Sermon Two ~~~ The Almost Christian

I was asked a random question whilst my pretty cup of tea was being poured. “Who was the first Christian?” I knew who they were thinking about and didn’t want to get into a theological discussion so allowed them their ‘Mary Magdalene’ and left the conversation hang as a gulped my tea.

Mary was the first to acknowledge Jesus as risen from the grave so could be named as the first Christian except for a few minor details.

The term Christian was coined by someone outside of the followers of Jesus after his death as derogatory term for them, as I understand it.

If Christian means follower of Jesus then the first called disciple was the first one.

Or if it someone who suddenly has the revelation of the trinity – Father, Son & Spirit then surely it is John the Baptist.

There is the argument that we are not Christian unless baptised by the Holy Spirit and so the first Christians were indeed those seated on the Day of Pentecost.

Other say not only all of the above but in obedience as an adult we must be baptised in water.

Is it enough to stand and say “I am a Christian?”

Would it not surely be better that by our actions someone else says “Are you a Christian?”

An altogether Christian not only keeps the law in spirit and truth, does good works whenever they can, spreads the word about the Gospel etc, etc, but lives by the scripture:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”

AND

“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”

Responding to God’s love with love for all is how we are seen as different.  Every Christian is called to love as Christ loves us.

John 3:16 which I won’t quote again is how much God loves us. He loves us enough to send his only son to die. Not only do we get eternal life in that agreement but we get adopted in his family.

[pause for a few cartwheels and whoops]

To be a true Christian, according to Wesley, is also to have a sure trust and confidence, assurance of this everlasting life. We have faith, given to us as a free gift from God, faith that is in the unseen ways of God, faith that allows us to know the peace that has no earthly understanding, faith that allows us to stand up in the face of persecution and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

We can live and be a part of world and practice justice, mercy, truth, some of my relatives are upright citizens living “good” lives but with out the love of God enveloping them, without responding to his love and because of this they are not Christian (yet)

We can be part of ‘church’ and follow the ordinances of God, and do all the right things and have the outside shell of a Christian, but what of our heart?

Love is the greatest gift we can receive from the Spirit, it is one of the fruit of the Spirit and by far outweighs the other gifts and fruit. Everything else follows on from this love. Patience, kindness, gentleness and even self-control.

So if you want a heart check to see are you almost or altogether a Christian ask these and reflect :

Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?

Can you cry out, “My God, and my All”?

Do you desire nothing but him?

Are you happy in God?

Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing?

And is this commandment written in your heart, “That he who loveth God love his brother also”?

Do you then love your neighbour as yourself?

Do you love every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul?

as Christ loved you?

Yea, dost thou believe that Christ loved thee, and gave himself for thee?

Hast thou faith in his blood?

Believest thou the Lamb of God hath taken away thy sins, and cast them as a stone into the depth of the sea?

that he hath blotted out the handwriting that was against thee, taking it out of the way, nailing it to his cross?

Hast thou indeed redemption through his blood, even the remission of thy sins? And doth his Spirit bear witness with thy spirit, that thou art a child of God?

“Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”

 

 

I am returning to the Sermons and daily discipline

A year last November I told someone my next project was to voice record Wesley’s sermons in the language it was written in. They didn’t see the point, but then they had not voice recorded the reworded Sermons on Several Occasions. Possibly when they had studied them it came easily, the language, the nuance, imagining a group of miners just out of the pit listening to this preacher guy on or off horseback, imagining the smells & sights, the noise – was there any?

On Wednesday night a preached to a completely silent room, the children were dozing and the adults without exception had their eyes raised looking at me as I delivered God’s message to His people. I wonder when Wesley preached in the fancy Anglican churches was there silence or was the moving of frock coats and skirts as people became more and more uncomfortable as Spirit’s sword pierced their hearts through the words of John Wesley.

I reckoned back then and still do, that I need to know what it was like to hear those words come from a mouth and so I begin a new challenge. One sermon. One voice recording. One small piece of interpretative text or reaction to the words. One day.

Now just like Frank Jenner I am not going to beat myself up if I miss a day but I am intending to complete the challenge in 141 days, minus the travelling days and one day off a week bring me to mid- August.

john wesley

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
    Run to God! Run from evil!
Your body will glow with health,
    your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own;
    give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst,
    your wine vats will brim over.
But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline;
    don’t sulk under his loving correction.
It’s the child he loves that God corrects;
    a father’s delight is behind all this.

Sermon Thirty Five Christian perfection

john                                                             audio clip

This is such a long sermon, even in comparison with other long ones of Wesley. And I have to say not very helpful. I feel like the child who just can’t reach the cookie jar. In one sermon he has put a downer on everyone who considers themselves Christian.

WHY?

Because he says that if we are guided by the Holy Spirit we cannot sin. He uses lots of scripture both from the Old and New Testament to back up his argument. And it sounds peachy. We are Christian and therefore we do not sin. But hands up those who don’t. Never have even the beginning of a bad thought about someone?

He outlines how we are not perfect and uses the example of us not having full knowledge, the Trinity is a huge mystery to us for example. We are fallible, God is not. The Bible is infallible, we are not. We make mistakes.

Actually I feel like the cookie jar has been taken out of my hands. If I follow with Wesley’s theology I should be perfect. And I am not. I follow the law of the land, I follow the law of God but I live in a state of grace which means that my way of following those laws is different to a non-believer.

I follow them as part of the love that pours down on me, as I live with the gifts given and the fruit of the Spirit there are some sins that I couldn’t do without wrenching myself from the Lord’s arms. So why would I do that?

Everyday I am honed a little bit more, another aspect of my character needs some work. Today it was my propensity to sit and sleep rather than do something active to freshen my dull mind. I was struck by lethargy at the very time when I need to be sharp.

Wesley wrote a book about Christian perfection too, it was a major focus of his life. He believed we could attain perfection.

Now when God looks at us through the lens of Jesus we are washed clean and spotless, we are perfect in His eyes because he is looking through the blood of Christ.

God is not grim or a cosmic killjoy, if I were to get hung up on the Law, the sins I would lose my joy, that beautiful gift from God. We are free from the chains of sin and when we do sin we are immediately sorry, we throw ourselves on God’s mercy.

God gave to us a new nature, He put another principle into us, a third part of a perfective constitution; we have the spirit put into us, to be a part of us, as properly to produce actions of a holy life, as the soul of man in the body does produce the natural. God hath exalted human nature, and made it in the person of Jesus Christ, to sit above the highest seat of angels, and the angels are made ministering spirits, ever since their Lord became our brother. Jeremy Taylor 1652

Wesley therefore was not the only one talking about perfection. I get images of people not quite walking on the ground and ice cream. Taylor is talking about the perfect Spirit living within us and Wesley suggests that because the perfect Spirit is within us we cannot sin if we want the Spirit to stay. There is a tension within us, our human nature and the Spirit guiding us. We are sinful living in a broken world but the Spirit gives us the option of a new way of living.

It is but a very little while that our spirits shall be crusht and clogged with these heavy and sluggish bodies; at the resurrection they shall be refined from all dregs of corruption, and become spiritual, and incorruptible, and glorious, and every way suited to the activity and perfection of a glorified soul and the ‘spirits of just men made perfect. Tillotson 1652

Tillotson argues that it is at death this perfection occurs, I think but open to others interpretations. He goes on:

‘Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make us perfect in every good work to do his will, working in us always that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen.’ Tillotson 1652

There is a movement here, a progressing. My friend has the phrase, “Work in Progress” always in her mind and quotes it frequently when we mess up. I can just see the words forming on her lips. God forgives us so much, I know he has endless mercy and grace and sometimes I understand that in a very personal way. It isn’t fair, if things were fair I would be heading to hell.

Recently I have discovered there are public sins, the ones that put you in the spotlight, that people have an opinion about where you went wrong, what you should do about it etc. Lots of human judgement and tsk tsking. And then there are ones that no one human knows about. Those are the ones that are a barrier to even attempting to reach perfection.

Some people sit with these secret sins, thinking that if no one human knows, sure it will be alright. Some people worry themselves about them but do nothing about them. Others struggle with them being unable to be free of them and others fall at the feet of the Cross and move onward and forward to that hope of perfection, the way the Lord sees us.

So no, at this moment in time on this issue I do not concur with John, would love to talk it over with him so he could explain it better so I might understand. Doctor, I need a lift…

Sermon Nineteen Salt and light

john                                                    audio clip

Don’t you love it when a sermon preached centuries ago speaks to you. Well this one did me. My default would be to be a hermit spending time with the Lord on my own. For the past eleven days whenever given the opportunity that is exactly what I have been doing, well to be honest I have been doing it since beginning of October.

Sometimes it is needed. Just you and God. Sometimes he is the only one we can turn to. But in the midst of this I still met in fellowship with other Christians and I attended services of worship and witnessed in the world. But I jealously guarded my time with him. Any interloping was curtailed and my primary focus was on the Living God.

Wesley quite rightly points out that Christianity is a social religion. I wonder how he would use Facebook? Would he be part of this revolution of social media? Would Jesus post on facebook? How many followers would he get?

There is a time for solitude with the Lord, we need that time, and he loves that time he gets to talk to us too. Wesley uses two traits of Christians, meekness and peacemaking, and puts forward the argument that we cannot hone these attributes without other people. How can a person be gentle and mild in their own company? We can’t help people know peace if we don’t interact with them.

There is a tendency among Christians to keep to their own, send their children to Christian schools, have only Christian friends, indeed at some points in history and in the world today there are those whose only contact with other people is in Christian circles. A bubble of Christianity.

But within that bubble stuff still happens, and people still react to the stuff in worldly ways. So the bubble is never quite as pure and holy as people would believe.

Jesus called us salt and light. Hermitage is keeping your saltiness by keeping out of the world. But true salt goes out into the world makes friends with the world without taking on the world. It is a tough task. To keep salty in this dark degenerate world is a feat. But we are not doing it on our own. We have the love of God with us, the Spirit guiding us and Jesus walking with us. We have other Christians for fellowship. Quite often when I am weary of the world and I feel like I am hitting a wall with my tender forehead I go seek fellowship with a close sister in Christ.

I sit in her chaos and feel peace

When we have emptied ourselves out, He fills us up. When we think we have loved all we can love, God gives us more love to share. When our heart breaks over the destruction of lives and we think we can’t be instruments anymore, of God’s peace, he gives us the strength to carry on.

When we are in the world and the distractions come at us thick and fast, our heads spinning with all the worldly things the Lord gently helps us through the quagmire and leads us to safety. There is a very present danger that we will lose our saltiness, because we stop being stepping stones to Christ but become full of our own importance, the focus goes on us rather than the Lord.

And we avoid places, we avoid witnessing in places. A very gentle and mild missionary I know has been commissioned to work with a section of our community but he can’t face them. They are so, the opposite of him, he cannot go and witness to them. I pray he overcomes this because he has a message for these people from the living God that he loves them.

Wesley says it is impossible to conceal Christianity. Yesterday I was around people I used to know, when I lived and worked somewhere else. They didn’t recognise me and I could’ve maintained that “not knowing” and was sorely wishing I could but that would have dissed the God who made me new. So I introduced myself and one person said, “have you had surgery or something,” God gave me the words (I know they weren’t mine) “transformed in Christ” and smiled widely.

Note: smiled widely, not wryly or shyly or any other adjective I usually use for how I smile. The conversation moved to people we had in common, the people who I no longer know because I am no longer on the margins of humanity.

So this sermon spoke to me, I need to go back to that world and witness to those people, not because my outside has changed but because my inside has changed. I cannot hide the light of God in me under a bushel.

Wesley is right, the only way to stop  a candle lighting the way is to put it out. Why would I want to do that? So then the balancing act of making sure all the glory and praise goes to God and that his light is seen in those particularly dark places.

Jonny Vegas, I know from John Wesley to him, talks about having the stage presence of Jonny Vegas but going home as Michael Pennington. As Jonny Vegas he is angry and controversial as Michael he is meek and mild and a Christian. I would see my life not in terms of when I am in the world and when I am in the Christian bubble. But that my life is authentically Christian in every place I am, in every thought, word and deed.

Wesley’s language is old, obviously but interestingly he uses the word religion a lot. We have sullied that word and made it something less than it is. When we say religion we are talking about the rituals, the pomp and ceremony. “I am not religious, I am a follower of Christ” for example. God wants every Christian to be visible to all around to show them the truth of the Lord.

The root of our faith is in the heart, but because of the love and mercy and grace given to us freely we have produced branches. The branches reach out into the world  revealing Him to the world through what we do and say. A tree can have many branches and little root and it can die. But a firmly rooted tree can stand steadfast, sharing the good news with all around producing fruit, good fruit.

We are called to be living sacrifices dedicated to his service and pleasing to him, as salt go out into the world and season it, as light be the beacon that brings people home to Christ. Hope is in him alone.

Your Light Must Shine

This world is too dark, Christians everywhere need to come out into the world and let their light shine so the world can see Christ, the light of the world.

Sermon Four Scriptural Christianity

        john                                                        audio clip

This sermon is starts at one of those points in history I wish I’d been there. The day of Pentecost. It must have been like thousands of light bulbs going off, a mass of people giving their lives to the Lord. What a blessed day in history!

He goes on to excuse the lack of certain spiritual gifts in his day by suggesting that only some of the teachers would have them. He was more concerned with what he calls the ordinary fruit of the Spirit from Galations 5, always one of my favourite passages. For years I tried to be all these things in my own strength and it wasn’t until I was in total dependence with the Lord that I discovered they were gifts. They were not something to be strived for, they were a part of me as inherent as my vascular system. Now it is not something I share easily because to do so may discourage someone who is still striving. There is nothing worse when you’re struggling for someone to come up and say oh but I got all those for free.

Free gifts from heaven are what we receive, this echoes down through the ages. It is why you can spot a sister in a crowd, not because you know her but because the gifts are freely exhibited. Some people, I have one family member, who grew up exhibiting these gifts having given their life to the Lord at an early age. To be unkind is against everything they know, and only now do I understand.

My Christian friends from childhood followed rules, there was nothing they could do that I was allowed to do, even making mud pies seemed to be against some God law. Who would find a rule book appealing. The Bible isn’t a rule book, it is love and because of that love we are changed into the people God wants us to be. We will never be finished in this honing process but look how far we have come.

There must have been that tension around the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues and miracles that still exists today and I have written extensively on the subject without divulging what gifts have been bestowed on me. Part is that reticence to offend a seeker or almost Christian, partly because there is no need for anyone to know at this time, believe it or not I am a deeply private person and this blogging and writing and preaching and all this stuff is not of me.

Wesley talks about the history of the early church. Now he really put on his rose coloured glasses at this point because it sounds like a Christian bubble, everything was good, they loved each other, they shared, they were no power struggles, they didn’t hate, they were humble and they lived in hope. Now I am not saying they were of the world but they were humans, capable of sin, living in close community with each other. Have you ever lived in a dormitory, there is always a snorer, a mover, a shaker, a talker, a one that sleeps soundly and one who sleeps light. Well imagine all the duties of the day being done together – not all people clean up after themselves, some cannot clean as well as others. It would be in the nitty gritty of the kitchen where people disagreed. The big one of course is written about in the Bible, the couple who don’t put in their full portion and they die. So of course there was sibling rivalry but they loved the Lord and got over those molehills for the race was on and being a competitor in the race helping, encouraging, challenging and letting one go ahead was just too important to not get over their differences. They were united in love in the body of Christ.

Then there was the spread of Christianity from one person to another, one to one contact with traders and market holders, centurions, jailers, servants and slaves. Yes there were gatherings were many were saved but it was in the everyday encounters that people saw the lord in these Christians. Word spread and churches sprung up throughout the known world. And they messed up. I mean really take heart from this, the early Christians sometimes got it wrong, they got community wrong, they mixed old ways with new, pagan and Jewish alike, power struggles in the churches abounded and yet still it grew.

It is far, far more important that the Kingdom grows on this earth than who is in charge, who speaks, who doesn’t, our worship has to be authentic, sincere and with the love of God oozing from us. Not surface niceties, it is better to be in conflict if the reconciliation is of God than of pretending to all get on. We can leave our disputes to one side to come together in unity to worship the living God, Emmanuel, God is with us all the time.

Wesley points to the past, showing how good the early Christians were in order to challenge and encourage his own people who he saw reflected in the church in Laodicea.

He then points to the future to the time when the world will be fully Christian. Where there will be no quarrelling, love and joy will abound and all will praise the Lord as they arise and shine, our time has come. His point of the sermon was not eschatology so he did not labour here long, he wanted to get the pulpit boot in.

And finally he comes to present day. He takes no prisoners, it is Oxford and to the university he speaks. He barely even acknowledges the town of Oxford. He is concerned with how the members of the University from the top down and he places a special emphasis on the student, the undergraduates, the young people. They are the next generation.

According to some research most children raised in Christian homes lose their faith at university in the U.S. In this country in the last twenty years there has been an amazing drop in the numbers attending Mass. Services are being commuted, moved to less local places of worship. The middle management is wondering where the next cut will be. But there is a revival in Christianity in this country, small independent churches are bursting into being all over, people are seeking, people need the Lord, they are coming to realise this and it is our role as members of the body of Christ to encourage those people as they tentatively being to draw closer to the Lord.

We need to pour time and energy in living our lives, distinctive, authentic Christian lives, so that people see us as different and become curious. If Wesley preached this verbatim it would turn as many hearts hard as it would turn soft. I am convinced that there would be more to this sermon, that there would be encouraging illustrations extemporally given that were not recorded for posterity. We win souls to Christ by loving not by clever rhetoric.