Friday, 28 October 2011

CELEBRATION OF ALL SAINTS. 30th OCTOBER 2011. THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS. Revelation 7 : 9 – 17. Matthew 5 : 1 – 12 Robert


Do we have any saints here in St Michael’s? Hands up?? The word ‘saint’ has come to mean ‘super holy’ so any reticence on your part is understandable! Let’s go back to the New Testament. Virtually all the major letters that Paul writes are addressed to the ‘saints’ who are in Philippi, Ephesus, Colossae, Rome, Corinth etc, by which Paul means the whole church.

The word he uses means ‘separated out’ for a special purpose. For example, the metal used for a sacred cross to adorn a church has been chosen, separated out, and used for a very special object, and therefore has become different from metal used to make an object for everyday use, even though it has the same physical properties. Prayers are said over it, and it is dedicated for sacred use.

Similarly for people. A person can be chosen and set aside for a special purpose, although that person remains fully human. So in the Christian sense, a ‘holy’ person is someone who has put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Someone who has crossed a line and begun a new life, dedicated to their Lord, belonging to him, adopted into his family.

This is ideally symbolised in the sacrament of baptism, when you die to the old life, and rise again to begin a new life in Christ. But most Christians cross that line in other ways too – through a conversion experience, through a personal decision, or through a gradually growing conviction which leads beyond the point of no return. So a ‘saint’ is a person who knows they have crossed that line and put their whole trust in Christ, and are now dedicated to pursuing the new life in the Holy Spirit, which has been given to them.

Hopefully, with that definition, most – if not all – of us could put our hands up with some degree of confidence….?

In several of his letters, Paul also adds another phrase ‘Called to be saints’. That means that we not only have the status of a saint, set aside or dedicated to God, but also called to live out that dedication in everyday life. We are to live up to our call, and grow in that new life day by day, right up to the end of our lives.

So, if you are a Christian, seeking day by day to live the life God has called you to, and becoming ever closer to Christ, then Tuesday – All Saints Day – is your Festival Day and my Festival Day. A day we are, in fact, celebrating today while we are all together and can make most of it.

There should be a great sense of rejoicing and praise together – and especially praise to God because we are not sanctified by our own efforts, but because God has graciously called us to be a chosen people, who have no human merit of our own but owe everything to the mercy and grace of God. Praise God!

So if Paul was writing to us and I was reading out his letter this morning, he would write: ‘Paul, to the saints gathered to worship today in St Michael’s, called to live out your faith and dedication – greeting. Be encouraged. Be challenged. Rejoice in your faith as every saint should, and give thanks and praise to God who has called you.’


But, of course, today we don’t just think of ourselves. Mention of Paul reminds us that behind us stand a vast host of Christians who have gone before us in the faith. Starting with the apostles on the day of Pentecost, we think of all the countless saints who have put their faith in Christ – often at huge personal cost – and have left us great examples to live up to.

One of the most encouraging, and often challenging, ways to stimulate our Christian lives is to read the biographies of great Christians – whether ancient or modern. If you have never read the biography of a great Christian from the past, I would really encourage you to do so. And next time you are in London, go to Westminster Abbey and look at the statues over the great west door, placed there some years ago, and which are of 20th century Christian martyrs from across the world. It’s well worth discovering who is represented there and finding out more about them. These are great Christians from the recent past who have come out of the great tribulation, as Revelation puts it, and are now among the great host of heaven. They are an inspiration.

In the letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 12, the writer paints a picture which I find very encouraging. We are the pilgrim athletes – perhaps marathon runners – in an Olympic stadium. And filling the stands are all the Christians who have gone before us, and as we enter the stadium – perhaps weary and a bit doubtful and struggling – they are clapping and cheering, and urging us on towards the finishing line. We are not alone in our Christian race, we have the backing and the prayers of the whole communion of saints who have gone on before us.

They have been true to their calling and have run the great race, and have now handed on the baton to us. And our responsibility is to carry it faithfully forward, and hand it on to the next generation, lest the wonderful good news should be lost or forgotten.


There is yet a third dimension to All Saints Day. We think not only of ourselves and those who have gone before us. We think also of all the other Christians across the world now. We live our Christian lives in relative ease and with so many benefits and privileges. But if we start to think and pray across the globe, how many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are living and worshipping today as tiny minorities in often hostile environments, and frequently in fear of attack or even death. We are part of a vast company of Christians alive today, with whom we join in celebration and worship, and we pray very specially for those who are persecuted for their faith; those who are poor and hungry; those who are homeless and despairing; those who have lost loved ones and are in mourning; those who are sick in body, mind or spirit. They are all our brethren in Christ and our thoughts and prayers go out to them today – our brothers and sisters.

Let’s draw all these threads together by reminding ourselves of the characteristics of those whom Jesus called ‘Blessed’ in our Gospel reading from Matthew 5. People who are:

Poor in spirit – who know they have no virtues to commend themselves to God and rely simply on his grace

Those who mourn

Those who are meek – not filled up with pride and seeking only their own ends

Those who are merciful – not keeping lists of wrongs and resentments and (being forgiven ourselves) know how to forgive others

Those who are pure in heart – pure in the sense of having an undivided, undiluted faith and trust in God and seek to live in ways that please him

Those who are peacemakers – those who bring reconciliation and not conflict or revenge

Those who are persecuted because of who they are and because of the Lord they proclaim

Those who are insulted and falsely accused because they stand up for their Lord and proclaim (like the prophets of old) a message of truth and righteousness which people don’t want to hear.

As we rejoice in the whole company of the saints, across the ages and across the world, we need to hold up as a banner over our heads those beautiful qualities which Jesus commended, that we too may be blessed in our celebration.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Sunday 23 October 2011, BIBLE SUNDAY, Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 24:30-35, Bruce

Today we celebrate Bible Sunday, and so our focus is on the Word of God.

Jesus says in our gospel passage that his words will never pass away. It is these words that give us life and hope. They are what turn our dreams and longings to be like Christ into the reality of a life shared with him.

Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Colossae starts half way through the argument. Based on the supremacy of Jesus Christ, who died for us and was raised for us, we have been given a new life in him. Because Jesus died, we can consider ourselves to be dead as far as sin is concerned. Because Jesus is alive, we can enjoy the new life of Christ right now. It is as dramatic as changing sides in a war; not just a new uniform but a new set of loyalties and ways of doing things.

This might all sound too good to be true, and we can seriously doubt how effective we can be at living a life in Christ and for Christ. But here are three C’s to help us.

The first is that you have been CHOSEN. God wants you in his kingdom, in his family, and he has set you apart and you are dearly loved. For every Christian who feels in any way tempted to doubt or give up, there is this assurance that it is God’s idea that you should be his and he is on your side.

The second is that we are CLOTHED. Not only has God our Father given to us a not-guilty pass that say that we are righteous, but he has also given us a new set of heart attitudes to wear. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, forbearance, forgiveness, all of which are summed up in verse 14 as love. This leads us to a peaceable attitude that is shown in the way that we live common lives, approach decisions, make unity a priority, and look for reasons to be thankful for each other. It is a familiar message; it is repeated in the bible a lot. This is partly because in that world the weak and those with disabilities were left to their fate; humility was a weakness and pride was a virtue. It is also because to live such a life of love does not come naturally to humans.

In order to put on a life of loving attitudes, we need also to be changed on the inside. This is the work of the Holy Spirit of God, but also dependent on what we take into ourselves. Within us we are to let indwell the message, the word, the logos of God. Just as our love is shown in the unity in which we live, so we are to engage with the word together. Practically, in those days, they would have heard the word read to them collectively, as not all could read and hand-written copies were scarce. To study the bible is therefore a joint effort. And so we are CONJOINED.

The members of a diet club meet to encourage each other and give each other tips; this is not a substitute for making careful choices during the week about what they will eat, but they draw strength from each other, and are spurred on by the thought of being weighed in front of everyone next week. In contrast, we give ourselves and each other a much easier time. We are tempted to view the reading of the bible as a useful extra, which we might (or might not) fit into our busy schedules.

But, Paul says, there is so much that we can do to help ourselves and each other.

We can teach and learn through the songs we sing. We can memorise scripture so that it comes back to us in times of need. We can read and ponder it so that the underlying patterns and meaning start to influence our thoughts and actions.

This is not new. Generations of Christians have determined to read the scriptures in order every day. A feature of the monastic life was to recite the psalms, sometimes on a monthly or weekly cycle, in some cases even on a daily basis. (It is possible that this is where the rosary originated).

We can engage in bible study. There is a wealth of books and internet sites available that cover every subject, every book of the bible and in a variety of styles to suit every person, no matter how much or how little knowledge we feel we have. It is never too early to start this. It is never too late. We do this because our lives are centred on Jesus, and we are his disciples. It is not the job of the clergy to beat the bible into you! Rather, we exist to help you in your exploration and search.

As we see from our passage, we will do best at this when we band together. Over coffee afterwards, I long to overhear conversations going into what this or that passage means, how we have been helped in a particular situation by particular story, and so on. Difficult as it is, I really do believe that we should all aspire to be part of a group that comes together to help us to live the Christian life, and this must involve study of the bible.

The welcome result of this is a growing awareness of God and thankfulness to him. We can teach and admonish each other. This means that in everyday life we can seek to apply what we have been reading to real life situations. WWJD is not just something that enthusiastic teenagers wear on their wrist; it is an attitude of life as we face decisions. From my knowledge of the bible, what is the best way to do this, make that reply, plan that purchase, and so on? And we can be open to give and receive advice and encouragement. We seek God together in the everyday. In this sense we are conjoined. We may not always realise the extent that our lives are connected and mutually dependent. Just as God is One but also Three, so we are individuals loved by God and called to follow him, but we are also bound together in our shared experience of him.

So you can see again that Christ is at the Centre, that we are each called to be a disciple, that we find ourselves discovering the ways that we can help and serve each other and the wider world, that we are building community together, and we are impelled to share this with those around us.

Chosen, clothed and conjoined, we have a lot to be thankful for!

Discussion Starters

1. Reading Colossians 3, what reminds us of Christian life today, and what stands out as radically different?

2. What is the most helpful way that you find the word (message) Christ dwelling among us?

3. What do you miss most or feel that we could most usefully seek to bring in to help us grow together in understanding and living God’s word?

4. How do you respond to the idea that we should “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus”?

5. What would you like others to join you in giving thanks for? And what would you like to share with others for prayer?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Sermon for Sunday 16 October 2011 – I Thessalonians 1:1-10 (Matthew 22:15-22) – The Model Church! Kim

Paul’s description of the believers in Thessalonica suggests that they typify an ideal congregation. Every chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the return of Jesus Christ, and that truth is applied to daily living. An eager looking for His return is an evidence of salvation, a motivation for soul winning, and an encouragement for holy living. This truth is a comfort in sorrow and encouragement to have more confidence in the Lord.

These letters were written to real people who were experiencing real problems in a world that was contrary to their Christian faith, no different to us today then! One could say they were written to assure the people of his love and concern for them. To remind them of the doctrines of the Christian faith, (particularly with reference to Christ's return). To encourage them to live holy lives and to correct some weaknesses in the church. Is this not what we need today for ourselves?

At least four times in this first epistle, Paul gave thanks for the church and the way it responded to his ministry. What characteristics of this church made it so ideal and such a joy to Paul's heart? It was what every church should be.

They were/we are an elect people. "...called out of darkness into His marvellous light." (1 Peter 2:9). God chose us in Christ before we were born. Even before the foundation of the world. They were/we are in the world but we are not of the world. These saints were at Thessalonica but in Christ. We saints are in Camberley but also in Christ. To the Spirit they were/we are saved when we responded to His call and received Christ. To the Son they were/we were saved when He died for us on the cross. Different eras but still the same in Christ.

Paul prayed for them always with thanksgiving because of their work of faith. As we know faith is shown by works. Works cannot save but saving faith will lead to works. He gave thanks for them because of their labour of love. As Christians they had a new motive for living and so do we. Paul gave thanks too for their patience of hope - the lost person is without hope -the believer has endurance because he has hope in the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Evidence of salvation is always shown by faith, hope, and love and these folks had these evidences in their lives. They were exemplary people. They were good examples to all believers because they followed their spiritual leaders and in doing so they also followed the Lord because they heard the Word, welcomed it, believed it, and suffered for receiving it into their lives. They had a far-reaching testimony. They were enthusiastic and evangelistic people who were witnesses by their walk and by their talk which was the Word of God and the faith is what they talked about wherever their faith led them. They were missionary people. They were witnesses. Guess what folks? We are all that too. Aren’t we?

They were an expectant people. The second-coming of Christ is the theme of the book and they show us how we should wait for the return of Christ. Waiting involves activity and endurance. The saved are serving the living God and rejoicing. The return of Christ must not simply be a doctrine in our creed, but it must be the impulse in our daily lives. In other words, 'we must not just talk it, but we must live it every day of our lives.' And remember that Jesus will deliver us from the wrath of tribulation/trials.

Paul remembered this church, and he gave thanks for their spiritual characteristics: They were elect; exemplary; enthusiastic; and expectant. But churches are made up of individuals. When we speak of the church, we must never say 'they' but we should say 'we'. We are the church! That means that if you and I have these spiritual characteristics in our lives, then our church will become what God wants us to become. Perhaps we need to take a personal inventory of our lives to determine whether or not we are what God desires us to be.

If Paul’s description of the believers in Thessalonica suggests that they typify an ideal congregation. Then shouldn’t we ask ourselves these questions?

Are others thankful for me? Paul was grateful for their faith, hope and love, and that these Christian qualities revealed themselves in work, labour, love and patience. Can others tell that we belong to God? Are they thankful for our spiritual growth?

Is God’s power seen in my life? This comes when you receive the Word of God by faith and allow the Spirit of God to minister to you heart. It also involves suffering for the Lord and letting Him give you His joy.

Do I make it easier for others to talk about Jesus? Some believers are such poor examples as Christians that their lives give unbelievers an excuse for rejecting Jesus. But the Thessalonian Christians made it easy for Paul to preach the gospel! Their testimony had gone before him and met him whatever he went.

We here at St. Michael’s have been given the responsibility of sharing the good news of Jesus with the people of Camberley and in particular the people of St. Michael’s Parish. We have to imitate the Thessalonian Christians. We have to make it easier for unbelievers to find Jesus. We have to let the people of Camberley know that we are committed to bringing God kingdom here on earth that we are preparing to take on a large scale project to renew the building of St. Michael’s, as well as ourselves, in order that this church is not only around for another 100 years but around for the people of Camberley to use, to be part of, to belong to but more importantly to join us in our vision to renew this building, themselves and also to bring in the kingdom for His glory. I guess the question is – Are we the elect, the exemplary, are we enthusiastic enough and are we expectant enough? Are we confident enough to be ready for His return, but also are we confident enough that He will complete the works He has given us to do? Amen.


  1. Are others thankful for me? Is God’s power seen in my life? Do I make it easier for others to talk about Jesus? Only each of us can answer these for ourselves but what, hinders you from being enthusiastic or expectant? Give thanks for all those you have helped or inspired you.
  2. How does it feel to hear that God has a plan for you in life in general, in the Renewal Project? Do you know what His plan for you is? Do you want to know? If you do, ask someone to pray with you, that you will hear from Him.
  3. Do you feel that God doesn’t have a plan for you? Why is this? (i.e. I’m not able to get around, I don’t have a lot of free time, or I’m over whelmed with things at the moment). What are you going to do about it?
  4. What gifts, or skills do you have that may well be useful to God and the people of Camberley, St. Michael’s.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Sunday 2 October 2011, Trinity 15, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46, Bruce

Last Monday evening the Planning Committee of Surrey Heath Borough Council voted unanimously to pass the application for the new annex to be built to St Michael’s. The work can now pick up to plan and raise the money to carry this project forward. Many of you will be aware that we have been working on a scheme of four phases – the roof, the spire, the interior and the annex. We have much to be thankful for, while also being aware that the hard work starts now!
While being thankful, consider this – that a brand new building will not, of itself, bring in the kingdom of God. Even if you were able to write me a very large cheque this morning, and thus enable us to all that we aspire to, if all that results is a gin palace, a monument to our hard work, then it profits us nothing.
A man called Stephen Covey wrote “The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing”. Our main thing is not to build buildings, nor to restore them or conserve them. Our main thing is not to sing worshipful music (if we can all agree what that would be), to preach inspiring sermons or to arrange beautiful flowers.
Our main thing is to know Jesus Christ.
The good news for each of us this morning is that we can have a personal relationship with that man who walked on this earth 2000 years ago, and is alive today and sharing god’s love with us.
But there is a problem.
We get in the way.
The church is seen to be full of people who judge, and look down on others. We are seen to be those who have the answers, which we seek to impose on others. “Yes, you can come to God”, we seem to say, “but first, here are some rules you must keep, some life styles you must adopt, so that you can join our club.”
In Paul’s day, it was bound up with keeping the Jewish Law, but at the same time “bolting on” a faith in Jesus. He is able to say that by the standards of his time he was living an exemplary life, almost above blame; he was so zealous that he was being commended for doing terrible things in God’s name – persecuting the followers of Jesus. But now he can say that everything he worked so hard for before in the spiritual life he now counts as dung, preferring to a righteousness that comes from trusting Jesus.
And he wants to know Christ. He wants to experience the power of God in his own life, the power that raised Jesus from the dead, and the power that took difficulty and suffering in this world and transformed them so that God’s kingdom could come, his will be done here on earth. When each difficulty comes, have a choice. We can push it away, saying in effect that God has slipped up in allowing this to happen. Or we can embrace it, looking for the way that God is working all things together for the good of his elect. We can know the joy that comes from seeing God at work, transforming our character as we go through trials. We can encourage each other as we travel together with God.
Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you, there is no greater thing ....
And yet we find that our relatives, our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours do not always see this. They see instead the church.
Children love to explore the world, looking at and touching, taking apart and rearranging. Someone once said that we give children toys to distract them from the real world and stop them learning.
In the same way people instinctively want to connect with God, to find their way to Christ, and we give them instead the church.
Now I am in favour of church, I like church. I also like Marmite. I prefer beer.
Yeast extract is a by-product of brewing. In Burton in the 19th century they brewed all different beers, and the dark salty residue came in different flavours and textures. One brave, or fool-hardy, soul tried tasting the sludge, and even spread it on his bread; Marmite was born. It became very popular, and soon a purpose built factory was established to market what was now a standardised product that some people hate, but others love.
The point is that we are, so to speak, the brewery. If our main business is brewing beer, why are we bothering so much about marketing Marmite? I am not knocking church. Some people love it and some people hate it. There are great benefits in our buildings, liturgy, synods, and all the rest. They are no substitute, however, for knowing Jesus Christ, and growing in him. There is the real issue of the times when the church has been caught out as hypocritical, apparently tolerant of child abuse, cravenly supporting rulers of this world in their godlessness. If you have been tempted to see church as a disappointment, a grind, an imposition, a weight that saps your energy ..... that is not the church as Jesus sees it – his body here on earth. He faced all manner of difficulty and opposition in his time here on earth, as evidenced in the parable recounted in our second reading; he embraced the cross on our behalf. Love so amazing, so divine, demands our souls, our lives, our all.
In all humility we come to Jesus, we ask him to fill us with his Holy Spirit, we continue in our quest to encounter God and grow in him.

Discussion starters
1. Paul listed all the things that he might have been proud of, but which he now saw as worthless. What are the things that you have been tempted to rely on instead of trusting in Christ?
2. What, for you, is the main thing in following Christ? What are the distractions that are not bad in themselves but distract us from following Christ?

Sunday 25 September 2011, St Michael, Harvest, Back to Church Sunday Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32, ROMANS 10:9, Bruce

A vicar’s daughter watched her father preparing a sermon. “How do you know what to say?” she asked. “God tells me”, he replied. “Then why do you keep crossing things out?”

There are various sorts of sermons, and today I want to try to preach a traditional text. This differs from a Theme sermon (today we will look at the theme of Giving), or an Expositional sermon (today we are going to expound Philippians 2, verse by verse, clause by sub-clause).

In Romans 10: 9 Paul says “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Paul has never been to Rome. All through his letter to the church there, Paul has been talking about faith as the foundation of our relationship with God, and here he summarises the whole thing in one verse. It does not matter if you come to church regularly or hardly at all, if you come from the chosen race or not, know your bible inside out or are just starting to explore what it says, feel you are living a good moral upright life – or not .... All that matters is that you publically declare your faith in Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that he has been raised from the dead. Everything else will follow from that.
This is a good text to preach here at St Michael’s at St Michael’s tide. Everything we do is shaped by our desire to Encounter God and Grow in Him – both for ourselves and to help others. Each of us is on a journey of exploration and discovery, but the turning point comes when we encounter God in his Son Jesus Christ, when we see how this historical life lived 2,000 years ago has a direct relevance to our own lives today.
There are many ways that we can be led to this encounter. Some of these are stories we were told in Sunday School, reading the bible, singing hymns, or being a member of a local Christian community. Some of us have found that life-events, both happy and sad, have drawn us closer to God, while others have found they have made us question, doubt, and feel further away from faith.
A key factor is our response to Creation and the beauty of nature all around us. Paul goes so far as to say that the inner state of our hearts and minds towards God is revealed by the way that we respond to all that he has created.
We read in Romans 1: 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
This is why Harvest is so important. It is our opportunity to remember where all our good things come from, and to give thanks to God who has so richly blessed us. I love the nature programmes on television, and the stories about all that we discover about genetics, string-theory, the exploration of space, the amazing way that life has developed here on earth. I love to hear about true scientists, whose minds are open as they seek to understand the mysteries of creation. I fear for those who say, in effect, we have explained it all (or are confident that we will soon be able to), and we do not see any room for God in that picture. They are, I am sure, good and moral people, but in denying the Creator, they are claiming the right to think as God for themselves; they are repeating the folly and sin of Adam and Eve in the garden, and they are starting on a road to ruin that will lead unstoppably to a denial of all that God is, and to all the evils and cruelties of our world today. G. K. Chesterton said “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.” To be thankful is to express faith. If Jesus is the whole of the pyramid, and faith in his cross and resurrection are the pinnacle, then the broad base is to value and give thanks for all that he has created. To do anything less is to walk in to find a tidied house and beautifully prepared meal, and say “O, that’s a stroke of luck!”

So, to confess that Jesus is Lord is to acknowledge him in every part of our lives and to see his hand in everything around us. It is to marvel that, as we read in Philippians 2, his Lordship derives from a humble obedient heart that laid aside the privileges of equality with his Father and became actually part of the creation. This is a greater mystery than the science we discussed before. He humbled himself even to death, the ultimate degradation that we find in the created order, but he also was raised as living human body and is in the heavenlies right now praying for us.

The point of this is that Jesus is acknowledged as Lord – the one that we obey. We believe in the God of creation, whose Son Jesus died for us and rose again, and we find ourselves therefore obeying him. Anything less than this is to acknowledge him as a teacher or a moral example, or someone to be respected. But, Paul says, what flows from this is a loving life that puts others first, where God is at work helping us to be no longer conformed to a rebellious world system that does not acknowledge God, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may prove what the will of God is for us, and do it.

In this short treatment I am not able to address all the questions that spring from this; that is what our different groups give us an opportunity to do, and you are warmly invited to join us at one of them. One question, however, is what about those who do not confess Jesus as Lord, or believe in his resurrection? What about those who make themselves subject to wrath?

Looking at our gospel passage, we can see that there are those who are determined to be, in effect, their own Lords, and they have made up their minds. It does not matter if a prophet like John or the saviour himself comes to them; they already know an answer that suits them. But Jesus goes straight on to tell the story of a son who changes his mind and decides to fall in with his father’s wishes. In the same way the invitation is for each and every one of us this morning, to confess that Jesus Is Lord and to trust him in our hearts; let us ask God for the gift of faith and understanding, so that we may be truly open for all that he has for us, and encounter him for ourselves.

Discussion Questions
1. Jesus is Lord: what impact does this have on your daily life?
2. How would disbelieving in God as Creator lead to disobedience and evil living?
3. If a particular culture or belief system suggested that you do something wrong, how would you respond in the light of Paul’s teaching?
4. How might the resurrection of Jesus lead us to re-evaluate the whole of creation and our place within it?

Sermon for Sunday 18 September 2011 –Matthew 20:1-16 and Philippians 1:21-30 - Kim

In this parable we see Jesus telling us something about everyday life and each of Jesus’ parables are either from the market place, the farm, the family. You could say that today’s parable is about salaries, wages, and a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, it’s about the daily or hourly income. People always get tense, anxious and nervous when you talk about money, salaries, and income.
After reading this passage three times I asked myself what is the purpose of this parable? I believe the key to the story is the contrast between those who came at the last hour and those who came at the first hour. Regardless of when they clocked in, all were given a full day’s wage.
Those who were given a full days wage at the last hour felt that their wage was undeserved, unearned and a wonderful gift from the owner. The wage was a gift, a surprise, a wonderful delight. And there are Christians who feel that God’s generosity to them is unearned, undeserved, and they are surprised at the generosity of God. Such Christians have this attitude that life has been a wonderful gift from God such as these workers who came to work for only one hour and had received a full blessing from God.
Meanwhile, there are other religious people who were there at six o’clock in the morning and they worked all day long. They were born into the Christian faith; they were baptised into the Christian faith; they went to Sunday school; they went to Youth Group; they did confirmation; they were part of the fabric of the church; they sang in the choir; they served on The PCC; they came to church every Sunday. And they knew in their hearts that God owed it to them. They had the inner attitude: if anyone deserved to be blessed by God, they did because they had been faithful to God and his church all of their lives. God: I deserve your blessing. I have earned your blessing because of my faithful behavior to you and the church throughout the years.
Jesus said those who are last with an attitude of thanksgiving shall be first, and those who think they are first shall be last.
Tell me what did you do yesterday to deserve to be given the gift of life today? What did you do yesterday that was so good that you deserved to live today? To wake up, brush your teeth, have breakfast, see your family, come to church, be with nice people: what did you do yesterday on Saturday that you deserved to be alive on Sunday?
What about the young man who watched the marathon runners run passed him and then he leaps out of the crowd and runs towards the finishing line which was about a mile out from the end. As he was handed a medal another gentleman who had finished alongside him complained saying that the young man only ran the last mile, he doesn’t deserve a medal. The young man did get a medal and later that week; his picture was in his local newspaper. Several months before this young man had is left foot amputated after a car accident, he was a keen runner and even though the marathon runners had worked hard and trained well for the event and deserved their medals. For this young man, with a false foot, that one mile would have seemed like a marathon to him – that’s why the organisers allowed him a medal.
So it is with life and everything in life: life, the abundant life, and eternal life are free gifts of God to us, and we do nothing to deserve or earn them.
Jesus was telling the people around him that the parable was about salvation and that it was available to everyone, sadly he knew that only a few would take up his offer. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he paid the price for salvation for anyone who believed in him. It is his to give to anyone who comes to him. Some people accept Jesus, and have the joy of working for God for many years. Some people put off accepting Jesus until late in life, even until they are about to die. They only get to serve the Lord a short time. God makes salvation available to us all.
Today, our western ‘celebrity’ culture favours those who manage to push themselves to the front, whether it’s people with the most obvious talent or the stars with the busy agents. Sadly, that can spill over into the life of the church: famous leaders and preachers get attention and the ‘ordinary’ Christian becomes a passive spectator. We need to remember that there are no such people as ‘ordinary’ Christians. In the renewal of all things which Jesus spoke about, all sorts of people will stand out as the real heroes and heroines of faith, though nobody has ever heard of them before. They will be the ones who, whether for five minutes or fifty years served God with total and glad obedience, giving themselves completely to holiness, prayer, and the works of love and mercy. Such people are the pure gold of the church. But, so often, gold remains hidden and takes some finding.
God has called us to have an attitude of being humble, and thankful for our relationship with Him and not resentful of others who claim Jesus as Lord late in life. We should seek to work with Jesus to bring others to a relationship with him, to be humble enough to be the seed planters and allow others who will reap the reward of our sowing, to rejoice. To be humble enough not to want to covert another persons’ gift; but to be thankful for His many blessings bestowed on us.
Gracious Lord, help us to be humble enough to take whatever place we are given, and zealous enough to work wholeheartedly for your glory where and when you call us. Amen.
1. How does Matthew 20:1-16 relate to today?
2. Have you been tempted to want to covet another persons’ gift, or position or property?
3. How do you feel that you may be one of the last?
4. Have you been treated unfairly? What did you do about it?