Saturday, June 28, 2008

Oh Yes, it's another Saturday Night Sermon!

Late addition... this is without the Sunday morning amendments and tweaks which turned the sermon into something resembling one that would make your 'hearts burn within you' (as some disciples said on a famous road as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them!) - oh what, this isn't a dream...

Sermon - 29.6.08 – Acts 12: 1-11 & Matthew 16: 13-19

I’d like to continue that theme of prayer for a bit longer…

Recently I’ve been reading again from Ezra and Nehemiah – two books in the Old Testament - and Nehemiah is a wonderful example of a man of prayer. In Ezra and Nehemiah we find the people of God returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The Temple was the place of worship and sacrifice for the Jewish people, as well as the place where it was believed God had his dwelling on earth – where heaven and earth meet. (As they certainly did in Jerusalem when Jesus was there!).
In Ezra the people return from exile to rebuild the Temple, and in Nehemiah we find this man of God calling out to the Lord because the walls of Jerusalem have been destroyed leaving it unprotected and bringing shame on God’s people. He prays from his heart to God for Jerusalem and for the opportunity to be allowed to leave his job as the king’s cupbearer for a time and go back to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. And he also prays what we sometimes call ‘arrow’ prayers – shooting up a spontaneous prayer to God as he speaks to the king and seeks his goodwill.

And the thing that struck me afresh as I read Nehemiah was regarding how he expressed what God had lead him to do. In chapter 2 we hear Nehemiah’s words: “I had not told anyone what my God had put on my heart to do for Jerusalem.” He had a definite sense that God had put it on his heart to do this thing; and you see, God does that – he did it then and he still does it today. He lays on the hearts of his people an urge to do something for him, a particular need, a particular place, a particular task – and then we respond. That response needs to come first as prayer. Just as Nehemiah turned first to prayer – speaking back to God that new desire of his heart. Often it takes a long time for that thing to actually come into being, but our task is to walk with that burden, keep praying and listening and responding at the right time. And of course it’s as we pray earnestly that we learn to discern something that God has lain on our hearts from our own rush of ideas. And if you’re sitting here this morning thinking, “well that wouldn’t be me… I’m not knowledgeable enough, or good enough, or holy enough, or loving enough, or spiritual enough…” then think again, because God makes us all those things, not ourselves, and he can and does speak to any and all of his people.

You may remember back to the recent visit we had of V and S from the orphanage in India? V spoke of how that ministry was started and it began with his father seeing two children rummaging around in a dustbin for food, and from that sight God laid on his heart the desire to do something. And from that beginning, over much time, with much prayer, much generosity and much effort the expanding ministry of that place came about. God laid it on V’s father’s heart and from there he prayed. I expect many of those early prayers were something like, “what do I do Lord?”

Of course, one of the roles of your vicar is to be praying and asking God what he wants us to do and be in this place, and I'm committed to seeking God for these things. But often God puts somrthing on YOUR heart – sometimes about something he specifically wants you to do – sometimes in the church but not always – perhaps in your neighbourhood, perhaps in your place of work, perhaps in your lifestyle, and sometimes it’s about something for the church to pray into being. And that’s what I’m here for too – to talk with you, pray with you and discern with you what is from God.

Don’t be discouraged if the first response of the vicar to your suggestions is ‘go and pray earnestly for a time about that – as will I’ because first we need to patiently wait on God and we also need to be humble to test what we sense is from God. And also, we need to consider prayerfully the resources – people, time and money, to do what we hope for and dream of. We can come up with many of our own ideas and if we try and bring them all into being ourselves we’ll probably expend much time and energy, but not necessarily in the most kingdom affirming ways. So when a burden is laid on our hearts from God, He will provide all that’s needed – and most often he’ll expect us to be a big part of the provision. Does he want you to be involved with making it happen? Does he want you to give generously towards it, does he want you to keep praying for it? If we want to really be a church that lives out the things we’ve affirmed as our purpose: to worship God, to lead people to Christ, to grow in our faith, to build a loving Christian community and to serve a world in need, then we each need to make that happen with our time, our commitment, our money, our prayers, ourselves offered to God. It can be a challenging lifestyle but there’s none better as we live out this life of love and faith, following Christ as Lord!

What wonderful examples we have before us of the people of God through the ages and how God interacted with them. We’ve revisited Nehemiah, and today is the day in the church when we particularly remember Peter and Paul and we can take hope and inspiration from seeing how their lives of faith worked out and what God did in and through them. We have the privilege of seeing the whole story –
watching Paul change from murderer of the Christians to making Christ known as a great missionary and church planter, and watching Peter turn from the bumbling fisherman who was always getting things wrong (just read through one of the gospels again with it in mind to revisit the Jesus and Peter story!), to becoming the leader of God’s church, the one who stood up and spoke on the day of Pentecost – the one whom Jesus called ‘the rock on whom I will build my church.’ And Peter (as we also heard in our gospel reading) was the first to affirm the truth of who Jesus is – recognising him not only as a good teacher or as one of the prophets of old, but as the Messiah – the anointed one from God who would usher in God’s kingdom. Even so, and even having declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” he probably didn’t have the whole picture at that stage – it was only after the resurrection that the followers fully realised all that Jesus had been telling them about himself – but Peter did know that Jesus was ‘the One’, the one whom God said was coming!

Let’s be re-inspired today as we look at what God has done and promises still to do. Let’s be a people who take prayer seriously just as the early church did when they prayed earnestly for Peter’s release from prison, and just as Nehemiah did when God laid that burden for Jerusalem on his heart.
Let’s rediscover the way God changed Peter and enabled him to do amazing things for him by revisiting those accounts in the gospels and trusting that God can also take us on an amazing voyage of discovery, faith and service.
Let’s be a people ready to respond with patience, prayer and then action when God lays his burdens for a needy world on our hearts.
Even here in (N) – within these walls and many more outside are young people who need the security and guidance of the Lord God in their lives, are people who are lonely, or sick or bereaved or broken-hearted, are many elderly folk with no-one to look after them, or just chat to, or sort out their garden, or drive them to the hospital, are people who are worried sick about debt or bound up in a spend, spend, spend culture, are people who carry burdens of deep shame and horrendous self image because they don’t know that God loves them and offers forgiveness and cleansing through the shed blood of Christ.

These are the things God wants us to care about as he cares, and to pray earnestly about – saying, “Here am I, send me!” Or if you can’t yet pray that prayer, then pray, “Lord, help me to want to pray that prayer and be willing for you to send me.”

Let's pray...


At June 28, 2008 10:42 pm, Blogger Songbird said...

You bring up something that is crucial to discernment: time/patience/humility--okay, three things! I needed those reminders. Thanks.

At June 30, 2008 4:00 am, Blogger She Rev said...

I am so glad you spoke up last night. I have been blessed for reading this sermon. I am 6 months into a call as a solo pastor, having come from 5.5 years as an associate. Frankly in my last the discernment piece wasn't necessarily all mine to do. Things on my heart didn't really get priority, so I haven't known how to go forward in my current place.

Your sermon was a word from God for me. I have had something on my heart in this particular place for a few weeks now, and it coincides with something that has been on heart for almost 10 years. It seems that things are aligning for me, but I have no idea if this is all going to "fly" with the congregation. I want the leaders to spend time in discernment about this and you gave me a much needed way to explain it to them and lead them through it.

I have to admit I have not really had a rich prayer life, but I appreciate your encouragement for me in delving into this aspect of spirituality where I am now.

Grace and peace!


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