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10 September 2017 Sunday Message: God and Government. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings: 1 Tim 2:1-8; Romans 13:1-7;  1 Peter 2:13-17

Message:

About this time 40 years ago this was me:

robin army

Hard to believe really. The uniform tells a story too. We were fighting a war that we didn’t believe in. The government of the day was not my preferred choice. I campaigned for the opposition. It didn’t help.

And the choice of being in the army or not was a choice between conscription or jail really. Conscientious objection was a painful third way.

During those two years I am sure I heard more than a few occasions a military chaplain reading Romans 13:1-2 as a reminder.

PW Botha who became president was the then minister of defence. His photo was on the wall in the various military buildings we used. (In fact, we had to entertain people at a party for his wife for her birthday party. At the end of the event, the cabinet ministers’ wives went around the tables collecting the free cameo cigarettes that they used to have on the tables in those days and stuffed them into their handbags. We did find that very funny.)

When PW Botha did become president, he was visited in 1985 by Michael Cassidy who represented the churches trying to broker a peace deal. As this esteemed Christian leader walked into the president’s office, the old crocodile as we called him was reading his bible out aloud in his oval office. From Romans 13.

Rom 13:1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

When he had finished reading he said to Michael Cassidy: “What can I do for you?” Just a bit of intimidation really.

The president was right. But his government wasn’t necessarily right.

Obviously we have a problem here.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a case in point. When Hitler, the elected leader, abused his power, the Lutheran Church struggled with the idea that you should disobey or worse still try to get rid of the Chancellor by any means, let alone by assassination. Bonhoeffer did participate in that movement. His ethics, put simply – were based on these kinds of ideas: “It is better to do evil than to be evil.” The Gestapo hanged him of course.

Martin Luther called on the German princes to crush the peasants when they revolted. The ensuing violence after the peasants’ revolt created a real crisis for him.

Simon Ponsonby writes that “Luther spoke of the Zwei-Reiche-Lehre, the two-kingdoms rule, arguing that God rules through the church as well as through kings and their governments. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Our decisions may not have the same drastic consequences as Bonhoeffer’s or Luther’s, but as Christians it is getting harder to manage the tension between the State and our faith.

This is not just about voting, but also about our own moral and ethical choices. For example, as a marriage officer, there is obvious tension when the State changes the law about marriage, and the law differs from one’s understanding of Christian marriage.

There are many other ethical issues including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and others which create tensions in various ways. Christian doctors, nurses and researchers all have to work through some of these things.

WHAT DOES PAUL REALLY SAY?

Well here’s the thing. Chapter 13 follow chapter 12. And it seems that the 9-21 factor still applies here. Remember that from last week?

12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God gives government. It’s for our good. Anarchy is not good. None of us would be safe without law. (Remember my children’s story about Rob Bell wanting to take revenge with a golf ball – throwing it out of the sunroof of the car to hit the car behind which cut him off? The kids loved that last week. Without law, he could simply drive him off the road or shoot him – so that our highways could look like a mad max movie.)

God gives government. Paul doesn’t specify which kind. That’s not the point. Democracy is a very modern thing anyway.

If we are not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good – then we are to be a good example in our behaviour in our wider lives too.

When Paul writes to Timothy he makes it clear that prayer for the authorities is our essential responsibility. And the outcome is good for society – for all us. Government is a gift from God – according to Emil Brunner – God’s involvement in government is called “preserving grace” – it is grace that preserves the good.

We need to add to that good – clinging to it (12:9) and overcoming evil with it (12:21).

The second-century church father Tertullian once declared that “Caesar is more ours than yours, for our God has appointed him” and that, because of their prayers for those in authority, “Christians do more than you [Romans] for his welfare”. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So Paul says:

Rom 13:1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Rom 13:4  For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Rom 13:6  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

Look at the repeated words:

  • Authorities and authority (exousisa – powers)
  • Servant and servants (diakonos – minister)
  • God (theos)

It is no coincidence that cabinet ministers are called ministers. The word is translated as servants. Admittedly they get paid a tad more than ministers in our churches. But the idea is the same.

They serve God – even if they don’t believe in God or know this. And they serve people.

And we are to pray for them with some intensity and unity – and give them the honour that is due. Verse 7 ends this passage with these words: Rom 13:7  Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

So, in short:

  • We submit
  • We pray

And at times

  • we do disobey.

Simon Ponsonby gives great examples when he writes:

Sometimes civil disobedience will be patently obviously required:

  • Daniel refused to obey the edict to pray only to King Darius for thirty days, and was thrown in the lions’ den (Daniel 6).
  • Peter and the apostles were forbidden by the Sanhedrin to preach the gospel, but they refused on the grounds that they should obey God not men (Acts 5: 29).
  • Many Christians in the early centuries of the Roman empire chose martyrdom rather than hand over their sacred scrolls to be burned or blaspheme by declaring Caesar as lord.
  • Some Christians, all too few, hid Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, rather than comply with the wicked law and hand them over to be exterminated. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 368). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Ponsonby goes on:

The rule of the state is part of God’s economy in this age. God gives, the church lives under good government, and the church sieves government.

Meanwhile we wait expectantly for the coming rule of Christ’s kingdom at his return, as Isaiah prophesied: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (Isaiah 9: 7). (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 369). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So keep praying and obeying in the meantime.

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 1 May 2016, (archive) – Seeking the reality of the power, presence, and peace of God.

Reading: John 14:23 – 29

(Archive sermon – from Sunday 5 May 2013. We had a visitor today and our focus was on CAP – Christians against poverty. This sermon may be of interest to those who did not make it. Sermons from the archives are sometimes dated because of their context but the truths are still there.)

Message

It’s Pentecost in two weeks’ time. Pente is not just the name of a board game. It means 50 (Pentagon and Pentagram – you know all those words).

Fifty days after Passover was this Jewish Feast – also known as the feast of weeks. On that day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church – and the disciples empowered to preach the gospel and heal the sick. Celebrated in some churches as Whitsunday. Why?

There’s a real danger that we mark the day in our calendars and say – WOW look at that – and nothing actually happens to make the experience real for us.

The truth is that the work of the Holy Spirit is not a one-off experience. A day on the calendar. It is a central part of our Christian lives.

Reminds me of the story Nicky Gumble tells of the Religious Education teacher at school who asked his class one day: “How many people believe in God the Father?” and most put up their hands. “And how many believe in God the Son?” Quite a lot responded. And then finally he asked: “How many people believe in God the Holy Spirit?” And there was silence. Eventually a child responded: “sir, the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today!”

The Holy Spirit has often been a side-lined person in the Trinity.

One can understand the fears of people who look at the word “Spirit” and think of strange and spooky things. But we must remember that all we have of God is only possible through the Spirit.

  • Our regeneration – we are born of the spirit (John 3 – the Nicodemus passage)
  • Our sanctification – we are transformed by the spirit (2Co 3:17  Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2Co 3:18  But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. KJV)
  • Our experience of the presence of God – Jesus is with us through the spirit  (Matt 28:20 – “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
  • Our development of Christian character – we have the fruits of the Spirit – which we should know by now – recite together…  (Gal 5:19  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; Gal 5:20  idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Gal 5:21  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23  gentleness and self-control.)
  • Our appropriation of the gifts of God – the charismata are the gifts of the spirit and include the gift of healing which is a gift of the spirit (and by the way the gifts are not for our benefit alone but are there to bless others). 1Co 12:3  Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1Co 12:4  There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1Co 12:5  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 1Co 12:6  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 1Co 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. And then they are listed…
  • The peace of God – which is made real by the Holy Spirit. This peace is more than just one of the fruits of the spirit. It is a special gift of Jesus as we see in today’s passage.

And so we come to our first verse of the reading today – a most remarkable line which should get our attention immediately:

Jesus replied (to Judas whose question arises in this different discussion): (John 14:19  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. John 14:20  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:21  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”)

John 14:22  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

It’s quite a complicated discussion and one of the few references to the other Judas in the team (not Judas Iscariot). It’s a question about Jesus revealing himself to his followers and not to the general public or the greater world stage. The reply is interesting in that context. What do we need? Listen: John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

The Father and the Son will make their home in those who love and obey. Love Jesus and take his teachings seriously.

They will MAKE THEIR HOME in those people who are committed to love and obedience.

Now I know you like the hymn “Trust and obey” but this is “love and obey.”

HOW?

By the Spirit who makes this possible!

To seal this Jesus continues in verse 24: John 14:24  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

This is serious business! This is Jesus transmitting the words of the Father to the disciples!

GETTING SERIOUS WITH GOD

Getting serious with God is the only way to really experience all he has for us!  And so we read on to understand more: John 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. John 14:26  But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:28  “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. John 14:29  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Not only do we have the presence of the Father and the Son who make their home in us through the Spirit (verse 26 re-enforces this – it is the counsellor – the Holy Spirit – who will become their on-going teacher, who will remind them of Jesus’ words), we have with this experience the PEACE OF GOD – NOT THE PEACE OF THIS WORLD.

So many people want the peace – but they don’t want a bit of this God business!

The world that Jesus speaks of is the world of people who are outside of God’s influence – by their own choice. In Jesus day they were around – in the crowds – in the towns where he visited. They would have heard but not believed.

Hence Judas’ question in verse 22 – John 14:22  Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Well God may have loved the world so much that he sent Jesus – but the truth is the world in general did not open its arms to the Gospel and still does not!  The world is made up of people who are spiritually dead in their sins. So they would not discern spiritual things. And today it seems that nothing has changed – in fact it seems that peoples’ hearts are more firmly set against the things of God!

If you go back in John 14 to earlier verses you will read this: John 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— John 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

SO WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL THIS TODAY?

“Very interesting” you may say – or “very confusing” – yes John’s gospel is not simple because it records the words of Jesus who clearly saw the need to repeat some key things. Like preachers often have to. For years sometimes!

The words that keep coming to us are these:

  • Love
  • Obedience
  • A presence that gives us peace.

How serious are you about seeking the reality of the power of God?

While the presence and power of God is really a gift of grace – the bible constantly reminds us that we appropriate the fullness of the Lord’s power when we actively seek him!

Reminds me of one of my favourite passages from Jeremiah 29: Jer 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer 29:12  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. Jer 29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

So I ask again: How serious are you about seeking the reality of the power and presence of God?

And that begins with LOVE. Our love for Him! The greatest commandment is about loving God!  Jesus re-enforced the Deuteronomy 6 teaching of Moses in these words in Mark: Mark 12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

And when you really love someone – you want to please them – not out of duty – not to earn their love – but because you delight in the relationship!

Christians who are serious about God the Father and the Son making their home in us (through the Holy Spirit) – have some housekeeping to do! (read Psalm 24!  Psa 24:3  Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? Psa 24:4  He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. Psa 24:5  He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Saviour. Psa 24:6  Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob )

Just like the old days when you tidied up when the pastor came to visit and got rid of the dodgy things lying around – perhaps you tidy your place when you have visitors in general – the idea of a Holy God making your life His dwelling is quite challenging. Or you clean up when the landlord is coming to check on the house! 🙂

I’m not sure if we can biblically call this place the house of God – because it isn’t according to the Bible. We probably need to get out of that habit. Let’s be biblical: Paul in Athens talking in the context of an altar built to an unknown God says this: Acts 17:24  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. Acts 17:25  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

So back to –

  • Love
  • Obedience
  • A presence that gives us peace.

Too many people want to go straight to the peace! We want the feel good factor – our problems to end – the world to be a place of harmony – and cats and dogs to get on well. Sorry to pop the bubble – it’s not like that. You can’t get this happening in your life if you do it the world’s way. Let me try to explain.

PERSONAL REFLECTION

I’ve been here just over five years. Jesus ministered for three years. Paul was in Ephesus for two, and Corinth for 18 months. They seemed to get a lot more done in shorter amounts of time! It’s a lot harder today it seems – wherever you go ministering in the church.

I think this – this is my personal reflection – that the world has crept into the church.

When you bring the world into church you can easily quench the Holy Spirit – you can put out the light and stamp out the life.

We sometimes make it about us. And it is not about us. If you get caught up with trying to please people then we miss God. It’s a distraction.

It is – according to what we read about Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in John 14 – about love, obedience and God’s presence that gives us peace – not as the world gives! That changes us so that we can make a difference in our families, our places of work, and the world where we live.

John 14:15  “If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever—John 14:17  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

We can be like the world when we focus on the wrong things, and then we can’t discern what God the Holy Spirit is saying or doing in our midst. Paul speaks about this again to the Corinthian church when talks about his preaching which was – in his words – “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2:4). He goes on to say in that most amazing passage in verses 9 and 10: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— 1Cor 2:10  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. And then he says this: 1Cor 2:14  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them..

All this church stuff we do – has no buying power, no currency – without the Spirit leading and directing. In fact – scary thing – churches can carry on doing the same thing for years – without necessarily being led by the Holy Spirit.

I read this amazing account about Judson Cornwall  (15 August 1924 – 11 February 2005) – a great preacher and prolific writer who started preaching at the age of 7 in the depression who went back to a church where he had ministered. Twenty years before he had taught them to seek more of God – and they had not listened. In fact he’d had a dream which he shared with them at the time – where the church members were in a large store and told to take anything they wanted – it was all free. They did – stuffing their pockets with cheap trinkets. Higher up were shelves with really valuable things for free too. Cornwall, in the dream, told them: “look up! look up!” But they didn’t. He resigned some time after that. (p94 – “More” by Simon Ponsonby). At the reunion dinner a lady said: “Oh pastor isn’t it wonderful? We still have all those gifts which God gave us in that renewal when you were here twenty years ago.” He excused himself from the party, returned to his hotel and fell on his bed weeping.

I wouldn’t mind if we shut up shop and just met for 6 months to really seek the face of God. No programs. Just prayer – Just cultivating a deep love for God, real obedience to God, and the presence, power and peace of God. Seeking to be the people of God who have Him with us and working through us. Fully. Totally. Completely.

Total surrender.

John 14:23  Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14:24  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

May the Holy Spirit speak to us today. May He speak to you! Don’t be like the people in the department store getting the cheap trinkets. Imitation.

Look up! Look higher!

Amen.

 

 

Sunday sermon 4 November – All Saints Sunday

Readings: Matthew 5:1-12 & Revelation 19:6-10

INTRODUCTION

STORY: “For all the saints”

In our last congregation I used to preach occasionally (my main work was as a College Chaplain). Towards the end of the vacancy just before the new priest’s induction I spoke to the congregation and in my sermon suggested that a bad hymn to sing at the new person’s induction was “For all the saints who from their labours rest” – as it might send the wrong signal to the church members who had been involved in ministry through that time that once the new priest was installed they could all stop what they were doing and put their feet up. At his induction they did indeed sing that hymn which he chose (as the congregation was called “All Saints”.) Of course there were some giggles during the hymn. At least some of them had remembered my warning.

The traditional view of saints is great people of God who have now died and are with Him. – thus in some traditions they are seen as mediators – people pray through saints – and various ones are allocated to certain tasks.

Can you think of the most famous? Probably St Christopher – (his name means “bearer of Christ” – he carried the boy Christ as you can see on a St Christopher emblem). I don’t know of too many apart from him. St Andrew maybe – the patron Saint of Scotland. Think of all the Presbyterian churches called “St Andrews” – for those who don’t know most of our Presbyterian churches were started here in New Zealand by and for Scottish emigrants.

I think the fact that there are 10 000 catholic saints means people can be forgiven for not remembering them all. Luckily if you need to know each day there is an app for your Iphone – and the saint of the day will pop up for you.

I do know this – that for some reason there are three saints for Brewers! St. Luke, St. Nicholas and St. Augustine of Hippo.

And only one for Clergy – ministers like me, a saint ominously called St Gabriel of our Lady of sorrows (d. 27 Feb 1862). The poor guy died at age 24. Clearly there is a link to pastors and clergy being worn out entirely! Actually he died of TB and was known to be a nice guy – which is perhaps why they adopted him as the patron saint of clergy. We are told this of him: Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule (1741) as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.

THE BIBLICAL VIEW:

We are saints – holy ones – justified (made righteous) by faith and holy (set apart) for God and his service, and sanctified in Christ.

We use the word “saints” as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 1:2: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (NRSV)

ALL ARE SAINTS THEN.

And curiously Paul says this in his greeting to the Corinthians – and then he outlines their terrible faults! Like getting drunk at communion and sexual sins, and abuse of spiritual gifts.

We are SAINTS in God’s sight – holy – because Jesus has died for us! And his gift of righteousness is given to us. (Romans 3:21-22).

We become children of God through faith in Jesus! And there is clearly an expectation that we should behave like God’s children!

We are therefore to be transformed into his likeness – and the Holy Spirit does this through the application of the Word of God.  (And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18)

So when reading the Essential Jesus readings, we should not be fussing about whether we like the commentary that goes with it.

We should be asking God to apply the Word to our lives through His Spirit – so that we become more like Jesus.

That is the call of God on all the saints – on all of us who are Christ-followers.

MY PRIORITIES as a minister are worth a reminder.

How easily we get sidetracked. Meetings and minutes. Parking and preferences. Traditions and timetables – how long the service went over time and all the other issues we have.

All this church stuff!

My job is very simple – is to keep the church on track so that we become like Jesus and do the things Jesus wants us to do!

My job is not YOUR HAPPINESS! Or mine for that matter.

It’s getting us all to really do God’s will.

THE BEATITUDES which we have read often – the foundation of the Sermon on the Mount – describe lives that are different from the rest. They describe God’s will for us. Let’s have a look at what they are about.

There’s this old hymn about the saints in heaven and on earth that goes: O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we, Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with thee. (The church’s one foundation.)

Happiness and holiness? Do they go together?

The beatitudes are often translated using the word “happy”. So for example we have the Good News Bible:

Mat 5:3  “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

Mat 5:4  “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!

Mat 5:5  “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!

Mat 5:6  “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!

Mat 5:7  “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!

Mat 5:8  “Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!

Mat 5:9  “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!

Mat 5:10  “Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!

Mat 5:11  “Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers.

When you read that you can’t help but think – surely that is NOT a happy situation!!

Perhaps blessed, fortunate, privileged would be better.

The word in Matthew 5 is MAKARIOS (blessed) and was used to describe the saints who were often martyed. As one commentator puts it, ‘It is hard to picture a smile on the face of Polycarp or Justin as they were being burned or beheaded. Yet, “blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” Jesus declares.’

SO WHAT KIND OF SAINTS DO WE WANT TO BE?

Simply obedient ones. Like that nice young man who is the patron saint of clergy – St Gabriel.

What does this all mean for the saints gathered in this church this All Saints Sunday?

Not only do we remember those who faithfully served the Lord and influenced our lives – helping us on the right track – those who are gone before us.

In the words of a writer on this passage: “It also means that we should align ourselves today with the historic chorus of people who have been sanctified by Christ, people who in happiness or difficulty, found their hope in Jesus and made their way as part of the kingdom of God.”

Hebrews puts it this way:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (12:1-2a)

And let’s focus on two of Jesus’ Beatitudes and take them for ourselves today:

Many of them are about our lives – mourning, the earth, being peacemakers, being merciful and persecution. They are all good – and challenging.

Two of them stand out:

Mat 5:6  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Mat 5:8  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

They are matters of priority and our deepest desires, matters of the heart – and they relate to God.

We hunger and thirst for many things. But this is not about physical needs. It’s about our deepest needs and our fundamental orientation. And our hearts – the deepest emotional driver in us.

While we recognise that we are saints because our righteousness (in the legal sense of being made right with God – justified by faith – so that our sins are dealt with) – our orientation – our direction in life – has to be towards what is right and pure.

We spoke about forgiveness last week – and how we need to forgive.

The fact that we have to forgive so often is because our lives are so fettered by sin and disobedience – things that are the opposite of what God wants for us.

We need to be honest that we are often far from God and that our lives don’t really show God’s Kingdom values.

It’s no wonder that the first line of the Sermon on the Mount is this:

Mat 5:3  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When you know your need of God – then it all happens.

Conversely – when you are self-satisfied – you miss the bus entirely!

THE SAINTS ARE IN OUR MIDST IF WE LOOK HARD ENOUGH

God is at work in this place in ordinary people. If you look hard enough you will see.

And it’s not about all the things we DO for God or the church. We tend to say “what a saint – they DO so much” while we sit back like the saints “who from their labours rest” – a bit too early! The tasks at hand can be shared and should be.

If you look hard enough you see acts of grace and kindness – people of courage who have mourned and are being comforted as they find new ways to live as single people again – people who have been persecuted for righteousness sake – people who don’t try to defend themselves, but simply keep going doing what God shows them to do.

You see these saints in our midst when their hearts are broken when they see people suffer – and especially when they see people so far from God who need to receive his touch. They’d do anything to help them discover the Gospel. They use their time and resources to make things happen here because they know that the local church is where God can really work in a community to reach the lost.

These are signs of the Kingdom of God really – where people are manifestly different in the way they live and behave – not drawing attention to themselves and not harping on about their agendas and rights – but simply serving the Lord and others as they reach out with the love of Christ and good news and share it with others.

They show mercy. They exhibit meekness. But most of all it’s their hungering and thirsting after righteousness that makes them blessed and a blessing – and their purity of heart.

Not only do they see God in the sense of a real relationship they have with Him – you see the Lord in them too.

For these people who impact our lives we are immensely grateful.

May we be like them.

We can be like them.

We can get on the right track.

This orientation of our lives is more important than how long church is, whether the music is too loud, or we have to change the times of our meetings or can’t park in our favourite space. This orientation of our lives is more important than if the preacher lost his way in the sermon, the service was too long, or we didn’t know the songs on a particular Sunday.

It’s about becoming like Jesus. Once again:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:1-2a)

Prayer:

Your Kingdom come

Your will be done – in our lives, Lord Jesus.

Amen.