Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Can't Make it to Church - Sunday 23 September 2018

When the going gets tough the most common response is to get complaining! That’s how we start today with the prophet Jeremiah and his lament. When it gets hard, we call on God to vindicate us and get those who stand opposed to us – and God – in our laments: Our prayers to God.

Compare this with our Gospel reading from Mark where Jesus tell His disciples of His coming betrayal and death and resurrection with the results that they all look the other way because they get it but don’t want to accept it. If I’d benefit Jesus in this situation I’d have been doing a bit of lamenting and moaning at God. But He didn’t.

“Why do you fight and argue amongst yourselves?” asks James in our middle reading. The answer is that the disciples have their eyes on rank, status and who sits where in the pecking order.

This is no different in the Church – there are many clergy who have bored my socks off over the years with their droning on about their relationship with the bishop and their achievements and their rank and titles. They’re the same people who are found on the front row wherever the bishop is to be found. They’re the same people who want to be influential and applauded by the world – people who are willing to put the word of God aside to be viewed favourably by the world.

But doesn’t the Bible says, “Woe unto you when the world (that’s everyone) speaks well of you?”
Yes it does (Luke 6).

In our James reading we hear these words: “Don’t you know that to be a friend of the world is to hate God? So anyone who chooses to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.”

The world has ‘evil plans’ for God’s people. It wants to see self on the throne and the word of God trampled and ridiculed so that what it wants and does is applauded and considered right. William Penn (the man Pennsylvania is named after) once said this:

Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.
We are called to be servants – not doormats!

We are not called to look the other way or water down the Gospel or compromise. 

Let’s agree to differ!” is not the way of love, it’s the path where we permit others to sin (and that means we're sinning too) and make the statement that that which we believe to be wrong is as valid as that which we know in ourselves (the word of God) is right.

Galatians chapter six lays it out for us nicely:  “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.
If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”

I was in a meeting with other clergy recently and I realised that satan need do nothing to act against the Church and the kingdom of God; he just needs to step back and leave it to us Christians. We compromise the word of God to be popular and we put on our services to entertain and be an attraction (and of course it should be – but in the right way).

In a church which is apparently full of ‘green shoots’ (something bishops love to be told) I heard of nothing but diminishing numbers and ageing congregations. So I asked one of the spokespeople how many people they’d brought to the church over the past few years. Their response? “That’s the Vicar’s job!” I know their Vicar and I have to say that of they are waiting for them to fill the church building with believers then they are in for a long wait and an increasingly empty building!!
Follow Christ – preach the Gospel – Live the Gospel in our own lives – serve those around us – correct those who are wrong – seek the paths of peace and concord – don’t look to be popular but to be right in the eyes of God (and man). And when they line up against you pray that God strengthens you and shows his love and blessing on those who might hate us.

But never compromise your faith or deny the word of God.

Simple really, isn’t it?

Post Communion
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect 
Gracious God, you call us to fullness of life: deliver us from unbelief and banish our anxieties with the liberating love of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jeremiah 11:18-20
The Lord told me about the evil plans of my enemies. That’s how I knew about them. He showed me what they were doing. I had been like a gentle lamb led off to be killed. I didn’t realise they had made plans against me. They had said,

“Let’s destroy the tree and its fruit. Let’s take away his life. Then his name won’t be remembered anymore.”
But Lord, you rule over all. You always judge fairly. You test people’s hearts and minds. So pay them back for what they’ve done. I’ve committed my cause to you.

James 3:13-4:8
Is anyone among you wise and understanding? That person should show it by living a good life. A wise person isn’t proud when they do good deeds. But suppose your hearts are jealous and bitter. Suppose you are concerned only about getting ahead. Then don’t brag about it. And don’t say no to the truth. Wisdom like this doesn’t come down from heaven. It belongs to the earth. It doesn’t come from the Holy Spirit. It comes from the devil. Are you jealous? Are you concerned only about getting ahead? Then your life will be a mess. You will be doing all kinds of evil things.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is pure. That’s the most important thing about it. And that’s not all. It also loves peace. It thinks about others. It obeys. It is full of mercy and good fruit. It is fair. It doesn’t pretend to be what it is not. Those who make peace plant it like a seed. They will harvest a crop of right living.

Why do you fight and argue among yourselves? Isn’t it because of your sinful desires? They fight within you. You want something, but you don’t have it. So you kill. You want what others have, but you can’t get what you want. So you argue and fight. You don’t have what you want, because you don’t ask God. When you do ask for something, you don’t receive it. That’s because you ask for the wrong reason. You want to spend your money on your sinful pleasures.

You are not faithful to God. Don’t you know that to be a friend of the world is to hate God? So anyone who chooses to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Don’t you know what Scripture says? God wants the spirit in us to belong only to him. God caused this spirit to live in us. Don’t you think Scripture has a reason for saying this? But God continues to give us more grace. That’s why Scripture says,

“God opposes those who are proud. But he gives grace to those who are humble.” (Proverbs 3:34)
So obey God. Stand up to the devil. He will run away from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Make your hearts pure, you who can’t make up your minds.

Mark 9:30-37
They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were. That was because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be handed over to men. They will kill him. After three days he will rise from the dead.” But they didn’t understand what he meant. And they were afraid to ask him about it.

Jesus and his disciples came to a house in Capernaum. There he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet. On the way, they had argued about which one of them was the most important person.

Jesus sat down and called for the twelve disciples to come to him. Then he said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last. They must be the servant of everyone.”

Jesus took a little child and had the child stand among them. Then he took the child in his arms. He said to them, “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me.”

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