Friday, 30 September 2005


LUKE 12:13-21

This is story is very appropriate. It is about a good harvest; and it is about an inheritance dispute. The Archer's script writers have obviously been reading Luke. And no, I don't listen to it. Alison does!

A man comes to Jesus and says, "Teacher tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me".

And Jesus answers by telling a story. It is the story of a man who had a bumper harvest. It could be the story of anyone who had a major windfall. The business he worked for did well and the end of year of bonus was good. The company that he had shares in was sold. He won the lottery. He inherited a packet. The business/house sold much higher than expected. It doesn't matter how

Suddenly he had an awful lot of money. So he thought, "This is great. I will be wise and invest the money. I'll put it in investment funds, in pensions and in property. I will take early retirement. I will buy a nice house, get a nice car. I will go on holidays. And I will live well".

And God says to that man: 'You fool'. Tonight you will have a heart attack. And what will the money be to you then. Who will get it? It will become another opportunity for people to argue about inheritance."

So where does this man go wrong?

Jesus concludes, "So it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God"

It was too late for this man. It is not, at the moment, too late for us.

We need to learn to be rich towards God

1. To learn gratitude: to recognise that all things belong to God and what we have is gift

It is significant that the story that Jesus tells seems to imply that the windfall was outside the man's control: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop".

What we have is gift. It is to be received with gratitude

I had a friend who was brought up in the communist days in East Germany. He told me that on one occasion they were at school and sat down for dinner in front of empty plates. The teacher said, "Today we are going to pray to God for food". She said a prayer, and then said, "Look at your plates. They are still empty. God does not give us food. But the people from the farm have worked hard to grow the crops; and the dinner ladies have worked hard to turn the crops into food for us, and they will give us the food."

Yes, we do need to say thank you to the dinner ladies and to the farmers. But we also need to say thank you to God. Who gave us life? Who gave us the ability to reason things out in the first place? Who gave us the ability to make decisions or take risks? Who gave us the time and the ability to work hard? Who gave us, what society would call 'the lucky breaks'.

The danger is that as soon as we start to think that somehow we have earned what we have; that we deserve it; it is very easy to slip into a frightening kind of arrogance: as a 'have' I am better than a 'have not'.

It is very easy to start to think that because we live in the west, because we live in a wealthy society, we are somehow better or more worthy or more valuable than people who live in the Sudan and Tanzania.  We forget that it is as painful for a mother in Ethiopia to lose her baby through an inadequate water supply, as it is for a mother in Bury St Edmunds to lose her baby in a car accident.

2. To learn humility before God and each other: what we have is not down to us

Richard Bauckham writes, "The writing of the stories of our lives is done only a little by ourselves, mostly by other people, by what happens to us, but ultimately by God. It is the the affluent who most easily forget this. .. The seduction of wealth is the illusion it gives us of control over our lives"

The problem with our man in the story that Jesus tells is that he thought he could write his own story. He thought he was in control. Just as God had given him a good crop, so God could take his life from him like that.

And we buy into the lie.  And it leads to 'hubris', pride, the setting of oneself up as God.

We need to recognise that, however wealthy we are, we are not in control of our destiny. A little humility before God does not go amiss.

3. We need to learn generosity

The man in our story doesn't even think about giving. Instead, he gets the windfall, and he thinks: "How can I best keep it".

There is, I guess, a duty of giving. Tithing, giving a tenth of everything that you get, is a principle that has its roots deep back in the Old Testament. Remember the story of Abraham and Melchizedek.

And this is not some strange teaching from a particular branch of the Christian church. This is a practice which is followed by almost all the world religions.

It is obviously a Jewish practice.
And although different strands of Islam teach different things about giving, most practising Moslems will give away a tenth of their income.
And Jesus teaches that tithing is a principle that we should follow: although he says, what is really important is not the percentage but the attitude of the heart.

And I think that it is right to say that, as Christians, tithing is the beginning of our giving.

I'm delighted that St Mary's Committee has committed itself to the principal of tithing our church giving. We have said that, as a church family, we will give 10% of what is given by church members - through the envelopes or through general giving - away. And I have to say that I hope that that will be a beginning. That we will recognise how wealthy we are as a church and parish, and that we will be not only giving individuals but a giving community.

Of course, our giving does not need to be just to the church, although in the Old Testament the tenth that people gave was to the temple and the work of the temple, the work of prayer and the work of declaring the good news about Jesus

So could I ask you, on this harvest - when we give thanks to God for what he has given us - to go home and to actually work out what you receive and then work out what you give? Of course it is hard. As someone once said, "If you give 10% of what you have away, I can assure you of this. You will be 10% poorer".

But if at one level it is hard, it can also be incredibly liberating. We were made to give.

Of course, being rich towards God is not just about our money. It is about using what we have unselfishly. It is about using our homes for God - inviting people around. Last week we had a 12 hour power cut from about 10 in the morning to 10 at night. And one of our neighbours said, "If you have an electric cooker, please come round and use our cooker"; using our cars for God - giving people lifts; using our possessions for God - not letting them control you, but having that willingness to share.

4. We need to learn what it means to lay up treasures in heaven.

There was a horizon to the thinking of the rich man. It was the horizon of this life. He could not think beyond it or above it. That is why God calls him a fool.

As Christians we are called to think outside the box. Perhaps as Christians we need to think 'into' the box! There is life beyond death: and we do need to prepare for it. We need to lay up treasures in heaven.

One last thing

We don't know what the background is to the man's complaint about his brother.

It could be that the father had died and, according to Jewish practise at the time, had left the farm as a single unit to both the brothers. One of the brothers wants the farm divided, and he comes to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me".

It could be that the father had died and, one of the brothers had defrauded the other out of his inheritance. The brother who has been defrauded comes to Jesus and says, "Tell my brother to do what is right". In which case, Jesus' answer is very surprising.

Jesus does not say, "Your wicked brother". Instead Jesus challenges the motives of the person who has been defrauded. Why? Because what Jesus is teaching here is good news. He does not want the man standing before him to be a fool. He does not want the man to be controlled by greed. He does not want the man to possessed by possessions.

Don't you see? It is too late for the rich fool. It is probably too late for the brother who has taken control of the inheritance

Today, around the world, millions of people may be coming to Jesus like this brother came to Jesus. "Lord, tell my brother (you and me in Western society) to share the inheritance that you have given to us"

Jesus does hear the cry of the oppressed. He will not be an arbiter between them and us, because probably we are not willing to hear him. At least he will not be an arbiter between us this side of death and judgement.  But he will help them.

But Jesus says to them, and for that matter to anyone who comes to him, "Don't become like the rich fool. Don't be like the one who would defraud his brother. Don't be someone who becomes possessed by possessions. Don't become like your god: cold and hard.

Learn gratitude, learn humility, learn generosity, and learn to lay up treasures in heaven.

Saturday, 17 September 2005

True Power 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

  "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." n

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

Where does true power lie?
Does true power rest in armies and weapons, in might,
or in symbols and customs,
or in conviction and strength of mind and character?

And who is the really powerful person?
The one who can stand over another and compel them to do what they want them to do: whether through threats or promises?
Or maybe real power lies with the one who can inspire or persuade people to believe what they believe

And who has true power?
Prime Ministers, Presidents, generals, multi-national business leaders, academics, visionaries or even terrorists, with their deadly mix of fanaticism and high explosive?

Our reading from 1 Corinthians talks about true power. And it makes the most shattering claim.

It claims that the ultimate power in the universe is seen in an event: a man dying naked and helpless, jeered by his compatriots, abandoned by his friends, nailed to a plank of wood like a piece of meat.

V23: "We preach Christ crucified - Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God"

To the Jews of the time, it was sheer madness to make such a claim.

They looked for power in the astonishing: the miraculous, the triumphant. Power belongs to the one who can zap others, whether through physical strength or intelligence or money or personality

And they certainly did not consider a man hanging on a cross a sign of power. It is a sign of weakness. Indeed the Old Testament tells us that a person who is hung on a tree is a person is cursed by God.

And to the Greeks, it was sheer madness to make such a claim. They looked for a wisdom that would unlock the secret of the universe. For them, true power would lie with the philosopher who was able to understand ultimate reality.

So an event in history (a man dying on a cross) for them could never be the key to understanding reality. You had to go beyond, above history to understand reality, and the only way to do that was through separating yourself from the world and through contemplation.

And we are no different to the Jews or the Greeks

If I am going to follow a God, then I'm going to choose a God who offers me wealth and power and success and status
I am not going to choose a God who ends up being crucified.

  • No wonder the disciples ran away

  • No wonder there is some Roman graffiti of the early 2nd century. It shows a person kneeling down before a crucified figure. The crucified figure has the head of a donkey. Underneath someone has written, "Alexandros worships his God"

  • No wonder men and women have ridiculed Christianity

  • No wonder Nietzsche described Christianity as the religion of slaves: that values the quality of 'pity', the quality that cherishes all that is weak and insignificant and, in Nietzsche's system, is worthy of death.

"Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect". Nietzsche, The AntiChrist.

So why? Why preach the cross?
Why claim that a crucified man is THE DEMONSTRATION BEYOND ALL DEMONSTRATIONS of the power of God?

1. The cross is the supreme act of love.

We often talk on these occasions about the love that is shown when a person gives their life for their country.
That happened in the Battle of Britain. And today we celebrate the heroism that saw the men and women of the RAF willing to give their lives to defend their country in the face of overwhelming odds.
And that love has been shown many times before and since: when men and women have chosen to serve their country, even to death.

And when the final history of the world is written, from the perspective of eternity, I suspect that we will discover that such acts of genuine service and self-sacrifice will be shown to be far far more significant than acts of self-gratification or of domination over others.

  • It will be the story of the family who chose to foster or adopt a child who no one else wants

  • It will be the story of the little old lady who spent her time in fasting and prayer

  • It will be the story of the person who chose to devote themselves to care for someone severely handicapped

  • It will be the story of the man who stands up for a young recruit who is being bullied

  • It will be the story of people who choose to run clubs for young people, who visit the housebound, or who open their homes to strangers

  • It will be the story of people who give and not of people who get

We preach the cross because the cross is the supreme act of love:

1. Jesus did not just give himself for his friends and his family. Jesus gave himself for his enemies. He gave himself for the people who rejected God, who rejected him, who rejected his way for living, who rejected everything he stood for, and who crucified him.

2. And the cross is the supreme act of love, because on the cross Jesus did not simply go through awful physical pain and death.
He alone took onto himself all our selfishness, guilt, bitterness, hatred, jealousy, pride, unforgiveness and cruelty.
He took onto his shoulders the condemnation for all the sick things that we think or do.

And Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had been with God from all eternity, was separated from God.

Most of us know, to some degree, what it is like to be abandoned. I was hearing from one parent about her son who is training as a pilot in the RAF. He went on one of the exercises when they fly you to the most God forsaken part of this planet, give you 20p, drop you and tell you you've got to walk across 500 miles of tundra. He said to his mum afterwards, "I really thought they had done it this time. I thought they had killed me".

Some of you may know that kind of abandonment.
Others will know other kinds of abandonment: failure, separation, bereavement, shame.

But however much we have felt abandoned, nobody - this side of death - have ever known abandonment by God. Even if you do not believe in him. Even if you cannot see him. Nobody has known abandonment by God apart from Jesus.

Jesus, on the cross, was - uniquely among men and women - dropped into the pitch black icy cold pit of utter abandonment. He became, the bible tells us, "Sin for us".
And God did something that God has never done before. He walked away from him.

And Jesus did that for us. He took onto himself our sin, so that God does not need to walk away from us, so that we can be forgiven, so that we can be given new life.

And actually the cross does demonstrate where ultimate reality and power can be found: not in might but in love, not in dominating over others but in serving others, not in getting but in giving.

2. The cross is the supreme act of power

A man crucified.

From our perspective it is weakness.

But we need to be willing to look at the cross not through our glasses, but through God's glasses

Because as Jesus went to the cross, as he hung on that gibbet, he was defeating the most powerful force in this universe: sin and death.

We know this power of sin: this power that makes us do things that we know are wrong, and that we do not wish to do. And we know this power of sin that separates and divides human being from human being; that separates and divides human beings from the world in which we live.

Some time ago we were told that the problem in our society was that children did not know right from wrong. I disagree. I think most of us know the difference from right and wrong. The problem is that although we know what is right and good, we are unable to do it.

And we also know the awesome and fearful power of death. It shatters dreams; It annihilates identity; It destroys relationships. It takes love and rips it apart.

Jesus on the cross, not only dealt with the consequences of sin; Jesus actually defeated sin.

Satan did everything to stop Jesus going to the cross. Jesus was tempted in ways we cannot begin to imagine. He knew exactly what God wanted him to do, what it would involve, and he did it. That is why, just before he dies, Jesus cries out, 'It is finished'.

It is a cry of triumph: the job is done. It is accomplished.

And because of that, Jesus on the cross defeated death. He looked death smack in the face, walked into it and - unlike anybody else - walked through it. He conquered death.

The death of Jesus on the cross: a picture of human weakness and yet the demonstration of the ultimate power of God.

How do we react to this teaching about the cross?

1. An example of both human cruelty and also human weakness and shame.

Islam, for instance, cannot accept it was Jesus Christ who died on the cross. It appears that the Koran states that someone was substituted in his place at the last moment. How could a prophet, let alone the Son of God, die on a cross? It is a denial of anything that is godlike.

And in this matter, Islam is no different from civil society. Our society today cannot worship a man who is crucified. It looks for conquering gods: heroes on the battle field and stars on the sports pitch. It worships the powerful, the successful, and the wealthy.

2. The supreme act of love and of power?

Are we prepared to worship a man on a cross?

If we do so, then we will begin to understand what real power is and who has real power.

  • Real power is the power of love

  • Real power is the power that can transform sin enslaved men and women, men and women who would love to love but find themselves unable to love,

  • Real power is the power that can implant the seed of love in the human heart.

  • Real power is the power to make the weak, the inadequate, the fearful, the broken, people like you and me, into sons and daughters of the living God, and heirs of eternity.

Real power is the power that can turn sinners into saints

And who has this divine, earth shattering power?
Each person who turns to Jesus on the cross and who begins to receive his love.

It is said that Karl Barth, who was without doubt the greatest theologian of the 20th century, and who wrote a million word treatise called Church Dogmatics, was once asked what the most profound thought was that he had ever heard. He replied without hesitation, using the words of a children's song:

'Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so; little one's to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.'

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Coping with Pressure Ephesians 6:10-20

Ephesians 6:10-20

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
    EPH 6:19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should". The bible

Most generations like to think that their generation is having a particularly rough time of it!

And that is no different for us today. People talk about moral decline, about the fear of terrorism; or of resurgent Islam, or the implications of global warming, or of environmental catastrophe.

And we talk of the decline of the church of God. One of the Sunday papers last week was talking about church attendance. The latest attendance statistics have been published, and the article was saying that at the current rate of decline (in all churches), the church will be a tiny rump by 2040.

And as Christians we can feel pressurised. Not, in this country by persecution. Rather, the pressure for us comes from a different angle. It is, in fact, the pressure  the attractiveness of 'the world'. And when I talk about 'the world', I am not talking about the world as God's creation - which can be astonishingly varied and beautiful (10000 species of birds, 112000 species of butterflies and moths, 103000 species of ants, 98500 species of flies and a whacking great 290000 species of beetles). I'm talking about the world set up against God, the world that thinks that it can live without reference to God, without relationship with God. The world that tells you that your deepest desires can be met by the world: money, drugs, holidays, houses, cars, gardens, eating, education, music, pleasurable experiences, status and possessions.

The world tells us, that if you wish to find fulfillment and satisfaction, then you can get it here. You can either buy it, or experience it.  And if you don't get it, then you have to try harder or someone else is stopping you. And the pressure is the pressure to conform, to direct our lives if not to the pursuit of money, then certainly to the pursuit of pleasure or of comfort and ease.

And of course, we all face times of personal pressure: times of hardship, of worry, of sickness, bereavement, of conflict, of decision making.

And if, as a church in this country, we are not persecuted, then certainly individuals can experience persecution and opposition: whether from colleagues or family. "What are you doing Monday evening?" "I'm going along to the Alpha course". Why? Isn't that Christian? Are you going to become some sort of bible basher? Why don't you do something normal?"

One well known footballer tells of how, when he was drinking, if he was involved in a brawl or broke up a restaurant, the sort of attitude was, "He's being normal. He's a bloke having a good time". He said, "Now that I have stopped drinking and sometimes like to go into a church to sit and be still, they tell me that I am mad, that I am a religious fanatic".

Or one man who was asked by his colleague what he was doing on Sunday, said, "I'm going to church". The colleague answered, "I thought better of you than that Dave", and walked away.

So how should we cope? How should we cope with the predictions of the imminent doom of the church, with the pressure of the world, with personal pressure or when we get stick for being Christians?

Turn to our passage in Ephesians 6:10-20

Because it is about coping with pressure

It is the call to STAND FIRM.
The verb 'stand' comes 4 times (v10,11,13,14)
The picture that we are given here is of a Roman soldier, under pressure, tempted to give up and to turn and to run. And Paul writes, "No. Don't run. It might seem rough. But stand".

To the people of God, it is the call not to lose nerve. The situation for the church when Paul was writing was much harder than it is for us today. They were a tiny and seriously insignificant minority; many of them were of very low social status, some were even slaves. They were, in places, viciously persecuted.

But Paul is urging them, and he is urging us to stand firm. The world might seem to be against you, but don't lose your nerve.

And he gives us three very useful pieces of advice.


It is not people. It is not the terrorist. It is not the advertisers. It is not people who work in the media. It is not the politicians or the civil servants or the city or the lawyers.

V13: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms"

We're fighting a spiritual enemy. And that means that we are not going to find the answer in the weapons of this world: whether that is literal weapons (guns, missiles) or in things like money, technology, media, legislation or whatever.

We are fighting a spiritual enemy. We need spiritual weapons


What are these spiritual weapons? Look at verses 14-17.

A sermon could be preached on each of these. The vicar of Lavenham, one of the puritans, in 1655 published a book on these verses, "The Christian in complete Armour". It runs to three volumes, has 261 chapters and 1472 pages. I will be slightly shorter.

1. 'Belt of truth': It is significant that this is the first of the weapons that is listed.

The reason that we are Christians is because it is true

I am told that Michael Ramsay, a former archbishop was chairing a meeting, at which two panelists were trying to answer the question, "What is the gospel?" The first was saying that it was about liberation. The second was saying that it was about love. Ramsay apparently got more and more frustrated, and finally interrupted. "The gospel is this: "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures". That is the gospel. All the rest is interpretation."

We stand on the truth of the Christian faith. The truth of who Jesus is and the truth of what he has done: his death for our sins and his resurrection.

It has got nothing to do with fashion. It has got nothing to do with how we are feeling. It has everything to do with what happened 2000 years ago, and with what is today.

Don't lose your nerve. It is true

2. The second spiritual weapon that we have is the breastplate of 'righteousness'.

  • The righteousness that is the gift of God to us. Before God we are forgiven and accepted and treated as righteous because of Jesus

  • The righteousness that is the authentication of what it is that we believe. This is not about some external imposed moral code that we now think that we have to obey. This is about those wonderful fruits of the Spirit that begin growing in our lives, as we allow God to take control. Elsewhere Paul writes of the "weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left" (1 Corinthians 6:7); and in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul talks about "the breastplate of faith and love"

We stand firm as forgiven sinners. We stand firm by living good, Godly lives. Peter writes, "Live such good lives among the pagans, that though they may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Peter 2:13)

Don't lose your nerve. It works.

3. The third spiritual weapon listed is the 'gospel': the good news: "the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace".

This could mean, "Let your shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you a firm footing", in other words, "Stand firm on the gospel". But I think that probably what it is more likely to be saying is, "Be prepared to shared the gospel".

And it actually works. When the church, believers in the past, have faced persecution, the best weapon that they have is not silence, but proclamation. Look at the early church. Time and again, the first Christians are brought before the courts and ordered to be silent. Time and again, they walk out and preach Christ. And if they can't preach in one place, they move on to another place where they can preach Christ.

And look at what Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him. He is probably in prison, and yet he does not get them to pray for his release, or for his protection. Instead he asks them to pray that he will continue to have the courage to tell others about Jesus.

Now, I am aware that we are not all St Paul and we are not all evangelists. I am not really sure that I am an evangelist. But we are all called "to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have". And we can all invite a friend along to say, a special service at church, the carol service, or even a course like the Alpha group.

4. Fourthly, if we are not to lose our nerve, we are to take up the shield of faith

Again this could have different meanings:
  • It could mean 'the faith': our shared faith in Jesus Christ. I do not depend on my own very weak faith, but on the faith of the people of God.

  • It could mean the principle of faith: 'the fact that we are forgiven and accepted by God not because we do anything, but because we have put our trust in Jesus': in other words, 'take up the principle that God works when we trust him'.

  • It could mean our personal faith.

In the context, I would probably go for this one

We have been given faith. I guess that is why we are here. But we are still called to take faith up.
To grow in faith, to exercise our faith, to take small steps of trust in God, so that when the hard times come, when the 'darts of the evil one' start to fly, we know that he is trustworthy.

5. The helmet of salvation (v17)

The helmet of salvation is both a present reality, but it is also our future hope. Yes, we are already saved, by faith in Christ.
But we are also looking to be fully set free, to live as God made us to live.

And we are looking to our future salvation in heaven: We recognize that here it is only half time: and "this is a game of two halves".

This is the game that sees the team crucified, dead and buried at half time. But exalted and glorious at full time: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2.9)

And we do not lose our nerve. We place this hope on our head: the hope that Christ will come again and transform our bodies into the likeness of his glorious resurrection body

6. The sword of the Spirit, which is Word of God (v17)

It is often pointed out that this is the one offensive weapon that we have. However, in the context, we are told to take up the word of God in order to stand firm.

In other words we use the bible to help us stand. We use the bible to teach us the way of God, to remind us of the promises of God, to give us examples of people who followed God, to give us hope and encouragement.

Romans 15:4
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  

So if we are to stand firm, then we need to know our weapons: the truth of the gospel, authentic Christian lives, willingness to tell, growing in our faith, our Christian hope, and the word of God


"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests" (v18)

Seek God. In the end he is the one who will help us to stand when it gets tough.

I wish that I could tell you that when the pressure comes I stand firm. If I did, I would not be being completely truthful! It is only too easy to conform, to go with the flow, to allow ourselves to be deceived by the lies of the world.

But Jesus longs to change us - to change us on the inside - so that we don't give in to the world. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul has urged his readers to be 'go on being filled with the Spirit'. And it is the Spirit who allows us to stand.

It really is the difference between submarines and fishes. Submarines cope with the underwater pressure by having a thick solid hull. Fish cope with the underwater pressure, by matching it with an internal pressure.

As we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us so we will be able to stand firm, knowing our enemy, knowing our weapons, and above all, knowing our commander. And "having done all, to stand".


Thursday, 1 September 2005

Do not worry

MATTHEW 6:24-34                                          

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life n?
28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  The Bible.

This is an astonishingly practical passage.

It opens to us the secret of the worry free life

Jesus doesn't simply say, "Don't worry?" That would not be very helpful.
You are anxious about something and someone says to you, 'Don't worry'. It actually makes things worse. We are still anxious, but now we are extra anxious because we are worried and we've been told we shouldn't be

What Jesus seems to say is that if we are to be free from anxiety, then we need to get our priorities right.
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money". (v24))

So much of our worry is because we have put our security, our identity and our energy in the wrong place.

1. We put our security in material things: in what old translations called 'mammon': in bank accounts, insurance policies, investments or property, in pension funds

We think, 'if we have money then we will never be short of food or clothing. We will have all that we need

2. We put our identity in what we possess, how we dress, what we wear.
Most of us can go to a cupboard bursting full of clothes, and say 'I've got nothing to wear'.
We want people to think good of us, and how we dress is important: it is about image.

And even people who say, 'I'll wear anything', do not do so - because there would be things that they would never wear. Why? Because it doesn't show them to the world in the way that they would wish the world to see them.

A few months ago there was a great deal of talk about problems being caused by young people wearing hoodies. This may be apocryphal, but I heard of one community who solved the problem when the older people took to wearing hoodies. As a result, the youngsters stopped wearing them. If older people were wearing hoodies, then clearly they did not fit the bill of looking cool.

3. We put our energy into getting material things.

For many, the increase of money becomes the single controlling factor. It is built into the very fabric of our society. No political party questions the idea that the goal of government is 'financial' growth. The goal of the business is to make profit for the shareholders. Even the success of services in the public sector are measured in financial terms. An OFSTED report will say whether a school is offering, "good value for money". And personally we aspire to become wealthier. There are very few who do not desire larger houses, great holidays that offer either comfort or adventure, expensive gadgets and toys, newer clothes, better cars.

And it is not surprising that we end up getting incredibly anxious.

Probably the people who Jesus was speaking to would have been getting anxious about whether they had enough to eat, to drink or to wear.

Our anxiety in the affluent West is different. We worry about whether we are eating or drinking the right things in the right amounts. We worry about whether we are wearing the right clothes.
And of course people do worry about how they will provide for the family, pay the mortgage or pay off the overdraft, meet the gas and electricity bills, make the business pay.

But Jesus says, "Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?', or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well".

So Jesus is saying, "Get your priority right".

It is the call to put our energy into the things that are right.

Seek the things of God. Seek his Kingdom. It is about recognising that God is king. It is about putting Him and His values first. It is about saying that the first goal of our business, of our school, of our church is not to make money, is not even to provide for ourselves but to serve people.
And seeking God's righteousness is not only about seeking what is right in God's eyes. It is about seeking real true life. As Jesus said, "Is not life more important than food?" (v25). God himself.
It is that challenge to focus in on what really matters. I was talking last week with a person who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. And they were saying: 'It really makes you focus down on what is most important'.

Seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness is the same as hungering and thirsting for God's righteousness (Matthew 5:6). In many ways this could be said to be the theme of Matthew chapters 5 and 6.

It is the call to rest our ultimate identity in God.
We are not what we wear. We are not what you have. Your true value lies in your value to God. And you are far more valuable to him than anything in creation. In v26, he says, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?", he says, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"
Our value does not lie in what we possess. Princess Diana, when she died, left behind a personal fortune of about £20 million pounds. Mother Teresa died two days later. She left behind two sari's and a bucket.  

It is the call to rest our ultimate security in God.
Money, investments, property will all ultimately let us down.
But if we know that we have a God who is abundantly generous, who provides for birds, who clothes flowers in glory, then we can trust that - even when everything else fails us, even when our own body fails us, even when we lose everything - he will never let us down.
On one occasion, Jesus tells a young man who is rich, but who knows that something is missing in his life, "Sell what you have, give to the poor and come follow me". Jesus is asking him to do something that is difficult, but something that is so liberating. The more that we let go of the things of this world, the more we can take hold of the things of God, the more we will know that He is our ultimate security.

I wish that I could tell you that I live a worry free life. I cannot.

And in the last few months I have spoken with people worried because they are overwhelmed with work, because their business is not making it, because they are facing a slow and painful death, because they have lost control of their children, because they don't understand their own sexual desires, because a parent is sick, because they are frightened of being attacked by a violent partner.  And I am aware that in other societies and places, people worry sick because they cannot feed their children, and they are watching them starve to death.

I wish the problem could be solved just like that. I wish that the anxiety and pressure would go away with the flick of a finger. But it doesn't. While we are here we will have to live with nightmares, real and imagined. And we will face anxiety. In fact Jesus seems to acknowledge that when he says, "Each day has enough trouble of its own".

But Jesus does give us a glimpse into another world, a world which by faith we can begin to live now. And I do believe that as we daily learn to seek the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, we will begin to discover that - whatever we go through - we have a God who loves us, who cares for us, who values us, and who will never let us down.