Sermon Twenty One On prayer

john                                          audio clip

This part of the Sermon on the Mount can be tricky for people. People do love to give but they want everyone to know about their giving – the ostentatious €50 note on a collection plate, the biggest box at a birthday party. It is part of the rush of giving – the kudos you receive.

Well Jesus didn’t see it like that. He calls us to give, and give generously but to do so quietly, without fuss and fanfare. Back in his day the rich folk would have someone blow a trumpet, according to John Wesley, in order to announce their giving to the poor.

Nowadays we have celebrities being photographed giving to the needy, the photogenic needy. You don’t see them kicking a football on the field in Knocknaheeny but you will see them gently rolling a ball to an angelic child in Cope. The giving of alms on Maundy Thursday buys into this “being seen.” Every year a bin liner of stuff goes from Kerry to Cork, it is full of knitted garments for people without homes, there are various people who put stuff in the bag and it arrives at the Simon Community. They always ask where it came from and I merely say Kerry. I don’t go into any more detail. When one of the people who had contributed heard, they were not pleased, they wanted it to be known where it came from specifically. But that is not Jesus’ way.

Kindness is catching, there is wave of passing it on going through our nation. People want codecils on their giving though. I give you this if you give me that. Personally I love to give, none of it tax deductible, just plain old giving. And I do like to do it secret. And I do like to give to my utmost and I do like to do random acts of kindness. There are people who do all this but give only to people they know, or people they think aren’t looking for an angle or whatever reason, they add codecils. It is not about being Lord and Lady Bountiful, it is giving something from God via us to another human.

The same principle Jesus applies to praying. Pray in a press, don’t be like the Pharisee with the loud prayers. God is interested in relationship, with communication not with how doctrinally sound or theologically correct our prayers are. He doesn’t need our prayers to be full of passages from the bible. He wants us to be honest and sincere, he wants our very hearts.

Prayer is one of those things that as a new Christian you think everyone has been to prayer school, they have words you’ve never heard of before, they talk of sanctification and justification or intercession and extempore. Words that trip off their tongues and tie yours in knots. As a Christian you have yourself as a living proof of his transforming power. So a prayer might begin Dear Lord…and go on to say … thank You ..and end..Amen. When we say thank you to God it encompasses everything we are thankful for in our hearts, it is a prayer of thanksgiving in five words. Like wise – I’m sorry is a prayer of confession. Yes God wants to hear more but he can hear our hearts so if we are saying sorry from the heart he knows. And in time we get our voices so we can pray to God.

I met a woman a few days ago from my neck of the woods and we talked in our dialect for a while and then we prayed and her voice changed into a different pitch but also a different voice. I am left wondering should I change my voice when speaking to God, if I change my voice am I changing something of my story too, do I change my voice when I pray to God. Just questions, no answers yet.

Wesley then comes to the Lord’s Prayer and expounds each phrase in great detail and I have nothing to add, he put it so well. In response to his writing, I see how perfect that prayer is, it covers everything we need in a prayer, we should say it more often, we should mean it more often, we should live it – always!

Sermon Twenty Four On worry

john                                                     audio clip

There is more scripture in the first half of this sermon than exposition (that’s a fancy name for explaining the text in language we will understand with illustrations from our own life so like describing it and explaining too). The texts he referred to were when God’s people were mingled with strangers and a double worship took place, keeping the rituals of worshipping God and also worshiping the false gods. Daniel is a good example to us of someone who refused to comply with idol worship in any form. Solomon is a good example of someone who thought he could traverse the two lifestyles and of course he couldn’t.

I remember the story of the man that died on a plane and in the coming months his two wives found out about each other but also found out about the two men – distinct personality traits that were displayed at one address and not the other. There are people who are known as “Sunday Christians” who worship the Lord with all the being on a Sunday but on a Monday it is business as usual, the master of money takes over. It can surprise us when we find out that people in the media “come out” as Christian, but in their day job do not display those characteristics of being a follower of Christ.

This can be true in our own lives. There was a guy who gave his life to Christ and had to give up his job, he was a thief. But what if our day job is not in keeping, or our business practices are not in keeping with the ways of the Lord. Which do we stop? Being Christian or shady dealings. Or do we try to traverse the two?

If God is our master we serve Him alone, we cannot serve two. Serving God means believing in him, trusting him as the source of our joy. It means loving him, not just on a Sunday but every second of every day. It means imitating him, young people particularly are fabulous mimics, they follow their pop idols – the way they dress, talk, walk, dance, wouldn’t it be so wonderful to take those mimicking traits and apply them not to worldly matters but to God – love because he loves, be merciful because he shows mercy, be kind, compassionate and tender hearted because he is all of those things. Serving God means to obey him, glorifying him with our bodies, mind and spirit.

If mammon or money is our master, it means we serve the world so we love the world, desiring it for its own sake looking to worldly things for our happiness. We conform to the world and its standards so we are ambitious and full of pride. We obey the world, we try to be like everyone else following fashion trends and foibles.

If we try to have both as masters, we get confused, it is not consistent or comfortable and is not in anyway conceivable, it is a fallacy.

In the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus talks about worry he is not telling us to be casual about our lives. He expects us to work and take care of our people and live honest lives and not run up piles of debt. He is telling us to not worry about the things that are out of our hands. Do what you can in the present. Seek the Kingdom of God first before thinking of anything else, seek what God requires of you. He will give us what we need to advance the Kingdom.

There is a very famous story of a guy who ran up to people on the street and said “If you were to die tonight would you go to heaven” now many, many people heard this same line, and some probably discarded it as the ramblings of someone deranged, some heard and were discouraged, some heard and made a few changes in their lives BUT some heard and really heard and went seeking the Lord. Some of these people now are pastors and missionaries. This man with his catalystic words helped Christ transform lives and those lives then went on to help Christ transform many, many more. This guy was no one special in the material sense but in God’s sense he was vital, a link in the chain that brought the Kingdom ever closer.

Will we be links in that chain? Step by step the Kingdom comes, the Kingdom grows, the Kingdom gains ground. Today is the day we will be witnessing to everyone we meet, are we ready?

Give Him your heart NOW

Trust in Him NOW

Be as holy as He is NOW

Seize every opportunity of doing His will NOW

Put up with suffering NOW as you follow Jesus

Surrender yourself today – ALL OF YOU, clear out the cobwebs in your mind, discard the shards of glass in your heart, leave the things of the world behind, they mean nothing.

Seek only to know God and his Son Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit

Love Him, serve Him and enjoy Him now and throughout eternity

Sermon Twenty Three Light and money

john                                      audio clip

Wesley spends only a few paragraphs on light, although this is key to the rest. If we are light in the dark then we are no longer part of the world. So the things of the world like gaining wealth, ambition, opulence are no longer part of us.

He flew at the wealthy like a banshee in the night. His boy must have shook with emotion as he roared these words at the people in the congregation who pursued wealth at all cost.

We cannot help if we are born into a wealthy family or an academic family or a family living in a tent at the side of the road. But once we have matured into grown ups we can change our circumstances dramatically. Reg Dwight was born into a council house in Pinner and grew up listening to Bill Hailey and the Comets. At some point in the ‘90’s he danced with royalty to “Rock around the clock.” Now money was not the motivator in his life, fame and musical accolades were his thing but he became extremely wealthy. He gives money away but also leads an opulent lifestyle and gives excessive gifts to his friends. His upbringing and background possibly make him the way he is today.

Equally John Wesley’s thoughts on money must surely have come from his upbringing and background. His dad did time for debt. Wesley’s job as a minister in the C of E changed because of his views (can a vicar be sacked?) and he was attacked on all fronts. Many  people with power and wealth were against him and wrote and preached against his teachings. So this sermon can be seen as a rebuttal to their charges.

Part of the reason I stopped my career were my concerns of how my family were coming to use money. There was no saving, just ever more opulent spending that caused an enormous amount of debt. I believe in living simply but had somehow not managed to convey this in family life. In taking our family down from 80k to 20k in one month we learned lots of things about each other. We were able to pinpoint the places where money was leaking and we made attempts to shore up the damage.

I would never, in all honesty, be able to preach on money in the way John Wesley did without pricking my own conscience as he has done whilst I read it. Yes I live simply on a day to day basis but so I can technological advances regularly. I am a technophile and have inherited from my father the need to have the latest and best. I am working on it, there is less stuff. But it is a work in progress that backslides with each new lens for my camera and app purchased.

I have heard the defence of riches on earth within the Christian community, I suppose churches need rich people in them to maintain them. Our treasurer (the moneychanger I like to call him) and I have discussions on tithing, appropriate tithing, the need or not for tithing among other things. There’s a pastor in America who tithes 90% of his income, but if that was a million there would still be a hundred thou to live on so I don’t think that is a reality for most.

“How do people live like that,” a wealthy friend said of someone in a one bedroomed house “I need my things,” and on another occasion, “how poor is he, he is always well groomed, is he really poor?”

Holding onto our riches, whatever they are, is a barrier to the love of God, without a shadow of a doubt. So very slowly I am freeing myself of my worldly possessions, piece by piece I am giving away “my stuff” and I pray that I will healed of it so much I don’t fill the space with more “my stuff”

A friend told me that her pastor spoke about having a spring clean, physically and spiritually and that by decluttering their space they decluttered their minds and hearts too. So they banded together and decluttered each others homes and recluttered from the “stuff” of others. There was positive things in the process although the end was not what was asked. Fellowship among the congregation increased and people felt they had new stuff without buying it.

Money is a contentious issue in the world right now so it is bound to be contentious in church. We are all works in progress and help is needed.

Sermon Twenty Two On fasting

john                              audio clip

Fasting is a contentious issue. Wesley, himself, fasted twice a week and many practice it regularly. Are we to fast?

Is fasting part of your life?

Wesley points to different kinds of fasting. There is the loss of appetite in grief. I understand this completely, whenever I have had huge grief in my life, there was much mourning and weeping and not eating although I never called it fasting.

There is one kind of fast he mentions that particularly hit home to me as I experienced it a few years ago. It comes under the heading natural fasting and that is how I consider it in hindsight. It began and ended naturally.

It is intrinsically linked to my testimony as I moved from being under to Law to a state of Grace and unbelievably it lasted for forty days. I didn’t realise this for a long time, when talking about it I said almost six weeks, or the bare bones of six weeks but the reality of it was six weeks.

Amazingly in that time I did not have one moment of hunger, there was not one food I could think of and salivate, there was no person who could convince me to eat. I was in the middle of an inner turmoil where my soul was being fought over.

The first food I ate was a slice of pizza in Dublin with two of my children, and that was it, over. It was finished, my soul won for Christ.

Since that time and probably because of that time I tapped into fasting quite regularly. The old appetite for food was changed along with the rest of me. I was concerned to eat healthily, putting into my body only food that would not harm.

One consequence of that time is that even in a period of prolonged fasting I eat at seven each evening or as close to it as possible. Outwardly I could not keep the fasting secret, I tried and failed and so it caused grief in my family.

I am alternating days of fasting this month, primarily for my prayer life. I am not looking for signs and wonders but I am in communion with the Lord regarding a particular thing. It helps focus the prayer, the talk, the conversation and it helps the listening too.

I am with Wesley mostly on fasting, it is not about earning your way to heaven, fasting to excess is wrong as is outwardly fasting. Above all sincerity and authenticity in all our actions and thoughts and words are what is pleasing to God