Sunday 27th October 2013 – Faith like a child

The Word this Week:

Luke 18:15-30

Jesus Blesses Little Children

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’

The Rich Ruler

A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother.” ’ He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

 Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ He replied, ‘What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.’

 Then Peter said, ‘Look, we have left our homes and followed you.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’

The Gospel this week is one that is often split for the purposes of preaching.  Either you preach on having the faith of a child, or you preach on the rich ruler, and being prepared to place the kingdom of God first – even if it means selling all you have.    Today though I want to do things a little differently – I want to tell you that these two themes are not different at all, but both find there foundation in faith and trusting God – And that both carry a message for us to heed with regard to our relationship with God, and with the world.

In the first part of the Gospel story Jesus tells us that it is having the faith of a child that will get you into the kingdom – the second part of the story however, where the young man asks what he must do to gain eternal life sees Jesus respond by pointing to the commandments.  In the first part Jesus points to faith as our way to heaven, in the second to obeying the commandments – isn’t there a contradiction there?

I mean which is it? Is it faith or following the commandments which gets us to heaven?  The answer is that they are both the same thing.  You will note that when the man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life that Jesus recites back to him some commandments – he says  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’  Did you count them? There were five – five out of the ten, and the five he names are all those that deal with our relationships with other people, they are all commandments,  that are visible. 

This young man is clearly very religious – he keeps the commandments after all! At least the ones that are outwardly visible.  He isn’t a murderer, or a liar – he is respectful to his parents, and faithful to his wife – by all accounts this ruler is a ‘good person’.  And good people are all going to get eternal life right? NO!

‘There is still one thing lacking’ Jesus tells him.  What is it? What is it that is lacking, which is preventing this man from inheriting eternal life? Let’s examine what Jesus asks him to do –  Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Why has Jesus asked this man to sell all that he has? He didn’t ask that of Peter, he didn’t ask that of any of the others – but for this man, he does.  He does so because the response of the man betrays where his heart is.  Instead of rejoicing that the Messiah, the promised saving King, has told him how he might enter into eternal bliss in the Kingdom of God – he is sad.   He is sad because he is very wealthy and in order to inherit the promised eternal life he is being asked to give it up… he is sad because his heart, his hope is in the material wealth that he has accumulated.

When Jesus says this man is lacking one thing – he is talking about faith!  If this man, this rich ruler had faith, if he had the faith of a child – he would have rejoiced! He had the answer, eternal life awaited him!  Jesus exposed him for what he was – a very pious, religious man, who lacked faith.  He was outwardly doing all the right things, he was a ‘good man’… he no doubt attended the synagogue regularly.  But he lacked that most fundamental of things – he hadn’t put his trust – his hope, his faith in God.

Brothers and sisters, we must not allow ourselves to become like the rich ruler, we must not focus on just being a good person, but lack the fundamental of faith.  Who here hasn’t thought  – or heard others say – oh they’re a good person, they’ll be ok, I’m sure they’ll go to heaven…  What our Gospel reinforces for us today is that it is not about being a ‘good’ person.  It is not about keeping up appearances – coming to church, ticking the boxes , and ensuring you do all the ‘right things’.  No matter what we do outwardly, what matters more than anything is where we have placed our faith – is it placed in God? Or in our own abilities? In God, or in material possessions?  

You will remember that Jesus pointed to the Commandments in his interactions with the ruler.  He listed those five that are about interacting with people – the ones that could be summed up as love thy neighbour.  He didn’t mention the commandments about our relationship with God, but he exposed that the man did not keep them…

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Thou shalt not make for yourself any idol…

The rich ruler had set up for himself a false idol, in material possessions, he had placed his hope in his own abilities and talents instead of in God – he had made himself a god.   The rich ruler had half the picture – he was loving his neighbour, but without faith he wasn’t loving God.

Faith is what counts.  And What kind of faith is it that Jesus calls us to have? 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

What kind of faith does a little child have?

Think of a small child laughing hysterically while they are thrown into the air by their father… even as a small child, they know that if they fall from up there its going to hurt… yet they aren’t fretting, they aren’t concerned about what could happen if they fall – instead they trust – unconditionally – that their dad will catch them.  They have so much trust, so much faith in their father that instead of focussing on what could go wrong, they are able to relax and enjoy flying through the air – they experience a great joy.

That joy, that sense of freedom, is available to all of us.  It doesn’t mean being naïve or blindly following, it means instead making a choice to trust, to place your hope and faith in God. To give ourselves over completely to our heavenly father, and relax in the knowledge that even when it seems like we are tumbling towards a devastating crash, that He will catch us – that His hands are safe and sure. 

Brothers and sisters, faith is not an intellectual exercise, of just saying I believe, it is not an exercise of ticking the right boxes and being a ‘good person’.  Faith is about handing over your very being to the creator and sustainer of the universe.  It is about placing all of your hope and all of your trust, and all of your love in God.

When we hand ourselves over in complete faith as a child would, then we will meet the commandments, we will Love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and with all of our mind and with all of our soul – and in experiencing his love we will also love our neighbour as ourselves… we will fulfil the commandments, but it is not their fulfilment that makes us an inheritor of eternal life – it is the faith in God that sets us free.

Sunday 10 August 2014 – Faith is what matters

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The Word This Week:

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Let us pray:
In the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good Morning/Evening

I wonder did you notice a theme throughout our readings today? It is strongest in the New Testament readings but the reading from Genesis and our Psalm also point us to a key theme.

That theme brothers and sisters is faith. Our Genesis account begins he account of Joseph, who as we know goes on to become a symbol of faith. Joseph maintains his faith throughout his ordeals, from being sold into slavery by his own brothers, Joseph goes on to become a ruler in Egypt. 

The Psalm spells out for us what Joseph’s faith achieved – he was tested, he suffered, but he held firm to his trust in God and was eventually rewarded, enabling him to save his people from famine. 

Lets then look t what St Paul has to say to us.  Paul in our reading from Romans is establishing for us very clearly that it is not through our external obedience to the Law of the Old Testament that we will find salvation.  Moses he says taught that righteousness is achieved through obedience to the Law – but we are now set free from the Law, a Law which we could never hope to obey in every way at all times.  We are all weak, we all fall short and stumble in our relationship with God.  The Law was established to show us how to live, as a holy people in proper relationship with God – but because of our broken nature and our inability to meet the requirements of the Law, God gave us another way.

The basis for right living and right relationship (righteousness) is being at one with the word which dwells within – ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’. Paul points us to the answer Jesus Christ is the Word that is in our heart, and on our lips and if we confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

So often we hear people say things like ‘oh I’m a good person, I’ll be going to heaven’.  The point that Paul is making to us is that being a ‘good person’ is simply not enough, if we are striving to be ‘good’ enough to get into right relationship with the perfect, all powerful, all knowing creator and sustainer of all that is – seen and unseen – we will fall short.  If we have committed even one breach of the Law – if we have failed just once then we have broken our relationship with God, and we cannot ever repair it by ourselves.    You see God is eternal – therefore if we offend against God our offence is eternal.   

But God so loves us that he could not bear for us to be separated from Him for all eternity – so he gave us a way home.  God himself became incarnate as a human being, and lived a perfect life, so that as a human being he could offer himself as the one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of humanity, and as God incarnate that sacrifice is eternal – ever lasting.  His offering of himself is available to everyone – as Paul says there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, which Paul’s audience would have understood to mean salvation is open to all.  That is the Gospel, the Good News – that God has opened the way for us to be in right relationship with Him, even though we fail, even though we mess up, no matter what we have done we an be reconciled with God – and the way to that reconciliation is – Faith.

All we are asked to do to receive this gift of salvation, this gift of life eternal is to place our faith and hope in Jesus.  Nothing we can do will earn it, being ‘good’ will leave us short.

Faith then, is the key – faith is what counts – not how well we meet the external requirements of the Law, not how good a person we are – because even the very best of people fall shot of the glory of God.  So why then do Christians do so many good works? We are called to lives of love, compassion, forgiveness and charity not because we can earn salvation through them – but because we have already been saved – when we are reconciled to God through Christ we are brought into union with Him, and through that union with God we seek to emulate Jesus love, compassion and faithfulness in our own lives.

The Gospel reading from Matthew also points us to faith – Peter sees Jesus walking on the water and says ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’  Jesus says to Him – ‘Come’.   Now as we well know peter was far from being the perfect disciple, it is Peter who denies Christ and abandons Him at his trial before the crucifixion, it is Peter who is rebuked by Jesus, for speaking word’s from Satan when He tries to stop Jesus talking about his coming death and resurrection.  It is Peter who is rebuked by St Paul at Antioch for hypocrisy about eating with gentiles.  Peter then was a flawed human being – just like me and you, and yet through the power of His faith in Christ he was able to step out of the boat and begin walking on the Sea of Galilee – now I was at the sea of Galilee a few weeks ago and I can tell you that the water there is just like the water here and if you try and walk on it you end up getting very wet very fast.

But Peter could do it – such was the power of his faith – that is of course until he allowed fear to cause him to doubt.  Now lots of preachers will tell you that the reason that Peter began to sink is that he took his eyes off of Jesus – but the text doesn’t say that – Jesus after rescuing Peter says  ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’  You see it was doubt that made Peter begin to sink, it was doubt that put up the barrier.  And where did the doubt come from? ‘But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened’.

You see Peter’s faith had allowed him to something incredible, something supernatural – but then he allowed fear to take hold, and he began to doubt  – he began to ask himself the questions we all ask when we are fearful – what if… what if the wind is to strong and the waves to big – I could drown… Do you ever have fears that make you push your faith aside? I know its something that has happened to me..

What if they think I’m some nut job for talking about Jesus? What if they ask questions I can’t answer? What if my friends don’t want to have anything to do with me? What if they think I’m some judgemental dinosaur if I take a stand on moral or justice issues? 

Fear is a tool of the enemy to turn us away from Christ.  Fear is his tool to make us stumble, to question and doubt.  Do not let fear rule your hearts, and when you feel fear creeping in and causing you to stumble – use Peter as your example and cry out to Jesus for help, and he will reach out and save you before you sink.

Of course the fears we encounter in our free democracy are insignificant compared to those elsewhere in the world.  The Christians in Iraq have been given a choice by the ISIS terrorists to either convert to Islam, pay an exorbitant ‘protection tax’ for not converting (which generally amounted to everything they owned – or if they refused to do either of those things then to be killed.   We need to be praying for those Christians, and for other minorities targeted by ISIS.  We need to pray that those Christians will be delivered from this terror, and that they will know the presence and peace of Christ with them, that they might hold firm in their faith. 

So then, brothers and sisters, as you go on with your loves this week, look to Christ and place your faith and hope in Him.  Know that it is through your faith you are reconciled to God, and not through any external works of human goodness.  Understand that Christians are called to lives of love, compassion, forgiveness and charity not because those things can earn us salvation, but because we have already been saved.

Finally do not let fear and doubt cause you to stumble and sink, but as St Paul calls us to:  confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved.

The Lord be with you.