Serious? Or just playing games...
Sermon preached by
'What is the Christian life really about, and am I serious about it or just playing games?'
I would suggest that most of us from time to time think to ourselves 'I wish I hadn't done or said that'
We all make mistakes and fail to live up to our expectations of ourselves.
In Chapter 7 of Romans Paul anguishes and openly admits
'I keep on doing the things I don't want to do and don't do what I want to do'
This teaches us a lot about ourselves and the world in which we live.
God is clearly at work in our world. God has not just wound the world up like a clock and then gone off on holiday - he is active and present and working. But God does not get his own way in the world. Just because something happens doesn't mean that God wanted it.
God chooses not to control us, or our behaviour. You are free to ignore God and mess up your life all on your own. For God's will to be made perfect - it requires us to co-operate. When people ask why God has done certain things in the world, the answer normally is that he hasn't. The action of God is most normally questioned in this way when tragedy strikes
- Why did God cause a certain person to die ? - well the answer is 'he didn't'
- Why did God bring about an accident ? - again the answer is 'he didn't'
- Why did God make me unemployed ? He didn't
The answer is that we manage to do these things all by ourselves without God's help. We are able to do these things, all by ourselves, because God treats us like grown ups. God allows us to make mistakes, to mess things up and he does not take away our freedoms. We are free to accept or reject what God offers to us.
For God to have his way in this world, and with us, our co-operation is required. We are free to accept or reject what God has on offer.
God wants to work in our lives, he wants to produce in us a hundredfold. But for this to happen we are required to co-operate. The parable of the sower is clear, if we want to we can allow the will of God to be choked out, plucked away and destroyed.
God may give to us the resources to produce a hundredfold, but if we are so inclined, then we are able to turn in nothing, be totally unproductive. We can screw up our lives and that is what many people choose to do. We cannot blame God for that.
So we are to ask ourselves as we listen to the parable,
'are we open to the work of God in our lives'?
As Christians we can become complacent. We can be comfortable with our own shortcomings, forgiving of our low expectations.
As Christian people we must not stop dreaming dreams. We are so tempted by those around us to be cynical about our visions and ideals.
But the point of the parable is that we must be prepared to think bigger.
Jesus says, 'To those who have more, more will be given and they will have in abundance. To those who are shrivelled even what they have will be taken away.'
What it means is that we must have big open hearts, fertile minds and fertile imaginations, that allow us to imagine the amazing things are possible under the influence of God.
As Christians we have to be serious about thinking bigger because we have untapped resources.
- What big ideas have you had recently?
- How large is your capacity for thinking ?
- Are you weedy soil, barren soil?
- Are you lazy, pre-occupied, cumbered with a load of care?
This is not a passage which we should read and just admonish ourselves for being useless. Today the lesson is an encouragement to realise that we, each one of us, has the capacity with God's help to be productive and useful in the kingdom, to bear fruit many times.
We have to play our part, God won't make us. That is what the parable of the sower is all about.
Romans Chapter 8
The reasoning is taken further in Romans where Paul blames Adam for the sin of the world. It doesn't matter whether Adam was a historical person, it is irrelevant whether he actually lived: to ask the question is to miss the point.
What Paul is saying is that, 'God is not responsible for the sin of the world, it is a humanly created problem.'
- human greed
- man's inhumanity to man
- intolerance and aggression
- cowardice and acquiescence
But do not blame God.
It is not God's fault -
- if we burn ourselves up in the fires of our own greed
- God does not cause us to kill, maim and disfigure one another
- God does not cause us to be stay at home Christians who fail to be motivated and lack the imagination to change the world around us.
We do it all by ourselves.
We can change things. But that demands that we change sides. Paul uses the illustration of moving from Adam to Christ. That, and only a move that great will achieve the transformation which is required. We cannot make changes on our own which will have the desired effect. That is why Paul is trying to say that there is nothing, no life decision which is more important, nothing of greater significance than this - choosing Christ.
That is why it is astonishing that -
- Parents try to give their children everything, but fail them on the one thing of importance by not bringing them to church.
- That people lie in bed on Sunday morning and choose not to come to church when other Christians have been put to death for their insistence upon meeting together.
- That the older generation has given up going to church and then wonder why there is a recognisable fall in Christian values in our society.
- That grandparents spend time with their grandchildren taking them to Centre Parcs but don't take them to church.
As Jesus taught, the message of the kingdom can be scattered on infertile soil.
- Shallow fair-weather Christians with no ability to persevere. As soon
as something else comes along off they pop. A new girlfriend or husband, a
more interesting activity on Sundays and they cease to be members of the
church and when you leave church it's like taking the coal out of the fire
and the Christian commitment cools off.
- Then there is the temptation of rampant materialism. The word of God demands commitment and not preoccupation with other things. There is no doubt that when we look at those who have through their Christian commitment been involved in great achievements, spiritual single-mindedness has been a characteristic.
Paul understood that the Christian life was about complete transformation. Often the Christian life is spoken of in terms of being born again. A new way of life. But even that kind of sea change is not good enough for Paul. He tells his hearers that what Christ has done is not going to just be about a new way of life, it was more radical than that. Paul tells that without Christ we are actually dead. Christ gave nothing less than life itself to those who were spiritually dead.
'for the flesh way of thinking is death'
whereas the Spirit's way of thinking is life and peace.
The contrast could not be greater.
The new way of life is not about playing games.
Sometimes people say to me that the church is full of sinners and I usually make the reply, 'no it's not full there's always room for one more.' That is true, but we must never be complacent, we are called to change and reform and the behaviour of Christian in and out of church must be better. Paul believed that what Christ offered was a faith which liberated the believer. Following Christ meant that a person had cut off the old order of sin and death. There was a possibility of a new way of living.
In verse 4 Paul uses words which have led to the idea that somehow Christians are able to attain some state of perfection. What does the word 'fulfill' really mean?
There are few theological differences between the Anglican and Methodist. Now that we are talking together more one of the theological debates is about Christian perfection. John Wesley had a doctrine of Christian perfection that held that it is possible for a Christian to be 'so far perfect as not to commit sin' and that those mature Christians who are 'strong in the Lord' are: 'freed from evil thoughts and evil tempers'.
Now you must decide for yourselves from theology and experience to what extent Christians can live a life free from sin. (Eph 4:25-32, Rom 7:1-25) It does seem hard to reconcile with the teaching of Paul last week that he felt unable to do what he wanted to do and kept on doing what he did not want to do!
There may be some people who feel that they do not need to say the confession, I am not sure if I have met any.
But what this doctrine does do is to encourage us as Christians to walk differently. We should be motivated differently because God dwells with us. God dwelling in us is not meant to have the force of a passing guest. God has moved in permanently.
For Paul some people were able to demonstrate that in a special and unique way Christ lived with them. Their lives demonstrated in character and conduct that Christ was within. That means that those people were motivated to behave in ways that showed Christ was risen and alive in them.
'Christ is in you' Paul says.
Now we know that there is no part of the world where God is not present, God is everywhere. But we know that there are places where God is uniquely present. There are places which we hallow and set apart as being very special places, such as churches or places of prayer. So too in a sense God is in every person who lives and active in all parts of creation and his world. God is in other religions and people of other faiths who seek him within their own understanding. Obviously he is.
Yet what Paul is saying is that in a very special way God was Christ and Christ is resident with the Christian. To the extent that it can be recognised that Jesus brings spiritual corpses to life.
There was an old age of sin and death: Adam
Now there was a new age of life: Jesus
How does this spiritual resuscitation take place? How is the corpse raised from death?
The Christian is one who comes to life by the presence of Christ within them, dwelling. It is not given to those who go to church, not those who live good lives, not given as a once off when we are baptised or confirmed. The Christian is one who continues to have Christ reside with them.
Our family recently went to the doctors and had our jabs. We are now inoculated against hepatitis and other nasty diseases, we do not have to do anything else. But the Christian life is not about a once off inoculation. This is not a once off exercise, like going to the doctors. Make no mistake it is perfectly possible for some people to kick God out. We all know people who call themselves Christians but who are just horrible people.
Paul knows that we live in a fallen world. Because of that there will be times when we all become soiled by sin. Sometimes we have to choose sin as the lesser of two evils. It is a part of living in a sinful world and personally I doubt that anybody will ever be perfect this side of heaven. Yet the Christian is expected to be dominated by the challenges of Christ and should strive towards perfection.
So it was that being in Christ enabled Paul to say without fear, 'there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus'.
No need for any special caveats, there is no condemnation.
He does not say that 'there is no condemnation, provided that you had the last rites before you died'.
I will often say prayers with people in hospital who are dying, I am more than happy to give absolution, but the idea that if the person did not have absolution that they might have died with unforgiven sin is not part of this understanding.
We do not know what arrangements God has in mind for those who die who are not in Christ. However we are told forcibly throughout the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament that sin is forgiven and death overcome through Christ.
Life lived with Christ enables life to be led in a manner which the law intended. Life with respect for God, life lived under the rule that others should be treated in the way that we would like to be treated ourselves. Life without unkind words, life which is not lived motivated by thinking of our own well being. Christians would be people who only said things about others which they were prepared for those people to hear, they would not be gossips spreading unkind words.
Christians would be people who encouraged others and said kind helpful things to them.
To be in Christ was not just an intellectual assent to some theological ideas. Neither was it a historical belief in the fact that a person named Jesus lived at a certain time in the world's history. To be in Christ meant to be exposed to the power of Christ at a very personal level. That power was such that it enabled the Christian to live in a different way. The indwelling of Christ meant that Christians were able to break the vicious effects caused by sin.
The death of Christ is seen as being of such importance that the cancer of sin is totally destroyed. Moreover the believer could share in this forgiveness now! They could become a part of the new age even though they still lived in the old one.
The proof of what Paul was saying lay in the lives of the Christians. The death of Christ achieved the possibility of a spiritual life, but it was shown in very tangible ways.
So today we go away asking ourselves questions
Are we performing as God's seed in the world?
Do our lives speak of Christ because our faith is making us better Christians?
What yield are we producing, how big is the harvest of our lives? Is it tiny because our imaginations are too small or are we fruitful Christians?
What message do our lives tell to our community as a church and as individuals?
Bible Readings and Notes for 14th July 2002