• Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size


Change in our hearts

E-mail Print PDF

Change in our heart 6pm 9th September 2012

An Amish boy and his father were visiting a shopping mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his dad, 'What is this, Father?' The man (never having seen a lift) responded, 'Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life. I don't know what it is.

While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed, an old lady in a wheelchair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady passed between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched as small circles with numbers lit up above the walls. They continued to watch as the numbers lit up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a beautiful young woman stepped out. The father, not taking his eyes off the young woman, said quietly to his son, 'Go get your mother.'

Oh if it were only that easy to change - I guess we'd all be down in the nearest shopping centre jumping in and out of the lifts all the time. But of course it isn't - and in any case that story is just about changing 'externals' isn't it? It seems to be getting easier to change our 'external' nowadays doesn't it? In various TV programmes in a short space of time - a few experts can transform either us or our surroundings dramatically. But again we're only talking about externals.

Tonight's Gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount - was preached by Jesus at the beginning of His earthly ministry. This Sermon on the Mount, The Beatitudes was like His manifesto for how the Christian should live. It is of course longer than the passage we are having tonight and in it He describes what human life and human community should look like after a true repentance that brings about a complete change that puts our hearts and minds under the gracious rule of God.

In this part though the message is very much about us paying more attention to the inner working of our faith so that it brings about a greater authenticity. He is talking a lot here about how the 'hypocrites' pursue their faith.

Its funny how different sins have their sort of 'heyday' isn't it. Hypocrisy is seen as a very big and terrible sin nowadays. The original Greek word means an actor who wears a mask - the person seen on the outside is not the 'real' person on the inside. An actor playing a role that we all know to be false.

Jesus talks about those who show a faith to the world that is not genuine in their heart. He's talking to all those who come to church - pray, praise etc here with everyone else but then don't go home and pray in private too. If we want to change to grow more Christlike then it really is about changing inside isn't it?

Matthew 6:1-18

You might think that there are some contradictions going on here because Jesus also taught that we should pray communally - OUR Father and let your light so shine before others. And that's right too because our light shining before others should come from that inner change INSIDE us.

Jesus had to make some big changes in His life as he began His public ministry and He started by going out into the wilderness on His own to be with God - to fast and pray. He needed that private time alone with God.

Jesus says that its not being seen out at prayer that matters - what matters is that secret meeting in our hearts that nobody else sees. He's not saying that it is wrong to pray in public - indeed we should - but it is wrong to pray in public if we don't also pray in private. Private prayer is where our relationship with our Lord grows. Where we get to know Him. And how, if we have once met with Him, how can we not want to go on

doing it over and over again. A real meeting with the risen Christ. There's nothing else like it - and its through that relationship that we can ask God to change us.

The way Jesus tell us to live in this passage might occasionally prove hard to do – probably most of us at some time have felt that rosy glow that comes from someone else admiring our piety. But equally it is something we all can do when we come to realize that it is Christ that saves us and not ourselves. Personally I claim that quite literally as a blessed relief!

The righteousness described is an inner righteousness. It shows itself outwardly and visibly in words, deeds and relationships, BUT it is essentially a righteousness of the heart. It is what a man thinks in his heart and where he fixes his heart that matter. It is Jesus who changes us - it is Jesus who does the work in us not ourselves. And it is when we fully realise that He is the Christ, that He is our Saviour, that He desires to be with us in our hearts that we will be able to truly bow down before him in humble worship, love and trust.

Jesus went on, your Father who sees in secret will reward you. The Greek word for the 'room' into which we are to withdraw to pray was the same word used for the store-room where treasures might be kept. The implication is then, that 'there are treasures already awaiting' us when we pray.'

The hidden rewards of prayer are too many to count. In words of St Paul, when we cry, 'Abba, Father,' the Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are indeed God's children, and we are granted a strong assurance of his fatherhood and love. He lifts the light of his face upon us and gives us his peace. He refreshes our soul, satisfies our hunger, quenches our thirst. We know we are no longer orphans for the Father has adopted us; no longer prodigals for we have been forgiven; no longer alienated, for we have come home. What a blessing, what a reward. It should spur us on to want to know Him more.

And the reverse of this is that hypocrisy robs us of spiritual benefit: instead of the eternal approval of God we receive the shallow praise of men. We pray but there are no answers. We fast but the inner man shows no improvement. Our spiritual life becomes hollow and lifeless. We miss the blessing of God here and now, as well as the reward of God when Christ returns. Which spectator matters to us more, earthly or heavenly, men or God?

Are we as in a theatre giving a performance, is our religion only conducted in public? The Christian should be very aware of being watched - by God. A different audience seems to cause a different performance. We can bluff a human

audience; they can be taken in by our performance. We can fool them into supposing that we are genuine in our giving, praying, fasting, when we are only acting. But we cannot deceive God. For God looks on the heart. We must choose our audience carefully. If we prefer human spectators, we shall lose our Christian integrity.

The same will happen if we become our own audience. Bonhoeffer said: 'It is even more pernicious if I turn myself into a spectator of my own prayer performance... I can lay on a very nice show for myself even in the privacy of my own room.' We must choose God for our audience. As we pray and fast secretly He is in the secret place. He hates hypocrisy and loves reality. He is there and His presence rewards us.

God loves us and wants our relationship with Him to grow and it cannot do that without some quiet and private time with Him. Yes we must come to church and pray with others - but that has to be matched by prayer and worship in the quiet of our hearts.

When a couple fall in love they want to be with each other. They don't usually want to just spend one hour a week in public with each other do they? That's what should happen with us and Jesus. Loving / knowing God doesn't just take place in church.

Think back to that joke about the lift at the beginning: when we walk through that door we do not automatically walk out again changed. Rather what changes us is allowing God to walk in to the door of our heart. That's where the change happens. Amen.

Showing Favouritsm

E-mail Print PDF

Favouritsm and Works James 2:1-10 & 14-17

9.9.2012 10.30am Family Service

Show blue/white and red/white football scarves.

Who supports what football team? How do you choose whom to support? Local? Successful? Players we like?

Suppose God had a favourite team wouldn't it be terrible if the results were always rigged because one team had God on their side?

Reading: James 2:1-10 & 14-17

Who is the richest person in the UK? How much money do they have? What would we do if someone from that top 10 list chose to join this church? Would we give them a special seat? We would take more notice of what they had to say than anyone else?

Ask for volunteer to come up, ask about them, and give them a seat and a chocolate. Ask for another volunteer and then tell them to go and stand over by the side without a chocolate. Do same with a couple more.

Ask how people think I've behaved. Ask how volunteers feel? How could I put things right? Give chocolates and introduce in the same way as did the favoured ones. This is what we do when we do when we only talk to certain people or won't sit by some people.

James' teaching is for all of us. All of us meet people every day and so we all have opportunity to treat people as God tells us to do here – without favouritism.

Thinking back to my box of chocolates. Who likes what chocolates? What's your favourite?

Who likes soft caramel?

Who likes the hard toffees?

Who likes strawberry creams?

Who likes nutty ones?

Who likes plain chocolates?

Who likes the really rich looking ones wrapped in gold?

Who likes them all?

If you do that's good – that's like Jesus when it comes to people. Jesus doesn't have favourites – He loves us all.

Some people are:-

A bit stern – with a hard centre – Jesus loves them.

Are a bit nutty – Jesus loves them.

Soft and sweet – like strawberry creams – Jesus loves them.

Just plain and he loves them just as much as the rich ones wrapped in gold. How do we know?

Well in the reading we had this morning it clearly tells us not to show favouritism to some people instead of others. We might have favourite football teams or chocolates; we might even have favourite people too. But Jesus tells us we must love all our neighbours (the people around us) the same.

I wonder what's Jesus' favourite chocolate? We don't know, He probably loves them all. What's his favourite person? We DO know this - he loves us all. (Give children something to do and begin adult talk)

There's a touch of irony about my talking about 'favourites' whilst we are looking the letter of James, (which is what we are doing at the moment) and will be doing for a few weeks. Rather a lot of people say this is their favourite book in the Bible. I think that is because it is such a basic, down-to-earth practical book and this makes it easy to understand. If you missed the beginning last week you can look it up on the website, but just let me tell you that is one of the earliest of the NT writings and it is written by Jesus' brother James.

It is also a book that has caused some controversy. Martin Luther (Reformation) wanted to take it out of the Bible, because of how Catholics misunderstood it's teaching on works. He described it as 'an epistle of straw' (letter).

This was because it is a book that talks a lot about 'works'. This appears to be in stark contrast to St Paul's writings about our being saved by faith alone.

Many have misunderstood it and tried to use it to prove you have to work your way to heaven. The entire New Testament teaches that we are saved by faith alone. By grace, through faith. But James is saying it's not just faith, it's works too. Which is right - James or Paul? They're both right because they are talking about different things.

Paul was fighting the problem of 'legalism', those who thought they had to keep the 619 Jewish laws and regulations to be a Christian.

James is not fighting those with the exact opposite point of view: those who think that Jesus' death means that as long as you believe it doesn't matter what you do.

Their arguments are therefore aimed at two very different groups of people and consequently they are using the word 'works' in different ways.

Paul is talking about Jewish laws like circumcision etc. When James uses it, he's talking about Christian lifestyle, acts of loving kindness etc.

Paul is looking at how we are saved to eternal life. Salvation: what happens inside, in our hearts. James is looking at how our faith shows itself in our lives, what do others see on the outside? As Jesus had said, "By their fruits you will know them.

So Paul is talking about, how we become a believer and know we're a Christian and James is talking about, how we behave and show we're a Christian. So in fact they are not contradicting each other. Works of the law that are just outward religious acts to make it look like we are a Christian do not give us salvation and eternal life. It is those who don't just believe in Jesus but trust and obey Him will, by His Holy Spirit, do works that serve to build up the Kingdom of God

It is often the case that if you put the word 'real' in front of anything it sells more: real coffee, real leather etc. There's even a book called 'Real Men Don't Eat Quiche' and, according to my children, 'Coke a Cola' is the real thing.

James is talking about 'real' faith. Lots of people today, as in James' time think they're Christians and aren't. He's talking about how we can have real faith. And, in fact, re-stating what Jesus taught: it is by a person fruit that you know them.

Jesus is the source of works in people of faith, and those works are the 'fruit'. We wouldn't expect an apple tree to produce bananas. An apple tree bears apples because it is the nature of the tree to do that. Similarly Christians bear fruit of the spirit because it's the nature of the Holy Spirit to do that. So when James says faith produces 'works' (good deeds) he's not talking about keeping religious laws. He's talking about works that are the fruit of the Spirit.

This is important because Jesus also said that "many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!"

The Bible shows both sides, we're justified in the eyes of God by faith alone, impossible to achieve through works of law. But equally other people must be able to see by our behaviour that there is real faith in us. James says real faith is not something you just say, feel, think or believe it's something you DO. James and Paul both teach that it is faith in Christ alone that justifies us, but they also teach that a genuine, sincere, real, saving faith is always accompanied by good works. Not good works done to achieve salvation, but works that naturally flow from a born-again heart. Those who are saved love Jesus AND their neighbours. They live to serve the Lord and His people.

The view in the mirror

E-mail Print PDF

Looking at James’ letter
James 1:17-27
13th Sunday after Trinity 

We are just about to start on a new series of sermons based on the letter of James. Before we hear the reading here's a brief introduction as to who James is, who he was writing to and what his letter is generally about.

James was the brother of Jesus and even up until the cross probably thought that his half-brother Jesus had some bizarre ideas to say the least. It seems likely that he only came to faith after Jesus died and rose again because from the cross Jesus entrusted the care of His mother to John. After the resurrection appearances he came to faith and realised his relationship with Christ is more spiritual than physical.

This letter James has written is one of the earliest pieces of New Testament writing we have (AD45). He wrote it to the Jews who had become Christians and were now the church. Problems had become evident.


Choosing the bread of life

E-mail Print PDF

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 & John 6:56-69

Two readings today about choosing to follow God. In the Old Testament reading Joshua questions Israel about whether they really want to commit themselves to God with all that entails. In the Gospel reading Jesus questions the disciples about whether they want to carry on following Him or turn away like everyone else has?

Throughout the summer holidays we have been working our way through John chapter 6 which is all about Jesus explaining He is the bread of life. You may well be forgiven if you automatically think that Jesus’ was here referring to His body being broken as He describes at the Last Supper. But He isn’t as this is nearly 3 years before the Last Supper. He’s talking about He Himself being all that a follower needs to live. A follower cannot live without being fed and nurtured by Christ.


We moan, God carries on!

E-mail Print PDF

1 Kings 19:4-8, John 6:35, 41-51
10th Sunday after Trinity

Every year the lectionary gives us John chapter 6 for the whole of August. Having 5 weeks to speak on the same theme can be a little difficult. It reminds me of the story of a missionary to China in the late 19th century, Jonathan Goforth. After he’d spoken in a chapel in southern China, a man said to him, "I’ve heard you speak three times, and you always speak of Jesus. Why?”


Page 8 of 14

Dedicated Cloud Hosting for your business with Joomla ready to go. Launch your online home with CloudAccess.net.