Posts tagged ‘Statue’

August 25, 2014

“But who do you say that I am?”

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(Photo: Statue of Christ in the Gothic Memorial Church, Kylemore Abbey, Co. Galway.  July 2014)

Sermon for Sunday 24th August.  Text – Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’

Sooner or later we all have to deal with the Great Question. The great question is one that Jesus asked of His disciples and it is a question which each of us must give an answer to also. The question Jesus asks is: “But who do you say that I am?’ (Repeat).

Those who have grown up in the church and can recite the creeds in their sleep are perhaps most in danger. We are so used to the liturgy and the prayers that we go through a church service on autopilot, without ever actually really engaging with what we are (or should be) doing. We might answer the question from our head saying that, “Yes, Jesus is of course the Son of God our Saviour who died for us upon the cross and rose again on the third day etc. etc.” And we can say all this (and even sound convincing when we say it), but the reality is that even though our heads know the right thing to say, in actual fact our hardened hearts are far from Him. We need to let go of our protective wall of hardness because not only does it keep people out, it keeps Christ out too.

In the previous chapter (15), in verse 8, Jesus, speaking about the religious church-going folk of the day said: “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

I don’t like saying it, but that is a warning for us. We are guilty. We honour God with our lips when we are in church, but our hearts are far from Him. What do we need to do?

First of all we need to repent. We need to acknowledge our sin to God. We need to say sorry for just going through the motions of Christianity. We need to say sorry for coming to church merely out of a sense of duty. We need to say sorry for busying ourselves with all the activity of church and parish life and thinking that that is enough to make God like us.

Secondly we need to be thankful. God has provided the means for us to be right with Him. Jesus Christ, the Son of God took upon Himself our sins upon the cross. When we repent, when we say “sorry”, He will forgive us and He will cleanse us from our sins. Because of Jesus, God the Father sees us as spotless and without any blemish when we allow Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour. Let us fully take on board what God has done for us and let the roof of this place be lifted off with the power and strength and passion of our thankful praise and worship.

Thirdly we need to invite God to come into our hearts and dwell there. Perhaps we have been going to church all our lives and yet we have never unlocked the door of our hearts and let Him in. Maybe we let Him in years ago but over the time since the weeds have grown up and we have become closed to His working in our lives; we have built up barriers of resistance to the Spirit and we no longer know His power or His leading in and of our lives.

Fourthly, we need to get serious about serving Him. Let’s get this straight, turning up at church is not serving God. We can only truly serve God once we have got to know Him and we can only get to know Him once we have acknowledged Him as Lord and Saviour and invited Him into our hearts.   Once we have a relationship with God, He will then lead us and show us how, when and where He wants us to serve Him. This is a big obstacle for many people because we don’t want to be told what to do. We want to be in charge and we want to make our own decisions. But it is impossible to be a Christian and be our own boss. It is impossible to serve Christ and only go where we want to go and do what we want to do. It just doesn’t work like that. He has to be in charge, He has to be number one. If we look at our lives and wonder why God has never really used us, the answer most certainly is that it is because we have not let Him! To begin with, when we were a young Christian, God tried to gently lead us, but every step of the way we thought we knew best, and now look at us, we no longer know God’s leading and our life for Him is but a pale shadow of what it could have been. But don’t despair, whether we are 18 or 80 it is not too late. All we have to do is acknowledge our sin and rededicate our lives to God, to allow Him to come into our hearts and lives and then when He asks us to do something we do it! He will never ask us to do something without helping us and giving us the power to do it. Yes it will mean leaving our comfort zones but He is with us and as St. Paul said “If God is for us who can ever be against us?” (Rom. 8:31b).

Where is our Passion? Where is our commitment?

Benjamin Kwashi, a Christian leader from Jos, Nigeria, tells the following story of how the gospel came to his part of the country:

Missionaries came to my home area of Nigeria in 1907. One of them was a man named Reverend Fox. Reverend Fox was a professor at Cambridge University, and when he arrived his walk with Christ was so deep that he led many people to Christ. He founded a church and moved about 10 kilometers away to Amper, my own hometown, and founded the church there too. How a first-class [scholar] from the University of Cambridge was communicating to illiterates, I don’t know, but God suddenly gave him favour and people were turning to Jesus Christ. So many people came to Christ that he wrote to his younger brother, who was a physician also in Cambridge, and asked him to come and help him because medical practice was needed. As his brother started the journey from England, Reverend Fox fell ill and died. Soon after his brother arrived, he also fell ill and died.

The Church Mission Society wrote to their father, who was also a pastor. When they told him he had lost two sons, he and his wife [mourned deeply], but then in their grief they did something astounding. They sold their land and property, took the proceeds to the mission society, and said, “As much as we grieve the death of our two sons, we will only be consoled if the purpose for which they died continues.” They gave that money and walked away.

Recently I looked through the profile of those two missionaries who came to my hometown. They both had first-class educations and degrees from the best universities. They died as young men—the oldest was only 32. They gave up everything to serve Jesus and bring the gospel to my country. Were they crazy? No, they had heard what Jesus had said, they believed it, and they were willing to stake their whole lives on the truth of Jesus’ words. These men wanted to end their lives well. No matter how long or short their life, it wasn’t going to be wasted, but they would invest it for eternity.[1]

Will we give up everything to serve Jesus? Are we willing to stake our whole life on the truth of Jesus’ words? Today, right now He looks us in the eye and He says “What about you, who do you say that I am?” Will we give up everything to serve Him? Today is our opportunity to say enough is enough and to stop our old selfish and insecure way of living. Today is the day to invite Him into our hearts and say ‘here I am Lord, I am Yours, I will serve You from now on for the rest of my life. You are number One.’

Let us pray together: Dear Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for my sin, for going my own way and being my own boss. I acknowledge my sin before You now … Thank you Lord that You died for me, in my place upon the cross. I give my life to You now and I invite You to come into my life, into my heart. Please use me Lord to serve you in whatever way You wish. Please lead me and guide me in Your ways, because You are the way the truth and the life. Lord I ask all this in Your precious and Holy Name … Amen.

[1] http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2014/august/3081814.html

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March 14, 2010

The return of the "Prodigal Son"

Nikon D70s, 1/500 sec, f10, -1/3 EV ISO 200 (Bigger)
Waiting on Shore“, Rosses Point, Co. Sligo
Today’s Sermon, Text Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (Mothering Sunday)

Facebook is sometimes in the news for bad reasons but there is also plenty about it that is good too. One of the good things about it is that it brings people who had lost contact together again. Here’s an example: When Avril Grube’s marriage came to an end in 1982, she decided to remain in her hometown of Poole in Dorset, while her husband returned to his native country of Hungary. The couple had one son, Gavin, of whom Avril was awarded sole custody. Avril’s husband was only given visitation rights.
One day, while in town to visit his son, Avril’s ex-husband asked to take Gavin to the local zoo. Avril agreed, and off the two went for a day of fun. As day turned into night, however, Avril became worried. She waited and waited for them to return, but they never did. She would soon learn that Gavin’s father had taken the boy back to Hungary.
For years Avril and her sister searched for Gavin, going so far as to take up their case with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the authorities at the Hungarian Embassy. But their efforts were fruitless. Over time, Avril slowly lost hope of ever seeing her son again.
But 27 years later—27 years—she found him.
In March of 2009, Avril’s sister typed Gavin’s name into an internet search engine and found his Facebook profile. Avril and her sister immediately started sending him messages. When Gavin didn’t respond—they later learned he doesn’t use his account much—they started messaging his children, who also had Facebook accounts. Eventually, the two finally reconnected after so many years apart.
“She is absolutely on cloud nine,” Avril’s sister told a reporter for the BBC. “They have been hugging—really, really happy.”
Brian Lowery, managing editor, PreachingToday.com; source: BBC News, “‘Kidnapped son’ found on Facebook” (5-29-09)
The parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’, (as it is often known), is probably familiar to most of us. It is a very powerful, moving and challenging story about a Father and his two sons. This being Mothers’ Day, it is not too hard to apply the role of the Father to that of the Mother also. Most parents of grown-up children will be able to relate (at least a little) to what the Father goes through, and all of us (as God’s children) know what it is like (at least a little bit) to be like that ‘Prodigal son’. The older son is typical, taking responsibility and protocol seriously and the younger son too is typical (perhaps stereotypical) as carefree and with little or no understanding of duty or respect.
So we begin with the younger son saying to his father ‘give me my share of the estate’. He wants his inheritance NOW! He is naive and has little or no sense of worth or respect. He seems to be only thinking about himself and what he wants. Why does the Father agree to this very unusual request? Perhaps we wonder why God lets the sinner go his or her own way. Why doesn’t God stop them, we ask? Perhaps sometimes the only way we can learn is by learning the hard way.
So the property is divided between the two sons. The younger son collects together everything he has and sets off for a distant country. What does he do? We are simply told that he ‘squandered his wealth in wild living.’ In the original language it reads that he ‘scattered his resources’, it is like he literally throws his money away. Now he is penniless things get even worse. A severe famine comes over the foreign country where he is. Desperate for a job, the only thing he can find is one feeding pigs (a job that would have been very dishonouring for a Jew, for whom pigs were ‘unclean’ (see Leviticus 11:7)). So he has hit rock bottom, even the food that the pigs are getting is better than what he has. Here is the lostness of a sinner – but at least he realises it, many people today are lost and do not realise it.
At last, in the hour of his deepest need, he begins to come to his senses. Even his Fathers servants have a much better life. To be outside of God’s family is to be utterly alone. So he makes plans to return home. It was only a short time ago that he couldn’t wait to get away from home, now he can’t wait to return, no matter if he is only hired as a slave when he gets there.
He has a thin thread of hope that his Father will take him on a a slave, perhaps after a severe telling-off and punishment. Little did he know what was about to happen. He might have for a time forgotten all about his Father, but his Father never forgot about him. There may have been times in our lives when we have forgotten all about God as we have gone away from Him, but he never forgets about us.
But the son doesn’t even get near his home before something extraordinary happens. The Father couldn’t care about protocol, with unconditional loving abandonment, not caring what anyone else thinks or says he runs, yes he runs to his son. His heart is overflowing with love and compassion. He drapes his arms around his child and kisses him. The son manages to begin his long-rehearsed apology which no doubt is now from his heart but his Father doesn’t notice it – he is too overcome with joy.
You know, I have met people who think that God can’t or won’t forgive them. People often see God as stern, an old serious man with a white beard and a pointing finger. This is very different to the Father that Jesus told us about, who actively seeks out the sinner and goes looking for the lost, or as Francis Thompson describes him in his famous poem, He is “the Hound of Heaven”.
The celebration begins. The Father calls for the best robe to be brought and a ring and sandals, for the fattened calf to be killed and for a celebration to begin. O what rejoicing there is in heaven Jesus tells us over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7). What celebration there was in heaven the day you gave your life to Christ / what celebration there will be for you the day you decide to give your life to Christ if you haven’t yet done so.
The elder son had been working in the fields. He hears all the music and dancing and wonders what is going on. A servant tells him that his younger brother has come home and they have killed the fatted calf and are celebrating.
The elder brother is enraged. He refuses to go to the party. His Father comes out and pleads with him. Here is a great irony. The son who was on the outside (the younger son, is now on the inside and the son who was on the inside (the elder son) is now on the outside! This is what Jesus means when He talks about the first being last and the last being first. Where are we on that scale – Do we resent God for forgiving those who we think we are better than? God will lavish His grace on the undeserving and that included us – none of us deserve God’s love, none of us are ‘good enough’ to ‘earn’ His forgiveness. Who are we to think like the older brother – and yet we do – and if we do we need to be careful, very careful.
The Father explains to the elder son that there is no need to be angry, everything he has belongs to him. The elder son has always had reason to celebrate because everything will one day be his. One of the things that makes this such a powerful parable is that the story is left hanging – we don’t know what the elder brothers response is. Of course the whole point is to provoke a response from us – what would we do in his place?
God’s grace is unfair and that means it is is unfair for us all. We don’t deserve God’s love, we don’t deserve His forgiveness. Yet once we experience it, who are we to question who God should forgive.
God’s open arms extend to all who will come to Him, they are open for you, for me and for anyone who will turn around from their old way of life. All of us are in this parable somewhere, are we the younger brother before he leaves home, are we the younger brother who has gone away are we the younger brother who is at last beginning to come to his senses? Are we the younger brother fearful of what the Father will say, are we afraid to go home? Are we the older brother? Do we have a superiority complex!? Do we think of ourselves better than we ought? Whoever we are and wherever we are we need to come to the Father and trust that when we do so it will have been the best and most important decision we have ever made… Amen.