Sermon 25~~~Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount~~~Discourse 5

“Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you: Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For verily I say unto you: That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 6:1–15.

I was struggling with one of the commandments, it caused me to walk away from church as a teenager and when I returned it was still there: Front and centre. Joining a Bible study didn’t help, we were studying the Sermon on the Mount and so I heard what fulfilling the Law by Jesus meant and that it wasn’t about following the letter of the Law but following the explicit and implicit nature of the Law. So not only the act, but the first iota of an inkling of the act.

I spoke to one of our Local Preachers about it and they said and I quote:

“oh don’t worry about them that is why we have the New Testament we don’t have to worry about the Old Testament at all.”

Now young as I was in my faith walk this didn’t make sense, firstly if we weren’t to worry about the Old Testament then why was it still attached to the New physically in our bibles. Secondly we hear Jesus himself saying

“I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

The LP in question were themselves living a precarious life – preaching without call and preaching when preaching itself was contrary to their beliefs, but I found this out later.

But it raised queries for me and sent me on a journey of discovery of how to ‘without a shadow of doubt’ be following the ten commandments, I left the 613 other laws alone as I am partial to a fried prawn curry and my friends were not abominations.

Two things I discovered in my journey and these are vital for spiritual growth:

1. you have to ask, not just of God but of godly men and women whom you trust and listen to their replies with discernment. The wisest of the wise of humans can get it wrong sometimes too.

2. this is not a solitary journey, people walk alongside, some for a season, some for a season or two but all who walk have their own backstory and motivations.

Jesus did not land on this earth so we can read his words and go – “oh that’s nice.” No he came to change the world, change history, change us, individually – you and me.

March 2014 a vid was shown in church, to show a model of mission and specifically shown to me to raise questions about where is the mission field. Like the questions weren’t there already. A few years ago I had the privilege of viewing and touching some of the modern art held by the Methodist Church in Britain. Yes I did say touch, I couldn’t help it, it was so tactile it drew me in and I touched.

It wasn’t the Diwali madonna or the graphic depictions of the death of Christ, it wasn’t five and chips on the mountain. It was “Cross over the city,” a mixed media (Polyester, brass and mosaic, relief panel) conceptual depiction of The Cross over a city. For me it spoke missionally of housing estates where God is not known. No Pharisees live there and the law is that of the concrete jungle – the hierarchical nature of crime- controlled by the older but carried out be the very young. How do we reach those children, whose light quickly fades and is not present from the age of eight? How can hope be found for those that see life as endless drudge of pain and painkillers? Where the rite of passage into adulthood is not a ritual of confirmation into a church but a gang rape for her and needle for him and where that ritual takes place in ever lowering ages. What age will it stop?

These people do not know the commandments, do not know anything about the Lord and his saving grace, do not know anything about right from wrong. I call them people because children are humans too. How can they even hope to have the righteousness of a Pharisee with no knowledge of the Lord?

And where are we? Tucked up safely in our homes, barricaded in – lest they take out. Where we have no concept of how others live. Someone told me once that everyone has a choice. But not if they are living without choices – where children are groomed to accept whatever is thrown at them.

Jesus came for all of us, not just the twin set and pearls and suited ones, but the raggedy ones, the ones like me and you.

I may have openly struggled with one of the ten, but I was struggling for more secretly with others but until I sorted the open one I was held in grace until such a time was right, timing is everything with the Lord.

Sermon 16 ~~~{The Means of Grace}

“Ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.”

Mal. 3:7a

It is necessary to contextualise this sermon: John Wesley was a minister in the Church of England and he preached within the walls of C of E churches as well as his well known evangelical outdoor preaching. Whenever he preached he robed up, as in he put on the robes of a Minister no matter where he was. So although he was preaching about inward growth and the work of the Spirit he did it within the confines of the liturgy of the established church. He did not preach to people to ignore the rituals but to embrace them as being useful, helpful and a way to know more of the Lord.

This sermon therefore is not a rhetoric against the ordinances or rituals of the church but it does raise questions about them. To Wesley, who believed these means of grace to be a way to know Christ, prayer and devotion, meditation and partaking in the Lord’s Supper were vital to a person not only growing in faith but also a very real way in which God could meet a seeker or ‘almost Christian’ or mature in the faith Christian or an all-in-all Christian.

If we do not believe we are communicating with the Living God when we pray – why do we do it?

He describes the means of grace as the outward signs, words or actions, ordained by God to be the ordinary channels whereby He conveys to us prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace.

The chief means of grace is prayer whether the secret prayers of the heart in our own language, private prayers locked in a press or public praying with ordinary folk like us in as part of a congregation. Secondly reading, hearing and meditating on scripture, and receiving the Lord’s Supper.

There is no power in the stuff we do, no power in prayer or the words of Scripture or indeed Communion but that God alone who is the giver of every good gift, the author of all grace, that the whole power is of him and him alone, so that any blessing we receive through one of these means of grace, is given by His power not because we stood in a particular way, or bowed really low or lived a life in a distinct or peculiar way.

Wesley talks of profit which we no longer use in his understanding of the word. Useful and helpful would translate well into his phrase:

We allow, likewise, that all outward means whatever, if separate from the Spirit of God, cannot profit at all, cannot conduce, in any degree, either to the knowledge or love of God.

People contend that Wesley’s concept of prevenient grace in particular is not effectively theologically sound. However if a boat was capsizing all the people on board will be praying, and praying to God because in that moment of facing death clarity is everything. They say “How can a person pray who does not have faith?” But to say this belittles God’s immense power and love.

Wesley often spoke about Communion as a means of grace and in the last year I have been on a journey of discovery with the Lord’s Supper and I can think of nothing more beautiful than celebrating Communion and seeing someone being beautifully brought to the foot of the Cross and confessing & repenting for the first time.

Wesley ends this sermon with these amazing and challenging words:

You see, you know,
you feel, God is all in all. Be abased. Sink down before him. Give him all the praise. “Let
God in all things be glorified through Christ Jesus”. Let all your bones cry out,” My song
shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: With my mouth will I ever be telling of
thy truth, from one generation to another!”