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.

cruisin4disaster

Looking back he couldn’t think of one thing that led him to rifle through her handbag. It was a number of things, or a culmination of things that brought him to that point. Afterwards, of course, he felt justified because he found what he suspected.

In this age of electronic messaging and texting, only his wife would still write and receive letters. And more damning for her, she kept them. Well she kept this one. The one that was burning a hole in his pocket and his heart. The one that explained the changes in her.

She had grown, not physically, although she seemed to take up more space, her personality had grown. She wasn’t by any a stretch a shrunken woman but he thought of her as contained and since she lost weight, petite. Now she was larger than life, laughing out loud, a twinkle in her eye and a skip in her step. She had stopped arguing, that was it, the one thing that started him searching through the house.

She had been on vacation with her sister, on a cruise to the Caribbean. This was normal, she went every year, he hated to fly, they went on a driving tour in the UK or Ireland in September. He was three hours late picking her up at the airport, he expected a fly in his ear all the way home. Instead he was told, she went for a coffee and read her book, no worries. No worries, she said, that wasn’t his wife speaking, he appreciated it at first, the fact that he could do no wrong but after a week or so he found himself pondering on the why. Why the change? Surely the laid-back Jamaican attitude had not overwhelmed her and taken her over.

It took him over a week to search the house, he went into every room, ferreting in every nook and cranny until her handbag was the only place left to be scrutinised. He felt so low, going through her things, he would never ordinarily go in her handbag, not even to borrow a fiver. He would always ask. Maybe that is his problem, maybe that’s why she went elsewhere.

Stop that, he told himself. Yes he was broken-hearted, but he had been broken before, all the babies they had conceived that never got past ten weeks, each time that killed him. Each time it killed them both, just a little. Maybe it was inevitable that with all the elephants that lived in their lounge, one of them was bound to want out, it was so crowded.

Knowing your wife slept with someone else and acting upon the knowing, he discovered over the next few days were entirely different scenarios. In his head he screamed and shouted and plaintively cried what about me. On the surface though as with every other issue they faced, he remained calm.

When the days spilled over into a week he made a decision, he was going to fight for his marriage, he was going to fight for his wife, he was going to fight. He started the next morning, bringing her breakfast in bed, not that anything was ever resolved over a slice of toast, but it was a start. He wasn’t going to bend over backwards and become a doormat, but he was going to do little surprising gestures to bring her back into his bed. There was no need to dwell on the past, no need to talk about her indiscretion, maybe next year he might go on holiday with her, to China or India. 

Maybe all he needed was a wake-up call that marriages are fragile and need nurturing.

His wife rang her sister on the day of the breakfast to tell her the plan was working. “Thanks sis, you are the most fabulous sister in the entire world. To listen to me moan on about him and the marriage. Thank you for all your suggestions, I thought writing the letter was overdoing it but it seems to be having an effect. I just wish we could talk, you know really talk, like me and you do. Maybe this will be the start, there’s a herd of elephants need shifting, love you.”

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She was crying.

Not pretty tears, red swollen eyes, her nose full of snot, running freely as the tears.

She sat staring out of the window, oblivious to the world going on outside. People were beginning to get up and out for the daily grind. Mr Boyson was having trouble starting his motorbike directly opposite, his cursing, slamming and banging going unheard or unseen. Martha and Martin the twins from number 23 were gabbing on at a hundred miles an hour as they swung their bags and shuffled through autumn leaves.

Doris sniffled and wiped snot on her sleeve, grabbing her handkerchief too late for the slug like trail on her clothes but she dried her eyes. “Well this will never do,” she exclaimed to herself and put the telegram back in its envelope and into her apron pocket.

“Clarence, I am putting on the kettle for tea. Are you coming down today, love?” She spoke up the stairs hoping her husband would hear her. She didn’t want to take a tray up today. In the kitchen she straightened the envelope and put it leaning against the salt cellar.

She drew the black out curtains in the parlour and put the gas masks away, hung up in the cloakroom, she wished this damn war would end before anyone else’s son was killed. She sobbed again, before shaking her head and turning to brew the tea.