Monthly Archives: November 2006

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Sunday’s sermon, Christ The King

Revelation
1:4-8

Introduction
It wasn’t until I came into sustained contact with Anglicans
that I realised this Sunday in the liturgical year had the deep and spiritual
theme of … Christmas puddings. From my Anglican friends I learned that today,
the last Sunday before Advent, had become known as ‘Stir Up Sunday’. The Prayer
Book collect that begins with the beautiful words, ‘Stir up O Lord the will of
thy faithful people’ becomes a jumping-off point for another sort of stirring,
the stirring of a pudding.

But today is a day for God’s faithful people to be stirred
up, for today is celebrated as the Feast Of Christ The King. And while some wonder whether this feast would
better be celebrated on Ascension Day [cf.
Dudley Coates’ article in Methodist
Recorder
23rd November 2006]
the fact that we do mark today
the festival of the Coming King is something that should ‘stir us up’ as
disciples of Jesus.

1. His Accession
Brits are familiar with the story of the current Queen being
at Treetops in Kenya
in 1952 when she heard of her father’s death. His death meant she acceded to
the Crown. She became Queen then. She did not have to wait until her coronation
the following year. Her accession was upon her father’s death.

The curious thing about Jesus’ accession to the throne of
the divine kingdom is that it happens on the occasion of his death. These few verses in Revelation are saturated with
references to his suffering and death. He is ‘the firstborn of the dead’ (verse
5); he ‘loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood’ (verse 5b); ‘every
eye will see him, even those who pierced him’ (verse 7). Even the title of
‘faithful witness’ (verse 5) could be an indirect hint, given that his life as
a witness to God’s truth led to his death and that the Greek word for ‘witness’
is the one from which we derive our word ‘martyr’ (Robert Mounce, The Book Of Revelation, p 70). It is in
this context that he is said to be ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (verse
5).

In other words, Jesus is revealed as King on the Cross. The place of degrading
punishment; the place of terrible and final public shame; the place where
Jewish belief would see someone as under God’s curse; this is the place where
we learn the kingship of Jesus.

Why? Because it is the place of victory. Here, Jesus takes
the worst that sin and darkness can throw at him and turns it around. He
absorbs their worst so that those who put their faith in him do not need to. He
does this out of love and thus frees us from our sins by his blood (verse 5b).
He is king, because he triumphs over his enemies of sin and shame. But he
triumphs in a way that is completely contrary to normal expectations of
victory. He wins not by violence but by suffering, not by vengeance but by
forgiveness, not by imposition but by vulnerable love.

So what does this mean for us? It first of all calls for a
response. If this is how God in Christ conquers evil in the world, then we need
to welcome this for ourselves, for his victory in our lives. I mean that basic
response of the Gospel where we give up our own futile efforts to become better
people and embrace the Cross as our place of forgiveness, the removal of our
shame and the power to live a new life. It’s the old Gospel issue of turning
from our sins (repentance) and holding out the empty hands of faith to receive
the undeserved benefits of Christ.

It also means a new lifestyle for us. If Jesus conquers by
suffering love then we are called to do the same. The use of aggression to
force our will on others is not the way of Christ, however much we may be
persuaded of the rightness and importance of our convictions. Brian McLaren recently said,

“I’m not sure it’s correct to say that
it’s more important to be kind than right but I can say that if you are not
kind you are not right.”

I’m not after saying that things don’t matter, nor am I
baptising a British attitude of ‘After you’ – ‘No, after you’. Things matter
passionately. But sometimes we elevate programmes and principles above people.
If we see that Jesus is king at the Cross we can no longer coerce people, we
can only love them. We can no longer trample on people, we can only serve them.
I am not asking us to put away convictions, but I am saying we need to note
that the kingship of Jesus on the Cross gives us a radically different way of
handling them.

And that’s a change we need to play out in decision-making
at church; in seeking the best for our community; in our working lives; and in
our relationships with family and friends. It matters for Christians to live
like this, because Jesus’ kingship is seen first of all at the Cross.

2. His Kingdom
You can’t be a king and not have a kingdom. And Revelation
speaks here of Jesus’ kingdom. It says he has ‘made us to be a kingdom, priests
serving his God and Father, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever.
Amen.’ (verse 6)

Now in New Testament terms this is an unusual way of
speaking about the kingdom
of God. Most New
Testament references to God’s kingdom put all the emphasis on God acting in
kingly power. The kingdom is where God is acting as king. But here the emphasis
is on the people – the citizens or subjects of the kingdom, if you like. The
expectation here, then, is that those of us who have responded to the Gospel of
the King on the Cross are people where Christ is acting in kingly power.

But what does that mean? In what sense are we people where
Christ is acting as king? It means that we have in the eyes of God a certain
royal standing by virtue of our connection with Christ (Mounce, p 72). I can
gaze around this worship area and see a collection of royalty – princes and
princesses, one and all. Not that I expect to see any of us opening up our
glittering homes for the benefit of Hello
magazine
’s photographers; and nor does this mean that we lord it over
others – that should be clear from the fact of Jesus acceding to his throne at
the Cross.

But I do see us as sharing in delegated divine authority.
Most particularly I see this in the area of prayer. I do not think it is any
coincidence that being a kingdom is immediately linked to being ‘priests
serving his God and Father’ (verse 6). Priests are people with direct access to
God. We have right of access into the royal court. We are granted a regular
audience with the king. We are praying
priests, bearing the needs of people and the world into the King’s presence. I
know that for many of us, myself included, prayer often degenerates into
drudgery and burden, but perhaps those are the times we have forgotten the
incredible privilege of being priests of the kingdom. And as we fulfil that
calling faithfully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we then see God acting
in kingly power – his kingdom is seen because of our prayers, prayers he
invited us to make.

But we are also serving
priests: we are ‘priests serving his God and Father’. Royalty we may be, and
with access to divine royalty, but nevertheless we are servants of the king. It
was recently said by the historian David Starkey that Tony Blair has done more
to protect the survival of the monarchy than anyone, because few people want a
republic after seeing his presidential style. And in a recent film that dramatised the
events surrounding Princess Diana’s death, there is a wonderful scene where the
recently elected Tony Blair (played by Michael
Sheen
) starts asking the Queen (played by Helen Mirren) some questions, during his
audience with her to ‘kiss hands’ as a sign of his loyalty to her. ‘Mr Blair, I ask the questions,’ says the Queen.
The United Kingdom
might be a constitutional monarchy where the Queen acts on the advice of her
ministers, but she wanted to leave him in no doubt who was truly Head of State.

So it is with us. We can presumptuously rush into talking
with God, forgetting who the ‘Head of State’ is. We are welcome, but we do not
give the orders. It is our responsibility to listen for direction and respond
in obedience. That is part of the nature of being priests in the kingdom. When
he speaks about the things that contradict his kingdom, such as sin, injustice,
pain and suffering, serving priests obediently respond to his message – both in
correcting our own lives and in serving in the world.

Finally, as well as being praying and serving priests, we
are worshipping priests: ‘to him be
glory and dominion forever and ever.’ Glory connotes praise and honour,
dominion represents power and might (Mounce, p 72). Worship is profoundly
connected to the kingdom
of God in the New
Testament. The main Greek word for ‘worship’ is proskunvew,
which means ‘to move towards and kiss’ – not in a romantic sense, but in the
sense of offering the kiss of homage to a monarch. It is the posture of
kneeling before the king, like the magi before the young Jesus and opening
their treasures for him. So, because Christ reigns, we kneel before him and
offer him all that we are and all that we have.

3. His Coronation
We are living in between the accession of Jesus to his
throne and his coronation over all creation. Truly he is king but it is not
universally recognised as such. But Revelation anticipates that day:

‘Look! He is coming with the clouds;

            Every
eye will see him,

Even those who pierced him;

            And
on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.’

(verse 7)

He is coming with the clouds of divine glory and presence.
One day there will be no mistaking him. All will know that God has made Jesus
king.

All of which makes for a dilemma. If we are fulfilling our
calling as kingdom priests then we are responding positively to his reign now.
We are anticipating the world to come. But others are not, and in the meantime
are not merely apathetic but living in direct opposition to his kingdom. In
doing so they have terrible disdain for his followers.

And this was the very context for which the Book of
Revelation was written. Not to give detailed coded predictions about when the
end of the world would come and who would be the Antichrist, but to sustain
disciples of Jesus in following him in the midst of a Roman
Empire that instituted state persecution against them, probably
under the Emperor Domitian around AD 95. The news that King Jesus will be
crowned is both comfort and challenge.

It is comfort for those who are faithfully serving Jesus as
his kingdom priests despite opposition and even suffering. That is why in verse
8 God is described as ‘the Almighty’ and ‘the Alpha and the Omega’, because he
is the beginning and the end, and everything in between. He is not just the A
and Z; he is the A to Z.

I found another sermon
on this subject on the Internet which had a wonderful illustration of this. The
Revd Charles Royden of Bedford
talks about the Mel Gibson
film ‘We Were Soldiers’.
Gibson plays Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore, who led a cavalry battalion of
American soldiers in the Vietnam war. Moore
was a devout Catholic, with a wife and five children. Before going into battle,
Moore says this
to his troops:

‘We
are moving into the Valley of the Shadow of Death where you will watch the back
of the man next to you, as he will watch yours, and you won’t care what colour
he is, or by what name he calls God. We are going into battle against a tough
and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive.
But this I swear… when we go into battle, I will be the first to step on the
field and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind…
dead or alive. We will all come home together.’

True to his word, in a savage battle, Moore lands first and leaves last. Not just
the A and Z, but the A to Z. The General was with his soldiers throughout. And
in our case the sovereign Lord is with us from start to finish, not asking more
of us than he asked of himself. The one who will be crowned king stands with us
in the face of trials.

That is the comfort of knowing Jesus will be crowned king.
But what of the challenge? We see it in the words that even the eyes of those
who pierced Jesus will see him, and the tribes of the earth will wail. The
knowledge that Christ will be crowned king is a fundamental challenge to those
who reject him – not only those who participated in piercing him on the Cross,
but ‘the tribes of the earth’ too. This passage in Revelation doesn’t spell out
what might happen as a result – although later passages do. At this point it is
a stark challenge that the reign of Christ requires a response.

And that challenge takes us back to comfort, strangely. For
this is the reassurance those early disciples, facing persecution. Their tormentors
will be called to account.

We may not face the torture and suffering those early
Christians did, although thousands and millions of our brothers and sisters in
the faith do. We face increased discrimination against our faith, though. Ours
is the culture where uniformed British Airways staff members are not permitted
to wear a cross. Ours is the society where university Christian Unions are
being severely
restricted
because their officers sign a basis of faith or they teach that sex is only for
marriage. We may be sure that God sees this. He may act in the here and now to
defend his people. But if he permits the trial, we can be sure he will act when
his Son Jesus is crowned King of Creation.

In the meantime we who follow Jesus who acceded to the
throne at the Cross may have to walk the way of the Cross, too. But we do so as
his subjects, the priests of the kingdom who have the incomparable joy of being
welcomed into his presence for prayer, service and worship. And one day we
shall witness the coronation, when he will reign without rivalry or rebellion.
For that day we pray, and in the meantime we witness faithfully to him,
trusting that if we face opposition, vindication is coming.

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Sunday’s sermon, Christ The King

Revelation
1:4-8

Introduction
It wasn’t until I came into sustained contact with Anglicans
that I realised this Sunday in the liturgical year had the deep and spiritual
theme of … Christmas puddings. From my Anglican friends I learned that today,
the last Sunday before Advent, had become known as ‘Stir Up Sunday’. The Prayer
Book collect that begins with the beautiful words, ‘Stir up O Lord the will of
thy faithful people’ becomes a jumping-off point for another sort of stirring,
the stirring of a pudding.

But today is a day for God’s faithful people to be stirred
up, for today is celebrated as the Feast Of Christ The King. And while some wonder whether this feast would
better be celebrated on Ascension Day [cf.
Dudley Coates’ article in Methodist
Recorder
23rd November 2006]
the fact that we do mark today
the festival of the Coming King is something that should ‘stir us up’ as
disciples of Jesus.

1. His Accession
Brits are familiar with the story of the current Queen being
at Treetops in Kenya
in 1952 when she heard of her father’s death. His death meant she acceded to
the Crown. She became Queen then. She did not have to wait until her coronation
the following year. Her accession was upon her father’s death.

The curious thing about Jesus’ accession to the throne of
the divine kingdom is that it happens on the occasion of his death. These few verses in Revelation are saturated with
references to his suffering and death. He is ‘the firstborn of the dead’ (verse
5); he ‘loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood’ (verse 5b); ‘every
eye will see him, even those who pierced him’ (verse 7). Even the title of
‘faithful witness’ (verse 5) could be an indirect hint, given that his life as
a witness to God’s truth led to his death and that the Greek word for ‘witness’
is the one from which we derive our word ‘martyr’ (Robert Mounce, The Book Of Revelation, p 70). It is in
this context that he is said to be ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’ (verse
5).

In other words, Jesus is revealed as King on the Cross. The place of degrading
punishment; the place of terrible and final public shame; the place where
Jewish belief would see someone as under God’s curse; this is the place where
we learn the kingship of Jesus.

Why? Because it is the place of victory. Here, Jesus takes
the worst that sin and darkness can throw at him and turns it around. He
absorbs their worst so that those who put their faith in him do not need to. He
does this out of love and thus frees us from our sins by his blood (verse 5b).
He is king, because he triumphs over his enemies of sin and shame. But he
triumphs in a way that is completely contrary to normal expectations of
victory. He wins not by violence but by suffering, not by vengeance but by
forgiveness, not by imposition but by vulnerable love.

So what does this mean for us? It first of all calls for a
response. If this is how God in Christ conquers evil in the world, then we need
to welcome this for ourselves, for his victory in our lives. I mean that basic
response of the Gospel where we give up our own futile efforts to become better
people and embrace the Cross as our place of forgiveness, the removal of our
shame and the power to live a new life. It’s the old Gospel issue of turning
from our sins (repentance) and holding out the empty hands of faith to receive
the undeserved benefits of Christ.

It also means a new lifestyle for us. If Jesus conquers by
suffering love then we are called to do the same. The use of aggression to
force our will on others is not the way of Christ, however much we may be
persuaded of the rightness and importance of our convictions. Brian McLaren recently said,

“I’m not sure it’s correct to say that
it’s more important to be kind than right but I can say that if you are not
kind you are not right.”

I’m not after saying that things don’t matter, nor am I
baptising a British attitude of ‘After you’ – ‘No, after you’. Things matter
passionately. But sometimes we elevate programmes and principles above people.
If we see that Jesus is king at the Cross we can no longer coerce people, we
can only love them. We can no longer trample on people, we can only serve them.
I am not asking us to put away convictions, but I am saying we need to note
that the kingship of Jesus on the Cross gives us a radically different way of
handling them.

And that’s a change we need to play out in decision-making
at church; in seeking the best for our community; in our working lives; and in
our relationships with family and friends. It matters for Christians to live
like this, because Jesus’ kingship is seen first of all at the Cross.

2. His Kingdom
You can’t be a king and not have a kingdom. And Revelation
speaks here of Jesus’ kingdom. It says he has ‘made us to be a kingdom, priests
serving his God and Father, to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever.
Amen.’ (verse 6)

Now in New Testament terms this is an unusual way of
speaking about the kingdom
of God. Most New
Testament references to God’s kingdom put all the emphasis on God acting in
kingly power. The kingdom is where God is acting as king. But here the emphasis
is on the people – the citizens or subjects of the kingdom, if you like. The
expectation here, then, is that those of us who have responded to the Gospel of
the King on the Cross are people where Christ is acting in kingly power.

But what does that mean? In what sense are we people where
Christ is acting as king? It means that we have in the eyes of God a certain
royal standing by virtue of our connection with Christ (Mounce, p 72). I can
gaze around this worship area and see a collection of royalty – princes and
princesses, one and all. Not that I expect to see any of us opening up our
glittering homes for the benefit of Hello
magazine
’s photographers; and nor does this mean that we lord it over
others – that should be clear from the fact of Jesus acceding to his throne at
the Cross.

But I do see us as sharing in delegated divine authority.
Most particularly I see this in the area of prayer. I do not think it is any
coincidence that being a kingdom is immediately linked to being ‘priests
serving his God and Father’ (verse 6). Priests are people with direct access to
God. We have right of access into the royal court. We are granted a regular
audience with the king. We are praying
priests, bearing the needs of people and the world into the King’s presence. I
know that for many of us, myself included, prayer often degenerates into
drudgery and burden, but perhaps those are the times we have forgotten the
incredible privilege of being priests of the kingdom. And as we fulfil that
calling faithfully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we then see God acting
in kingly power – his kingdom is seen because of our prayers, prayers he
invited us to make.

But we are also serving
priests: we are ‘priests serving his God and Father’. Royalty we may be, and
with access to divine royalty, but nevertheless we are servants of the king. It
was recently said by the historian David Starkey that Tony Blair has done more
to protect the survival of the monarchy than anyone, because few people want a
republic after seeing his presidential style. And in a recent film that dramatised the
events surrounding Princess Diana’s death, there is a wonderful scene where the
recently elected Tony Blair (played by Michael
Sheen
) starts asking the Queen (played by Helen Mirren) some questions, during his
audience with her to ‘kiss hands’ as a sign of his loyalty to her. ‘Mr Blair, I ask the questions,’ says the Queen.
The United Kingdom
might be a constitutional monarchy where the Queen acts on the advice of her
ministers, but she wanted to leave him in no doubt who was truly Head of State.

So it is with us. We can presumptuously rush into talking
with God, forgetting who the ‘Head of State’ is. We are welcome, but we do not
give the orders. It is our responsibility to listen for direction and respond
in obedience. That is part of the nature of being priests in the kingdom. When
he speaks about the things that contradict his kingdom, such as sin, injustice,
pain and suffering, serving priests obediently respond to his message – both in
correcting our own lives and in serving in the world.

Finally, as well as being praying and serving priests, we
are worshipping priests: ‘to him be
glory and dominion forever and ever.’ Glory connotes praise and honour,
dominion represents power and might (Mounce, p 72). Worship is profoundly
connected to the kingdom
of God in the New
Testament. The main Greek word for ‘worship’ is proskunvew,
which means ‘to move towards and kiss’ – not in a romantic sense, but in the
sense of offering the kiss of homage to a monarch. It is the posture of
kneeling before the king, like the magi before the young Jesus and opening
their treasures for him. So, because Christ reigns, we kneel before him and
offer him all that we are and all that we have.

3. His Coronation
We are living in between the accession of Jesus to his
throne and his coronation over all creation. Truly he is king but it is not
universally recognised as such. But Revelation anticipates that day:

‘Look! He is coming with the clouds;

            Every
eye will see him,

Even those who pierced him;

            And
on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.’

(verse 7)

He is coming with the clouds of divine glory and presence.
One day there will be no mistaking him. All will know that God has made Jesus
king.

All of which makes for a dilemma. If we are fulfilling our
calling as kingdom priests then we are responding positively to his reign now.
We are anticipating the world to come. But others are not, and in the meantime
are not merely apathetic but living in direct opposition to his kingdom. In
doing so they have terrible disdain for his followers.

And this was the very context for which the Book of
Revelation was written. Not to give detailed coded predictions about when the
end of the world would come and who would be the Antichrist, but to sustain
disciples of Jesus in following him in the midst of a Roman
Empire that instituted state persecution against them, probably
under the Emperor Domitian around AD 95. The news that King Jesus will be
crowned is both comfort and challenge.

It is comfort for those who are faithfully serving Jesus as
his kingdom priests despite opposition and even suffering. That is why in verse
8 God is described as ‘the Almighty’ and ‘the Alpha and the Omega’, because he
is the beginning and the end, and everything in between. He is not just the A
and Z; he is the A to Z.

I found another sermon
on this subject on the Internet which had a wonderful illustration of this. The
Revd Charles Royden of Bedford
talks about the Mel Gibson
film ‘We Were Soldiers’.
Gibson plays Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore, who led a cavalry battalion of
American soldiers in the Vietnam war. Moore
was a devout Catholic, with a wife and five children. Before going into battle,
Moore says this
to his troops:

‘We
are moving into the Valley of the Shadow of Death where you will watch the back
of the man next to you, as he will watch yours, and you won’t care what colour
he is, or by what name he calls God. We are going into battle against a tough
and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive.
But this I swear… when we go into battle, I will be the first to step on the
field and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind…
dead or alive. We will all come home together.’

True to his word, in a savage battle, Moore lands first and leaves last. Not just
the A and Z, but the A to Z. The General was with his soldiers throughout. And
in our case the sovereign Lord is with us from start to finish, not asking more
of us than he asked of himself. The one who will be crowned king stands with us
in the face of trials.

That is the comfort of knowing Jesus will be crowned king.
But what of the challenge? We see it in the words that even the eyes of those
who pierced Jesus will see him, and the tribes of the earth will wail. The
knowledge that Christ will be crowned king is a fundamental challenge to those
who reject him – not only those who participated in piercing him on the Cross,
but ‘the tribes of the earth’ too. This passage in Revelation doesn’t spell out
what might happen as a result – although later passages do. At this point it is
a stark challenge that the reign of Christ requires a response.

And that challenge takes us back to comfort, strangely. For
this is the reassurance those early disciples, facing persecution. Their tormentors
will be called to account.

We may not face the torture and suffering those early
Christians did, although thousands and millions of our brothers and sisters in
the faith do. We face increased discrimination against our faith, though. Ours
is the culture where uniformed British Airways staff members are not permitted
to wear a cross. Ours is the society where university Christian Unions are
being severely
restricted
because their officers sign a basis of faith or they teach that sex is only for
marriage. We may be sure that God sees this. He may act in the here and now to
defend his people. But if he permits the trial, we can be sure he will act when
his Son Jesus is crowned King of Creation.

In the meantime we who follow Jesus who acceded to the
throne at the Cross may have to walk the way of the Cross, too. But we do so as
his subjects, the priests of the kingdom who have the incomparable joy of being
welcomed into his presence for prayer, service and worship. And one day we
shall witness the coronation, when he will reign without rivalry or rebellion.
For that day we pray, and in the meantime we witness faithfully to him,
trusting that if we face opposition, vindication is coming.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

links for 2006-11-21

Advent: The Downward Way

I have just written this article for my church magazine at Broomfield:

Dear Friends,

One of the most inspiring spiritual writers of the twentieth
century was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest called Henri Nouwen. A renowned
speaker and writer, he held prestigious lecturing appointments at Yale and
Harvard universities in the United
States. But the honour and esteem did not
satisfy him. Throughout his life he struggled with insecurity.

His life began to change when his sister-in-law gave birth
to a daughter with Down’s Syndrome. He also went to Peru and lived with a desperately
poor family, where he experienced the love of small children playfully crawling
all over him.

But most of all his life was transformed by involvement with
the L’Arche communities, who serve adults with severe learning disabilities. First
of all he lived in one of their centres in France;
later he left university life and moved permanently into the Daybreak community
in Toronto
. There
he spent his time caring for a young man called Adam. Every morning it took one
and a half hours to wash, dress, feed and medicate him before the business of
the day. It was a far cry from the acclaim of academic life and the success of
authoring over forty popular spiritual books.

Nouwen had joined Daybreak, not out of a noble desire to
serve but out of his own need. There he found not only that he had the
opportunity to show love; he received it, too. Much of his life journey can be
summed up in some words he wrote about five years before joining Daybreak:

‘The great paradox which Scripture
reveals to us is that real and total freedom can only be found through downward
mobility. The Word of God came down to us and lived among us as a slave. The divine
way is indeed the downward way.’

(Quoted in Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived The
Church
, p 298.)

Nouwen lived ‘the downward way’. His life was marked by ‘downward
mobility’. And this is an obvious and important theme for us as we enter Advent
and prepare for Christmas. ‘The Word of God came down to us and lived among as
a slave,’ wrote Nouwen. ‘Emptied himself of all but love,’ said Charles Wesley.
‘Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.’ It is a downward
journey from Heaven to a manger, and eventually to a cross.

I wonder how we shall mark the downward journey, both this
Advent and throughout our lives. I suspect many of us came to Broomfield due to a desire for upward
mobility. It’s a very nice place to live. Debbie and I would freely confess we
are happier at the thought of our children going to school in this area, rather
than where they would have gone had we stayed longer in my last appointment. Some
of us don’t like the idea of even going to the Post Office
in nearby Melbourne,
with all its social problems. (Not that I think the withdrawal of the Post Office from Broomfield
was in any way admirable, you understand: it has created great difficulties for
elderly people in the village.)

But Christians get sucked into the ‘upward mobility’ values
of the world. We climb ladders of education, careers, property and social
lives. Without thinking we absorb these lifestyles and become indistinguishable
from the society in which we live.

I am not suggesting we all put our houses on the market and
abandon Broomfield for Melbourne or some other area, although that may be the
call for some. And indeed I hear that several members of the Oasis Church that
meets at KEGS have done exactly that, to add to the Christian witness on that
estate, along with the Catholic nuns there and other churches.

But I am suggesting that the way in which we support the
disadvantaged at Christmas needs to be more than a ‘one-off’. However worthy it
is to support CHESS, Prison Fellowship, Hand In Hand or other causes, a
commitment to ‘the downward way’ needs to be incorporated into our lives. Christmas
reminds us each year of God’s permanent commitment to the poor, disadvantaged
and vulnerable. May that be reflected in our individual witness and in the
ministry of this church.

Your friend,

Dave Faulkner

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links for 2006-11-19

Tomorrow’s Sermon: Don’t Give Up

Hebrews
10:1-25

Introduction
Have you ever felt like giving up on your faith? In the Mission-Shaped
Church
course we are currently studying at Hatfield Peverel, we looked
yesterday morning at some of the reasons why people give up on church. Some
have had bad experiences of church – perhaps of rejection or even abuse. Others
have developed objections to the Christian faith. These may be intellectual or
moral objections, or the two may even be linked.

Then there are others who have ‘accidentally’ lost contact
with church. This may be due to a house move. For some it will be about the
local church being unable to meet their needs: what if they have young children
and the church cannot offer anything for them?

But we are still here. Nevertheless we face pressures to
give up. Sometimes it is the temptation to compromise or just coast along in a
religious manner. ‘Don’t get too fanatical,’ says a voice, ‘Just go through the
motions. Make it all look good outwardly and your religious life will be
respected.’

Other times they come from our wider society. ‘Nobody
believes that kind of stuff any more.’ Why not bow down to the gods of money
and possessions? ‘You deserve to put yourself first.’ ‘Isn’t it all rather
narrow-minded?’ These and many other pressures tempt us to take an easier route
in life than that which following Jesus offers.

For those who feel such temptations – and I’d be surprised
if most of us don’t, at least from time to time – the Letter to the Hebrews is
for us. It is written to a group of Christians from a Jewish background who are
being pressured into giving up their faith in Jesus and default back to Judaism.
How does the writer of this Epistle encourage his readers to stick with Christ?
In our reading he offers some resources and some responses. And although we
face different forces from our first century ancestors in the faith, the
resources and responses the writer offers them can be helpful to us, too.

1. Resources
Imagine you need to buy a new car. You visit a local dealer
and begin a conversation with one of the ‘sales executives’. (Funny how they’re
all executives, isn’t it?) He explains that the manufacturer has been working
on a brand new model for years. They have designed prototypes that they have
trialled on test tracks and in wind tunnels. Would you like to buy the
prototype?

It sounds intriguing, even rather exclusive. But then you
notice in the sales room that the new model itself is on sale. You point this
out the sales executive. ‘Oh yes,’ he says, ‘but wouldn’t you rather buy the
prototype?’ Would you agree, or would you insist on buying the proper brand new
model?

The writer to the Hebrews says that ditching Jesus and going
back to Judaism as his readers knew it before meeting Christ is rather like
opting for the prototype over the fully developed model. The Jewish Law is only
‘a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities’
(verse 1), he says.

But Christ is the fully developed model, the realisation. In
what sense? Because his death on the Cross completes and supersedes all the
sacrifices prescribed in the Law. If you turn your back on Christ, says the
writer, and go back to Judaism, you are going back to sacrifices that need to
be continually offered, whereas Christ’s death is the one perfect sacrifice
that doesn’t need to be repeated. And that means they don’t permanently remove
the effects and consequences of sin. Is that really what you want?

For us, it quickly becomes apparent that the temptation to
compromise and just go back to an outward show of religion is also like opting
for the prototype instead of the real thing. What can compare with the Cross of
Christ? It is only worth living by the benefits of the Cross, and with it as
our pattern for discipleship. Just looking good and behaving in a respectable
way has no transforming spiritual power at all. In fact it drains and saps us.

Let me try another analogy, though. In recent months as a
family we have changed our shopping habits. Instead of trudging around the
supermarket with two small children either to rush after down an aisle or to
strap into a trolley, we have become converts to Internet grocery shopping. It
saves us an immense amount of time and the extra cost of delivery matches or
outweighs the running costs of a car doing the round trip from home to
superstore and back.

However each week when they call, we have to keep an eye out
for one thing: the substitutions. If the supermarket’s personal shopper cannot
find the exact product we have specified, they do their best to substitute
something similar. On delivery it is then up to us to decide whether to accept
their substitution or reject it. Often we reluctantly accept the substitution,
because we need something like that. But we may send it back, as we did the
other week, when we ordered some grated cheddar cheese, only to have it
substituted with a spicy cheese that we knew the children would not like.

Similarly, when the pressure is on us from society, it is like
being asked to accept an inferior substitute. It is worth comparing the
attractions of the world with the Cross of Christ. Surely money and possessions
are more glittery and satisfactory than an obscure unqualified Palestinian
teacher and his mission which ended up with an ignominious death? Not so. The
lustre falls from possession; money ends up possessing us; but Jesus on his
Cross takes away guilt and shame, and even brings reforming power to change us
into people who will love and serve others.

Putting ourselves first sounds attractive. Let’s take it
easy, and let up a bit on all this caring for others lark. But then we see the
Cross and ask which looks more attractive, the ‘me first’ life or Christ?

Or the voice that tells us we deserve all sorts of treats.
It’s the voice of self-indulgence. Wouldn’t it just be great to keep indulging
myself day after day? We’ll just overlook the fact that all the treats would
get devalued and that I’d have to seek more and more extreme thrills in order
to be satisfied. Let’s compare it with Christ and his Cross. The Cross may be
painful and challenging, but which has the capacity turn a life around or
transform the world? It certainly isn’t self-indulgence: that threatens
individuals and the planet itself. It can’t take away sin, like the Cross can.
It only adds to it.

I spoke about ‘resources’: really, then, according to the
writer to the Hebrews, we have one supreme resource to which we turn when under
pressure to conform or compromise. And that is the Cross of Christ. Measure
pressures and temptations up against the Cross and ask whether it’s worth
taking a step back. Who wants the prototype or a poor substitute instead of the
real thing?

2. Responses
Nothing can compare with the Cross of Christ. Yes, but what
should we positively do in the light of that? The theory is nice, but what
should we do in practice? The writer offers us three strategies:

Firstly, he says, draw near to God (verses 19-22). Don’t
stand at a distance: the consequence of the Cross is that the way is opened up
for us to draw near to God. The barriers of sin are down. We are forgiven. We
need not stay remote from God out of a sense of shame, because that shame and
its causes are healed at the Cross. It may of course be that the reason for our
shame and distance from God are that we know how badly we have let him down,
how easily we have negotiated a settlement with a world that wants to
neutralise our faith. But the supremacy of Christ and his Cross means that
compromise does not have the last word, and nor does judgement. Grace has the
last word instead. So feel free to worship, to read Scripture, to pray, to
speak and ask openly and honestly with God. The Cross is his trump card. You
need not feel afraid: his Son says you are welcome in the Father’s presence. The
antidote to feeling pulled away from God is to do the opposite, and the Cross
makes it possible.

Secondly, persevere. ‘Let us hold fast to the confession of
our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.’ (verse 23)
Keep holding on, because God is faithful. He keeps his promises.

One of the things Debbie and I work hard at with our
children is keeping our promises to them. There are times when we have made a
promise and their subsequent behaviour makes us want to break the promise. But
we try to model the importance of promise-keeping, so even if they have let us
down, if we have made an unconditional promise we keep it. (It is different if
it is a promise whose fulfilment has been made explicitly conditional upon
their good conducts.) We believe that promise-keeping is a characteristic of
God and that he is trustworthy. The best way we know for our children to grasp
the character of God is for us and others to reflect that character to them.

I offer this illustration, because I believe that one of the
circumstances in which we are tempted to compromise or give in is by believing
a lie about God. We either are tempted to believe he is capricious and unreliable,
or we are darkly encouraged to see him as one who only rewards us when we are
good. In fact he is a promise-keeping God. ‘The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures,’ wrote John Newton in ‘Amazing Grace’. Begin your
outlook not with your own oscillating attempts at faithful discipleship, but
with the cast-iron faithfulness of God. From that will flow a response of
faithfulness in return, even when you feel like jacking it all in. Let his
grace encourage you. Let his Spirit equip you.

Finally, says our writer, let’s stick together. ‘And let us
consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to
meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all
the more as you see the Day approaching.’ (verses 24-25)

John Donne, the poet and clergyman (Dean of St Paul’s
Cathedral), wrote the famous words ‘No man is an island’, which would underline
the writer to the Hebrews’ call not to neglect meeting together but provoke one
another to love and good deeds. But what fascinates me is the context in which
he wrote those words. His wife Anne, the mother of his twelve children, five of
whom had died in infancy, had herself died. The Great Plague then swept through
London. Donne
stayed to minister to people, but then he was taken gravely ill and everyone
assumed he too would die. Often he was left to battle debilitating symptoms
alone. Whilst seriously ill, he wrote the twenty-three meditations that make up
his book ‘Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions’. The words ‘No man is an island’
appear in Meditation XVII, which is a meditation written upon hearing church
bells ring out for another funeral. So he writes: ‘If a clod be washed away by
the sea, Europe is the less … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am
involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell toils;
it toils for thee.’ (See Philip Yancey, Soul
Survivor, pp 195 – 215.)

You can’t do it alone, says Donne. We were made not to be
isolated individuals but to live in community and fellowship. What happens to
you happens to me. We need to stick together. The writer to the Hebrews says
it’s for the sake of standing firm in the face of temptation and opposition.
Don’t be an island: meet together. And when you do, spur one another on in your
life of faith as disciples of Jesus. Giving up on committed fellowship leaves
you dangerously exposed.

But note that this kind of meeting together cannot be
satisfied purely by gathering on a Sunday morning. It is difficult to build
into corporate worship the kind of spurring one another on that the writer
speaks of. On a typical Sunday we don’t have the time and opportunity to build
the sort of deep relationships that would enable us to egg one another on in
following Jesus. To put this into practice requires committed small groups
where we get to know and trust one another at a deep level. I am not one for
piling on meeting after meeting into a church programme, but I do believe the
one essential on top of Sunday worship is a cell group or class meeting or home
group or discipleship meeting. As John Wesley once said, ‘The Bible knows
nothing of the solitary Christian.’

Conclusion
Do you want to give up the struggle? Is fighting the good
fight draining you? Do you find society offering you alluring packages in
exchange for diluting your commitment to Jesus Christ? Then think about his
Cross. It is a poor rate of exchange to trade that for the vacuous attractions
of the world.

And make a response. Draw near to God, even – and especially
– if you have let him down. Let his faithfulness stimulate your perseverance.
And join a small group of disciples in which you can be accountable to one
another and be positively provocative: that is, provoking one another to love
and good deeds.

Let’s keep on keeping on. As Hebrews says, the great Day is
ever drawing nearer.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Tomorrow’s Sermon: Don’t Give Up

Hebrews
10:1-25

Introduction
Have you ever felt like giving up on your faith? In the Mission-Shaped
Church
course we are currently studying at Hatfield Peverel, we looked
yesterday morning at some of the reasons why people give up on church. Some
have had bad experiences of church – perhaps of rejection or even abuse. Others
have developed objections to the Christian faith. These may be intellectual or
moral objections, or the two may even be linked.

Then there are others who have ‘accidentally’ lost contact
with church. This may be due to a house move. For some it will be about the
local church being unable to meet their needs: what if they have young children
and the church cannot offer anything for them?

But we are still here. Nevertheless we face pressures to
give up. Sometimes it is the temptation to compromise or just coast along in a
religious manner. ‘Don’t get too fanatical,’ says a voice, ‘Just go through the
motions. Make it all look good outwardly and your religious life will be
respected.’

Other times they come from our wider society. ‘Nobody
believes that kind of stuff any more.’ Why not bow down to the gods of money
and possessions? ‘You deserve to put yourself first.’ ‘Isn’t it all rather
narrow-minded?’ These and many other pressures tempt us to take an easier route
in life than that which following Jesus offers.

For those who feel such temptations – and I’d be surprised
if most of us don’t, at least from time to time – the Letter to the Hebrews is
for us. It is written to a group of Christians from a Jewish background who are
being pressured into giving up their faith in Jesus and default back to Judaism.
How does the writer of this Epistle encourage his readers to stick with Christ?
In our reading he offers some resources and some responses. And although we
face different forces from our first century ancestors in the faith, the
resources and responses the writer offers them can be helpful to us, too.

1. Resources
Imagine you need to buy a new car. You visit a local dealer
and begin a conversation with one of the ‘sales executives’. (Funny how they’re
all executives, isn’t it?) He explains that the manufacturer has been working
on a brand new model for years. They have designed prototypes that they have
trialled on test tracks and in wind tunnels. Would you like to buy the
prototype?

It sounds intriguing, even rather exclusive. But then you
notice in the sales room that the new model itself is on sale. You point this
out the sales executive. ‘Oh yes,’ he says, ‘but wouldn’t you rather buy the
prototype?’ Would you agree, or would you insist on buying the proper brand new
model?

The writer to the Hebrews says that ditching Jesus and going
back to Judaism as his readers knew it before meeting Christ is rather like
opting for the prototype over the fully developed model. The Jewish Law is only
‘a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities’
(verse 1), he says.

But Christ is the fully developed model, the realisation. In
what sense? Because his death on the Cross completes and supersedes all the
sacrifices prescribed in the Law. If you turn your back on Christ, says the
writer, and go back to Judaism, you are going back to sacrifices that need to
be continually offered, whereas Christ’s death is the one perfect sacrifice
that doesn’t need to be repeated. And that means they don’t permanently remove
the effects and consequences of sin. Is that really what you want?

For us, it quickly becomes apparent that the temptation to
compromise and just go back to an outward show of religion is also like opting
for the prototype instead of the real thing. What can compare with the Cross of
Christ? It is only worth living by the benefits of the Cross, and with it as
our pattern for discipleship. Just looking good and behaving in a respectable
way has no transforming spiritual power at all. In fact it drains and saps us.

Let me try another analogy, though. In recent months as a
family we have changed our shopping habits. Instead of trudging around the
supermarket with two small children either to rush after down an aisle or to
strap into a trolley, we have become converts to Internet grocery shopping. It
saves us an immense amount of time and the extra cost of delivery matches or
outweighs the running costs of a car doing the round trip from home to
superstore and back.

However each week when they call, we have to keep an eye out
for one thing: the substitutions. If the supermarket’s personal shopper cannot
find the exact product we have specified, they do their best to substitute
something similar. On delivery it is then up to us to decide whether to accept
their substitution or reject it. Often we reluctantly accept the substitution,
because we need something like that. But we may send it back, as we did the
other week, when we ordered some grated cheddar cheese, only to have it
substituted with a spicy cheese that we knew the children would not like.

Similarly, when the pressure is on us from society, it is like
being asked to accept an inferior substitute. It is worth comparing the
attractions of the world with the Cross of Christ. Surely money and possessions
are more glittery and satisfactory than an obscure unqualified Palestinian
teacher and his mission which ended up with an ignominious death? Not so. The
lustre falls from possession; money ends up possessing us; but Jesus on his
Cross takes away guilt and shame, and even brings reforming power to change us
into people who will love and serve others.

Putting ourselves first sounds attractive. Let’s take it
easy, and let up a bit on all this caring for others lark. But then we see the
Cross and ask which looks more attractive, the ‘me first’ life or Christ?

Or the voice that tells us we deserve all sorts of treats.
It’s the voice of self-indulgence. Wouldn’t it just be great to keep indulging
myself day after day? We’ll just overlook the fact that all the treats would
get devalued and that I’d have to seek more and more extreme thrills in order
to be satisfied. Let’s compare it with Christ and his Cross. The Cross may be
painful and challenging, but which has the capacity turn a life around or
transform the world? It certainly isn’t self-indulgence: that threatens
individuals and the planet itself. It can’t take away sin, like the Cross can.
It only adds to it.

I spoke about ‘resources’: really, then, according to the
writer to the Hebrews, we have one supreme resource to which we turn when under
pressure to conform or compromise. And that is the Cross of Christ. Measure
pressures and temptations up against the Cross and ask whether it’s worth
taking a step back. Who wants the prototype or a poor substitute instead of the
real thing?

2. Responses
Nothing can compare with the Cross of Christ. Yes, but what
should we positively do in the light of that? The theory is nice, but what
should we do in practice? The writer offers us three strategies:

Firstly, he says, draw near to God (verses 19-22). Don’t
stand at a distance: the consequence of the Cross is that the way is opened up
for us to draw near to God. The barriers of sin are down. We are forgiven. We
need not stay remote from God out of a sense of shame, because that shame and
its causes are healed at the Cross. It may of course be that the reason for our
shame and distance from God are that we know how badly we have let him down,
how easily we have negotiated a settlement with a world that wants to
neutralise our faith. But the supremacy of Christ and his Cross means that
compromise does not have the last word, and nor does judgement. Grace has the
last word instead. So feel free to worship, to read Scripture, to pray, to
speak and ask openly and honestly with God. The Cross is his trump card. You
need not feel afraid: his Son says you are welcome in the Father’s presence. The
antidote to feeling pulled away from God is to do the opposite, and the Cross
makes it possible.

Secondly, persevere. ‘Let us hold fast to the confession of
our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.’ (verse 23)
Keep holding on, because God is faithful. He keeps his promises.

One of the things Debbie and I work hard at with our
children is keeping our promises to them. There are times when we have made a
promise and their subsequent behaviour makes us want to break the promise. But
we try to model the importance of promise-keeping, so even if they have let us
down, if we have made an unconditional promise we keep it. (It is different if
it is a promise whose fulfilment has been made explicitly conditional upon
their good conducts.) We believe that promise-keeping is a characteristic of
God and that he is trustworthy. The best way we know for our children to grasp
the character of God is for us and others to reflect that character to them.

I offer this illustration, because I believe that one of the
circumstances in which we are tempted to compromise or give in is by believing
a lie about God. We either are tempted to believe he is capricious and unreliable,
or we are darkly encouraged to see him as one who only rewards us when we are
good. In fact he is a promise-keeping God. ‘The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures,’ wrote John Newton in ‘Amazing Grace’. Begin your
outlook not with your own oscillating attempts at faithful discipleship, but
with the cast-iron faithfulness of God. From that will flow a response of
faithfulness in return, even when you feel like jacking it all in. Let his
grace encourage you. Let his Spirit equip you.

Finally, says our writer, let’s stick together. ‘And let us
consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to
meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all
the more as you see the Day approaching.’ (verses 24-25)

John Donne, the poet and clergyman (Dean of St Paul’s
Cathedral), wrote the famous words ‘No man is an island’, which would underline
the writer to the Hebrews’ call not to neglect meeting together but provoke one
another to love and good deeds. But what fascinates me is the context in which
he wrote those words. His wife Anne, the mother of his twelve children, five of
whom had died in infancy, had herself died. The Great Plague then swept through
London. Donne
stayed to minister to people, but then he was taken gravely ill and everyone
assumed he too would die. Often he was left to battle debilitating symptoms
alone. Whilst seriously ill, he wrote the twenty-three meditations that make up
his book ‘Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions’. The words ‘No man is an island’
appear in Meditation XVII, which is a meditation written upon hearing church
bells ring out for another funeral. So he writes: ‘If a clod be washed away by
the sea, Europe is the less … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am
involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell toils;
it toils for thee.’ (See Philip Yancey, Soul
Survivor, pp 195 – 215.)

You can’t do it alone, says Donne. We were made not to be
isolated individuals but to live in community and fellowship. What happens to
you happens to me. We need to stick together. The writer to the Hebrews says
it’s for the sake of standing firm in the face of temptation and opposition.
Don’t be an island: meet together. And when you do, spur one another on in your
life of faith as disciples of Jesus. Giving up on committed fellowship leaves
you dangerously exposed.

But note that this kind of meeting together cannot be
satisfied purely by gathering on a Sunday morning. It is difficult to build
into corporate worship the kind of spurring one another on that the writer
speaks of. On a typical Sunday we don’t have the time and opportunity to build
the sort of deep relationships that would enable us to egg one another on in
following Jesus. To put this into practice requires committed small groups
where we get to know and trust one another at a deep level. I am not one for
piling on meeting after meeting into a church programme, but I do believe the
one essential on top of Sunday worship is a cell group or class meeting or home
group or discipleship meeting. As John Wesley once said, ‘The Bible knows
nothing of the solitary Christian.’

Conclusion
Do you want to give up the struggle? Is fighting the good
fight draining you? Do you find society offering you alluring packages in
exchange for diluting your commitment to Jesus Christ? Then think about his
Cross. It is a poor rate of exchange to trade that for the vacuous attractions
of the world.

And make a response. Draw near to God, even – and especially
– if you have let him down. Let his faithfulness stimulate your perseverance.
And join a small group of disciples in which you can be accountable to one
another and be positively provocative: that is, provoking one another to love
and good deeds.

Let’s keep on keeping on. As Hebrews says, the great Day is
ever drawing nearer.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Photos

A week ago I was on leave. (Which explains the lack of posting on the blog then, and also the lack this week – so much to catch up on, not least six church members in hospital.) Anyway, I took the camera for an outing last Thursday week and have created a couple of photo sets on Flickr. Here are some photos from Colchester Zoo, and here are some photos of the River Chelmer in Chelmsford.

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links for 2006-11-17

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