A copy of Sunday’s sermon.
What does God expect of Christians? The new testament is, of course, the answer. In it Jesus, and later his followers, tell us precisely what is expected of those who take up the cross and follow.
St. Paul provided three helpful images. In Philippians he speaks of Christians as bond-slaves. Now Bond slaves had nothing to do with 007 but were liberated souls who, despite a new-found freedom, opted to remain in service of their masters out of love. The point being that we should serve Christ out of love not out of some sense of enforced duty.
In 2 Timothy St. Paul described Christians as Soldiers of Christ. We must expect spiritual battle. A war rages for the salvation of our souls. We must battle not only self but also the world and the devil. St Paul understands this point; stressing that this conflict is so severe that those genuinely attempting sanctification need put on the armour of Christ. Daily! Faith is not to be a vacation or feel good comfort blanket or an exercise in celebrating self. In fact weaklings and cowards need not apply. Because being a Christian is tough. You need self-discipline and virtue. You need to put in a lot of effort and you need to be willing to die to self.
Finally, in Ephesians. St. Paul refers to Christians as ambassadors for Christ. We are to be representatives of God on this earth. Speaking up for him, delivering his (and not our) message in love. And the reverse is true, we must speak on behalf of this world to God; interceding for sinners. All of which takes courage, warns Paul, because the prince of this world is at war with the God of heaven. Paul should know; he was imprisoned, flogged and beaten for his faith in Jesus. So again we learn that living out the faith with sincerity is not for wets or weaklings. And if we are not struggling with self, the world and the devil in our walk with Christ then something is seriously amiss.
Put Paul’s descriptions together and one thing becomes clear. Christianity is as much about action and behaviour as it is about belief. Our lives should be discernibly different from those around us- because we belong to God! That was clearly St. Paul’s message. Now let us look at what Jesus expects of his believers.
Well he too warned of struggle. If the world hates you- remember it hated me first. Again the popular myth of comfortable easy going religion is dispelled. People seeking comfort or self indulgence should not climb the hill of Calvary. Those who shrink from difficult tasks will not take up the cross, they should avoid the scapular or collar. Because those in thrall to the noise of this world won’t discern that still small voice of God. If we go about faith seriously expect conflict and suffering, even martyrdom. Christians in Syria know that only too well. The timid are no good. God needs those who will bear witness to Him regardless of consequence and with unfailing confidence. You cannot have the crown without the cross.
Jesus also said ‘if your brother sins against you, rebuke him; but if he repents, forgive him’ We see here a balance between being firm but gentle. This is where the modern Church gets unstuck – it has grown weak and seeks only to be gentle and never firm. The Church of nice. But ‘peace at any price’ is no Christian mantra. You wont find it anywhere in the Gospel. Because soldiers stand for something. They do not water down revelation to appease the world. The blood of the martyrs proves this point. And when society is wrong, say via support for abortion or the breakdown of the family, the church must hold the line and not count the cost. Speaking out for Christ in defence of truth. That is what being a soldier means. For the only other option is to roll over and surrender truth for compromise. The reverse of what any saint or martyr ever did.
Finally Jesus asked Christians to believe that faith can cause things to happen. It should inspire us to act! ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could say unto this sycamore tree.. ’ Many people ask believe in God but leave it there! Believe mightily in God’s kingdom but wouldn’t uproot a daisy to establish it! Let alone a sycamore. We live in strange days when Christians speak proudly about the role of faith in history, about the heroism of former saints, but prove totally disinclined themselves to make history for Christ or become a saint!
The current generation of believers, who should be lions, have become mice. Frightened of the world and frightened to offend it. Not standing up for Christ because, I suspect, we are all too comfortable. Why focus on the culture of death when a new season of Bake-off airs at 9…
We all like the idea of a gentle private faith. And the world has never objected to a private faith with good reason. It might produce pleasant spiritual experiences for self but it is never enough to build the kingdom or transform the world. Faith needs translating into brave action to work miracles; to be justified and proved in the fires of this world. Belief alone does nothing. Yet so many today act as if belief is enough. They do almost nothing concrete for Christ. Nothing to establish his kingdom on earth. Nothing for the salvation of souls.
Ultimately it is impossible to reflect on the teaching of Jesus, and later St Paul, regarding discipleship without feeling embarrassed , even scandalised, by the church in the West. For it has been on the most recent watch that faith has grown lukewarm and the faith of past generations has been surrendered to the Spirit of the Age- that prevailing anti-Christian culture- with barely a whimper.
What Christ and St Paul taught was no impossible ideal requiring us to merely aim for it and expect nobody to live it out. It was a minimum standard for living faith- the sort that can bring light into darkness, the sort that is salt in this world. How the modern church needs to wake up and establish the kingdom! We must stop hiding in trenches and confront this world with love and prayer, example and action. We must focus on Christ not self and we must believe the faith can be lived out!
We approach a year of evangelisation for our little parish; a time for self examination. Is my faith growing or diminishing? What do I offer besides my belief? Am I actually building the kingdom with my life? Winning souls for Christ including my own? These questions leave me a little ashamed, so please join me in trying to do better. Pray for our year of outreach- that you might reach out yourself to God. Let us together make this coming year of mission work successful. For that I need your support and contribution. No- He- needs your support and contribution. That this church might be a growing one that is full of bond-slaves, ambassadors and soldiers for Christ. What a vision for us to aim for. Lets do it.