Here is the text of yesterday’s sermon. Unfortunately there was a problem with the audio recording.
This is a very special Sunday in the life of our church. Although we know that the church calendar officially begins with Advent, in many ways today is the beginning of a new year too.
There are many ways to talk about time. Think of the difference between a minute and a moment. When describing a meaningful event we say, “It happened at just the right moment.” “It happened at just the right minute” is not quite the same.
Today is January 18th, 2015. That’s the correct date. But it is more than that. In a few minutes we are going to be sharing testimonies downstairs. Every one describes a moment or a season in which God did something wonderful, often at just the right time. When we share them, some of us will find that we are hearing them at just the right time.
We live our lives in the constant flow of the future coming into the present and moving into the past. Managing that movement can be a challenge. Some of us struggle with regrets about the past and anxiety about the future. And that anxiety keeps us so preoccupied that we miss the present.
But the human capacity to remember the past and imagine the future can also be a great blessing. When we look back and see God’s faithfulness, His patience and mercy, His aligning of circumstances, His opening and closing doors; when we see the many times we escaped the full consequences of our sins or blunders, when we did not reap the full harvest of what we had sewn, how God worked things together for our good — even with the things that do not seem to be fully redeemed yet– we are moved to praise and thanksgiving.
Certainly we have seen God’s hand in the life of St Peter’s, and His unmistakable guidance and help.
But in addition to our memories, God has given us the ability to imagine the future. This unique human capacity enables us to dream and to plan, to talk about things that do not yet exist and to work together to make them happen.
What if our language had no future tense? We would be stuck in the past and the present.
How would that affect our relationships?
The future tense is the key to building personal relationships. It enables us to make commitments and promises. When we keep those promises a bond of trust is formed.
The God of the Bible is a promise-making and a promise-keeping God. This is amazing! Powerful people do not make promises to underlings. They don’t commit themselves. In fact many leaders make it a point to be unpredictable, to do the opposite of what is expected, to be random, even to break promises intentionally, to keep their followers guessing. This creates chronic anxiety, which they manipulate and exploit to their advantage.
Some people grew up with fathers like this. You never knew what was coming, whether good or bad. This is not our God! He is just the opposite. He wants to build trust by making and keeping promises, and by being always consistent with His nature.
He invites us to look back in gratitude, and, yes, sometimes to learn from our mistakes. But He also invites us to look forward, and to step out in faith with Him on the basis of His proven reliability.
Our lesson from Deuteronomy 30 depicts a moment in the life of God’s people when God makes a commitment to them, and asks them to make a trust commitment in return. Moses has been leading the people. They have seen God’s faithfulness over and over again. And now He gives them His final words. God places before the people the path of life and the path of death. And He begs them to choose life.
That little phrase could sum up God’s constant call to humanity from the beginning of time: “Choose life!” “I have given you life, and I offer you the path to more and greater and deeper, more abundant life. But you can reject it.”
Verse 19. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore (promised) to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
This is a call to a certain kind of future: loving the Lord, obeying His voice, holding fast to Him. Notice the personal language here. Not holding fast to a formula or a law, but Him. Of course there is a law, but behind the law is the Law-Giver. Our relationship is with Him, and it is to be rooted in love.
Now, jump to our gospel lesson, the very familiar Great Commission. In Matthew’s account these are Jesus’ last words to His disciples before his ascension. Like Moses, Jesus is painting a picture of a future. And He is calling them to a commitment.
Go out into the world, go out into the future, and as you go:
- Make disciples everywhere, of all nations, all peoples.
- Baptize them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
- Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you.
And I promise I will be with you always.
- Commit yourself to a future of disciple-making.
- Reproduce in others the kind of trust you have in me.
- Follow the same pattern of apprenticeship that I taught you.
And don’t worry, I am going to be with you every step of the way.
Jesus says, “This is to be your future, a life of disciple-making with me ever-present at your side.” This commission is for us too. It can be our future, if we choose it. That is what a command or a commission is: a blueprint for the desired future. When Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” this is a picture of a life and a future, starting right now and going on for eternity.
What would a future of whole-hearted love for God look like? What would 5 years of intentional apprenticeship to Jesus look like? What would it look like for us, for St Peter’s?
Sometimes the past is easier for us to see than the future.
As Anglicans we cherish the past, with grateful hearts. The history of the Reformation in England is amazing. Somehow, God enabled the Reformers in England to strip away the corruption that had accumulated in the Roman church, without destroying all the beautiful treasures it retained from the ancient faith. Some say the Reformers changed too much, others say not enough. But what emerged preserved the gospel in England, and now there are 80 million Anglican Christians worldwide.
The Anglican way was built on a few essential commitments:
- the whole Bible, read, taught, and preached in the language of the common man,
- salvation by grace through faith,
- a deep respect for the ancient Creeds and for the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion,
- a beautiful liturgy to guide common worship and to form common faith.
Further, we believe God is to be worshiped in beauty and reverence. It is right for us to come before His presence with awe and wonder. Worship brings us into the presence of the God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. Through the written Word we encounter the Living Word, Jesus Christ, who also comes to us as we receive His Body and Blood according to His command.
But it dare not stop there. The Jesus we encounter in the Word and the Sacraments is the same Jesus who calls us to follow Him, to become His disciples and to make disciples. If our worship stops short of making disciples, then it is not worthy of our Lord, no matter how beautiful it might be.
The test of any church or tradition is the Great Commission. Do those who follow that tradition becoming followers of Jesus Christ? Are they becoming like their Master?
The Anglican way offers an effective path to follow Jesus, potentially. Our liturgy takes us to Jesus every week. We hear the Gospel, we encounter His unconditional love. We receive His forgiveness and sustaining grace. We offer ourselves to Him for the renewing of our minds and equipping for service. The whole thing is active and interactive. We are not just spectators. But if we are not careful this potent means of grace can become an end in itself.
Yes, we believe that how we worship is very important. We don’t make it up as we go, and we don’t follow trends just because they are popular. But it is easy to forget the why behind the how. Why do we do what we do how we do it? What is the purpose? It is always to love and to please our Lord.
But what pleases Him? He told us:
- Trusting and following Him.
- Joining Him on the path of discipleship and inviting others to join us.
- Conforming our lives to His life and become living witnesses, living examples of His Gospel.
And what is the Gospel? Simply, it is everything that He taught us, and the life that He led when He was with us.
Can we love our Lord without embracing His call to be and to make disciples?
Can our worship be pleasing to God if it stops short of making disciples?
As we move into this new year in the life of St Peter’s I want to propose the following mission statement to guide us. I believe it is biblical and sound, but let’s try it out this year.
Three simple phrases: “Loving our Lord, Living His Gospel, Making Disciples”
Why do we exist? “To Love our Lord, To Live His Gospel, and To Make Disciples.”
I had first thought “Knowing God,” but knowing can be theoretical and have no real life impact. Then I thought, “Loving God.” That’s better. But there are many notions of God. God can be generic term for any deity. We don’t love just any God, not just any higher power, however we may imagine Him or It. We love the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. As St Paul put it, “In Him [Jesus], the fullness of God dwelt in bodily form.” And as Jesus said it, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” And He is not just the Lord, He is our Lord. It is a personal relationship. So, we begin with “Loving Our Lord.”
Now if we love Him, Jesus said we will keep His commandments, we will do what He taught, we will pattern our life after Him. So “Loving our Lord” naturally expresses itself in “Living His Gospel.” Not just talking about it or preaching it. Those are important, but not enough. The Gospel must be demonstrated in ordinary living.
Finally, the objective of Loving Our Lord and Living His Gospel is always to make disciples: to demonstrate through our lives that Jesus is trustworthy in every way, so that others will come to trust, follow and love Him too.
Let’s go into this new year with this vision for ourselves and for St Peter’s. “Loving our Lord, Living His Gospel, Making Disciples.” As we sincerely and prayerfully ponder these simple phrases He will begin to show us how to put it into action. I look forward to walking into this future with Jesus, Our Lord, and with you.