Jun 16, 2016
This is the full text of the sermon. Direct audio download link.
We might not think it but all of us have stories about how Christ’s love is at work or has worked in our lives.
And to some extent most of us will have at least some stories that are a bit similar to the experiences of those who wrote today’s Bible readings.
Our first reading is about Elijah. He had just confronted the pagan gods... It was a great victory, but the Queen was angry and wanted to kill him. He felt he was all alone... he felt that he was burnt out... he could do no more... he felt that he was surrounded by enemies... Maybe he was depressed...
But God spoke to him. God Gave him strength for the journey ahead. God didn’t speak in some huge loud way but in the still small voice.
Have you ever felt burnt out, or surrounded by enemies, felt like you could do no more? I’m sure all of us have. I know I’ve felt like that many times.
It was worst when I was at school in year 9. Because I was often bullied- surrounded by enemies. I felt I was all alone. At times I felt like I could not go on.
But at church I was not bullied, and on camps with a neighbouring church and in my Sunday School class, I learned about God’s love and I was given strength for the journey. I learned that I was not all alone. There was the church and other Christians, but much more important - God was with me too!
In Psalm 42 and 43 the story is almost exactly the same as in the story about Elijah. The psalm writer feels abandoned and surrounded on all sides by enemies. But the psalm writer also calls out to God. He remembers what God has done in the past. He remembers what it was like to worship with God’s people and so he asks God to help.
As I said before, I’m sure all of us have been through similar things. I remember once feeling like the Psalm writer in psalm 42 and 43. I was an older teenager and felt that I was all alone in the world. One night I ran out into the back yard and called out to God "Are you there!, Do you care about me?" I can't recall how it happened now but after a while, I did sense God's love and presence and I went to bed in peace.
Or perhaps we have a story like
Paul’s Story. Paul had been a Pharisee, what had been important to
him, was the Law. The rules, being good, doing right, meeting God’s
standard. For a good part of his life he was very self righteous,
but then one day, he realised that he could not reach God’s perfect
standard. As we learn in Romans chapter 7:7-11, when Paul realised
he could not reach God’s perfect standard he was racked by guilt,
tied up with a sense of his own unworthiness. BUT as we learn in
today’s reading he discovered there was another way. That way is
the way of grace and faith. Our sins are freely forgiven because
Jesus takes our place. We don’t have to struggle to perfectly obey
the Jewish law.
As verses 23 & 26 put it: Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed....[BUT] in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Gal 3:23, 26 NRSV)
There have been a couple of times when I have come to a fuller understanding of God’s grace in my life. One of them was my time at college. Before I went to college, I was always early to everything. I was so anxious to obey the rules that I would feel terribly guilty if I was ever late. At college I learned much more deeply what I already knew. God loves us and accepts us as we are, not because we obey the rules. Since then I have lived a much happier and free-er life.
Finally, none of us I believe are
possessed by a legion of demons, but perhaps some of us have at
times been possessed, or grabbed a hold of, or seized by fear or
anxiety, or hatred or bitterness, or un-forgiveness by some other
emotion or force or circumstance that makes our lives hell. Perhaps
like that young man we have been delivered from what has a hold of
us by Jesus and his love!
I have shared before how, as a young man, because of all the bullying I went through, I was very timid and had almost no self confidence. But through my teenage years as faith awoke in me and I accepted Christ, fear was driven out of me and confidence grew in me. Slowly I became what I am now, not perfect, not complete but none the less, a confident minister of the gospel.
Image courtesy of Wayne McHugh