)

And our New Testament reading from Romans, alludes to Jesus as ‘the mystery kept secret since the world began’ (Romans 16: 25) again a link to that Davidic covenant, an event in history foretelling what would be revealed at a later time

However, whatever links that can be found between the readings, what we can be sure about, when we look closely, is that all that was revealed on that day when Jesus the Messiah became flesh, was written and spoken about hundreds of years before. And that Jesus was the fulfilment of prophetic events.

And so, at this stage I think it would be useful to briefly remind ourselves about the content of this book of faith that we claim to follow, which we call the bible.

It is a collection of 66 books in all (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament in most protestant bibles) but the vast majority of the Old Testament tell us about the Jewish Nation and its history,

So, bearing in mind that the majority of this book records that Jewish history, as far as I am concerned this big part of the bible should be taken really seriously in trying to understand and interpret our own Christian faith. And failing to do, so would only give us a partial knowledge of our faith. So, any time spent in the Old Testament is worthwhile and will bear spiritual fruit.

But the first big point to get right in any understanding of New Testament texts is that Jesus was a Jew, His mother Mary was a Jew and his earthly father Joseph was also a Jew. The Holy family that we remember today were Jewish. And lived amongst other Jews

They were not a Christian family that went to church every Sunday, for churches did not exist at that time. Neither was Jesus’ surname Christ. Christ is a title taken from the Greek word ‘Christos’ meaning ‘Saviour, or redeemer’

So, our reading from second Samuel sets that scene when God enters into an agreement with David through his prophet Nathan to build a temple (also recorded in 1 Chronicles 17) and that the house of David would be ‘established forever’ (2 Samuel 7:16) But covenants of course were not new, God had entered into agreements before, with people such as Abraham and Noah.

And these covenants between God and His people are really worth looking at in context of the wider picture to which I am covering today, because when God enters into a covenant with His people He doesn’t go back on His word. When God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, that is what Abraham became. When God gave Moses the Law, He again was setting the Hebrews apart with a divine law. And when God spoke to Noah and told him that He would never again destroy the world by complete flooding, he meant it and left a rainbow as a reminder!

And, so although by having faith in Jesus prevents us from being under things such as the Law of Moses, it doesn’t mean that those laws are no longer relevant, because they all form part of our shared history and lineage.  Our faith in Jesus is shaped by that which went before and although we do not call ourselves Jews we are linked in spiritual terms to that faith, we are in effect, one family.

In-fact Jesus endorsed this fact when speaking with John as He hung dying on the cross, for when asked by His disciple John, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ Jesus replied, pointing to his disciples, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers’ (Mathew 12:46-50), implying that it was faith in Him that bound them together and not anything to do with birth, for the disciples would of course been familiar that their Jewishness could only be inherited from mothers that were Jewish.

So, the Jews, and the Jewish nation are important in our own story and although for Jews today that might not recognise Jesus as their Messiah it does not prevent their nation from playing a pivotal role in what is yet to come.

For if we believe in the prophetic events foretold in the Old Testament being made true by the birth of Jesus Christ, then we have to seriously take notice of what the other implications are in how things might play out in the days to come.

Now this is where it becomes trickier because bible prophecy is, at the end of the day, all about interpretation, and there are many differing opinions on how future events might unfold.

However, for most Christian scholars of what we call eschatology, (that is the study of end times) they are generally all in agreement that the Jewish race will be central to any return of Jesus in His second coming and this is where a little biblical Jewish history is particularly useful in understanding what that might mean in light of current world events.

But let me summarise, for the purpose of this talk, some of the more pertinent Jewish historical facts to you, so we can try and understand what might be going on? The Jews have thus far had two Temples in Jerusalem. The first was King Soloman’s Temple (who was the son of David) which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586BC, and the second temple built by Herod in 516 BC which was destroyed by Emperor Nero and the Romans in 70AD following the Jewish revolts.

But regardless of those temples it may have harboured in the past, Jerusalem as a city, might well be seen as perhaps the most important city in the world, but don’t just take my word for that, after-all look at its history, it is a city that has been attacked 52 times, it has been recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times and completely destroyed twice, no other city can make similar claims to that!

Now since the destruction of the second Temple the Jewish nation as a whole has been exiled from their own land and scattered around the four quarters of the Globe and have consistently faced persecution throughout the centuries, most recently in the Holocaust at the hands of Hitler in the second world war, where over six million were killed. And their own ancient language of Hebrew, that had been spoken for centuries, had all but disappeared from the face of the earth.

Yet on the 2nd November in 1917 something quite miraculous happened that has changed the middle east ever since, and that was something called the Balfour declaration, a public statement by the British government announcing support for the establishment in Palestine of a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people. And so on the 14th of May 1948 that statement of intent made by Balfour came to fruition and the first Jewish state was formed in 2,000 years.

But these miraculous events did not stop there as others tried in vain to prevent the state of Israel from prospering, in 1967 a six-day war took place in Palestine where just 2 million Jews threatened with annihilation defeated 40 million Arabs, which in military terms was nothing short of miraculous on its own!

And since 1948 there has been a steady return to Israel for the scattered Jews from around the world.

Now of course there is an argument and sympathy for the current Palestinian cause, especially over land and apparent unlawful evictions, but I am not going to enter into that debate today! The point I am making this morning is that the Jewish nation, which was instrumental in bringing our saviour to earth amongst us, will be once again central to what is to come because of biblical prophecy and by virtue that they are the race that God has chosen for the task. (Deuteronomy 7:6)

So, what is yet to come? Well, our New Testament says that Jesus will return once more, and He will ‘come like a thief in the night’ when for some He will not be expected! As recorded in 1 Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

But for many biblical scholars, this event cannot happen until the Temple of Jerusalem is re-built for the third time, for all that remains of the old Jewish temple on the Temple Mount is the western wall. (Yet even then there is differing opinions of the actual site of the original temple, with many saying that the original Temple was sited in the Old City of David and not on the Temple Mount itself)

And interestingly, for the observant Jew a prayer called the Amidah which is recited no less than three times daily, prays for that Holy Temple and its services to be restored.

So, what I am encouraging you to consider in all this, is whether through the power of the Holy Spirit we are standing on a precipice of time when we might yet actually see a third temple built in Jerusalem, which may in turn set the scene for the return of Jesus for the final time.

And for those that doubt that such a miraculous event might occur, it is worth just to look to our own most recent world events and see how they are influencing seismic changes. Donald Trump, I must mention once again I am afraid, is a man who all the world scorned and laughed at, saying that his rise to presidency would never happen, yet, there he sits in the White house, as the most powerful man in the world.

And it is Donald Trump that shortly before Christmas defied the rest of the world and dared to proclaim what previous world leaders were too scared to contemplate; he publicly claimed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with other countries like Guatemala and Honduras following suit.

Now I am not claiming that Donald Trump is the Messiah in the way we might perceive him to be, for we have to understand that the Jewish understanding of Messiah slightly differs from what we interpret it to mean. For the Jews, the title Messiah, is taken from the Hebrew word ‘Hamashiach’ meaning the ‘anointed one’ but although like the term Christ it requires that the holder of such a name will also be born from the paternal Davidic line, the difference for Jews is that he doesn’t need to be a ‘saviour’ figure claiming divinity, but he can simply be a man sent to prepare the way for God.

So, it won’t surprise you to know that, following his widespread support for Israel, there are people currently attempting to connect Donald Trump to that ancient lineage. So, whether that link is found remains to be seen, but Jerusalem is now currently once again at the forefront of the world stage.

And regardless of any Trump influence, there are presently Jewish societies already in Jerusalem that are making plans for the building of that most sacred third temple (based on the prophet Ezekiel vision, Ezekiel 40-47), including such things as training priests (eg.The Temple Institute), breeding specific cattle and creating the necessary decorations to furnish that temple.

Now what I am saying this morning in terms of prophetic witness is nothing new, so I don’t want you to be unduly alarmed that Donald Trump is about to declare himself God or the world is imminently about to end. For there have always been preachers that have sought to highlight to their listeners a more prophetic and apocalyptic message.

But I do believe any preacher of the gospel, which is good news after-all, should encompass at some time an eschatological or ent time message, for it is at the heart of Christian theology that we all will be transformed through death by having faith in Jesus.

But my desire for us this morning, is to simply be aware of our spiritual connection with that wider Jewish family, that Holy family and to be open minded to world events that are happening right now, and how they may or may not fit with what has already been written in our ancient scripture?

I suppose too, I want to get you interested in biblical prophecy and to seek out your own interpretation of what the scriptures say? For I have no doubt that the more interested you are, the stronger your faith will become. And with a strong faith you also will be impatient to tell the world about that Jewish man called Jesus and His family

So, embrace your spiritual Jewishness fervently, for it will enrich and inform you of wise things.

Remember that Jesus or ‘Yeshua’ means, the ‘Salvation of God’ and we are truly part of that Holy Family.

So, let us all pray that through our Holy family of Mary, Joseph, our Lord Jesus and our affiliated Jewish heritage that Jesus will return once again soon.

Shalom and Amen

A Joy to Christmas

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This is my last sermon before Christmas,  so I hope you can find some joy in the last few days leading up to the big day. Apologies to those who attended the 8am service and didn’t hear the full poem at the end due to ‘technical difficulties’ But here you have it in its entirety!

Have a great Christmas and thank you to all those  those have supported this blog site, or listened to my sermons in church,  I hope God has spoken to you in some way?

Blessings to you

Roger

https://audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/a-joy-to-christmas-m4a

 

Sermon No 65

A Joy to Christmas

Advent 3

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 17th December 2017 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 1:6-8, 19-28 and Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11)

 

Good morning and a very joyous welcome to you all on this the third Sunday in Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday, and we have in church today a splash of colour which hopefully provides a glimmer of that joy which is what we are looking forward to in what is now just 8 days away, when we symbolically welcome the birth of Jesus into the world.

Now the name Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the Latin word meaning ‘Rejoice,’ so today is a welcome break in what is traditionally seen as a penitential season. So, amongst the pressures of our modern-day Christmas season that is increasingly full of commercialism, greed and pandemonium, hopefully we can try and take a moment out, and capture just a little of that feeling of expectation and joy in that promised redemption.

And as well as being full of joyfulness, today allows us once again to look at the mission and significance of that man which we heard about in the gospel reading, the man called John the Baptist.

Now John is probably one of my favourite biblical characters, not least because he is a bit of a rebel. He is one of those people that wasn’t afraid to speak out for what he believed to be true. He was in a political sense, like them or loathe them? the Donald Trump or Nigel Farage of his day. He was a man who was prepared to get dirty, and took on the establishment and winning.

John is arguably the most significant person in the whole bible other than Jesus of course, and he was special for a number of reasons, and I would like to highlight just some of them to you today.

John’s uniqueness didn’t just start at the point when he commenced his ministry, it actually goes all the way back to the Old Testament when the prophet Isaiah spoke about the coming ministry of John, some 700 years earlier.

And although Isaiah was born long before John, their roles were in many ways were very similar. They were both prophets and both specifically hailed the imminent arrival of the Jewish Messiah

In Isaiah chapter 40, Isaiah shouted, ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God’ (Isaiah 40:3)

Isaiah, as well as comforting his people, was using language that reflected the customs of the day, where heralds would be sent ahead to clear obstacles for an important arrival, and so it was no surprise that when John was questioned who exactly he was, John returned to the words of Isaiah and said, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the LORD’ (John 1: 23).

And in a similar manner the last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, the world has the last reminder of the coming herald before God became silent for 400 years. Malachi wrote, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You’ (Malachi 3:1)

Both Isaiah and Malachi were talking about John, John was to be the forerunner to the Messiah. He was the one who was to prepare the way for the Lord. He was the one that would call the Jewish people to repentance in the wilderness of the Judean desert, and he was the one that would ultimately loose his life in the process.

We also know that John the Baptist was the most important person who had lived up to that time, because we are told so by Jesus and I’m not going to argue with Him! In Matthews gospel we read, ‘Assuredly. I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.’ (Matthew 11:10)

And John’s message, as was Isaiah’s, was to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming Messiah. And in living out that calling, we have the imagery of that wild and desolate desert from which John preached being used to illustrate something that would have been familiar to both prophets and people, that of preparing the way for the arrival of a king.

But when John uses this analogy, he is directing it right at the Jewish people who had in-fact hardened their own hearts, and caused them to be desolate places, just like the desert from which John proclaimed his message.

But right from before John was even born it was apparent that he was going to be something truly special. His mother Elizabeth the cousin of Mary was seemingly unable to have any children due to her age, yet with the miraculous intervention of God she became pregnant.

And so, imagine if you will, that feeling of joy that both Mary and Elizabeth felt as they became aware of their pregnancies, for those parents among you here today, recall that time that you found out you were to become mums and dads for that first time, and that feeling of joy and celebration that you felt (or perhaps it might have been a surprise – I don’t know!!)

Indeed, we read in Luke’s gospel that when Mary travelled to meet her cousin Elizabeth and greeted her, the infant John literally ‘leapt for joy’ in her womb (Luke 1:41NRSV). So, John, the greatest prophet, even before his own birth had recognised he was in the very presence of his saviour, that he was still yet to proclaim!

So, all through the narrative of the story of John, there is an ever-present joy, and it is that joy that we ourselves should take forward in our own lives, as we travel this strange and sometimes uncomfortable Christian journey. For we know that our own lives can sometimes become baron and desolate, just like the Judean desert.

And be aware that too that we need too to distinguish the difference between joy and simple happiness, for there is a subtle difference between the two.

The theologian Henri Nouwen I think captures the difference between joy and happiness quite nicely, when he wrote, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death-can take that love away.” Nouwen implies that joy can be present always, even amid sadness, whereas ‘happiness is simply a feeling that comes over you when you know life is good.’ (http://www.azquotes.com/author/10905-Henri_Nouwen/tag/joy)

And I can agree with him on that, for at this time of year I myself  am always reminded of my own mother, and although she is no longer with me or my family on this earth, she herself was fittingly called ‘Joy’ and so I am able to remember her at this time with joy, even though her loss naturally causes some sadness. It is that joy that sits comfortably in the midst of loss and bereavement. It is that same joy that is in hope of Jesus.

So, John, that greatest of prophets is the announcer of joy and hope. John was the first person to herald the arrival of the Messiah. And he was the first witness to proclaim His divinity.

John was also consistently humble and would always, when questioned, be insistent that he was not the Messiah, and repeatedly state that one ‘greater than he’ (Luke 3:16) would come after him, and he knew that as Jesus commenced His own ministry then he himself would decrease his own.

For John was fully aware of his vocation and what he had been called to do. He was sent to solely proclaim the good news that the Messiah, that had been prophesied was coming. And if you ever look at paintings that depict John the Baptist, you will find that in many of them the artist is able to capture that picture of John always being secondary to Jesus, the One that he proclaimed, at the same time emphasising how it is necessary that he diminishes as Jesus increases.

In John 3:25 we hear John himself say, ‘Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled, He must increase, but I must decrease, He who comes from above is above all’ (John 3: 29-31).

John recognises that his own ministry is complete in proclaiming the arrival of Jesus and has that everlasting joy that comes only by being obedient to God’s call.

And for anyone considering a call to formal ministry then you would do well to prayerfully reflect on Johns life. For he is a man that knows what he is about. He is a man that doesn’t seek the grandeur of high office, or what many might perceive as more important roles. John accepts the call on his life to be what God has called him to be.

For God has a role for all of us, if we offer ourselves to Him and He will use us for His service in the way He wants, and not necessarily in the way that we might think we should be used!

So, today as we rapidly approach Christmas, look towards that pink candle and think of ourselves in good spirits and joyfulness ready to greet our Lord. Let us describe ourselves unashamedly to others as ‘being in the pink’ knowing that however we might feel or whatever life has thrown at us, we can still be joyful because we know the Lord Jesus.

I would like to end with an Advent poem called ‘Joy’ written by the poet and lyricist, Lindy Gray, and it goes like this: –

Children sing

I’ve got the joy,joy,joy,joy down in my heart!

And I agree with that sentiment.

There is a lot of joy available,

worthy of being mentioned four times

but the down part is true, too.

Very often, the joy is buried deep below the surface,

Hidden under layers of information and distraction,

a polished stone under a stack of old newspapers.

 

 

So much negative in the world today,

so much trash,

so much fear.

We bury our faces in our phones

because machines are much easier than people,

and the garbage keeps piling on,

and the joy becomes more and more a distant memory.

 

But joy is our birth right.

The angels told the shepherds they were bringing

good news of a great joy that will be to all people.

The good news is for us,

but we have to make room for it.

Our minds are busier than a guest house in Bethlehem during a census-too full for one more family,

even a small one.

 

 

The birth is coming

The joy is promised.

May we make ready

may we make room.

May we join together,

help each other, and sanctify space

for God’s great gift of joy.  (Lindy Thompson)

 

Amen

Life and Death, Death and Life

Greetings,

All Saints Sunday sermon, which fell this year on Bonfire Night, so hope it’s not too ‘explosive’ but enough to fire up your faith!

Blessings

Roger

https://www.audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/life-and-death-death-and-life

 

 

Sermon No 64
Life and Death, Death and Life
All Saints Sunday
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 5th November 2017 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 5; 1-3, Revelation 7:9-17, 1John 3:1-3 and Psalm 34: 1-10)

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot’.
A rhyme that I am sure most of us heard in our child hood? For it calls to mind a time in British history that really was truly a significant event. Some of you may have seen the recent BBC adaptation of that story starring Kit Harrington, which contained some quite graphic scenes of torture
The story of the intended plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament centres around the struggles of the Roman Catholics in Britain around 1605 which started from the protestant reformation some 100 years earlier by Martin Luther (when he sent his 95 Theses in 1517), and although we still feel and experience the effects of that time today, it has become somewhat trivialised to just some yearly event in our back gardens firing loud rockets into the sky, with few people now even having any knowledge of the true significance and history behind those celebrations.
So, on this November 5th as it falls on Sunday I thought it appropriate to mention this story of treachery solely to try and connect it to what we also celebrate today which is of course All Saints Sunday.
Now firstly it must be said that a little stated fact is that Guy Fawkes was infact a Yorkshire man, born in Stonegate in York in 1570, did we know that?
So, of course as a fellow Yorkshireman I have to obviously acknowledge that fact, but in no way, do I wish to associate myself with someone willing to commit murder. However, some do say that he was the ‘last honest man to enter parliament’ (apart from our very own honourable MP of course!) And if we have watched the current news, we might actually agree with that statement (‘Pestminister’)
Now we have to understand that during this period of history, life for any Roman Catholic trying to practice their faith was very difficult indeed, and many were put to death for not following the protestant religion, and at the heart of that catholic persecution was the Westminster Government in cahoots with the protestant King James.
And through practicing the catholic faith, or expressing any papal support you really did seriously run the risk of losing your life, and so our infamous Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators would have been fully aware of the consequences of failure to their traitorous plan.
So, death was in many ways much more a reality to the majority of people then than it is now perhaps, it was always just around the next corner, as infant deaths were the norm rather than the exception, and adult life expectancy was perhaps not much more than forty years of age.
So, life in 1600 was lived with perhaps a more spiritual than a temporal view than today. Their faith was all encompassing in every aspect of their life. The sheer fact that for Catholics at the time, to avoid a place known as purgatory, would pay a fee, highlights just how serious they took their faith- buying their way to heaven or so they thought at the time!
Now All Saints is traditionally a time that we too as Anglicans can take time to think about death and those loved ones that we have known and lost and especially for those that have shone the light of faith before us.
But for many people today death is difficult to talk about. One example that I heard just this week was by the celebrity Stacy Solomon from ‘Loose Women’, who stated that whenever she even hears the very mention of the word death, she is sent into a physical state of panic and fear, and she subsequently went on to receive treatment for that condition on the show.
For others that fear may be expressed in other more subtle ways, but dying for most people is always going to conjure up questions of what ‘if anything’ lies beyond the grave.
So today is hopefully a day when we can try and allay those fears through prayer and contemplation and focus on what as Christians we can expect when this earthly life comes to an end.
And we do this by trusting first and foremost in what God has already said about it in the scriptures.
Our bible readings this morning all give hints and promises of just that, and leave us in no doubt that this life here is not the end. Our Psalm talks about being protected by the Lord, verse 8 says, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in Him (v8). Followed by verse 9, ‘Oh fear the Lord you His Saints, there is no want to those who fear Him’ (v9)
So, we are to be blessed, if we trust in God. And there is no one that will want for anything if we are fearful of his mighty power.
The reading from Revelation, that book written by St John as he lived out his days on the island of Patmos provides us with some vivid imagery of what it will be like when we cross through into that next dimension, listen to what we can expect, ‘They shall neither hunger nor thirst anymore, the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of water, And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Revelation 7:16-17)
So, Jesus will be there amongst us right in the centre protecting and leading us to our heavenly home where all will be well, there will be no pain, we will not hunger or thirst anymore, and God Himself will wipe away our tears.
But what about saints, who are they? Well the word saint comes from the Greek word hagios which means simply being ‘consecrated to God’
And we often today use the term Saint to describe a ‘good’ person or someone who has lived a Godly life, but scripturally speaking, saints are simply those members that make up the body of Christ, in other words the church. So the good news is that all Christians are considered saints. You are all saints here today if you have been baptised and have faith in Jesus, so look to your neighbour here today in church and think of them as a fellow saint.
Now before you think to yourself, well that is ok to say that Roger but I know that person and I know that he or she is not perfect, well none of us are! We are all saints and sinners at the same time, as Luther said. There was only one perfect person and that was Jesus.
And on that note, if anyone thinks that they are too bad to become a saint I thought I would share with you the stories of two saints who didn’t live such saintly existences in their formative years.
The first was St Augustine who rejected his Christian upbringing and lived a life of hedonism and partying. He once famously prayed ‘grant me chastity, but not just yet’ He fathered an illegitimate son with his mistress whom he then abandoned at the prospect of marrying an heiress, yet his holy and devout mother never gave up on him and eventually her persistent prayers paid off and Augustine went on to become a priest and writer of one of the most influential books still referenced today.
The second is St Mary of Egypt, she became a prostitute at the age of 12 and lived that life for seventeen years until her dramatic conversion on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After renouncing her sinful life she became a desert hermit, fasting, praying and living alone for 47 years.
But of course there are countless more examples of saints through history too with similar stories to tell.
So, remember that no one is beyond redemption. St Augustine of Hippo himself wrote ‘There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future’.
But it is good to think of living saints too and not just those that have already died, for we are a communion of saints, both the ‘living and the dead’ as we say in our liturgy and will say shortly this morning
Our faith believes that when we die we join that communion of saints not by being perfect or by doing great acts, but we will find our way there because God’s grace has been given to us, and once accepted, it is that connection between us that makes us whole, and causes us to be intrinsically entwined as one body and in so doing we become inseparable.
And as an evangelist it is important that this message of life after death is preached and understood, for as Christians, Heaven is our ultimate destination and we are here on this earth for but a short time and need to connect ourselves to our eternal future.
But let’s make a difference in the time that we do have left on this earth, let us be saints to others, let us influence others in our faith. Let us be proud to call ourselves saints, and be good role models, generous, unselfish and good teachers, so when then people that are yet to be born look to us, we can connect with them from beyond our own grave.
So, let us pray that we may all be granted something of the saints ‘love of God’ and their desire and longing to be like Christ, and to start afresh on our own personal journeys today to be better saints, ready to take our reserved place in heaven amongst that ‘great multitude’ with Jesus at its centre.
Amen.

Don’t Worry, About a Thing

Greetings Brothers and Sisters,

Hope you enjoy this talk which formed part of a family service and I followed once again an excellent puppet sketch courtesy of Rhoslyn Cooper and her wonderful helpers based on the same gospel reading. Of course you can pick up some of the atmosphere (or Holy Spirit) by listening to the talk. Just clicking on the attached link should get you there?

As always, feedback via comments would be really helpful, especially if any of my message spoke to you directly?

Blessings

Roger

https://www.audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/dont-worry-be-happy

Sermon No 63

Don’t Worry (About a Thing)

Trinity 14

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 17th September 2017 at the 10 am Family Service at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Luke 12:16-30)

Well good morning to you all. And let me just say that Joey and Julia are not the only ones that can crack a couple of jokes you know…. So a couple of biblical ones for you!

Did you know which vegetable Noah left of the Ark during the flood?

‘Leeks’

What about this one then if you thought that was bad.

As it is nearly Christmas (only 98 days to go people!)

What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?

‘It’s Christmas, Eve’

And one for Justine and Natalie and all our after- service refreshment helpers.

How does Moses make his coffee?

‘Hebrews it’

Anyway, enough of the funnies, we don’t come to church to have fun, do we? God would rather us be miserable!

Well, today we are celebrating Harvest and all the good things that God provides for us in our daily lives and in particular food. Which is something most important because we need food to live don’t we?

But sometimes we are a bit over indulgent both as individuals (and I place myself in that category as my waist line implies) and as nations too, when we could do well to share our riches with other well less off countries and their peoples.

Especially as the United Nations Food and Agriculture estimate that there are around 795 million people, that is 1 in 9 men, women and children suffering in the world right now from chronic undernourishment, so Harvest is a really important time to remember, not just today, but at all times of the year.

In our gospel reading today we heard Jesus telling a parable about a rich man who on the face of it appeared to be doing something that was quite sensible because he had had a particular good harvest and had so much grain that he didn’t have enough storage room in his existing barn to store it all. So, he decided to build bigger barns so that he could keep his plentiful harvest and then be able to live of the riches for many years.

Now you might think, well what is wrong with that? But you see Jesus wanted to make a point. He wanted His listeners to understand that the rich man had made one fatal error in his thinking.

The rich man had left God out of the equation and was thinking only about himself and how he would live happily for years to come, eating, drinking and making himself rather merry in the process.

So contrary to what some might see as preparedness, Jesus’ message in the parable was more about encouraging us to share our wealth with others, rather than keeping it all for ourselves. Indeed, the obsession with money and material goods is ever present, in-fact probably more so in today’s society with all the temptations through clever advertising.

The story of the rich man and his building of more and bigger barns to store his crops will never fade and is an important reminder for us all to be on our guard against any form covetousness, and the desire to possess more and more.

Jesus’ tells us that our life will not ultimately depend on either food or material goods. Of course, we need food and water to survive and there is nothing wrong in planning and preparing for days when we might have less, but as usual, Jesus wants us to look deeper to the way we are living our lives and in particular with the way we see and treat others.

Our true treasure at the end of the day will not be in how rich we are, or how big our houses might be. Our treasure is in the way we live our lives for Jesus and He asks us to build that up, rather than storing things away through greed and desire which may be of no use to others.

And the other aspect to this of course is what I spoke about a couple of weeks ago, when I reminded you that none of us actually know when our last day on this earth will be? Well Jesus is enforcing that point here in that parable. He wants us to live for today and not to worry about what may happen tomorrow. For He says that everything we need will be given to us, and it is only through not trusting in Him to provide those needs, that worry and anxiousness will begin to fester and eventually rule our lives.

And on this subject of worry and anxiousness, it is interesting to realise, that as the world appears to drift away from the teachings of Jesus that far from the possession of material goods and all the new fan dangled gadgets taking away worry and stress, it seems to have the opposite effect.

In-fact the current figures say that twenty percent (20%) of people today experience symptoms of depression. And ten (10) times more people suffer from major depression now than in 1945. One report even says, and I quote, ‘At the rate of increase, it (that is clinical depression) will be the second most disabling condition in the world by 2020, behind heart disease.’ (www.clinical-depression.co.uk)

Now that is a staggering forecast of what is to come in the next few years. This is not debateable climate change forecasting over many centuries, but this is factually just three years away on the present figures… frightening.

So, what can we do about it. What could the ‘rich man’ have done in our parable?

Well Joey spoke about it a few moments ago when he said that, ‘God really likes people that share!’

And indeed, He does, Jesus wants us to share what we have with others that are less fortunate than ourselves. And I think Jesus would be really pleased that Joey will be giving some of his money to our away giving charity ‘Mission to Seafarers.’ And I would encourage you all to give as generously as you can, for it is indeed a great charity.

But our giving should not only include the giving of cash to charities  and material goods to initiatives like our deanery food-bank programme, Jesus also wants us to focus on the giving of ourselves to Him, through time and service to others.

And symbolically we can remind ourselves of this act of giving and sharing by coming together in the Lords Supper by the breaking and sharing of His body and Blood.

For that after-all was His greatest gift to us; when He gave his own life to allow us all to share in a part of Him until we meet Him again in glory.

But we heard too today in our gospel reading, something that Joey and Julia picked up on, and that was that Jesus tells us not to worry about how we will be able to live, as we act out this giving of ourselves in His service, because He will look after us and ensure that we will have absolutely everything that we need in this life.

And should we ever become a little worried or anxious then don’t immediately seek solace and recovery through prescription drugs or counselling. For Jesus asks us to just simply look at the flowers if we are in ever doubt about how we can carry on, by watching and seeing how they grow and flower, for He alone provides all that they will require to flourish, and He will do the same and much more for us.

Or if the flowers don’t provide enough wonder for you, then Jesus asks us to consider the ravens, those birds that ‘who neither sow or reap’(v24) yet He provides all the food that they need to survive too.

What Jesus is asking, could really be summed up in verse 31, which unfortunately is the one just after our reading today ends, and if you flicked to that verse in your bibles you would find these words,

‘But, seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you’(v31).

And those words in summary are what Jesus is telling us to do. To ‘Seek Him’ first, before, and above anything else. In-fact if you recall the very first commandment given to Moses way back in that dusty Old Testament. It was ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’ (Deuteronomy 5:7 NKJV) and then again this is clarified once again by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel when He is asked by one of the Pharisees, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?’ And Jesus replies, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:37)

Seek the Kingdom of God first, and everything we need will be given to us.

In -fact there is a song that you will probably all be familiar with that tells us just that called, ‘Seek Ye First’ the Kingdom of God and his Righteousness’ written by a lady called Karen Lafferty  and is a great message song about this most important of biblical and Christian truth.

However, after putting God first, another message song which also happens to link nicely with Jesus’ command of ‘not to worry’ is a song by that great reggae singer Mr Bob Marley called ‘Three Little Birds.’

Now I don’t claim to have a vast knowledge on Bob Marley’s life or his songs, but from the limited research that I have done I was surprised to find that a year before his death, what seems to be a little-known fact is that Marley converted from Rastafarianism to the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church where he was baptised on the 4th November 1980 six months before his death on 21st May 1981. And when he was buried, you might be interested to know, he had with him his bible and his Gibson guitar! (journeytoorthodoxy.com)

Strangely too, Bob Marley’s final words to his son Ziggy just before he died were, ‘ Money can’t buy life.’

Now the song ‘Three Little Birds’ has some simple lyrics but seem to echo those of what Jesus spoke and it went like this: –

 

Don’t worry about a thing

Cause every little thing is gonna be alright

Singing, ‘Don’t worry about a thing’

Cause every little thing gonna be alright.

Rise up this morning

Smiled with the rising sun

Three little birds

Pitch by my doorstep

Singing sweet songs

Of melodies, pure and true

Saying’ (this is my message to you’)

(Three Little Birds lyrics copyright Kobalt music publishing Ltd)

So, I will leave you this morning with this song (technology permitting) to take away. Sing along with it if you wish. And don’t worry, ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright! But seek the Kingdom of God first.

Amen

 

Preparing to die: Preparing to live

 

Greetings once again brothers and sisters,

Hope you enjoy today’s sermon and find God speaking to you directly? Let me know your thoughts if you can by making a comment on this site, or by letting me know personally when you see me.

Blessings

Roger

https://www.audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/preparing-to-die-preparing-to-live

 

Sermon No 62

Preparing to die: Preparing to live

Trinity 12

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 3rd September 2017 at the 8 and 10 am Eucharistic Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 16:21-28)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)

When I was a teenager at school I belonged to a climbing club led by an intrepid climbing enthusiast called Alan Blakeman who was also during the day one of our school art teachers. And it would be a regular event that we would often take the school mini bus out into Derbyshire either at the weekends, or in the evening after school and climb until we could climb no longer due to darkness descending.

However, on the way home, Alan would always try and catch those out, who for in the most part, through sheer exhaustion had simply fallen asleep in the back of the minibus. And so, as we descended the long steep road from Derbyshire back into Sheffield it wouldn’t be long before Alan would spot one or two nodding in the back. And it was at this point Alan would quietly signal to those in the front seats to brace themselves, then he would immediately slam the brakes on and shout, ‘Christ we’re all gonna die’ at the top of his voice, at which point most of us nearly did die from shock, or from sliding down the wooden bench seats and crashing into those we were sat next to in the rear. Alan would then have a little chuckle to himself and we would continue our journey home.

In-fact this is a practice I still find useful today when driving mini-buses with disruptive passengers at work, or in my own car, I can even use the same technique to remind my children about their seat belts!! You should try it too? It can be quite effective.

Well, of course none of us did die from those antics, but if it were true and in those few seconds of panic we were actually sure that death was coming, then what would we do with that time? How would we prepare for imminent death?

For some light reading this week I was looking at the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures relating to deaths and thought you might be interested to know that the average world life expectancy is only 67. And looking around, of course none of you are anywhere near that age! But if you were, then do not worry because in the UK we are fortunate that this figure rises to 79 for men and 82 for women.

And each single day a staggering 151,000 people die, which equates to 2 people dying every second, so in the time I have already spoken over 7,000 people in the world have just died, but on the plus side, there is around 360,000 new births every year, which I know is no consolation to those that have died of course!

But we can die at any time of course and age does not necessarily define when we will finally depart this mortal coil? So, don’t get too hung up on ages!

In our gospel reading from Matthew we heard that there is some considerable talk on this subject of death, but it is not a conversation as straight forward as simply dying in the physical sense, because what we have going on here in that reading, are a number of issues that are worth exploring, at the very least to remind ourselves that death does not always mean dying in the way that many people might perceive it to be?

The passage from Matthew was in essence, a conversation between Jesus and His disciples, and Him telling them that He was about to suffer greatly and then finally be killed at the hands of their own people, the Jews.

But it was more than that, because in the conversation, Jesus details more complex and spiritual matters that he wanted His disciples to be aware of, including His second coming. But we can break down this conversation into three, yet conjoint parts, which I will call this morning the 3R’s. Firstly, The revelation of death, secondly, the revelation through death and thirdly, revelation of reward by death.

Revelation of death, Revelation through death and Revelation of reward by death.

So, the first is the ‘revelation of death’ and this is where we hear Jesus informing His disciples that He is about to die.

Now imagine for a moment that the person that you have followed for the last 3 years, the person that you left your family and your job for, suddenly tells you he is about to be killed, and not to worry because on the third day he’ll rise again and be back with them!

This must have been incredibly difficult for the disciples to take on board. After-all, not only had they followed Him and lived with Him for three years, but they had witnessed at first hand too of the miracles that He had performed. Indeed, Peter had even walked on water himself, so he knew what power that Jesus could unleash and how He could empower others, so why would Jesus be telling them that he was now going to die?

Yet when told this information, Peter is the first disciple that rebukes Jesus and says, ‘no, no this is not going to happen to you.’ Peter in effect is saying to Jesus that He is a liar.

You might yourselves have experienced something similar? When you tell something to somebody that you know is real, because you have witnessed it and they don’t believe you, and they even try to argue against you, I know I have. And it is really frustrating, I suppose mainly because it is a lack of trust in what you know to be true.

Well Jesus was no different and when challenged by Peter as to what He might be saying as something false, Jesus not surprisingly took him to task and shouted, ‘Get behind Me Satan’ (v23).

Now Jesus wasn’t saying that Peter was Satan, but rather that his thoughts were being influenced by Satan. And I would argue that could be said of all thoughts, that seek to turn us away from God, because there is always a spiritual battle that is being fought. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he informs us quite clearly of this fact, Paul says, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)

So, Jesus reminds Peter, in no uncertain terms that he should keep focused on Him and not to doubt His Word and that He is going to die. The revelation of His death.

Then Jesus moves onto what I am calling Revelation through death by making a weird challenge to His disciples saying something that at first appears a paradox. Jesus says that we should be prepared to lose our life to find it, let’s listen to what He says, ‘For, whoever desires to save His life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, will find it’ (Matthew 16: 25)

Now this statement has such deep meaning that we could talk all day on this subject alone, but primarily Jesus wants His disciples to know that to follow Him will be costly, and it will be costly in every way.

He talks too about denying oneself and taking up His cross. Jesus is informing them, He is informing us, that nothing should be put before Christ and ultimately, even if necessary, as a disciple of Christ we should be prepared to die physically for His sake.

However, this revelation through death, not only refers to the true physical sense of dying in the extreme case of martyrdom, (yes, this term does not only refer to Islamic terrorists) but spiritually too, through perhaps those more subtle ‘physical’ bodily desires such as jealousy or lust.

Now fortunately for most Christians, and especially in this country, we are not often asked to lay down our physical life for Jesus, although in parts of the world still, that may be a real scenario that is being faced on a daily basis by Christians, but it is in that willingness to accept we will all face some degree of difficulty and danger as followers of Christ, that Jesus wants us to understand. For it is through that willingness to sacrifice ourselves by both a physical death and by a spiritual death, in other words putting to death our old sinful natures, that we then find something more valuable than death itself. – The ‘revelation through death.’

But what will we find by taking up our own cross of suffering? What will be our reward and how can we be sure that we’ll get it? For what Jesus commands of us is not easy, by any stretch of the imagination and it is true that temptation is always going to be there for everyone, no matter what position in society one might hold or how spiritual and reverent one might appear to others. For that is all part of being human, we are all sinners, even the most esteemed Canon Chris Dench I’m sure will confess that he has the odd sinful thought from time to time! (not many though!!) and Jesus came to save the sinners after-all (Luke 5:32).

But what Jesus offers in reward for this life of suffering is an eternal life in all its glory with Him. Jesus wants us to think about what is beyond the here and the now and seek for that which is eternal. Jesus says, there is no point gaining everything in the world, if the world as we see it, is all there actually is. The revelation of reward is Jesus offering you not just life for the next 67 years or whatever it might be, but life in eternity. – The revelation of reward by death.

So, this morning so far, you have heard me speak briefly of the Revelation of death, how Jesus spoke to his disciples of his impending death, Revelation through death, preparing to make sacrifices in this life and finally Revelation of reward by death, which is where we learn that by following Jesus and putting to death our old selves we can be assured of eternal salvation.

But before I end, I want to talk briefly about that final part of our gospel reading this morning which refers to the second coming of Jesus, because for those that do not know, Jesus will come again and is intrinsically linked to that Revelation of Jesus’ death.

It is a topic that doesn’t get much of an airing in sermons generally speaking, but it is an important fact to consider in relation to our own lives and how we are living them. For none of us know when we are going to be called home, but neither do we know when Jesus will return either? It might be today, it might be next week or it might be in a thousand years. The truth is we just don’t know? And we need to prepare for that time, just as we would prepare ourselves, given the opportunity, for our own death.

It is no good leaving it until the last minute, because we simply don’t know when that last minute will be, and whilst our deeds on earth are not requisite for entry into the life beyond, it is true to say that what we do in this life, will be laid bare at some point, and have a direct relationship with the reward that we will finally receive.

Jesus says that ‘He will reward according to his deeds’ (v27), what He is saying in effect is that how we live our lives now, will be a measure of our faith in the future, and will determine how much reward can be given. So simply doing good deeds alone without some self-sacrifice, may simply not be enough. And we need to understand that link before it is too late to make those changes.

In the last book of the bible, called by coincidence the ‘Book of Revelation’ we hear the disciple John, in exile on the island of Patmos speaking the words that he heard our Lord speaking in a vision that pictures that very urgency to prepare, ‘Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed. (Revelation 16:15 NIV)

Those words crying out to us, begging us not to be caught out through lack of preparation for what will most assuredly come to us all.

So, when you leave this place of worship today, take the time to carefully consider how you are currently living your lives and make any changes that need to be made, for death is not to be feared but to be embraced, whatever time that may be?

And if it helps , remember those words of my teacher, ‘Christ we’re all gonna die’ and get ready.

Amen.

Hidden Treasure: Have You discovered it Yet?

Greetings Brothers and Sisters,

My latest sermon is based on Matthew 13:31-33,44-52. There is a lot going on in this and the surrounding passages, all of which could bring many topics of discussion, but today I have decided to focus on that fact that God does in-fact change people however bad they might appear to act and it is not for us to judge but God alone- whoever or whatever that person may have done or not done.

As always I welcome feedback, so please get in touch?

Blessings

Roger

https://audiomack.com/embed/song/evangelist-2/hidden-treasure-have-you-discovered-it-yet

Sermon No 61

Hidden Treasure: Have you discovered it yet?
Trinity 7

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 30th July 2017 at the 8 and 10 am Eucharistic Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)
Today we follow on with a theme that Fr James spoke to us about last week where in this world, the age of the church, the wheat lives in in company with the tares or weeds, or put another way, the good and ‘godly’ people live alongside those not quite as saintly, and sometimes are positively evil.
The gospel reading today, again from St Matthew takes this a step further, and through the use of more parables by Jesus, we not only learn that we must live together in this way, but He draws out the fact that we will never truly know who our neighbour might actually be or what they may become until we are raised to new life in the world beyond.
And so we need to be mindful of that fact as we live our daily lives, for the time of judgement will most assuredly come, as Jesus spoke of in the parable of the dragnet at the end of the gospel reading, when distinctions between men are made, and the consequences of our action or inaction will be played out.
But this morning I would like you to primarily consider the possibility that all people can change, and what and who we are at 15 or 25 years of age might be completely different to who we become at 40, 70 or even later.
For me the most powerful witness of evangelism is the personal testimony of those that experience that change in their lives and are willing to speak out about it, either through speaking verbally, or through the written word.
Indeed, if you go into any Christian bookshop you will find the shelves littered with many books of this nature where people have been transformed from being drug dealers, murderers and gangsters into apparent faithful true servants for Jesus.
But it is not just the formerly really ‘bad people’ that have a story to tell, for just as important and life changing are the less dramatic conversions, which might occur instantaneously, or perhaps the changes may occur over a longer period of time. Each one has their own personal story to tell of how they came to a faith in Jesus, which of course includes people like you and I.
But today I have the stories of four people I would like to tell you about, who are symbolic of the thousands of converts to Jesus that happen every day, in every country around the world.
Hopefully some of you will know at least a couple of them?
The first one is Tony Fontane, a famous American singer who sang alongside people like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett through the 1950’s and was an ardent atheist. However, on the afternoon of September 3rd, 1957 he was involved in a near fatal car crash that put him in a coma for 30 days.
After gaining consciousness Fontane later wrote that whilst he was in that coma he received a vision from God offering him one more chance. And taking up that opportunity, he went onto not only converting to Christianity, but Fontane abandoned his lucrative popular singing career and refused to sing anything other than gospel music from that point on.
However, surprisingly Fontane’s career did not flounder but went from strength to strength even performing in-front of four US presidents before his untimely death in 1974. His funeral by the way was attended by around 10,000 people- not a bad turn out! (https://www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Fontane)
For many women in the 1970’s Jane Fonda was the face behind numerous fitness videos, in-fact she was probably the first one that brought this phenomenon to the world with her legendary workouts like her ‘butt lift video.’
I am sure that some of you ladies may have experienced a Jane Fonda exercise plan in the past before moving onto ‘Insanity’ or ‘Joe Wickes!’
Again, like Fontane, Jane Fonda was a very successful person who had everything she could ever want, but in 2001 Fonda found that despite her life being filled with all the wealth and riches the world could provide, she was missing something and so shortly before her third divorce, she set out on a spiritual quest and soon turned her life over to Jesus.
And so now, despite her failing body at the age of 79, because even Jane Fonda cannot keep going forever! Fonda now says, “I am a work in progress… but I have found that since I have come to feel God within me, I experience less fear- of anything, including death.” (https://cruxnow.com).
The next person is CS Lewis, the great academic and children’s writer of Narnia stories, he really came to faith (apart from Holy Spirit intervention of course) through academic study and conversation. For although by 1929 Lewis had already started praying to God, it was through conversations with his good friends like JRR Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame, and other like-minded Oxford academics that Lewis finally said to another good friend called Arthur Greeves, “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ, and in Christianity” (https://www.ewtn.com/library/spirit/cslewconv.htm)
And so like the Jewish Pharisee Nicodemus, Lewis had had his night illuminated by light, and from that moment on, Lewis became an ardent defender of faith and his books on theology are still widely read today.
The last one I want to speak about is that great boxer George Foreman or to some the guy that invented the fat reducing grill that cooks your chicken in a healthy way!
Now George Foreman was a world heavyweight champion, famous for that loss to Mohammad Ali in the 1974 epic battle known as the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’
However, in 1977 after a losing a fight with another boxer called Jimmy Young, Foreman sat in the locker room and later describes how at that moment he died and went to a dark place from where he was rescued by the grace of God. Foreman since that experience then went onto be ordained a Christian minister and despite making over $150 million dollars from those grills, he continues to preach about Jesus today at his church in Houston, Texas. (http://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/celebrities/george-foremans-second-chance.aspx)
So, there we have four stories of people that have turned from having no belief to a faith in Jesus. Now as I said at the beginning I want you to consider the fact that people can change and here are four examples of just such change. Four people that had what most would consider everything that the world could offer, yet without Jesus they were incomplete.
The common thread throughout these stories though is not necessarily what happened at the point of conversion, but it is what happened after the event. What did they do after God revealed Himself to them. And you will see that none of them stood still and quiet about their new-found faith.
They all spoke of it, sang about it wrote about it or prayed about it, which to the non-believing friends this could have seen quite a strange thing to do, for in speaking out, they ran the risk of being humiliated, of being labelled as someone who had ‘lost the plot’ or worse still, they risked losing their financial wealth.
Our gospel reading about the hidden treasure this morning relates to conversions such as those described, for it talks about discovering that hidden treasure of a life with Christ and in so doing being prepared to give up everything, to possess what had been found.
But the twist of all this, is that the treasure is a hidden treasure and cannot be seen without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. So just being in the presence of believers, whilst it will help, will not necessarily bring you to find this treasure.
The central truth from both the parable of the hidden treasure (v44) and that of the ‘Pearl of Great Grace’ (v45) is that the kingdom of heaven must be personally appropriated. It doesn’t come from attending church or being the son or daughter of Christian parents, but can only come from a personal encounter with Jesus Himself.
And of course, it would be nice to end there at the point of finding that kingdom of heaven, and living happily ever after in a glorious state of religious euphoria. But unfortunately, as we all know, life is generally not like that all the time, and we will all experience times of pain, grief and weakness that will test our faith, and as Fr James alluded to last week, in that we can all at times, become a bit ‘weedy’.
But what then happens at the end, what happens at the final moment when we face death or have actually died? For we live our lives, for the most part, still committing sin, we are all sinners after-all, as it says in Johns first epistle, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8 NIV)
So, who are we if we are all sinners, are we the wheat or are we the tare? Can we ever be sure of our own salvation?
Well, I’m not sure whether we ever can be absolutely sure? Only Jesus is the One that can decide and make that judgement.
In the Parable of the Dragnet (v47) that we also heard this morning we hear Jesus describing this sifting of the saved and the unsaved, pictured in the form of a fishing net bringing to shore both the good and the bad and then the wicked being separated and thrown into hell. A vivid unpleasant picture of the terrors that face those that do not make the ‘grade’.
However, as unpalatable as this language might be, it is in context with what Jesus is speaking about here. Jesus wants to convey the fact that his parables should be understood in ‘light’ of the ‘old truths’ and not to be taken in isolation, but in complete togetherness with that has gone before.
Which brings me back to that question of change. For, we live in a world that currently seems more evil and abhorrent that arguably it ever has been. But as Christians, as followers of Jesus, what we can never do, is to give up hope that a person can change and genuinely become a true follower of Jesus, whoever they are-even terrorists!
That is after-all the purpose of the church, and we hold these apparent opposites continually in tension within our churches every day.
It’s not always easy though, to be ‘Christian’ as those crimes being committed by terrorist groups and others continue to shock us, but also those crimes committed by our own young children, continue to worsen by the week.
And I don’t know about you, but I get a sense that people are losing patience with the authorities and wanting to become judges and juries themselves of who might be worthy to live or who should be put to death.
And if my perception of the current world is right, then it becomes ever more important that we as followers of Jesus continue to pray for Gods intervention in the world on those that attack and persecute our faith. And never lose sight, however bad it may appear to be, that God will overcome the worse that we might face.
And if we need any such reminder of what God can do, then cast your eyes once again over the conversion of St Paul in the Book of Acts, whose dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus should always remain a reminder that God oversees all situations and can purify the most corrupt of hearts. (Acts 9:1-19)
So, a mixed bag this morning as we continued to think of ourselves in the world with others that might not ultimately face the same future, but the main message from me today is to consider that possibility of change, to give people a chance to change, and to give God a chance to intervene. Try not to be too judgemental on how you might perceive others might be living their lives.
As we heard in those testimonies of celebrities, God has a funny way of showing up at the strangest and latest of times in life, and in the end if we are not careful, instead of being the wheat, we might just discover ourselves to be the tares!

Amen

 

 

The Mission: A Sending Out

Greetings,

Todays sermon comes on Trinity Sunday, but rather than exploring the nature and essence of the triune God too deeply I have concentrated my talk around the nature of discipleship to which we are all called. Our gospel reading is the great commission given to us by Jesus, so please ponder on those words and consider what part you may like to play in fulfilling that mandate?

Blessings

Roger

Sermon No 60

The Mission: A Sending Out

Trinity Sunday

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 11th June 2017 at the 8am Eucharist Service at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Matthew 28:16-20)

‘May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD’ (Psalm 19:14)

A good morning to you all on this day that we call Trinity Sunday. In the Anglican Church, we always celebrate this day on the Sunday that follows Pentecost as it is a time that after being filled by the Holy Spirit we are encouraged to think a little more closely about the very essence of the God that we worship and the nature of the triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

However, as part of my research for today’s talk I came across this quote that said, ‘Common wisdom is that if you discuss the Trinity for more than a few minutes you will slip into heresy, because you are probing the depths of God too deeply’ (www.church.net>trinitysunday)

So, with those words of wisdom, other than telling you that Trinity Sunday was instituted in 828 AD by Pope Gregory 1X and that the word trinity is not used anywhere in the bible, I want to look this morning more about what the ‘Trinitarian God’ means for us in terms of our mission in the world to be.

I am after all someone who is commissioned to be an evangelist, and central to what I believe my own personal calling to be, is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and so the gospel reading that we heard this morning, sometimes known as the ‘great commission’ is absolutely the key verse in the whole bible that exemplifies what mission is about, and so I couldn’t not take advantage of the opportunity to speak for just a few moments on this topic close to my heart.

Now contrary to what some may believe, the Church does not exist to be not a social club, it is neither a meeting place for the elderly to pass the time, nor is it a place of entertainment, a creche, a choral group or anything else you care to mention.

You may have heard that passage from Luke chapter fifteen that says, ‘In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’ (Luke 15:10 NIV) And its true, if just one man, woman or child can be transformed from death to life through Christ and away from sin then the angels in heaven will indeed rejoice .

So, the central mission of the church as whole, indeed the very existence of the church is to draw men and women back to Jesus and will be open to that task until the very moment when He will return again in the final moments of judgement.  Of course, before I get shouted at again, the church encompasses all those previously mentioned groups, but only in the sense of its ultimate goal of drawing men and women back to Jesus.

Now that is all very well, and it is a great idea, but it is much easier saying it rather than actually putting it into practice.

Doing mission and evangelism is difficult for several reasons and in many ways, it is harder than it has ever been. There was a period, probably in the life time of some of our members here at St Paulinus that a Christian belief and faith was a given. Or at least there was very strong likelihood that most people in the UK would have knowledge at least of some of the fundamental basic principles of the Christian faith.

In the main though, those days have now gone unless you attend a church school. And there are many in this land that have literally never heard of the good news of Jesus. And further to that, there is a growing culture that has become popular in ridiculing anyone who might have a faith, whatever the religion, and in particular the Christian faith.

So, as evangelists or missionaries we can expect rejection from those we might tell this good news. And worse still, we might even face resentment, not just from those we seek to transform, but from our own families too. So, telling others about Jesus is not always easy.

I remember when I started my evangelism training course led by the inspirational evangelist Canon Jean Kerr, she told us that we were entering into perhaps the most dangerous aspect of ministry and to expect hardship, suffering, and rejection. And she said this because we are dealing with matters not just physical in the here and now but matters spiritual in the eternal sense and Satan the destroyer does not like evangelism and mission, as it means that for everyone person transformed by grace, he grows weaker and he knows his end is getting nearer.

Yet, as difficult as it may be, that is what being a Christian is all about, it’s about being a disciple for Christ and doing whatever is necessary in the name of Jesus. And the call for every believer, is to be instrumental in that mission of God. Ok. you might not necessarily be called to be an active evangelist yourself, but we are all called to discipleship.

Taking that one step further then. How do we do mission? Well, one of the marks of being a mission shaped church is to be a sending church. And we are called to send people out there beyond the walls of this church to save people and make new disciples.

Indeed, our own Fr James, as much as we would like to keep him here, God has other plans, and has called James for mission work elsewhere by sending him from this place to make disciples in another parish.

But what can we do as individuals who are not priests, deacons or in some other recognised ministry role? How can we be disciples for Christ?

In preparation for today’s talk I was reading through one of my bible commentaries and the author (John MacArthur, New Testament Commentary 1989) summarised his view on how we might do this discipleship thing, and he describes it under five main titles and I would like to share his view on discipleship with you.

The first is ‘Availability’ We need to be available for God, first. We cannot do anything unless we make ourselves available. If we cannot do this we will not even get off the starting blocks.

Secondly, we need to be true worshippers of God. For God cannot be truly served unless He is truly worshipped. So, if you are coming here just to tick a box on a piece of paper, of course you are most welcome, but you are not truly worshipping if your sole purpose is something other than to worship.

We need to be ‘submissive’, that is we need to submit fully to the sovereign authority of Jesus, whose authority is absolute. And there are many places we can read about this absolute sovereignty in the bible, but just to leave us in no doubt His authority extends not only on this world but in heaven also. Think back to our gospel reading, ‘Then Jesus came to them and said, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’ (Matthew 28: 18) And this is one of the reasons why this reading is used on Trinity Sunday, because it concentrates its focus on that authority of God in His three parts. All equal yet distinct.

Another reason by the way that Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost is that on Pentecost as we are filled with the Holy Spirit that understanding of His authority is begun to be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. If you recall from last week’s sermon I mentioned that one of the names given to the Holy Spirit was the ‘Revealer’. Well. It is the Holy Spirit that reveals and illuminates that authority to us.

So, we need to submit ourselves to Jesus as Sovereign.

Fourthly, we need to be ‘obedient’. Which is made possible by doing the first three. If we are available to God, if we worship God and if we are submissive to Him, then we can become obedient to Him. And to be a disciple for Christ we need to be obedient. So, if we are not acting in a ‘Christ like’ way, if we are not being obedient to God then we cannot be His disciple. We need to be and do what Jesus demands us to do. We might not like it always, but we need to do it. For when Jesus asks us to leave our precious lives behind our high flying well paid job to go and work in a homeless charity, then He is asking us to be obedient to His call. You may remember that parable about the rich man who asks Jesus what it would take to gain eternal life, and when Jesus says, that he must give all his wealth away to the poor, the man decides that he cannot offer that level of obedience and simply walks away. (Matthew 19:16-22) To be a disciple requires obedience, which may mean some suffering on our part?

And finally, the fifth element of true discipleship is about ‘power’. For, unless we have the power of Jesus Christ working through us none of the aforementioned would have any strength to succeed. And so, until the time that Jesus returns in His full glory and power at the second coming, then He will continue to empower us to fulfil His work on earth.

So, to be a disciple we need to make ourselves available, we need to truly worship Him, we need to submit ourselves to Him and be obedient to Him and finally we need His power within us to do His will.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today is Trinity Sunday, and we celebrate our God in three parts, all separate yet equal and distinct. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, let us go from this place and be disciples of Christ and make disciples of Christ and fulfil that great commission that Jesus gave us all, to make disciples in all nations and remember He said, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:16-20)

 

Amen

The Holy Spirit: A Spirit of Truth and of Communication.

Happy Pentecost Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s sermon follows a puppet sketch starring ‘Joey’ and ‘Julia’, so thanks to them  for leading me into my talk. I have included that sketch in the recording as Julia is much wiser than I!

Blessings

Roger

Sermon No 59

The Holy Spirit: A Spirit of Truth and of Communication

Pentecost

A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 4th June 2017 at the 10am Family Mass Service at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on John 20:19-23 and Acts 2:1-21)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O LORD (Psalm 19:14)

Well good morning to you all and thanks to Joey and Julia for leading me into this talk. I’m always surprised how wise Julia in-fact is when it comes to this church stuff… aren’t you? Perhaps she needs to go on a vocations day!

She always seems to have a good understanding of what our faith is really all about.

One of the first things I want to pick up on what Joey and Julia were talking about is this thing about languages, because you see I have just come back from Spain where I was doing a pilgrimage walk called the Camino de Santiago.

Has anyone one else been to Spain? What other countries have we all been to?

Wow! What a large number of places we have all been throughout the world. And who speaks another language?

But what I have always found is that we in in this country are always extremely bad at speaking any other language other than our own English. And even that can be quite poor, especially when you are from Yorkshire!

In-fact, I sometimes feel quite embarrassed that I am unable to speak in any other language to any competent level, for most Europeans you find, will generally be able to speak at least two other languages quite well.

But fear not good people because today is the day called Pentecost when we celebrate Jesus sending His gift that we call the Holy Spirit, which was not only to His twelve disciples way back 2,000 years ago, but it is a gift that is open to any one that professes a faith to Jesus today.

And this is a marvellous thing, because what it means for you and me is that with this gift we can do absolutely anything, for nothing is impossible if we act in the power of God. So, in effect, everything that Jesus did, we can do too, if we have faith, even speak in and understand different languages!

But before I go any further I want to spend a few moments on looking at who the Holy Spirit is, because it is not something we talk about a lot in the church, even though we should, because the Spirit of God is part of, and equal to both God the Father and God the Son (Jesus)

Now if we are familiar with the bible we will know that the Holy Spirit is known by several names some of which I would like to make mention.

Does anyone know of any of those other names by which the Holy Spirit is known?

The Author of Scripture – The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, all the authors of each book within the bible were moved by the Holy Spirit. (Timothy 3:16)

The Comforter – In the bible we hear how Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to comfort and console us in our times of need (Isaiah 11:2)

The Seal or Deposit – The Holy Spirit makes His claim on us as His own. He pays a deposit if you like for the ultimate price that He has already paid for our salvation, when you believed. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The Convictor of Sin –  The Spirit shows us and convinces us that what we are doing is contrary to what God wants us to do (John 16:7-11)

The Guide – For those without the Holy Spirit within them the very act of following Jesus is foolishness, but in the Spirit, we are guided and our eyes are open to what God has in mind for our lives. (John 16:13)

The Intercessor – The Holy Spirit takes charge of our prayers when we offer them to God and when we simply don’t know what to say He will translate our thoughts and our feelings to God the Father (Romans 8:26)

The Revealer – The Holy Spirit reveals us the truth of spiritual matters in a way that others simply cannot see. (John 14:17)

There are many more names given to the Holy Spirit, but it is abundantly clear that He is as much a part of God as both Jesus and the Father. They are equal parts, yet separate and distinct, and if you remember nothing else from today, remember that God is three in one. Think of that famous saying by the Three Musketeers, ‘All for one and all one for all’ Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

In addition, the Feast of Pentecost, which we celebrate today in the arrival of the Holy Spirit, is also known as the birthday of the church. So, we can sing happy birthday to ourselves too!

I mentioned language at the beginning and how important it is for us to be able to communicate. Well the Holy Spirit really can help us to speak to one another and God, regardless of where we might come from in the world and the language that we may speak

And I would like to share two examples with you that I have experienced that are poignant to me in terms of language and communication.

The first came on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Israel in 2011 when as part of our group I visited the church known as the Crusader Church on Mount Tabor. It was there whilst singing the hymn ‘How great thou Art’ in English we were joined by various other pilgrims also singing the same hymn, but as we all sang in our own respective language, the result was that we all sang in a perfect harmony of praise together, to the glory of God. And it was amazing to experience, because it was as if in God’s eyes language became irrelevant. As long as we are talking to and praising God, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

The second example came just last week as I attended services in the Cathedral Church of Santiago de Compostela  in Spain. Now like Israel, the City of Santiago is for many, the fulfilment of personal pilgrimages of what can be, in some cases, many weeks or even months of travel.

And there are many different routes running from different start points in Spain, Portugal and France. As such there are people attending the services from literally all over the world. Yet, although the main mass is still communicated in the language of Spanish with a sprinkling of Latin, somehow it didn’t seem to matter what language we as individuals spoke, for it was through the language of common held beliefs and symbolism, that we all came together as one.

In fact, in many ways, the range of countries from which all the different pilgrims came, enhanced the services by binding it all together in the universal language of a love for the Lord.

I could probably spend quite a long time this morning talking about what happened during my Camino of eight days, during which I walked around 262kms in total, but one example was towards the end of one long day when I had run out of water and I was really getting quite thirsty, when I came across two young children a boy aged around 4 and a girl aged around 7 years in age. And they were at the side of the road outside their farm selling shells that they had hand painted.

So, feeling called to acquire one of those shells but unable to communicate the question of ‘how much?’ through my inadequate Spanish, I reached into my pocket and handed the boy a few coins, which probably never even amounted to a euro and took the shell. I then began to walk away. And after a few yards, I heard a shout and that same boy to whom I had just exchanged a few coins for a shell, came running towards me with some real urgency and handed me a small bottle of water.

It was if he knew what I really needed without me even communicating it. It wasn’t a shell I needed but water to quench my thirst. And I can tell you my friend with whom I was walking just simply stood there in amazement at what he had just witnessed – That in my mind was the Holy Spirit at work.

And over the eight days I was in Spain, there was example after example of ‘coincidences’ that defied logic, yet messages were communicated regardless of the obvious lack of any Spanish language on my part – All orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.

Our reading today from Acts tells us of how a sound from heaven came and filled the people with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2) and the people spoke with other tongues ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance’ (v4)

Now for most of those present that day they marvelled at the sight and the ability in being able to understand what was being said in their own respective language, but there were also others that mocked what was happening around them because they had not been filled with the spirit, and to them we read that Peter the apostle stood up, raised his voice to them and told them that what they were experiencing had all been prophesied by the prophet Joel and the went onto quote from the book of Joel. (Joel 2:28-32) ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh’ and so on. And it will be the same today. There will be some that mock that are not filled with the Holy Spirit.

But the point is this, with the infilling of the Holy Spirit anything can be achieved, if its purpose is to glorify God, so whatever barriers are placed in front of us they will be broken down, no matter by what chains we are bound, they will be released, and no matter what language we speak the Holy Spirit will translate and interpret for us

Language is not just words, but language is actions and language is our deeds (James 2;14-26).

It has been said that faith without actions is dead, and it is true, for it is by our actions that we will be judged. And it is through the Holy Spirit that we will be guided towards Jesus and onward to God the Father.

So, as we celebrate Pentecost today let us remember that first time that the gift of the Holy Spirit was bestowed on man and celebrate in His continued entrance into the world and pray that we will all be filled and re-filled throughout our lives with this gift from God which is the Holy Spirit.

Amen