Saturday, 24 November 2007
INTRODUCTION TO THIS THEME FOR THIS WEEK
We are following a series of themes entitled “Following in the Steps of the Master” in which we are exploring what it means, as a church – the people of God – to be a Community of Faith, bound together as followers of Jesus Christ.
So far we have considered our need (and our increasing nowadays) to Care for Creation; to be a Community together on the Pilgrim Road; to have an individual (and perhaps also a corporate) rhythm of prayer, work and recreation; to absorb the scriptures; to lead a simple lifestyle; to be a community that helps to bring healing to a fragmented society; and (in order to achieve all this) to be open to God’s Holy Spirit.
What is the object of these admirable targets in life? Naturally, we say, it is because they are good in themselves. Both individually and together, they are basic to a life that is healthy, holistic, enjoyable, and creative.
But there is a second purpose which is just as important. By living like this, we are to commend the God whom we worship; Jesus Christ who stands at the very centre of our faith; and the good news of salvation He came to bring, to the great outside world. We are to be a community of mission and that is our theme for today.
And I have chosen as the Key Text for today, which I hope you will commit to memory 2 Corinthians 5 20: “We are Christ’s ambassadors, as though God was making his appeal through us; we implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.
We are not just here for our own benefit. Archbishop William Temple once famously said that the Church is the only institution that exist primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members. That is a fundamental truth that too often gets lost in all the busy whirl of activity, and all the arguments about which form of service we like, which hymns are our favourites, what the church should or should not be doing or saying to the outside world.
Being a Christian community should not be a matter of our own preferences. That is not the way of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve. Foremost in our minds should be the question: “What best commends Christ to the world outside?” That should shape our policies, our attitudes, our goals.
AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
Consider the role of an Ambassador. Imagine that you have been appointed British Ambassador to some important country, and this building is the Embassy. You, with those around you, and this building, is to represent everything that is best about Britain.
The building will look as good as it possibly can. It will fly the flag that says Britain is best! No leaking roofs, shabby interiors, uncomfortable seats. And you, as Ambassador, must represent everything that is best about Britain – its attitudes, its policies, its character. And your proud task is – by example and by word – to let everyone know that Britain is a fine and honourable country, to be commended everywhere.
We are Ambassadors for Christ. All the same criteria apply. Everything we are and do and say must commend Him – recommend Him – and (as St Paul says) appeal to everyone outside, to find their life’s fulfilment and salvation in the relationship to God that we represent. Who could imagine a more honourable, proud and wonderful role to fulfil? It should fill our hearts with both pride and humility, and make us work to our utmost to be the best ambassadors we possibly can be.
But it must clearly also fill us with a great sense of responsibility. How will the great outside world know that Christianity is best, is life-fulfilling, and leads its followers to the heart of everything they have always longed for?
And if it is indeed the case that most people neither know nor care much about the Christian faith, the love of God, and the riches to be found in Jesus Christ, whose fault is that? To be brutally honest, the church in this country does not usually present a very attractive or compelling case on God’s behalf. Nor do we always try as hard as we might, to fulfil that ambassadorial role.
OLD TESTAMENT BACKGROUND
If we look back through the Old Testament, we find that this is far from being a new problem. The Israeli nation knew itself to be chosen by God. What they too often failed to remember was why they had been chosen. They thought they were just very special, and God would always protect them, no matter what. But God kept reminding them through the prophets that the reason they had been chosen was so that they could be ‘a light to the Gentiles’ – that they could draw all peoples and nations to the worship of the one true God. They were chosen to be a missionary people. And when they forgot that, they found to their dismay that God was no longer prepared to grant them special status, and they had some hard lessons to learn.
LESSONS FOR US TODAY
It is the same with the Christian Church. When we stop being a missionary church, and simply look to our own interests and preferences, we lose credibility, and God is not going to prop up the life of this or any church which has ceased to fulfil the purpose for which He created it.
THE GOOD NEWS FROM ISAIAH 55
We have such a great and valuable gift from God to offer to the world. Why are we so slow to tell everyone about it? Why do we get bogged down in matters which are ultimately of no concern? Isaiah 55 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. Out there is a parched and hungry world, longing and searching for spiritual values. Here are we sitting on them and refusing to share. Isaiah says that God offers water to the spiritually hungry, and bread to the spiritually hungry. And all this comes to fulfilment in Jesus who is the bread of life, and offers to fill our lives with the cleansing water of the Spirit.
JESUS AND HIS MISSION
And in Luke 10, when Jesus sends out his disciples with this good news to share, they find that so many receive it gladly. We read in verses 17 and 18: “The seventy two returned with joy and said: ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” And Jesus cries out “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” There is no reason why this could not all be true today.
How, then, can we become a Community of Mission? It is, of course, both an individual and a corporate endeavour. As ambassadors for Christ, we act both on our own, and as a body.
ST MICHAELS MUST BECOME AN AMBASSADOR FOR CHRIST
Individually, the ambassador must embody the message he proclaims. It is when people see something different about us that they are attracted. The person who prays and serves God with integrity and humility does not go unnoticed in a brash, violent and sinful world. And when people start to ask questions, we can point to the source of our strength and our inspiration.
As a Church, we must fly the flag, and embody the good news of God, who is alive and well, and among us in Camberley. Everything about our building must proclaim our values, our beliefs, our welcome, our relevance, our mission. We are just beginning work on this, and we have a long way to go.
And as a Church, we must be together the people of God, showing how very different people can live and worship together, in love, humility and honour.
We are called to be a Missionary Community. And there is a priority and indeed an edge to this. So long as we fail, the church will decline. We have been warned that, unless we rise to this challenge, there will be no live church here in 20 years or less. God will not artificially prop us up if we are not fulfilling his purpose. He will find other ways. All the history of the Bible proclaims the truth of this. This is a deeply serious matter.
As we come to Holy Communion today, let us each pray that God will fill us with his Holy Spirit – fill this Church with his Holy Spirit – and turn us into a glorious witness that will bring the light of the Gospel to Camberley; see many needy people coming to a new faith and a new life; and see, here in Camberley, Satan fall like lightning from the sky, defeated by the power of Christ.
Lord, make us each one – and make this church – a worthy and effective ambassador for Christ,
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
What characteristics make a good ambassador for Christ in the modern world?
What do you think needs to change about the life of St Michael’s to make us better Ambassadors?
What do you think needs to change about the building and its surroundings to make us a better Embassy for Christ?
What do you think should be the next step to make us a better community of mission?
Saturday, 17 November 2007
We pray that God would unlock our hearts from within as we respond to his words without. Amen
I wonder if any of you remember reading this passage from Alice in Wonderland?
‘At this moment Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out ‘The Queen! The Queen!’ and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen... When the procession came opposite to Alice, they all stopped and looked at her, and the Queen said severely ‘Who is this?’ She said it to the Knave of Hearts, who only bowed and smiled in reply... My name is Alice, so please your Majesty,’ said Alice ; but she added to herself, ‘Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all. I needn’t be afraid of them!’
They’re only a pack of cards - and yet to those in this Wonderland, those cards were truly the King and Queen of hearts.
You may wonder what this has to do with this week’s theme – openness to God’s Spirit.
There is a sense in which we live life at two levels – the seen and the unseen. The seen – the ordinary, matter of fact stuff of daily life, is around us constantly. But if we want to see the unseen, we too have to be transported to that Wonderland and to see things in a new light.
When I read passages in the Bible about the Holy Spirit, this passage from Alice in Wonderland often springs to mind, because it shows so clearly how the Holy Spirit can illuminate even everyday objects, and can help us see the hidden-ness, or unseen-ness that is right in front of us - if only we would take a moment to stop and listen to God’s Spirit.
It is the same Holy Spirit that we see in Jesus, who was born both of the Spirit, and was filled with the Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus at his baptism – announcing ‘This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased’. It is that same Holy Spirit that speaks to us at the very depths of our being:
Casting new light on familiar situations
Calling us out to new things
Prompting us to encounter God in new ways
I have been reading a book by Abbot Christopher Jamieson, called Finding Sanctuary.
Abbot Christopher is based at Worth Abbey, and became known to many people through the television series ‘The Monastery’. On the back cover of the book he comments that many people ask him why he decided to become a monk. It is, he says, a question he finds very difficult to answer, because in many ways it is like asking someone why they got married. It is just something that happens the reasons lie beyond the realms of human understanding.
In a similar way I find it hard to answer questions about why I became a priest. It just happened. I don’t think I had any control over the decision, I just somehow seemed to arrive at my destination. I knew in my heart of hearts that this was the right thing to do. So often in today’s world we skim over the importance of intuition. We look for reasons, logic, evidence. But if we listen to our hearts, we are often tuning into God’s Spirit, who is inspiring us to say or do things we had not planned.
All of this seems to imply an individual response - a calling from within ourselves that we personally take up and follow through. This is true. Yet Paul’s letter to the Corinthians urges us to beware of an emphasis on individual ‘spiritual’ experiences.
He writes to the church warning them that they need to engage together with the scriptures and to play down the prophetic gifts of discernment and teaching. He seems to be reminding them that what they need to emphasise is a shared narrative and a corporate memory.
I think that attached to this should be a government health warning
– responding to the Holy Spirit can cause discomfort.
Nicodemus knew the law; he knew the Jewish traditions; he was a respected figure in the Jewish world; he had a solid foundation. But he knew that something was missing – he knew that in many ways he had to lose the control he had on life, and instead enter into a new world of responding to God’s Spirit. In order to respond to God, he had to lose something that was very precious. For Jesus too, the same Spirit that descended at his baptism, and seemed to bless his ministry, also drove him into the wilderness to be tempted.
There are times when being filled with the Spirit is not always comfortable. Like Nicodemus we may be called to leave behind security, power, knowledge, in order to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us. Not only is there often a sense of loss involved with listening to God’s spirit, there is also often a heightened sense of conflict. I’m reminded of the words of Fred Craddock:
‘One has only to love impartially and hatred is threatened and stirred to violence. One has only to speak the truth and falsehood takes the stand with pleasing lies. Invite persons of different social and economic backgrounds around the same table and the fellowship is strained, often breaking apart. Announce freedom in Christ Jesus and some turn a deaf ear to the call for restraint for the sake of the weaker brother or sister. Place in church leadership persons who have never led in any other arena and arrogance often replaces service. Plant the cross in a room and the upwardly mobile convert it into a ladder. Evil, by whatever name it is called, will not sit idly by and allow the gospel to transform a community (Fred B Craddock, ‘Preaching to Corinthians’, Interpretation, XLIV, 1990, p. 167)
Inviting the Holy Spirit into any community doesn’t necessarily produce a harmonious environment.
But through that process of transformation emerges a sense of what it means to live an authentic life.
Just as those characters in Alice in Wonderland saw beyond the pack of cards to something unseen, so we must rely on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the hidden world that is in front of us, in order for us to have a sense of authenticity and reality.
How then do we get a sense of the Holy Spirit working in our lives?
There are three possibilities :
First, we need to discover the Spirit’s promptings through personal prayer
– I often think of prayer as being ‘Wasting time with God’. Sometimes we need to dwell with God, to pay attention to him, in order to hear the inner voice of his Spirit.
Secondly, like the Corinthians, we need to return to serious study of the scriptures. Engaging with the Bible and struggling to relate its message to our own world is a lifetime’s task – and yet it is only by rigorous study, and constant dwelling with scripture that we will be able to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our own hearts.
Thirdly, we need to seek the Spirit’s leading in all we do
– as a church we need to think especially of the building project. Perhaps we need to seek ways that we as a church community can come together and have a sense of where the spirit is calling.
May we all seek the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and have the courage to respond and participate in God’s divine grace.
Questions for discussion:
1. What can we at St Michael’s find as a shared narrative and corporate memory in today’s world?
2. Luther said in his writing on Psalm 5 (1519/20) ‘It’s not reading and studying scripture that makes a theologian, but suffering, dying and being damned’. Is there a sense that in listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit we must all suffer and lose something of ourselves in order to see the ‘hidden-ness of God’?
3. “This inability to pay attention is much closer to evil than the desires of the flesh. Prayer consists in attention.” (Simone Weil). As a society we have become used to inattention/sound bites/visual media etc. How much do we have to return to a concept of attention in prayer in order to discern God’s Spirit?
Sunday, 11 November 2007
We may be praying people, but we are tempted sometimes to think: does God heal today? Is he interested in me and the ones I care about?
The leper expressed doubt that he might be healed. He seems to have believed that Jesus had the power, but he is not sure that Jesus will use it. Perhaps he is too unimportant? Or perhaps Jesus will take seriously the injunctions of the law not to be made unclean by touching a leper.
The way that Jesus responds tells us much about him and reveals the heart of God.
Mark tells us that Jesus responds with emotion. The scholars argue about the Greek here; either Jesus was moved with a deep sense of compassion and pity, or he expressed anger and sorrow. Either way, he was not standing there, robed in immaculate white, slightly distant. He is deeply troubled at the man’s predicament, or he is angry that there might be any doubt that he would want to help. In either case, he is involved, caring, and he shows this by his next incredible move.
A touch! At a time and in a society when you would do anything to avoid contact with a leper, Jesus reaches out and touches him. He pierces the isolation and loneliness that surrounds him.
A word. And he does speak, first to give healing, and then to restore the man to his place in his community. Jesus is bringing him Shalom, wholeness, completeness, integration, peace. Not just his skin, but the whole man must be healed, and the community he came from that has been deprived of him.
Let me share with you an excerpt from the Venerable Bede concerning bishop John of Hexham. Bede describes a remote place where the bishop and a group of fellow Christians would retire for prayer and reading, especially in Lent. “On one occasion when he had come there to stay at the beginning of Lent, he told his followers to seek out some poor man who was afflicted by some serious illness or in dire need to have with them during these days and to benefit from their charity; for this was his constant custom. There was in a village not far away a dumb youth known to the bishop, who often used to come to him to receive alms and had never been able to utter a single word. Besides he had so much scabbiness and scurf on his head that no hair could grow on the crown save for a few rough hairs which stuck out around it. The bishop had this young man brought and ordered a little hut to be built for him in the enclosure of their dwelling in which he could stay and receive his daily allowance. On the second Sunday in Lent he ordered the poor man to come in to him and then he told him to put out his tongue and show to him. Thereupon he took him by the chin and made the sign of the holy cross on his tongue; after this he told him to put his tongue in again and say something. “Say some word” he said, “Say gae” which in English is the word of assent and agreement, that is “Yes”. He said at once what the bishop told him to, the bonds of his tongue being unloosed. The bishop then added the names of the letters; “Say A”, and he said it, “B” and he said that too. When he had repeated the names of the letter after the bishop, the latter added syllables and words for him to repeat. When he had repeated them all, one after the other, the bishop taught him to say longer sentences, which he did. After that those who were present relate that he never ceased all that day and night, as long as he could keep awake, to talk and to reveal the secrets of his thoughts and wishes to others which he could never do before. He was like the man who had long been lame, who, when healed by the Apostles Peter and John, stood up, leapt and walked entering the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God, rejoicing to have the use of his feet of which he had been so long deprived. The bishop rejoiced with his cure and ordered the physician to undertake to heal his scabby head. did as he was bidden and with the help of the bishop’s blessing and prayers his skin was healed and he grew a beautiful head of hair.”
Five brief observations on this story:
First, it took place within the context of a praying community. The bishop and his followers had taken time out for prayer and fasting. How do we know whom we should persevere in prayer and faith for? There may have been many sick around at the time, but as the bishop and his helpers spent time in prayer, they were led to this particular one at this particular time. Do you remember that Jesus went very early to a solitary place and prayed?
Second, the sacrament of touch. When Bishop John healed this man he took him by the chin and made the sign of the cross on his tongue. Now it is perfectly possible to heal without touching, by simply praying, but there is something very powerful about touch. This is especially the case when people have been made outcasts by their illness - there are a number of stories from this period involving plague victims. The touch or even kiss of the healer was a brave demonstration of faith - and yes they did know how contagious it was. I am a big fan of technology, but texts and Facebook are no substitute for real contact with another person. That is why physically sharing the Peace is so appreciated by some.
Third, pragmatism. Bishop John prays for an instant cure, but also gives the time and effort to practice and hard work. Would we call this physiotherapy? All healing is a move towards wholeness, and some comes quickly, while other requires a dogged plodding.
Fourth, the bishop saw no distinction between spiritual and physical healing. Having seen the man’s dumbness healed miraculously he refers him to the physician for his scabby scalp to be put right. All true healing comes from God, however it is mediated. This is because part of the wholeness to which we are journeying is a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This means that methods of healing which rely on occult powers are not true healing, however methods that are faith-neutral or positively Christian are true healing. So when I get a headache I say a prayer and take a Paracetemol.
Finally, restoration of community. No longer isolated by his condition, the young man, like the leper in Mark’s Gospel, was able to be restored to his came from and loved, and to be of use to them..
St Michael’s aspires to be a growing community of faith. I believe that we should be open, welcoming, and provide a safe environment where we can offer friendship, a listening ear, practical care and transforming prayer. Who knows? The one finding healing might be me, or you?
1. How would you define health and healing?
2. Think back to a time when you were ill how did it make you feel - assuming you are now, at least to some degree better, how did you receive healing?
3. In what ways do you pray for healing for yourself or others?
4. Do you believe God heals miraculously today - have you any personal experience of this?
5. What do you think are the hindrances to healing? How might they be overcome?
6. In what ways are you already involved in bringing healing to others?
7. I have spoken of the importance of community in healing — have you any experiences that relate to this?
8. In what ways can we view church as being a therapeutic community?
9. How can we care better for those who are struggling to find wholeness in life?
Saturday, 3 November 2007
Key Verse for Memory: Psalm 86: 11, 12
“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart. I will glorify your name forever.”
We live in a world that is fast moving and hectic, full of instant and constant communication and action where little attention is given to reflection, meditation or careful thought. We need a Christian counter-culture and it will need to start with us.
Over the last few weeks in our sermon series entitled “Following in the Steps of the Master”, we have learnt that Jesus’ life was steeped in prayer and that he meditated on the word of God so much that he knew it off by heart and was even able to answer the devil back. When he needed guidance and strength to know His Father’s will, he would withdraw and pray, meditate, he would take rest periods. We need that kind pattern in our own lives; of reading, praying, meditating on God’s word so that we are drenched in it, and we need to take times of rest. I think we have our work cut out but I see a pattern in this Pray, Work, Rest and Praise. It seems to flow and forms a rhythm of simplicity which may lead to a simple life.
God is calling us back to a simple lifestyle and in both the Philippians and Matthew readings. It speaks about that and we need to take heed of what scripture is saying to us today and apply it and stop trying to keep up with the Jones’ and worrying about what we don’t have or think we need. Simple, isn’t it! (Of course!)
What do the readings have to say about a simple lifestyle? In Matthew Jesus asks three questions about Treasure, Vision and Loyalty. Let’s look at these one at a time.
A Question of Treasure (6:19-21) Jesus is comparing the durability of two treasures. Jesus implies that it should be easy to choose which to store up, because the treasures on earth are corruptible and insecure, whereas the treasures in heaven are incorruptible and secure. In other words; is it our intention to lay up treasure which will give greater protection against depreciation or deterioration or not? So what things was Jesus talking about when he told us not to lay up treasure for ourselves on earth? It may help if we list the things Jesus was not forbidding.
For instance Private Property: There is no ban on possessions in themselves. Nowhere in Scripture forbids private property. (see Acts 5:4) Insurance Policies "Saving for a rainy day" are not forbidden to Christians either. Life assurance policies are only a kind of saving by self imposed compulsion. On the contrary, Scripture praises the ant for storing in the summer the food it will need in the winter, (Proverbs 6:6) and declares that the believer who makes no provision for his family is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim. 5:8). Material Blessings, we are not to despise, but rather to enjoy the good things which our Creator has given us to enjoy. “Everything God has created is good" says Paul to Timothy. (1 Tim 4:3-4, 6:17) So neither having possessions, nor making provision for the future, nor enjoying the gifts of a good Creator are included in the ban on storing earthly treasure. So what is Jesus talking about? Selfish Accumulation Notice the text says, "do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth." Jesus is criticising extravagant and self-centred living; the hardness of heart which ignores the cries of the poor, the foolish fantasy that a person's significance and value is determined by how much we earn, by the clothes we wear, the car we drive, or our postcode. To "lay up treasure on earth" does not mean being prudent but being covetous. Jesus is not saying ‘no’ to making sensible provision for the future, but being greedy and always wanting more. The earthly treasure we covet, Jesus reminds us, "grows rusty and moth-eaten, and thieves break in to steal." (6:19) Simple isn’t it?
So what is this "treasure" in heaven? Jesus doesn't explain, but I believe it must have something to do with earthly activity which lasts for eternity. We can make deposits in our spiritual bank account that prepare us for eternity. Worship is never wasteful in the eyes of God. Every act of private and corporate worship is a deposit in your heavenly bank account.” May I encourage you to make deposits daily in private and weekly with your Christian family. Would you buy a used car with no service history? Bit of a risk isn’t it? Ignore the service history and you are heading for trouble. A breakdown is never convenient. You need a service every seven days. If you want treasure in heaven, make the minimum of weekly deposits. We need a Christ-like CharacterThe Bible clearly teaches us that if we want to lay up treasure in heaven, one of the best investment strategies is personal character development. The apostle Peter put it like this: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9) Christ-like character, and those who come to know Jesus through us, are the only things we take with us to heaven. Expressions of Generosity Every time we show an act of compassion, we build up our treasure in heaven. There is a record of your deeds in heaven. Listen `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40). We might also consider the investment we make in leading other people to Jesus who will share eternity with us. Simple isn’t it?!
Vision - What is your Ambition in Life? (6:22-23) Jesus turns from the durability of the two treasures to the benefits received from two conditions. For the way we view the world will determine what we treasure. The contrast here is now between someone who is blind and someone who can see. Read 6:22. Almost everything we do depends on our ability to see. We need to see in order to walk or run, drive a car, cross a road, etc. The eye illuminates what the body does through its hands and feet. In the Bible, the eye is frequently synonymous with the heart, motivation, our desire. Just as the eye gives light to the body, so a Christ-centred heart throws light on everything we do. A money-focused life on the other hand leads only to fear and darkness, to introspective self-centredness. What do you want to be known for in this life? Greed or generosity? And it’s all summed up in the last question.
Loyalty - Who are we Serving? (6:24) Jesus explains that behind the choice between two treasures (where we store them) and two visions (where we fix our eyes), there lies the still more basic choice between two masters (who are we going to serve). It is a choice between God and money, between the Creator himself and any object of our own creation. We cannot serve both. When I was in my late teens, one summer, I had two part time jobs on the go at the same time. I worked in a pub at night, three nights a week collecting glasses and washing them up, and served in a bakery during the day. Neither knew of the existence of the other. It worked out fine. Until August Bank Holiday Monday. Both employers assumed I would work all day and neither was happy to learn I was working for someone else. I had to choose. It may be possible to work for two employers, but no slave can be the property of two owners. Anybody who tries to divide his allegiance between God and money has already given in to money, since we can only serve God with an entire and exclusive devotion. To try to share him with other loyalties is to opt for idolatry. God has entrusted us with all we have. When the choice is seen for what it really is - a choice between Creator and creature, between the glorious personal God and a miserable thing called money, between worship and idolatry - it seems inconceivable that anybody could make the wrong choice. Yet many do. Which God are we going to choose today? For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Simple isn’t it?!
In both readings Jesus talks about worrying and some people are more prone to worry than others. Do you worry? I do. Jesus has a word for us this morning. The main worry Jesus is concerned with is the worry caused by materialism. This is clear from the Verse 24 it says “you cannot serve both God and money.” What does Jesus mean? Why are we not to worry? Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. Jesus gives us several reasons why we should not worry.
Worry is to Miss the Point of Life (Matthew 6:25) Jesus tells us life is far more important than material things. So often our worries are about relatively unimportant and trivial matters, such as food, drink, clothing, houses and cars. Worry is Illogical and a waste of time (Matthew 6:26, 27) Worry is actually a slander on God's character. Worry suggests that God is more interested in his pets than in his children. Worry is illogical because it is futile, unproductive and pointless. Jesus reminds us we cannot add anything to our life. Worry can only subtract from our lives by causing things like ulcers or a coronary thrombosis. Most things that we worry about never happen anyway. Worry is incompatible with Faith and is sub-Christian (Matthew 6:28-30, 32) Faith and anxiety are like fire and water. Faith means trust. Trust in God's care and provision. To be a Christian is to walk in a trusting relationship with God. But sin interferes with that relationship and leads to worry. So worry is not only incompatible with faith, it is actually sub-Christian. Having a primary concern with material needs is the characteristic of unbelievers, says Jesus. Some of these worryies may be modest, such as food, drink and clothing. But others are more commonly found in Camberley: a bigger house, a new car, a better salary, reputation, fame or power. But all these are pagan because they are self-centred and do not satisfy. Oophs!
When we trust in Jesus and receive him as our Lord and Saviour we are born into his family and become children of God. We can be assured that God knows our every need. If our loving Father knows our needs we can trust him for them. Not our wants but certainly our needs. God promises to provide for our needs if we get our priorities right. Indeed, the Bible is full of such promises. For example, the apostle Paul writes, 'We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28). Sometimes, as Paul knew only too well and Jesus experienced, our situation may be difficult or painful. Yet God will walk with us and hold our hand and use adversity to build our character. The result may be increased intimacy with God, greater spiritual insight or far deeper faith with which to encourage and affirm others. Worry Contradicts Common Sense (Matthew 6:34) God intends us to live one day at a time. God has given us our lives in units of twenty-four hours and we should take life a day at a time. If we wish to live a long and fruitful life, we should respect and live by the biological clock he has built inside us. Fiona Castle, who had to face the stress of her husband Roy's battle against cancer, wrote this in her book ‘Give Us This Day’:
“Recently a friend commented to me that many people live their life as though it were a dress rehearsal for the real thing. But in fact, by tonight, we will have given the only performance of 'today' that we will ever give. So we have to put our heart, our energy and honesty and sincerity into what we do every day. As a show business family, we find that a very suitable illustration. And every show comes to the end of its run, when we must lay aside the costumes and step off the stage, into another, larger world. So as we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask God to 'Give us this day' - thankfully receiving one day at a time - looking to him to sustain us with everything we need, whether it be food, shelter, love of family and friends, or courage and hope to face the future. And at the same time we echo the words of the psalmist: 'This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it' (Psalm 118:24).
Jesus calls us to a higher, nobler ambition - to seek God’s kingdom, in his way. We are to seek his rule and reign in our lives, in our marriages, in our home, in our family and in our lifestyle. We are also to seek it in the lives of others - our friends, relations, neighbours, and in the community. There are many examples of men and women who, in God's strength, have made a great impact on society because they have been passionate about God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. These men and women lead simple lifestyles to seek God’s Kingdom in all that they did. And on one hand it is easy to say let’s lead a simple lifestyle but we know that in order to do that we need to make changes in our own lives seeking the Father to lovingly show us what to change for Jesus said 'Seek first my Father’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well'. That is how to stop worrying and start living a simple lifestyle.
Father, you told me not to be afraid because You are with me, You will uphold me, and those who come against me will not succeed (Isaiah 41:10-11). You said no evil would come upon me, nor any plague touch my home for You have ordered Your angels to protect me (Psalm 91:10-11). You said when I walk through the rivers of difficulty (when I’m in over my head) You won’t let me drown, and when I walk through fires of adversity (when the heat is on) You won’t allow me to get burned for You are watching over me (Isaiah 43:2-3). You said no weapon formed against me shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17). I cannot keep the enemy’s weapons from being formed, but I know You will keep them from prospering. You said if I ask anything according to Your will, You would grant my request (1 John 5:14-15). You said when I walk in obedience before You I will be blessed when I come in and when I go out, blessed when I lie down and blessed when I get up (Deuteronomy 28:6). You told me to give all my troubles to You and You would take care of me (1 Peter 5:7). So here they are! Today I’m standing on Your Word. You said it! I believe it! That settles it! Amen.
SMALL GROUP WORK for SIMPLE LIFESTYLE
I have made several references to bible verses in my script and perhaps you may like to look them up as an exercise and learn them for yourself.
A Question of Treasure – 6:19-21 Christ-like Character – 1 Peter 3:8-9
A Question of Vision – 6:22-23 Generosity – Matthew 25:40
A Question of Loyalty – 6:24 Vision – Matthew 6:22-23
Private Property – see Acts 5:4 Loyalty – Matthew 6:24
Insurance Policies – Proverbs 6:6 and 1 Timothy 5:8 Worry – Matthew 6:25, 26, 27,28, 30 32
Material Blessing – 1 Timothy 4:3-4, 6:17 Romans8:28, Matthew 6:34
Selfish Accumulation – Matthew 6:19 Psalm 118:24
1. Jesus placed the words of scripture on his heart and looked at what His heavenly Father did and was doing and recited them and acted has His Father did. In your own lifestyle what areas need changing? Are you content (See 1 Timothy 6:3-10) with what you have or do you find yourself hankering for more of ……whatever?
2. Do you find being generous or Christ-like easy? Does it depend on who it is?
3. What do you value most: prayer? meditation? silence? Is there any of these you would like more of? (If yes, does anyone in the group have any tips or books that can be of help to you?)
4. Do you find the following prayer (slightly tongue in cheek) helpful or not? Why?
you told me not to be afraid because You are with me, You will uphold me, and those who come against me will not succeed (Isaiah 41:10-11). You said no evil would come upon me, nor any plague touch my home for You have ordered Your angels to protect me (Psalm 91:10-11). You said when I walk through the rivers of difficulty (when I’m in over my head) You won’t let me drown, and when I walk through fires of adversity (when the heat is on) You won’t allow me to get burned for You are watching over me (Isaiah 43:2-3). You said no weapon formed against me shall prosper (Isaiah 54:17). I cannot keep the enemy’s weapons from being formed, but I know You will keep them from prospering. You said if I ask anything according to Your will, You would grant my request (1 John 5:14-15). You said when I walk in obedience before You I will be blessed when I come in and when I go out, blessed when I lie down and blessed when I get up (Deuteronomy 28:6). You told me to give all my troubles to You and You would take care of me (1 Peter 5:7).
So here they are! Today I’m standing on Your Word. You said it! I believe it! That settles it! Amen.