Making a Difference
Sermon preached by
|Matthew Chapter 10:40-42
"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."
The readings over the past weeks have focussed upon Jesus sending out his followers on mission. The community of followers of Jesus are not be isolated from the world, rather they are to go out and change it. They are to be salt and light in the world and make a difference.
Today I have four thoughts about this which I would like to share with you.
Imagine an apocalyptic scene, the kind of picture which you might take from Revelation, Horsemen of the Apocalypse etc.. The Church of Christ is under attack, the forces of evil are summoned against her. She is surrounded by evil and hears the voice of her Lord to rise up fight in the strength of his might. The Church hears the voice of her Captain and faces the call as Christian soldiers to take up arms. But the church can't agree how to go about this, should they all fight together or should the United Reformed Church be sent in first as canon fodder to draw the fire. The Roman Catholics and Anglicans won't fight alongside each other, because the Anglicans want to allow some women troops in positions of command. Some of the Methodists are reluctant to get involved because there was a battle once before and some of the Anglicans ran away. etc.
It requires imagination, but not much. God forgive us and help us. We are indeed told by our Lord that we are commissioned to go and fight evil and take with us his words of truth and life. Instead the church spends countless hours debating who we will and will not work alongside. We hear the prayer of Christ that the church must be one, be we are too attached to our human traditions and denominations to be an effective fighting force.
You have in your notices this week (and a fuller piece is posted on the website) the wording of the covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church. It will be discussed this summer by the denominations and hopefully signed next year. It is basic, it does not go nearly as far as we have progressed in local unity here in our churches. Sadly it cannot, because those who put it together are frightened that there are dinosaurs in each of our denominations who will scupper the whole process if we push too hard too soon. So it represents a step in the right direction and it places us firmly on the road to full visible unity.
Of course it is worth reminding ourselves that as we go out into this world with the words of life, we do not go to a hostile place where God is absent. This is God's world and God is at work in his world. When we go out into the world we do not go as explorers on behalf of God. We are not taking God to a world which has been lost in space. It is God's world, he is there before us. There is no place to which we go where God has not been before. There is no person to whom we speak, whom God has not spoken to first.
The mission of God is going on even when Christians are failing to share in it. There are many people, organisations and institutions who clearly are guided by God's Holy Spirit who do not call themselves Christians. God works through all manner of means and an organisation does not have to include Christian in its title to be effectively carrying out the purposes of God. In secular charities and organisations God is at work through his Holy Spirit, and through Christians who may be found there.
For us this means that we should not imagine that our work is that of co-operating with God in mission and we do not go alone. Often it is we Christians who have been awakened by the challenge of what might be considered non-christian groups or movements to recognise what work God would have us share in for the advancement of his kingdom.
As we seek to engage in mission of course at the centre of that message which we take lies the story of the cross. No denominational differences should distract the Church from preaching the cross, no internal church debates are more important than this Gospel.
The cross teaches us that all we like sheep have gone astray and all have the same need before God. As Christians we are not better than others, we simply recognise our need.
Often people read the passage of the lost sheep and the question is asked, 'what a funny thing for the shepherd to do!' He leaves the 99 good sheep and goes off after the naughty one. Such thinking exposes our own self righteousness. The message of the parable is God seeks out the lost and the cross teaches us that where the forgiveness of God is concerned there are no clever sheep who did not get lost. 'all we like sheep have gone astray'. There is not one of us that cannot say that we needed the shepherd to come after us and find us! All went astray, all were lost, all will be found and carried home.
Here I will close and you can go home and watch the world cup final. You might be forgiven for holding up your hands in desperation at the apparent distraction of the church on matters of indifference. You might be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of mission in our own society. What difference can you and I make in a world in which so often we seem powerless to bring about the changes for which we pray. In our lesson today we are encouraged enormously. Jesus draws attention to the fact that even the smallest act is of significance. Even the simple act of providing a drink for somebody is important and does not go unnoticed. Jesus chooses an act of kindness that is available to all, there are no excuses not to be caught up in God's work
So be encouraged to discover and take up your part in that work of mission to which each one of us is called.