Sunday, 23 August 2015

Can't make it to church? 23 August 2015

Here we are pounding our way through the year with a new term approaching and the Summer holidays already beginning, like the tan, to fade. But out green season (ordinary time) continues to roll on unabated as we consider Joshua's words, 'As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!' (word on a poster by our front door for years when I was a student - got lost in the move and never replaced it).

Joshua's words come after the Israelites have entered in the promised land and there's always the chance that once the struggle is ended and the travels and battles ceased that will will get lazy and forget where our priorities, and our thanks, really lie. Joshua calls upon the people to make a choice:

Serve the gods of (this age and) this land


Choose to serve the LORD

The people answer rightly and make the right choice: 'Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods.' The problem is that many of us - churched and unchurched - are not making the same responses in our lives, even though so many of us make them with our tongues it is obvious that, as we find with the Old testament's 'people of God', what we say doesn't always turn up in the living out of it.

So I'll start with a challenge: Living out your faith - How do you do yours?

If you, like me so very often, have answered, 'Not that well actually,' then it is time to stop and reflect and remedy that situation.

Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18
“Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. Joshua said to all the people,
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods. It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

But where I am at the moment we are going through 1 Corinthians and today Paul's bus stops and chapters twelve and thirteen:

1 Corinthians 12.27-13.3; 12-13
You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.
First, God has placed apostles in the church. Second, he has placed prophets in the church. Third, he has placed teachers in the church. Then he has given to the church miracles and gifts of healing. He also has given the gift of helping others and the gift of guiding the church. God also has given the gift of speaking in different kinds of languages. 
Is everyone an apostle? Is everyone a prophet? Is everyone a teacher? 
Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages they had not known before? Do all explain what is said in those languages? 
But above all, you should want the more important gifts.
But now I will show you the best way of all.
Suppose I speak in the languages of human beings or of angels. If I don’t have love, I am only a loud gong or a noisy cymbal.
Suppose I have the gift of prophecy. 
Suppose I can understand all the secret things of God and know everything about him.  And suppose I have enough faith to move mountains.  If I don’t have love, I am nothing at all. 
Suppose I give everything I have to poor people.  And suppose I give myself over to a difficult life so I can brag. If I don’t have love, I get nothing at all.

Now we see only a dim likeness of things. It is as if we were seeing them in a foggy mirror. But someday we will see clearly. We will see face to face. 

What I know now is not complete. But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely but the three most important things to have are faith, hope and love. 

But the greatest of them is love.

The greatest of them all is indeed love - and this love takes a man and a piece of wood to a place where His life is given up, not taken, for us all (and 'us' means everyone - not just the cozy Christians) so that we might be reconciled with God.

Personally, I think the combining the two passages as we have is a bit naff in that what we have is two gems, chapter twelve should be complete as on chapter as there is so much there for us regarding gifts and service and the like. But this was pretty much dealt with last Sunday and so, other than to say visit that, I'll move on to chapter thirteen.

Love is something amazing for it look past the wrongs that we engage in and offers us arms that embrace and hands that wipe away tears. That said, we must never lose sight of the fact that love never rejects but we must never forget that love does not condone our wrongdoings either.

The essence of 1 Corinthians is that love builds a habitation, a shelter, for the focus of that love in the storms of life and in the heats of the moment. Love is always inclusive and yet never permissive. 

The problem we have is that we make love something quite trivial in the light of the cross. We exchange the word for things that are sometimes limited and rather tawdry and there are times when what we really mean when we use the 'L' word is actually another with the same letter: Lust.

We use the word 'love' to justify our desires for people and things and positions of authority and the like and yet the reality is something weaker and less worthy. 

As a pastor I find some people who change their relationships like others change their sock. Often, and always, they tell me of how this is the real thing and yet it, rather sadly, never is! But the key to love is that it is about giving and not getting. It is about seeing something good done in, and for, the life of the focus of your love, which brings us nicely back to Joshua as I ask who are you going to serve?

I meet many people who tell me they are Christians and yet the focus of their love is all too often themselves and I am sad when I see people putting everything into the god of self and struggle to reap any benefits from that relationship.

Love is not made ours by the putting off of enmity and strife (but there would be less stress in the world if everyone at least sought this).

Love is not brought about by seeking to put aside, or avoiding being the focus of, hatred (but at least that would be a start in finding ways to live in peace).

Love is something we have a duty to engage in. It is something God commands us to do )'love your neighbour...', in fact we are clearly told: 'We can't say ewe love God and hate the person before us'). 

We do not have a choice but to love and those who are the focus of our love are loved in the same way that God shows His love for us: A sacrificial, non-cost counting, non  'what's in it for me' existence.

Who are you gonna serve?

How are you going to love?

John 6.56-69
Glory to you, O Lord.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.” 

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord Praise to you, O Christ

And so we come to the Gospel and as the 'Bread discourse' of John six closes we find two things especially important for us to consider (and yew, I know there are many others):

i. When asked if they were leaving too, the disciples said:
Lord, to whom shall we go? 
You have the words of eternal life. 
We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Words which are up there with those said by the people in the Joshua reading: 'Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods. It was the Lord our God himself who ... (did everything for us). Jesus has the words of eternal life, and is the Word who brings eternal life - bargain or what?

Would that those who want to be disciples today would utter those words and live by them.

ii. The taking into ourselves the presence of Jesus, something we do spiritually, in a physical way. To have Jesus taken into ourselves via prone lips, this is something special beyond measure and this is what we do when we commune with God, and each other, at the altar rail. 

'Eat this bread and you will live, not just foray, but for eternity,' this is the promise of the true bread. This is the reason that the Eucharist is more than a reminder, a 'mere memorial' as one non-conformist colleague put it. This is the reason that so many of us put such great store in the Eucharist and the reasons that, because of us gathering to share it, that the Church continues as it does.

Why not take a little time to reflect upon Jesus as the living bread and what this might mean for you - and as you do, reflect also on the words of today's collect:

The Collect
Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayers
God of all mercy,
in this eucharist you have set aside our sins and given us your healing:
grant that we who are made whole in Christ may bring that healing to this broken world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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