Sermon June 21
In our first reading Paul challenges the idea that being forgiven by God gives us a free pass to do whatever we like. You may have heard people say, I’m a sinner, saved by grace, and then they go on sinning. Or we have heard stories of those who went to confession once a week, repented from their sins, and then carried on in exactly the same way. That’s not God’s way. God wants us to take hold of the newness of life in Christ, the forgiveness, the setting free that happens when we trust God with our lives.
I want to draw your attention to the idea that
“The death Jesus died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
In our lives there may be things we regret, and things we cannot face so we block them away in our subconscious. But if we can allow God’s light to shine into these dark areas, and clean them out, we can grab hold of that forgiveness. If all sin has died with Christ, our sin has died too. Otherwise, what was the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Our sins were nailed to him on the cross, and his death has taken them away.
Well, you may know the scriptures, and the lines from our services like that, but do you really live it? Or do little things from your past rear their ugly heads to niggle at you and make you feel guilty from time to time? You know, the I Shoulds. I should have called her. I should have told him. I should have never gone there. We can all have regrets about the past, and want to tear that page out of the script and rewrite it, especially when people we love have been hurt. But because of the cross, we can put aside all those Shoulds. All those guilty feelings.
God doesn’t condemn us, God doesn’t want us to wallow in guilty feelings. Those accusations that creep up on us come from the enemy – the Hebrew word Satan means accuser. Trust that those sins from your past have been dealt with and don’t dwell on them. If you find yourself doing that, take it to God in prayer. Look at the cross and remind yourself that you can tell the accuser to get lost.
Turning away from this way of living can give enormous freedom, but it can come at a cost. Indeed, anyone who truly follows Christ may know that cost. In our reading from Matthew Jesus says:
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
This sounds awfully harsh doesn’t it? Or maybe it gives us an excuse not to get on with our mother-in-law!
It’s actually a quote from the prophet Micah, and Jesus is reminding his hearers – and Matthew’s gospel is written for the Jews – that there is a long history for their people of the terrible divisions that can occur when God is doing a new thing. We’ve seen that in our own church over the issue of same-sex marriage. There will always be people reluctant to embrace the change.
When I became a born-again Christian I told various family members in the hope that they too would join in and embrace the freedom I had found. But for the most part I was met with indifference- “I’m fine as I am thank you, and anyway, what right do you have to say that I am a sinner who needs help?” -was the gist of some of the comments.
That is what Jesus means by the divisions that can come upon our relationships when we truly go full-out for Christ.
Gosh, this is all a bit heavy isn’t it? How will we cope if even our nearest and dearest are fed up with us, and division comes into our family? Will we be alone as we cope with it? No, not at all. We can bring everything to God in prayer.
We are being encouraged to put away all feelings of not rocking the boat, to truly walk in the freedom that a life in Christ gives us. And if the rocky boat ride causes us to get soaked, or shipwrecked, or cast on unknown shores, we know that God is with us. No matter what we are experiencing God is with us. We can reach out in prayer and know we are heard.
Some preachers have told off their people for praying for silly little things like getting a car park, or a sunny day for the church picnic. But what does scripture tell us?
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
This should give us encouragement that we can bring whatever troubles us to God. We can ask, and God will listen. If it matters to us it matters to God. I have personal experience of praying for car parks – I used to teach singing in an inner city school in wellington, where parking was difficult. There was one side street with a few parks that were free, and whenever I prayed on the way in for one, I got one. If I was too preoccupied with other things to ask, there was no park. This went on for three years! Yes, I think praying for car parks is fine!
As well as immediate needs, no matter how seemingly small, we can also pray when those feelings of guilt or hurt or inadequacy come up from the past to haunt us. If God is happy to help us with car parks, surely it’s no problem to ask about old stuff too? But, you may argue, I already prayed about that, and gave it up to God, and I can’t seem to help myself dwelling on it.
There is no time limit to God. Praying is not like a coupon that runs out, or a voucher that has a limit on it. We can ask as long as we need to.
So embrace the freedom, the joy that comes from knowing that you are forgiven, past, present and future, and trust God to guide your every step and thought.