We need to grow up!

Deuteronomy 30.15-20; Psalm 119.1-8; 1 Corinthians 3.1-9; Matthew 5.21-37

How many of you have a fitness watch?  They seem to be everywhere, warning us to do more exercise, tell us if our performance has been satisfactory and even reduce our medical aid premiums if our exercise regime is good enough.

What if there was a Godwatch that we all wear once we are baptised?  It could measure the good work we are doing, help us to make the right choices, and warn us if we are about to step into an area that we really should not be entering.

Would it be great – I think it is a bit WEIRD!  It would make us into something like robots and not creatures who have free will.

Free will was given to us by God as his special creation, made in his image:

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1.27

We are made in the image of God to be his companions, he stewards, his friends. We need to learn to walk in his will, not be coerced and forced.  This is a great paradox – learning to walk in God’s will is the greatest expression of free will but it sounds like it is taking free will away from us.

Walking in God’s will is the way to fulfilment and wholeness.  Walking against his will is a way of frustration and darkness.

In the beginning in the first garden, we decided to listen to the voice of the Deceiver and doubted the goodness of God and his love and delight in us.  We created a battle of wills that has gone on ever since.

And the battle is between our human nature, our ego, our flesh, call it what you will, and God’s will, causing conflict so that we become out of alignment with God’s will.

The body that was given to us as a vehicle for our Spirit, a container that should serve us, becomes our master.

Jesus tells the people that they can be so much more than their selfish, ego centred selves.  The people of God are measured by far high standards, the standards of Jesus.  Jesus says I have not come to abolish the commandments but to fulfil them, and: the commandments say this, but I say this.

For example, outwardly I may be complying with the letter of the law, but my heart is dark and my motives impure.  A man says to himself: well I have not touched that woman, I am a good man; but Jesus knows that he has fanaticised over her every day for a week.  A woman says to herself, I have never murdered somebody, but how many times this week has she gossiped and criticised and judged and condemned?

This life that God offers is not a life of denial and abstinence of poverty and meanness.  It is a life of abundant living a life of blessing! In Deuteronomy we are told that good choices that turn us to the will of God will invite his blessing.  Bad choices cause us to suffer.  It is up to us as it was to the Israelites.

And we read in John 10.10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The thief is the deceiver, the prince of darkness and lies, and as he did in the garden he comes to convince us to make poor choices that will bring us to confusion and misery.

Psalm 119

1 Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord.
2 Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.
O dear, but the world in the control of the devil is so seductive.  Somebody said to me once that the devil never shows you the gutter.  The party that is so glitzy and glamorous doesn’t look so great in the morning when we wake up with a hangover, stricken by the foolish things we have said, possibly lying next to a stranger or even where we fell in the street.  The drug that gives a major high never fulfils that again – that’s why it’s called chasing the dragon!  The money that is stolen or got by dishonest means or exploitation is never enough.

A gnawing hole lurks inside the human being who chases after the things of the world. However much we get it is never enough.  The things of the world never can be enough because they are an illusion.  They are a counterfeit of happiness and fulfilment. They are not real because they are not of God they are created by deception and lies.

Paul is frustrated with the church in Corinth, because they are so easily deceived and influenced – he calls them infants in Christ:

1 Corinthians 3 1And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?

A spiritual adult is one that is not influenced by what the world has to offer.

A spiritual adult is not necessarily one who knows their bible back to front and inside out – impressive though that might be.  But think of it this way, the Bible is not a reference book like a car manual, to be picked up when something needs to be fixed.  It is more like a diet plan, we need to live and breathe it; feed on it and meditate on it.  We absorb the word of God like we breathe in fresh air and eat good food – it satisfies our soul and revitalises our spirit.  It tunes our spirit to God’s Spirit.

We become spiritually mature when our spirit is tuned into Gods Spirit; when it becomes obvious and natural to do his will; when we are walking with the Lord being his eyes and ears, heart and hands in the world.

Infants need milk, the young need rules and boundaries.  As adults we live and die our own choices.  And as we do we grow up.  As we become more spiritually mature we grow up into God’s will, walking in love and unselfishness because we walk AS God in the world.

Paul keeps having to remind the church about the truth of the gospel – the milk of human kindness if you like.  He despairs of their cruelty and spitefulness, their selfish deeds and competitiveness.  But he also despairs of the misery that they are bringing on themselves by feeding their human natures at the expense of their spiritual beings.

This body that we are in is simply a vehicle for learning how to love God and how to love each other.  As we grow up, we become its master.  As we find true happiness in God’s will and work, the affairs and temptations of the world look less attractive. As we are filled with light we are less easily seduced by the darkness.

Our relationships become based on giving and not taking, our work becomes an act of loving service and not grudging.

And as we grow up we become one with others, we become united in our purpose. We do not compete for recognition for our contribution but see it as building the whole – working towards a higher purpose; God’s purpose.

But it is not easy, we know that we need to be constantly vigilant.  The victory is won but the battle is still raging – another paradox! The battle for our souls and spirits and hearts and minds and bodies is very real and can overwhelm us.

We do not have a spiritual Godwatch to keep us on the straight and narrow spiritual path – nagging us to make the right choices, do righteous deeds and avoid trouble.

We need to polish our spiritual antennae, unplug our spiritual ears, consciously and consistently act with love, resist judgement and condemnation, stand up against injustice.

God asks us, needs us, to become spiritually mature.  He does not need us as children fighting and complaining in the playground of our egos, but grown up and by his side transforming the world.

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Education Sunday

This is my first sermon to the congregation at Mariannridge.

Isaiah 58.1-12; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2.1-16; Matthew 5.13-20

At the end of the promenade along Durban beach there is a place called the Blue Lagoon where the Umgeni river and the Sea meet.

It is a place where salt and sweet or fresh water meet.  This place of meeting is a place of fruitfulness and richness. It is the in between place where plants and animals thrive that do not grow in other places.

In our gospel today we read that we as Christians are salt.  Where we meet the world should be a place of fruitfulness and richness; a place where things thrive that do not grow in other places.  The place where the church meets the community is a place of connection, of sharing.  It is not a place of two sides.  Separation is impossible where the river meets the sea; it has to get mixed up.  And we as Christ’s body have to get mixed up with the community to share and understand, before we can make a difference.

Christians are the light of the world.  We are not to stand in judgement or to destroy the darkness, to wipe it out,  but to embrace it with love and understanding.  Jesus Son of God came not to remove darkness from the world but to redeem it.    As Christ’s body we are here not to judge or condemn but to let be, to love, to transform.

Paul is writing to the church at Corinth. Paul did not plant the church in Corinth. The church was planted at the day of Pentecost when the people returned Jerusalem fired up with the Holy Spirit and the apostles teaching.

Paul was entering a church that had been established and was active.  But he needs to remind them of what is important. He needs to bring them back to the gospel. And he is humble.

1 Corinthians 2.1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.

4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Paul is teaching the Corinthians how to be people of salt and light.  On this Education Sunday he is talking about wisdom – the education of the Holy Spirit.  He is not talking about worldly education of studying and intellect, but the direct knowledge of God taught by the Holy Spirit to people of the Holy Spirit.

13And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are discerned spiritually. 15Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

The things of the Spirit are only understood by the Spirit.  People who are not of the Spirit cannot understand them – to them they are foolishness. It is unfortunate that those in the Church who have the loudest and most influential voices are those formally educated. I say this is unfortunate, because spiritual wisdom and formal education are not necessarily found in the same person – one does not follow the other.  And the Church suffers and declines.

For us to be effective in this community as Christ’s body, to be salt and light, we need to be people of his Spirit.  We need to be filled with his Spirit.  We need to allow the Holy Spirit of God to refill us and equip us.  We need to call upon the Holy Spirit to move through our church with power.  We need to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.

And this is both good news and bad news for the same reason – it means surrender – it means a willingness to let go and let God.  The work we need to do is not of our doing but the Spirit of God working in us to transform and redeem us so that we can transform and redeem others as Christ’s body. And if we do God promises good things to his people.

Matthew 5
9 ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’

The reason that we are salt and light to the world is because we have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  If we do not have the Holy Spirit we are like salt that has lost its saltiness or light that is hidden under a bushel basket – we have no purpose, no mission, no power. We might as well all have a sandwich and a cup of coffee and go home.

There is another important theme for us this morning in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.  He preaches nothing but Christ crucified.  He reminds us of Jesus being quiet before his accusers, abandoned and in despair on the cross.  This helps us to understand how we are light.

Matthew 27.46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

And in that place of despair and pain he takes God’s love to the deepest most despairing places of darkness – to hell itself – not judging but redemption.  Listen to this from Cynthia Bourgeault’s book: The wisdom of Christ:

“A quiet harmonizing love was infiltrating even the deepest places of darkness and blackness, in a way that didn’t override them or cancel them, but gently reconnecting them to the whole.” (page 123)

And when we look at our community here in Mriannridge, there are places of darkness, of violence, crime and disorder. Our role as Christ’s body is to bring the power of God’s love in redemption – to bring the salt into the community.  Jesus conquered the grave by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We have the victory already. We have the power to conquer the evil places in our community with redeeming love not judgement and condemnation.

The wisdom that transforms the world is given to us by the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the free gift given to us by the death of Jesus Christ crucified. The free gift that is only possible by his redeeming death.  And with this gift we bring the light.

So what do we do?

Jesus tells us as he counters the question of the formally educated lawyer:

Matthew 22 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

Jesus did not come to abolish the commandments but to fulfil them.  He sums up the commandments in these verses: love God and love your neighbour.

And from the great prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah  58 6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
The gospel of Christ Jesus is so simple.  Love God with all our heart, soul, spirit, energy, enthusiasm and love each other as we love ourselves.

Christ the King is a church on a hill.  We are planted in the centre of a community.  We are a visible presence for the area. But we are no good to the community unless we engage with them.  We cannot meet them in a place of fruitfulness and richness unless we are first transformed by the Spirit.

And in the same way that the water from the Umgeni rushes into the sea.  There is no barrier, there is just surrender. There is mixing and in that mixing, in that meeting, in that encounter is where God does his great wok of transformation. Not in judgement but in great love, not in condemnation but in the power of redemption.

Now the great question is – are we willing to surrender to the great power of the Holy Spirit and let the Spirit do the work of redemption in us?  Because if we are the words of the great prophet Isaiah will be ours:

8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Is that what we want for our church?  Is that what we want for our community?

Let us make a promise today to each other that we will open ourselves to be reignited with the fire of the Spirit, that we will open our eyes to the needs of our community. We will stop looking in wards and look outwards. We will step out without fear, without hesitation, without condemnation.

Then we will be that place of fruitfulness and richness that the Lord has called us to be in this place.