18 June 2017
1st Sunday of Trinity
Genesis 18: 1-15; Romans 5: 1-8; Matthew 9: 35 - 10:8
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At the risk of mentioning politics, I wanted to begin by reflecting briefly on the dilemma which led Tim Fallon to resign as leader of the Liberal Democrat party on Wednesday due to it becoming incompatible with his Christian faith. In his announcement he spoke about how he’e been questioned about his Christian faith from the very first day of his leadership. Then he found his faith under the crossfire again at the start of the election. He said
The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader.
He ended his brief but very dignified speech, with what I thought was a very moving statement
“I want to say one more thing..... I joined our party when I was 16, it is in my blood, I love our history, our people, I thoroughly love my party.”
“Imagine how proud I am to lead this party. And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour.
In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something ‘so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all’.””
From a position that his opponents would have seen as a political defeat, Tim Fallon gave a wonderfully strong and clear statement of his faith.
That sound to me like someone who is very much at peace with his life and his God! I hope this encouraged people to perhaps stop and think about what this faith is all about, to be worth such a sacrifice.
And so our second reading today in Romans ch5, is a helpful companion to those thoughts. Paul writes to the Roman church setting out essentially the benefits of believing in Jesus Christ!
Firstly, Paul says, we are JUSTIFIED by faith – its like a legal decree - we were guilty of sin which separates us from God, but then Paul explains how because of what Jesus did for us, the righteousness of God is given to all who believe. The guilty sentence is transformed into a sentence of justified - justified by FAITH - Just As If I’d never sinned.
Through this (v1-2) Paul says
“we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand”.
A standing in grace means we don’t have to prove ourselves worthy of God’s love (we can’t), our account with him was settled in Jesus, and the door of access to God is now permanently open. We are at peace WITH God.
Paul also describes “boasting in the HOPE of sharing in the glory of God” – and also, perhaps more difficult for us to take on board, “boasting in our suffering”. Something we can actually do, in the knowledge that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces HOPE – and Paul says, HOPE doesn’t disappoint us, BECAUSE God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
And, the reading concludes with that most famous of verses Romans 5:8
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
And that’s the simple crux of our faith - enough to know on its own, but helpful to have Paul’s reminder of all the benefits that flow from it. Helpful perhaps when we are facing pressures, when we face times of doubt, when we do suffer, and when we find something in life that is at odds with our faith and we have a difficult decision to make
And I hope it also encourages us, as it did the Romans, to be bold and stand firm as we live out our faith in our daily lives. We are such a diverse people that living out our faith takes many forms. And whilst many do not feel called to go out and give talks or preach sermons, or work for an aid agency (remembering the inspiring work of Mary’s Meals that we heard about last week). We ARE however, as believers, charged with proclaiming the gospel in words and deeds. Put like that it does sound daunting, and we often think “well I couldn’t possibly do that”. And I can just imagine the disciples feeling like that in our gospel reading today - that was a very daunting list that Jesus gave them - go to the lost sheep of Israel and
proclaim the good news that the Kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons”
But in terms of proclaiming the good news, what we ARE ALL called to do, is summed up in 1 Peter 3:15
Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you. but do it with gentleness and respect.”
Jesus empowered the disciples to go out and perform the amazing things he asked of them, but what he taught the disciples, and us, was by example. He showed us the very nature of the invisible God through his time on earth. We might not be called or given the gifts to do all of those things, but we can break down the principles of Jesus mission into four basic components.
v36 of Matt 9 says that when Jesus went about all of the cities and villages, teaching and healing people:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd
We tend to use the word compassion more these days. The Greek word for compassion is “splanchna”. It literally means to have your insides churn. You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you are going down the first drop of a roller coaster? It’s the same feeling when you hear horrible news. Your stomach feels like it has just been kicked in. That’s splanchna, something I think we all felt as the awful events unfolded of the fire at Grenfell Tower in London this week.
Pity, compassion, is key to our ability to show people real kindness, to serve them and want to share God’s love with them - and want to see them come to know and love the Lord as we do.
2. Secondly, like Jesus, we need to be able to see the POTENTIAL. This is the point where its either glass half empty or glass half full. Jesus didn’t see the all the sinful souls and human mess around him and hang his head saying “I just don’t know what the world is coming to”, he saw the potential of the spiritual harvest just waiting to be reaped. We need to try to see what is in front of us with Jesus’ eyes and heart, and ask what are we going to do about it - or rather what does God want us to do about it? And that brings us to a third “P”
When Jesus said (v37)
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few;”
he went on to say(v38)
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’
And that is the part of proclaiming the gospel that EVERY Christian can do - regardless of how healthy, wealthy or wise you are, you can pray to God for the spread of the gospel, that His love will reach out and change lives. We don’t have to be able to travel to the third world to participate in missions, we don’t have to join some sort of outreach work, or be involved in leading a bible study group - we just need to pray for those who do, and for those who may be called, now or in the future, to do so. Prayer is a powerful tool - I see that in practice when I’m out on Town Pastor duty in Bury on a Friday night - calling the prayer base and asking for prayer on a situation, and seeing that prayer answered (in the form of a fast recovery for someone, or a friend appearing to provide someone a lift home for instance). The actual harvest is God’s work, it is His Holy Spirit that is at work in someone’s heart, to respond to his offer of forgiveness and eternal life. We may not know what to do in a situation, but we can pray to God who does, and leave that situation in God’s hands.
That is something that gives us great confidence, and that confidence is something we need for that last point.
We are to pray that God will send the workers into the harvest field, but it is conceivable that actually there might be a part of that work that God is calling US to do. Jesus told his disciples to ask God to send labourers out into the field to participate in the harvest - and as we read on further in chapter 10 we see how they actually became part of the answer to their own prayers.
We don’t always expect to be part of the answer, or feel that we are equipped to do so, but God loves to give us that privilege, sometimes in ways we could not anticipate. I’ll give you an example from my own experience - not everyone feels they could be part of the work of the Town Pastors - but it’s not just people out walking the beat, there are prayer supporters - people who either prayer for the whole shift from the prayer base (receiving phone calls, making a cup of tea and piece of toast for the Pastors when they nip back to base for a break) but also people who offer to pray for a specific hour at home - someone who perhaps always wakes up every morning at about 3am and can’t get back to sleep, so volunteers once a month to pray at 3am for an hour). PARTICIPATION begins with a shift in attitude - being involved emotionally and spiritually, supporting the work of spreading the good news. And being open to God to calling you to something new - directly by putting something on your heart or from the promptings of fellow Christians, friends and neighbours - that is after all how I ended up being here on placement!
We never feel ready, or worthy, we find it hard sometimes: to have PITY, to see the POTENTIAL, to PRAY and especially to PARTICIPATE, but that isn’t a blocker to God. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and after all our Romans reading ended reminding us
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
He doesn’t expect us to be perfect, he knows we aren’t, but loves us just the same: and He longs for us to put our trust in Him, to love Him, and allow His Holy Spirit to work in our hearts and lives. And to long and pray for his Kingdom to come in the hearts and lives of others. May we be aware of God at work in our lives today.
Let us pray
Heavenly Father, may your Word from this weeks readings continue to encourage and challenge us, as we seek to serve your purpose, as your voice, hands and feet in the world today, to your Glory.