READING: Romans 12:3-18
So – you’ve been waiting for the winner of the competition for shortest sermon of the year.
Me too. The thing is I get excited about the treasures we find in Scripture. Psalm 19 makes it clear – this is gold. Look at the number of words describing how rich God’s word to us is: Psa 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. Psa 19:8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. Psa 19:9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. Psa 19:10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
So what do we glean today from Romans 12? What new treasures. Sweetness. Richness.
Quite a lot really.
Those who offer themselves as living sacrifices (see last week’s message) – in service or 24/7 worship – giving glory to – God, acknowledging his worth – that He is worthy of all recognition and praise, have all kinds of options to make this practical.
In relation to God’s infinite greatness in rescuing us and receiving the credit in or praise and thanksgiving, we must however look out that we don’t make ourselves as important as God. That after all is the Adam and Eve trap – wanting to be like God. Or making ourselves equal to God (compare Jesus in Phil 2 – Php 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Php 2:6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, Php 2:7 but made himself nothing ).
So – verse 3 could keep us busy today: Rom 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
You could lay this alongside Philippians 2 again:
Php 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Php 2:4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others
While we are living sacrifices worshipping God every day at work and play, we are to put ourselves into perspective in the context of the body of Christ – the church.
Rom 12:4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, Rom 12:5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Paul then proceeds to talk about giftedness. You see this humility is not self-loathing or hiding one’s light under a bushel or a bowl because the tall poppy syndrome makes you think your light is useless.
We have gifts, he says. Use them.
That’s why churches put people to use. Not because we are obsessed with our programs. People then become commodities.
No, rather because we are obsessed with the generous grace of God. “Grace” means “gift”.
Charismata – from which we get the word “charismatic” is the word for “gifts” in the plural.
Ephesians 4 lists people gifts. Pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle and prophet. 1 Corinthians 12 lists “spirituals” including tongues, prophecy, healing etc.
Romans 12 lists people’s gifting. Simply put – if a person has gift A, then let him use it in proportion to his faith. In other words as he or she trusts God to make that gift fruitful.
The list is there:
Rom 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
Rom 12:7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;
Rom 12:8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
What do you notice about these gifts?
They are all for the benefit of others.
Prophecy – in 1 Corinthians 14 terms needs three things to be genuine. (Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 1 Cor 14:3)
Serving – serves others. (versus self-serving)
Teaching is about the learners learning. (Tired teachers miss this! “School is so nice when the kids are on holiday!”)
Encouragement obviously helps the recipients to keep going! They need to be helped not to give up!
Contributing to the needs of others is obviously for others.
Leadership – is meant to help people follow! It’s for the group, not the leader. (As the saying goes – if you’re out front leading and no one is following you’re – you’re really just out for a walk.)
And mercy – well that too is to be shown cheerfully. Interesting idea – you can’ really show mercy with a gloomy grumpy attitude. Would seem a bit strange if we said: “Ah well I suppose I’d better be merciful. Sigh. You don’t deserve it and i don’t feel like it, but there it is””
In a word – this is not all about you and me! And your and my needs. It’s about the needs of others.
Strangely obvious really.
But for some reason people don’t pick up on it.
They are locked into the thinking of the age – their minds are clearly not transformed (Romans 12:2) – because it’s all about them. Consumer Christianity abounds.
So much time wasted because people are “not having their needs met”.
Now don’t get me wrong. We should be helping people grow in faith. But they should be able to feed themselves too – like children learn to feed themselves physically.
Serving, teaching and encouraging should be working for people’s good.
But note that this is a letter to the church in Rome. Not to Timothy or some individual – or to elders or pastors.
These people gifts are, to put it bluntly, often hiding in the pew. As the story goes – church is a bit like football (aka soccer) – 22 people charging around on the field in great need of a rests, and 22 000 others in the stands in great need of exercise.
So when we have our ACM today and receive reports about what we have managed to do through the past year – remember that we are looking back.
And let’s be honest financial accountability is a key part of this – with a dose of transparency. And a lot of gratitude for the resources we have. And that especially includes people.
When we meet at this meeting today – whether you stay or not this applies. If for some reason you have been left out in the long lists of thanks. Please remember – it’s probably just an oversight.
Remember this too – it’s not about me. Or you. It’s about giving glory to God. And being a blessing to others. And as Jesus taught in Luke 17: Luk 17:10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
Point 2 of the sermon is really a question. How are you doing when it comes to using the gifts God has given you?
Sometimes the only one stopping you using your gifts is you.
If you have a desire to be part of the future teams making things work here so that we can reach people here and beyond with good news, and help care for those who do need encouragement and mercy because life can be tough – please use the gifts God has given you in proportion to your faith.
As you step out and have a go, your faith will become stronger too.
It’s a wonderful ride and great to be part of a team of which it can be said – we are working on Romans 12:9-18. Sincere love, brotherly love and devotion, harmony and peace – well you can read the rest of those verses. We don’t get it all right. But we really do have a heart for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done in this place. (I recommend that you read Romans 12:11-18 as you reflect on this through the week.)
Readings: 1 Corinthians 12:26-13:3; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 16:13-19;
Do you have your name on a monument somewhere?
There’s always a danger when it comes to monuments. Like memorials erected for great leaders or movements.
Ask Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Saddam Hussein. Personal monuments have a way of being toppled. (That’s not John Lennon by the way – the other one with one ‘n’. Vladimir. In time Vladimir Putin will also fall out of favour. Like Australian Prime ministers.) The best Vladimir Lenin can do here is a bar named after him on Auckland’s Princes Wharf. A vodka bar. 🙂
Some churches end up as monuments.
Not this one. If you show up on some days during the week – the church is not here at all.
You’ll find a building – but not the biblical church – the body of Christ.
And the building was never designed to be pretentious. More like a stable. Its beauty is in its people and their creative gifts – those that last on the walls and the thousands of words of prayer and worship, songs and musical notes that have floated off into space and eternity.
We’re not into monuments. God forbid that my photo be permanently on a wall at any of the churches where I have served.
Footprints are better – far superior. (William Faulkner said that – “monuments tell us we got so far and no further; footprints tell us we kept on moving”.)
A footprint means that people have passed this way on a bigger and greater journey. They leave their mark. But move on. In time we all do.
The movie sequel of Back to the Future had a day this week as the big day – 21 October 2015. It was great to see clips of the young Michael J Fox on TV this week – one of my most esteemed heroes.
That day – the back to the future day – has also come and gone.
And eventually we move on in a permanent sense – into eternity.
Eternity is a bigger concept. Some have moved on into God’s eternal presence.
Others who made life interesting for people here have also moved on – hopefully to happier places where they have been less conflicted with people and about things. (Together with footprints we sometimes leave dents. Sadly some have been badly dented too. Fortunately, we are in the forgiveness business. 🙂 )
Others – the far majority who have passed through these doors over these 50 years – have left a solid influence and foundation which we treasure and remember. Most have taken the good news of Jesus to other places where they have been led to live, work and worship.
We all move on in some way or another.
But we should all move forward.
The living body of Christ is the key.
The church – the body of Christ – is an organism first – and an organisation second.
It starts here – in Matthew 16 – with Peter’s confession:
Mat 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
On what rock? Not on Peter himself, but on his faith and trust in Jesus the Christ. “Revealed by my father in heaven” because you can’t get to that conviction by argument or logic. Peter like you and me on our difficult days, would have been too stubborn to be convinced by mere reason.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”- that’s the rock of a good confession. Paul puts it this way:
Rom 10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: Rom 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Rom 10:10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Rom 10:11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
And to Timothy Paul writes:
1Ti 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
The head of the church is not Peter or his successors. Paul again makes this clear when speaking of Jesus:
Eph 1:22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, Eph 1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
And here in Ephesians, like 1 Corinthians 12 – part of which we heard today, there are gifts for the building up of the church:
Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, Eph 4:12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up Eph 4:13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Eph 4:15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Eph 4:16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
- We are to be founded on the rock – Christ the solid rock – in our faith in him as Christ and Son of God.
- We are to move forward in growth in our faith journey – becoming mature (Ephesians 4:13)
- We are grow up into him who is the Head of the body – Christ.
It is from Christ the head that we as church find the life and growth – we grow and build ourselves up in love as each part of the body does its work (4:16)
There are no monuments to the pastors of the church who have served here – or the elders – or the members over these 50 years. We are all parts of this body – this living organism.
In our series on Philippians earlier this year we looked at two difficult women who had issues with each other. Clearly they weren’t part of our church – ha ha! But look at what Paul says in his pleading for unity:
Php 4:2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Php 4:3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
No monuments – only footprints – as we trudge or stride out boldly towards the end – where our names are recorded – as Jesus says to the 72 in Luke’s gospel:
Luk 10:17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Luk 10:18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Luk 10:19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. Luk 10:20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
There’s only one list that matters. When the roll is called up yonder – that matters.
And that the legacy that we pass on in the next 50 years means that the next generation will need to hear the message about Jesus and come to know Him too.
WHAT IS REMEMBERED MOST
Here’s the irony. I learned this very quickly working in a school. I had issues with my colleagues often – especially when children were vilified and objectified – labelled and boxed. When it was all about statistics and conformity to the teacher’s way of thinking. I had to work hard towards better narrative counselling and restorative practices – sometimes it felt like we were dragging people along toward community.
Someone put it this way speaking to teachers (and headmasters): “People don’t remember everything you said or taught them. But they do remember how you made them feel.”
Now I am not saying that all our sermons should be sugar or saccharine. The whole counsel of God must be proclaimed.
But the knowledge of the love of God and the power of his love (through the indwelling Holy Spirit) is the real deal (Romans 5:5). That’s how the forgiveness comes. That’s how we learn that there are some things that we can change, and some things we can’t. How we operate in grace rather than grumpiness.
That famous serenity prayer is still relevant:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Of course the biblical version goes like this:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know it’s me.
Paul, talking about gifts in the church – the body of Christ which has the potential to suffer or rejoice as part of the one organic body – says this at the end of 1 Corinthians 12:
And now I will show you the most excellent way.
- 1Co 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (Compare this to the humility of Jesus – Philippians 2:6)
- 1Co 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (Compare this to Jesus’ emptying of himself – Philippians 2:7)
- 1Co 13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (Compare this to the real sacrifice of Jesus – Philippians 2:8)
You know the rest – which somehow gets reserved for weddings and these days – funerals – about love and what it is. Read it again in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. It’s a great passage.
Hopefully Paul would have prayed this about St Cuthberts – about us – in the past and in the future: Eph 1:15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, Eph 1:16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. Eph 1:17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you Simon…”)
You can’t do this church stuff by human strength and ingenuity. By God’s power – you can.
- Knowing Jesus better – that’s moving forward.
- Building up the living body of Christ in the power of His love, wherever we have landed up – that’s moving forward.
- Real forgiveness that leaves bold and courageous footprints giving others a reason to follow in our footprints – that’s moving forward.
It remains true: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6).
(A sermon from the 2011 archives following the Revised Common Lectionary on the same passage as that of 8 March 2015. This passage is placed in a different position in the Narrative Lectionary).
Reading: Matthew 25:1-13
Mat 25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Mat 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
Mat 25:3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.
Mat 25:4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.
Mat 25:5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
Mat 25:6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Mat 25:7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.
Mat 25:8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
Mat 25:9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
Mat 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
We are a rechargeable generation! Everything we used can be recharged and carried around with us! Even laptops have portable chargers which you can pre-prepare and have with you to top up your batteries when you work out on the road or in the bush – or even better on the beach!
As an aside – one of my predecessors in my last African parish used to prepare his sermons on the beach and then come back to the church and have a shower – they put a shower off his study! I never did know whether he wrote anything down. These days you could write the sermon on a portable device.
The 10 maidens – also translated as virgins – were all out on the road, so to speak. They were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive – and this was a normal procedure for a wedding in those days! The wedding was not a one hour business – but took place over a couple of days and was a great celebration (remember that Jesus did his first miracle at Cana in Galilee – at a wedding.)
And when the bridegroom came back – presumably after negotiating matters with the bride’s parents – the bridesmaids would be waiting with torches lining the path.
At least that’s how I think it happened! There seem to be conflicting views as to who would go where! It seems that once the groom arrived the whole lot would process back to his house for the ceremony!
Either way it was a big occasion described by William Barclay as “the gladdest week in all their lives” – and of course with no other entertainment in their fairly ordinary lives the people knew how to party! (Remember the astonishment of the people at the wedding in Cana of Galilee – that the best wine was produced last – as usually you would start with the best wine and people wouldn’t care later in the feast!)
This was the key issue – half of the team were not organised and prepared.
They assumed things would be fine just with the oil in their lamps.
They were foolish. Literally – morons – in the New Testament language.
The problem was that five of them did not bring their chargers with them – no spare batteries either! No oil for their lamps.
They weren’t properly prepared! (Maybe Baden Powell would have helped them – seeing that BE PREPARED is the motto of the Cub-Scout movement!)
Are you prepared for ANYTHING? It’s a great question.
Are you ready for anything?
Matthew 25:2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
All ten are appropriate people for the task. People of integrity – ten virgins. Sadly you would battle to find suitable candidates today in our overly free society.
There is no question of their qualifications – their standing. But five are literally morons (in the bible language) – foolish, and five are wise.
Reminds me of another time Jesus taught on wise and foolish people. Do you remember that one? It was about what they built their lives on! Yes – they were to build their lives on the words of Jesus.
The houses built on foundations – sand versus rock: Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Now when it comes to weddings there are no short cuts. Well there is always the option to elope. I saw a picture of drive-up weddings – like driving through a restaurant!
We would love some (cheaper) short cuts to weddings. THAT SELDOM HAPPENS!
Unless you run away – your particular culture will determine what kind of wedding you have (and your in-laws!)
I thought of talking about the key issues – in one of those rhyming sermons that slick preachers produce. Like these: the KEY ISSUES are:
1. Wedding gear
4. Weady for anything… 🙂
Clearly that didn’t work!
So I thought of the KEY PEOPLE: So who are the key people in the story?
That’s probably enough! The key people and who they represent (there are few debates about this in the interpretation of the parable).
Bride – the church as the bride of Christ
Groom – Jesus
10 maidens – we who are waiting for his second coming.
Or are we? I sometimes wonder whether we really believe He will return?
Do we really live each day as if it were our last? How prepared are we?
And is this just about being prepared for death – or the second coming of Jesus?
Or is there an added layer of expectation that we are missing here?
The delay is in THE FULLNESS OF THE COMING KINGDOM OF GOD.
It’s about preparedness – yes
It’s about patience – although they were all waiting!
It’s about alertness – although they were all pretty sleepy and in fact fell asleep!
So what made the wise ones wise and the foolish ones headed for disaster?
What made them foolish?
Not being prepared essentially
The wise ones?
In it for the long haul
They had THE OIL
I love the song we did with the kids today – “Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning” – it’s a great song but like many songs its theology is a bit dodgy.
Why? Because while we are dependent upon God for our energy – like your supplier of electricity and gas at home – you have to get it connected and pay for it!
No we can’t earn salvation.
But we are responsible for our discipleship – our learning and getting equipped.
The 5 foolish lasses could not blame anyone else but themselves for not being organised – not thinking ahead – and not being in it for the long haul.
I only found one person who made a strong link between the symbol of the oil in this parable and the Holy Spirit!
What I did find is a lot of people referring to the need for preparedness and spiritual discipline – of living our lives with the right kind of orientation
– The wisdom that comes from building your house on the rock – on the words of Jesus
– Of hanging your door on the right hinges (loving God and neighbour)
– And faith IS linked to the oil –and there is good evidence for that as the foolish ones cannot get into the wedding banquet on the strength of someone else’s oil!
– Some link FAITHFULNESS to the oil – that while waiting for the Kingdom to be fulfilled – while waiting for Christ’s return – we should faithfully listen to his words and do the works that he prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2).
And of course SERVICE which we talked about last week is part of faithfulness. It is the sign of the Kingdom that Jesus seeks – that we be great by serving and being there for others.
– And living HOPEFULLY is a good thing too – because the expectation of the wedding feast – means that we are prepared for the long haul KNOWING that its worth it!
THE TRAGEDY OF THIS PARABLE
Mat 25:10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. PP9-1
Mat 25:11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ PP9-2
Mat 25:12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ PP9-3
Mat 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. PP10
How do we do as a church – when it comes to keeping watch?
What do you think we as a church should do to be be watchful? (3 MINUTES DISCUSSION)
My thoughts to conclude:
1. Being watchful does not mean being obsessed with predicting the end of the world. Too many people have tried that.
2. Being watchful means appreciating each moment and each day with gratitude. Note what Paul writes to the Thessalonians. After telling them this:
1Th 5:1 Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you,
1Th 5:2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
1Th 5:3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
1Th 5:4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
1Th 5:5 You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
1Th 5:6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.
He says this – some very practical things as they were watchful:
1Th 5:16 Be joyful always;
1Th 5:17 pray continually;
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
And in addition: 1Th 5:19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;
1Th 5:20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1Th 5:21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
1Th 5:22 Avoid every kind of evil.
It’s about living a close relationship with the Lord – trying to hear from him – and doing the other things like serving him with faith and faithfulness in the power of the Holy Spirit!
We need to have enough oil to keep going! And when the end comes – whether we are here when Jesus returns – or whether we die in our sleep tonight – or some other interesting experience ends our life – we will be ready! That’s being wise!
It’s foolish to run around looking for oil when it’s too late!