Saturday, 28 February 2009
Sunday 1 March 2009, Lent 2, 40 Days of Relationship, LOVE IS KIND - Scripture Reference: Luke 10:25-37, Kim
What is kindness? Kindness is love in action. Last week Bruce said love is not a feeling. It is something you do. It creates feelings. It produces feelings, enormous emotions, but love is not a feeling, it is an action. It is a belief that you put in your behaviour. The bible says that love is kindness in action.
I was passing through a shop door recently and saw a woman approaching me laden down with bags. I held the door open for her. And she turned to me and said, 'How kind of you!' It set me wondering - what does it mean to be kind? What do you think it means to be kind?
If someone helped an unsighted person cross the road, would you think of them as kind? If someone looked after a stray animal, would you think of them as kind? If someone found your lost diary and returned it to you, would you think of that person as kind? I suspect we would see each of these acts as acts of kindness. And I suspect might well think of ourselves as kind people. We don't beat people up, kick animals, steal from others, or bully our neighbours; we are basically kind.
At an away weekend during my training one of my peers told a story about his childhood vicar and one of the parishioners. A story that has stayed with him and me. This vicar is in the habit of being the last person to leave the Church building after service on Sunday. He likes to make sure that all the books are back in place, the lights turned off and the kneelers neatly tucked away; everything ready for the service, the following week. One particular morning, as he put the key in the door he noticed one of his parishioners sitting on the bench just outside the Church. He took the time to sit beside him. 'Is there anything wrong, Charlie?' he asked as he sat down beside him. 'I don't know', said Charlie, 'I've being coming here for more than a year now but I don't think I belong'. 'Why ever not?' asked the Vicar. 'The people who go to your Church, they're nice enough but they don't care much about me; I don't think it would matter whether I came to Church or not'. 'Oh that's not true, Charlie, the people here are good, kind people; they really like having you among them'. 'I don't see it', said Charlie, 'I think I'm going to give the whole thing up'.
Well, I'm not sure what Charlie had in mind when he used the word kindness, I wonder if it was something to do with the fruit of the Spirit; Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness and Self Control. Love produces Love, which produce Joy etc. etc.
What does it mean to be kind? It means, first of all, not repaying evil with evil, or abuse with abuse. No, if you want to be kind, ‘bless’. To be kind, is to give a blessing. It's quite powerful stuff, because, in the Hebrew tradition, to bless is to give somebody the power for life. It is not a matter of holding doors open or returning lost diaries, which are all good and we should continue to do them - it is about giving someone the power for life. It is, at its most basic, the provision of food, clothing, housing, medical care, work - but it is so much more than that: blessing is making sure that another person reaches out towards their fuller potential. Now that's a far cry from the common or garden variety of what we mean by kindness. To be kind is to bless - to be kind is help another person become who they really are. And that is not an easy call.
I was telling you that story about Charlie, the man who had decided not to come back to Church. A few days after the conversation the Vicar rang Charlie and asked him if it would be alright if he came round to talk the issue through. Charlie said 'fine'. So there they were sitting around the kitchen table with mugs of coffee and the Vicar tried again, 'Charlie, the people at our Church are kind people, they really do care about you'. 'Do they?' asked Charlie. 'Certainly, they do!' With that Charlie jumped up from his chair and returned to the table with a pad of paper and a pen. 'I want names', he said, 'who are these people that you call kind?' 'You want names?' asked the Vicar rather timidly. 'I do', replied Charlie emphatically, 'who are these kind people, write down their names. Better still, would you be willing to put your name on the list? Are we willing to write our names down?'
The Reading that was read earlier is the story of the Good Samaritan and it is a famous story. A story we have all heard many times. Jesus tells this story of three men who are travelling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, which is a notoriously bad road known for muggers and thieves. The three men encounter a crime scene. Each of them responds to the crime scene in a different way. Jesus says these three men represent our three choices in life. Jesus says we are going to go through life with one of three attitudes towards the people around you, particularly the people in pain.
The first attitude is called ‘Keep My Distance’ attitude. Luke 10:33-31 says this ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away. Leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.’ I’m going to keep my distance, avoidance. Don’t ever get close to people because they might ask for help, or you might be needed by them. Keep all your relationships superficial, keep them shallow, keep people at arm’s length. If you get close, you might get involved. And you could get hurt. The priest saw the man beaten, mugged and left for dead but he just said I’ll keep my distance, it’s nothing to do with me and walks on the other side of the road.
The second attitude is called ‘Curious but Uninvolved’. ‘So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.’ The Levite walks across the street, sees this victim lying there, beaten, naked, laying there half dead, looks at him – stares at him – walks back to the other side and keep on walking. I wonder if we have ever done that? What about road accidents on the motorway? Traffic always slows down with an accident because of the gawkers. We want to stare. What’s happening over there? Did anybody get hurt? But does anybody want to stop? No. We want to stare but not stop. This is the curious but not involved. Have you noticed that it is easier to gossip about people’s problems than it is to help them with it? We love ready the advice/gossip columns. We overhear someone talking about someone else’s misfortune but we don’t want to go and see the person to find out if we can help. But we want to listen, we want to know all about what’s going on. Curious but Uninvolved. Aware but apathetic.
The third attitude is the response of the Good Samaritan. ‘Treat others How I Want to be Treated.’ ‘But a Samaritan came where the man was, and when he saw him, he took pity on him.’ If we want to grow in love – and that’s is what we are talking about these 40 days, how to build authentic relationships, then we are going to have to learn the lifestyle of kindness. To The Samaritan: He was a Neighbour to Love. He dared to act as a concerned individual, in three specific ways. He Showed Compassion 10:33. “He took pity on him.”This word means much more than passing pity. The original has with it the connotation of being deeply moved inside. It is the word used to describe the way the Lord feels about lost sinners. Compassion describes the way God feels about us. When we show compassion we are merely demonstrating our family likeness. He showed compassion. He took the Initiative 10:34 “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” The Samaritan could have excused himself. He was a foreigner in a hostile country. He was alone and vulnerable, but Agape, God's love does not look for excuses, it looks beyond obstacles. It does not ask why, but why not? The Samaritan cleansed the victims wounds with wine and soothed them with oil. He bound up the wounds so they would begin to heal. He took the man to the inn to recover and promised to return to pay the bill. The Samaritan took the initiative. He demonstrated compassion and, thirdly He Bore the Cost 10:35 “The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'” He interrupted his schedule to help this man. It may have made him late for a business appointment, it may have delayed him from seeing his family. But he paid the cost. What did he have to gain from this personally? Nothing - except the joy and strength that come when you do God's will. When you serve in love without expecting recognition or reward. What did the Samaritan show? Compassion, initiative, sacrifice. Jesus said, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" (Luke 10:36)
So who is my neighbour? In this present economic climate, I suspect that there will be at least one family we know which has a member who is out of work. I suspect that there is someone or a family living in your road perhaps struggling with debt, drugs or alcohol abuse, illness of any kind, single parent, poverty, the hooded teenager, a victim of crime. I also suspect that fear may well stop us from becoming involved. We have all read in newspapers about a good Samaritan going to help a victim and becoming a victim themselves. It’s hard, it’s difficult, especially if we are struggling with something ourselves to be Kind. It’s risky and costly, in time or financially. But Love IS kind. Jesus teaches that we cannot separate our relationship with God from our responsibility toward those he brings across our path. We can not identify those we want to be a neighbour to and those we can ignore. The question is not ‘to whom need I be a neighbour?’ But rather ‘what kind of neighbour am I?’ - to anyone I meet? Jesus has been kind to us. And the Bible says that kindness is an act of worship, it honours God, and makes you happy and attractive and it makes other people want to be kind to you.
I would like to invite us to join a revolution this week. And that is to break the spiral of fear and hate in our community with acts of compassion and mercy, especially toward those who are different, those who are the outsiders, those who are the strangers. Whoever the Lord brings across our path. Our assignment from Jesus is really very simple: “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) Let’s go and give a blessing. I’d like to invite you to follow me in this prayer right now. Just in your heart, say this in your mind: ‘
Dear God, thank you for your extravagant kindness to me. You sent Jesus to die for me. I’m so grateful for that. Father, I don’t want to be cruel or an apathetic person. I want to be more loving. Help me to take the steps towards kindness today. Help me to slow down and start seeing and sensing the needs of people around me. Give a Spiritual radar. Help me to be a better listener so I can sympathise with people. When interruptions come, help me to see them as opportunities to grow in kindness, to be more loving. Help me to be willing to take risks and move against my fears in order to help others. Starting today, I am making myself available to You to be used, to show Your kindness and love to others. In Your name, I pray. Amen.
Saturday, 21 February 2009
This message is adapted from one preached by Rick Warren in the original series. A sermon on the same theme is being preached at all five churches in the Camberley Group this morning.
Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 13
We can become a little callous to the fact that there are people around us who are hurting, who need love and care, and who need concern.
Today we’re going to begin a new series called “Living Real Relationships – With God’s Love.” We’re going to look at the most famous chapter in the Bible on love, 1 Corinthians 13.
The chapter mentions a number of challenging issues:
1. If I don’t live a life of love, nothing I say will matter.
Verse 1: ‘If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth, but I didn’t love others I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a claiming symbol.’ (NLT) God says words without love are just noise. Words without love are empty.
2. If I don't live a life with love, nothing I know will matter.
1 Cor 13:2 (NLT) ‘If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn't love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody’.
3. If I don’t live a life with love, nothing I believe will matter.
‘If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.’ (NLT)
1 John 4:20 (NLT) ‘If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?’
4. If I don’t live a life of love, nothing I give will matter.
1 Cor. 13:3 (NLT) ‘If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.’
So what is love? We are going to investigate this important question over the next seven weeks.
1. The Bible says that love is a command.
God commands that we love each other. It’s not optional. If we don’t do it, the Bible says that we are sinning. The Bible says this in 2 John 1:6 (NLT) ‘Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.’ Love is not a feeling.
2. The Bible says that love is a choice.
We choose to love, and we choose to not love. It’s a choice. The Bible says in 1 Cor. 14:1a (NLT) ‘Let love be your highest goal…….’
That means make a choice. Love is a choice. We choose to love or to not love.
3. The Bible says that love is a conduct.
It’s a behaviour. It’s an action. It’s a way of acting. Love is something you do. The Bible says in 1 John 3:18, “Dear Children, let us stop just saying we love each other, let us really show it by our actions.” (NLT). Be on the look out for opportunities to act lovingly, to do things for people this coming week.
4. The Bible says that love is a commitment.
1 John 4:16 says, 1 John 4:16 (NLT) ‘God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.’
Love never fails … but we will find it hard to live lives of love, even for the season of Lent. We will need to work at it, because we will be tested.
How do you do it? How do you build a life of real deep love? Again, it’s going to take about six weeks to unpack that question. It’s really profound. But I can give you some things to get you out of the starting block. Five things that you can do this week that will help you get on the road to becoming a truly great person of love. Because this is what matters most in life.
1. Learn how mature love acts and responds. What is God’s perspective?
2. Start your day with a daily reminder to love. The first ten minutes will set the tone.
3. Memorise what God says about love. Get God’s word inside!
4. Practice acting in unselfish, loving ways. Love is like a muscle. Practice makes perfect.
5. Get support from other loving people. Think about joining a group. You cannot learn to love alone in a room.
There’s so much we have to share about love. There’s no way that sermons lasting a few minutes can do justice to this mighty subject. That is why we are offering the four fold strand of
Sunday evening extension sessions
Why is love the greatest? Because it is going to last forever. If the average person lives for 30,000 days, perhaps we can spend some time during 40 days to get better at it.
Saturday, 14 February 2009
15He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Jesus is at the centre. He is the Lord of creation. The bible reads as a love story between God and the world he has created. Jesus is the Word, who came to his own, and his own received him not; but to all those who did receive him …
What, however, are we to make of creation? And what does it tell us about God the Creator? In this time of anniversaries, we are invited by some to make a choice: science and Darwin versus faith and credulity. Apparently we must choose either to be simple minded believers – “everything is beautiful”, or to be realists – the world is subject to chance, struggle, survival of the vicious.
I strongly advise you to be skeptical about everything, and especially when people try to frame an argument so that you are pushed one way or another. It is far from clear that Darwin viewed his work on evolution as incompatible with a Christian faith, and there have always been many within the church who could see the value of Darwin’s work.
The question remains, however: How do we know God? How do we explain God? Is he truly a God of love?
The answer will include music, truth, cholera, survival of the fittest, an aircrash where everyone survived, an aircrash where there were no survivors, arson, rape, the death of a 10 year old daughter, a snowflake, daffodils by Ullswater, a female suicide bomber blowing up women and children, a pensioner seeing a lifetime’s careful saving put at risk, and much, much more.
How do we make sense of it? Explain?
Do we need to? Is it more comforting that suffering is "natural" or "man-made"?
Who is God? What is he up to?
The answer is Jesus. However we understand it, Jesus is at the centre of all that happens: the creation came into being though him and he upholds it, he keeps it in being.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God. God as he is, not as we might wish him to be. He came to his own, and his own received him not. He is Jesus who showed kindness and care, who healed, who taught that we should love God and each other, who raged against injustice, who died on the cross ...
It is not a retreat from reality to try to encounter him, to seek him, to immerse oneself in him. He is the icon, we seek to be drawn into the picture.
He is the Head of the body. Christ at the centre. He is in all that we are and do. Because he is creator of all, he is with us always: in church, on the motorway, cooking supper, watching the news, writing a report or an essay, sucking a sweet, changing a nappy ...... Can you imagine a time or a place where Jesus is not with you? If there is such a time or a place, how true is it that he is not there? Sometimes it would suit us to be confident that Jesus is not present, so that we could act as we wish. On reflection, though, would you want to draw a single breath without him?
Jesus is at the centre of his church. Jesus is at the centre each of our lives, and at the centre of our church life. He is the Head.
In him is the fullness of God and through him is reconciliation through the blood of his cross. We see this in the mystery that we share in at the communion table. We will explore this in the coming weeks of Lent as we explore together the divine imperative to love one another as he has loved us, as we look together at relationships from a Christian point of view.
What would it look like if Jesus were not the centre, not imaging God in us and for us, not being our head? Might we be so "spiritual" that we were no earthly use? Might we develop a part time mentality, where we are respectable and religious on the outside, but quietly determined to remain unaltered by any contact with the divine?
The point is that Jesus really lived and died in the flesh, and he was restored to life in the flesh. We are not talking about metaphysical, academic theories. This world is far from perfect; the creation has been subjected to imperfection. We know that. God knows that. That is why Jesus came. The reality is that Jesus suffered, was rejected and died. Paul says that he filled up the sufferings of Christ. The New Testament is frequently about persevering in the face of tribulation.
To be a follower of Christ is not to be magically released from all your problems. It is, rather, to be included in the creating, saving power of God as we find him revealed in Jesus. Jesus has reconciled everything in all of creation by the blood of his cross. That is why he is at the Centre, the Lord of Creation.
10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Questions for Discussion
1. “He is the image of the invisible God”. What, for you, is the most significant thing that you learn about God from all that you know of Jesus?
2. Where do long most to see the reconciling power of God most at work?
3. How do you respond to “peace with God” through the blood of Jesus? Is this an area that you would appreciate help with, and where might you look?
Friday, 6 February 2009
In this Gospel reading from Mark Chapter 1, we see Jesus engaged in this wonderful healing ministry. When people saw Jesus at work, many realised that they were ‘sick’ in one way or another, and that the touch and healing words of Jesus were powerful and miraculous. And so they pressed round him, begging that He would turn his attention to their particular ‘sickness’. Some were physically ill, others no doubt were facing many different kinds of sickness, whether of the body or the mind. Others were oppressed by evil spirits, or other types of spiritual need. And Jesus healed them. And, as we sang in our final hymn on Sunday night, his touch has still its ancient power today. Jesus is with us this morning, as we meet together in his name, and is willing to draw near to each one of us, in answer to our prayers, and touch our lives in powerful ways.
Now we are Christ’s disciples, and we are commissioned to go out, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and carry this ministry out into the world. And this is what we find Paul doing in his life of Christian mission, and writing about in his letters.
The text of this passage from 1 Corinthians Chapter 9 is actually quite complex – even to the professional theologian! – but the overall sense of what he is saying is actually fairly clear. I can lift this passage and paraphrase it for us today like this: “We are commissioned by Christ to bring the good news of his Gospel to everyone. Indeed we are under God’s judgment if we fail to do so. But to succeed in this, we need to be flexible and adaptable in our approach, or we will not communicate our message clearly – we will not be understood.”
To illustrate, take the example of the missionary who goes out to a country which has a totally different language (which may well not even contain words for many things he wants to say), a very different culture, a very different perspective, a very different way of thinking about fundamental things such as God. Clearly, if he simply preaches the Gospel to them as he would in England, either he will not be understood at all – or possibly even worse, he will be fundamentally misunderstood.
If we translate this into the secular culture of modern Britain, we can perhaps glimpse just how wide the gulf of understanding can be. The Church has a religious culture, a religious language, a religious tradition, but most of it means very little to people who live in a secular world, and use a different language.
How do we tackle this? In the first place, we need to be aware of it, and understand that – for so many people – coming into Church is much more than coming through a big (rather forbidding) wooden door without knowing what’s on the other side. It’s walking from one culture, language and tradition into another, largely foreign world, in which people behave in strange, stilted ways, sing hymns they have never heard, go through unfamiliar rituals, and speak a language phrased in a strange language. They can come away little the wiser. We need to bear this in mind when we speak of ‘renewing’ our Church for the 21st century.
But for this morning, I want to touch on what it means to carry that healing touch of Jesus out into the secular world. How we can translate Paul’s ambition of ‘becoming all things to all men in order that we might save some’ into practice? Well, just as Jesus meets us at our point of need, so we must try to meet other people at their point of need, and – through that – take the first steps in bringing them into touch with Jesus, who can transform their lives.
Now it may sound altogether beyond us, when we taught about taking the healing power of Jesus into a secular world. But actually it is neither rocket science nor deep theology. It is simply practical. If we encounter someone who is lonely, how do we meet them at their point of need? We befriend them. And we do so both as human to human, and also we do it in the name of Jesus. When someone is sick, we both pray for them (and, if appropriate, with them), and we minister to them practically – which might mean anything from house-cleaning to shopping to any number of other chores. The list of people’s needs extends almost endlessly. That poses a problem, as it did for Jesus, who quickly and repeatedly found himself overwhelmed by the number of people in need, and the huge weight of their problems.
He had to find times and places (Mark 1: 35) to be alone, and to pray. To attempt to take on the burdens of everyone we meet is a recipe for quickly running oneself into the ground, and becoming part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Jesus only ministered to people under the direction of his Heavenly Father. We need to pray for guidance as to whom we give our time, and our energy. We also need to pray for discernment as to what their real need is, which is not always the same as appears on the surface.
But the principle is, I hope, fairly clear. Jesus meets us, in answer to prayer, at our point of need. We, in turn, are commissioned to go out and – in his name - minister to others at their point of need. This is mainly practical, although it will also involve talking with them – not necessarily in religious language, but prayerfully, in the name of Jesus.
I find it both an exciting and a challenging thought, that we can minister healing in the name of Jesus, and touch people’s lives as He did in this Gospel passage. But mostly it won’t involve preaching to multitudes with dramatic results. It will be hard work, generally unseen. But if the Church is to reach out to the world today, this is probably where a great deal of it is going to start. And when ordinary people in that strange world of secularity, who think Christianity has nothing to offer them, begin to find that Christians care for them and offer them love and a listening ear, that gulf of understanding begins gently to close; ears begin gradually to open; and mutual understanding grows to the point where Jesus really can reveal himself, through us, to the inhabitants of that other world lying around us in Camberley and beyond.
Jesus’ touch has still its ancient power. And, mostly, that touch will be through our hands, and his voice will speak through our tongues, as we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to learn in practice what it means to become ‘all things to all men so that, by all possible means, some might be saved.’
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
As you consider the lives of people you know, or hear about, what would you list as the greatest needs of secular people today?
How might you bring the healing power of Jesus to bear on their lives? How would you prevent yourself becoming wrongly over-involved in their lives, or simply overwhelmed by the number of people and the greatness of the need? Would you consider a professional course on – for example - how to listen, and how to avoid pitfalls?
Do you really believe that Christ will work through you to bring people his transforming and healing power? (See Matthew 25: 40).