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Giving Ourselves to God

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Matthew 5:13-16 and 1 Peter 2:1-9
SMAS - 10.30am Service
(20.11.11)
Given by Janette Mullett

Laity - what is it? Last week I heard someone jest that laity is Church of England word for people, but most understand it to mean the non-ordained - so that’s most of us. This definition can lead to ‘us and them’ type thinking but if we look at the derivation of the word this should be dispelled. The word derives from the Greek, laos, meaning the people at large or everyone, including priests.  It is just that we are each called to our own special ‘job for God’, in other words we each have a mission.

Church of England has a very specific (and wordy!) view of what the ministry of the laity is:

"to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church",

Much of the ministry of the laity thus takes place outside official church structures in homes, workplaces, schools, and so on…
and yet many of us separate our everyday lives completely from our church-based activities. The London Institute for Contemporary Christians who have been researching this area claim that there is a significant sacred-secular divide which means we separate (falsely) our Christian lives from our everyday lives.

Orange and Peach

This is the belief that life is an orange not a peach; that some segments of our life are really important to God - prayer, church services etc but that others aren’t - work, school, sport, music, sleep, hobbies. This doesn’t make much sense though if we look at how much of our lives we spend doing what:

Hours in the week

 168 Total hours
 48   Sleep
 10   Church related activities
  ___
  110 Waking hours remaining

So, are we living like an orange or a peach? In other words does our faith permeate every aspect of our life? There is little doubt that the bible says we should be like peaches!

Whole life disciples rather than Sunday Christians.

St Peter says “be holy in all you do”. (1 Peter 1:15)
I believe we need to be gripped by our love of God and His grace to the extent that it infuses our hearts and transforms our lives. We may not be full-time Christian workers but we do rub shoulders with scores of non-Christians - at the surgery, school gates, office, at the shops; how do they see us? Do they see the light of Christ reflected in us? In our actions and attitudes; in our behaviour and our motivation? Do we show the love of God in our gentleness, our generosity, our thoughtfulness our refusal to join in with gossip?

I think this is what Jesus is saying in the first of our readings today. This reading is taken from the 3 chapters of Matthews gospel that are often called The Sermon on the Mount - which contains some very straight forward teaching, no parables here, on how to be His followers - how to be church - so we can’t go far wrong looking here for some guidance on what it means to be his disciple, to be a member of the laity.

In his ‘sermon’, Jesus gives a fairly comprehensive list of how we, as his followers should behave and pray – it’s worth reading! His teaching is comprehensive and challenging. Jesus is encouraging us to make ourselves pure, or holy as St Peter put it - to bring us into closer relationship with God. When we live life like this we can live life in all its fullness as God intended it should be. But, because it is through us that Jesus can reach others who do not know Him yet, we need to be a good advert, and this is where this morning’s reading from Matthew 5 comes in.

Here, Jesus is calling us to be Salt and Light in the world - his representatives on earth.In the ancient world, salt and light were of the highest value, so this would have been very important symbolism to His audience.

Salt not only provided tasty seasoning but was also an indispensable preservative. But this is still relevant to us today - as a seasoning, salt brings out the taste in food, but it has to be right - over-salt and the food becomes unpalatable, under salt and the food is bland. So if we apply this to ourselves do we season well? Do we help the situations we find ourselves in - Improve them and affect others positively? Or do we overdo it with lack of sensitivity or rushing in with our own agendas instead of seeking God’s way? Or do we under-salt by thinking our contribution is not important or relevant? This passage is saying that Jesus wants us, in our own small way, to make a difference to the world, as salt improves the flavour of food.

Similarly, light has a rich background of significance in the Old Testament; it enabled sight, brought a sense of security and communicated God's presence. Light is connected with illumination, vision and reflection, and in the context of this passage Jesus is re-enforcing his message about the salt - i.e. what we show or reflect as His disciples is important. We cannot be content to be the world's light in a merely theoretical sense; we should “be what we are”. BUT in doing ‘good works’ we need to consider the effects our everyday lives have on those who know us; and, guard the motives of our hearts - we should be doing what we do for God’s honour not our own.

So we could say that Jesus’ teaching here is a vision for the church - “like a city set on a hill whose light cannot be hid”. This is both an exhilarating and frightening picture. The visibility of the church offers opportunity for witness and service. Yet visibility also means that a church’s failings are apparent. It is perhaps through the laity that the world will be able to glimpse something of Jesus, so we have a huge responsibility here. However, it is also through the church that we can be offered support, fellowship, encouragement and the opportunity to explore and use our gifts. It is here we can pray together, learn together and worship together.

So how can we be salt and light effectively?
as that wonderful hymn states with “hearts and hand and voices”:

1. Heart

God says he will put his law in our minds and write it on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33)
Repeatedly the bible says we must “serve the Lord with all our heart”. God wants us to serve Him passionately, not dutifully. People rarely excel at tasks they don’t enjoy doing. God wants us to use our natural interests to serve Him and others. Listening for inner promptings can point to the ministry God intends us to have, but how can we check that we are serving God with all our heart? Tell-tale signs are enthusiasm and effectiveness - when we are doing what we love to do no one has to motivate us, challenge us or check up on us; - when we do what God is wanting us to do, wired us to do, we get good at it. Not only are we unlikely to excel if we are doing something out of duty but when passionate we can be like a hot bubbling casserole -very appetising - unlike a cold refrigerated casserole - which has much less appeal.

I believe our ministry is most effective when it is led by our ‘passion’ and love of God rather than by ‘ought to’s’ or by reluctantly (even resentfully) undertaken tasks. That heart-led way is better for us, easier and most importantly, when we are passionate for Christ then maybe we can reflect the love of God to others.

2. Hands

Actions - helping others, allowing God to work through us. Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish nun, expresses this brilliantly:

“Christ has no body now on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours, ours are the eyes through which to look at Christ’s compassion to the world, ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and ours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”

What might this look like in practice? There are many jobs we can take on according to our skills and gifts, and some may be within the context of church, however important those jobs might be, I think we are challenged to look beyond them and into our everyday lives.  Being a friend, a good neighbour, a good listener, smiling, helping practically where needed, going the extra mile for someone, and being generous.

3. Voices

God can sometimes use our voices to speak if we will let him. We may find this concept difficult, but sometimes we have to take the risk and let the Spirit speak through us. Psalm 81 says, “I am the LORD your God…open your mouth wide, and I will fill it”. Sometimes we need to be prepared to speak out when prompted, or say what is really important to us. We also need to use our voices to praise God, as Psalm 51 says “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

But there is the other side of this coin. We also need to guard our tongues they can also be very damaging indeed St. James advises us to keep a tight rein on our tongue. James 1:26

So in using our hearts, hands and voices to fulfil our ministry as members of the laity in every aspect of our lives we are called into a priesthood of all believers.
In today’s epistle Peter says “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”. (1Peter 2:9)

To become ‘a royal priesthood’ is both an immense honour and an awesome challenge – for we must live not for ourselves alone but for others. This passage is saying all true believers are called to serve in this ministry. God’s plan is for everyone to have a special and unique role, and Christ is the chief Corner stone that unites these believers into a church. We are asked to fulfil these tasks together (Jesus sent out his disciples in twos!)  and the Holy Spirit gives us special gifts to fulfil these tasks.

When we get it right with God’s help:

  • we can be reflecting God’s love and light,
  • we can live life in all its richness,
  • we can help each other
  • and, we can reach out

So as Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount, if we hear his words and put them into practice we will be like the wise man who builds his house on the rock - whatever storms life throws at us - we will stand firm!

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