New Year Sermon
Monday 2nd January 2012 @ 11:46 am
I’ve never published sermons on this blog … OK, maybe I have, but I certainly can’t remember doing that … mainly because until the last couple of years I didn’t write them out … but now that I do, I’ve had some interesting response from people who have taken them away after a service. One person recently made my 2012 get off to the best possible start when they rang to say they had read the sermon after the service and it’s impact on them was hugely significant. They had been listening to me preach it, but interestingly (and good for me to realize) when they read it themselves it made more sense and had a much bigger impact! And so .. from time to time, I’ll throw them up here in the hope they might make sense, even if they don’t when you hear them!
January 1st 2012.
Well – what did you receive at Christmas? Did you get anything nice?!?!
I did – I got lots of chocolate – obviously some folk think I need to fatten up a bit – well, I’m happy to help with that thought … I’ll do my bit. I also received lots of lovely things to make me smell nice … it seems there are also many people who think I need to smell nice!
My favourite present however – my favourite present came after Christmas day – it was a special deal in the shops. And it was all because my mother sent me out of her house … with her VISA card!!!
I have a new TV, and well, it’s lovely.
My 4 year old niece – when I arrived in Belfast after leading here on Christmas morning. When I arrived amongst the family I had presents for the children, and I started to give them out, and what a great moment it was whenever my beautiful four year old niece ripped open the paper of the lovely & very cool purple winter hat I had acquired on her behalf; and she says “Great, just what I didn’t want!!!”
This is the start of another new year … and I bet you’ve made some resolutions:
I’ll not ask for hands – but I imagine some of you are, like me, going to try and think of ways to deal with the chocolate that people have made you eat! Some people may be thinking of being more generous, more patient …
Me? Well, I turn 40 this year – yes I know I don’t look it – but I’ve had that most horrid of thoughts … It may be time that I have to start growing up!
It is a natural time for newness, a natural fresh start, a new beginning … and for the people called Methodists – we begin every year in the same way … whether the year that has just passed has seen the most incredible joy, favour, laughter and fun – or whether the year just passed has seen the most incredible pain, grief, tears and questions … and in the family of God gathered here this morning, both of those realities are present – and we come as we are:
some of us come with questions, brokenness, doubt and hurt;
and some of us come with ripe expectation, excitement, anticipation and eagerness … we are the family, and we come, together, however we come.
When we get to the words of the covenant prayer later in the service, we will all say, whatever road we have travelled in life to get here this morning, the following words:
I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
What a scary prayer!
What a prayer of commitment, dedication
… and what a prayer of release and freedom … because it is a prayer that says,
You are God,
I am not;
God, be God.
It is a prayer that says, God come and do those things on your earth that I cannot do – you’d better, because you are God and I am me. God, come amongst us and build your kingdom here because we mean it when we say, ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done – on earth, as it is in heaven’ … this covenant prayer is a prayer that says, come on Lord, build your kingdom, because it’s all about who you are, and not who I am … you are God, and here am I – all of me.
All of me that I understand,
all of me that I love, all of me that I don’t love,
the mistakes as well as the triumphs
The fears & the failures
The happiness & the sadness
The faith filled warrior willing to follow the Lord into vulnerability and uncertainty
And The hopeless coward who denies time & time again that Christ is Lord through his own selfish actions
All these things are tied up together in me … I wouldn’t dare speak for you …
And so I come to this prayer … and maybe we come to this prayer …
Holding all of those things within us as we say, here we are – God, be God.
Be the one who takes our greatest failures and turns them into an orchestra of beauty
Be God and take the fears that may overrun me, and turn them into a highway of glory for the prince of peace
And take the pride, the doubts, the selfish nature, and change those things into shinning lights for you and your Kingdom that we may all live in the safety & security that there is one God, one Lord and master of all;
We come before him with our covenant prayer this morning, and we say,
this is me
– here I am, all of me
… all I am & all I want to be is wrapped up in your Kingdom rule. For you are God …
I have a friend who is the senior pastor of a large church in America, he regularly tells his congregation, ‘we’re living a covenant life’ … that is how he describes the Christian walk – a life lived under the covenant which God has made with his world … that’s how he chooses to speak of the lives we live as Christ’s people – he doesn’t say ‘we’re Christians, hoorah’ he teaches his people ‘we are people of covenant.’
How can we say the same this morning – how can we live this with confidence – how can we stand together this morning, renew and know that we stand with the Lord of all who bids us renew ourselves again?
Let’s go back to the text:
Picture the scene of Genesis 15:
It is an incredible text, affirming the promise God has already made in
Genesis 12 … ?
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will
make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Did you hear that? God says, I will … I will … I will … ad YOU will be a blessing. We rely on what God has done and is doing! God does it … and the people of God live as His Blessing …
Now in chapter 15:
V7 – it’s a suzerain treaty – people reading & listening when this text was first aired would have recognised and known what it was. So in this dream Abram knows what he’s in.
· it was a battle treaty, a victor and defeated arrangement. Common place.
· The winner would demand the animals from the loser, and they would be placed in a public place (the birds, the ox etc.)
This is where the sermon gets 18+, so if you are of a nervous disposition then please close your ears for a few minutes …
· The animals would be cut in two and the loser would proceed from one end of the bloody ‘path’ to the other – stopping as they went to consider! When they got to the end of this trail of blood entrails, and there is no other step before arriving at the victor, so the meaning would be clear to the loser, ‘one more step and this will be you’ … the next bloody mess is you if you disobey or break this agreement …
Abram would watch in his vision, and would be ready to walk the bloody gambit, but imagine the amazement when the fire and smoke (Biblical symbols for God) come through the path towards him. God walks the bloody path. God comes to humanity, God stoops and advances toward Abram.
What’s the key?
God did it.
God … did … it
And of course when we come to the new testament, we see the life of the baby whose arrival we have just celebrated as God with us, Emmanuel, God amongst us. The baby who grew up to fully embody the love, justice, compassion and healing of the Kingdom of God;
we see that man being sentenced to death through a joint plot of the religious leaders and political leaders of the day,
and we see murdered on a cross …
… and then we see Him being raised to glorious new life,
bringing his kingdom love, justice, compassion, healing, mercy, love and forgiveness available to this world …
God did it.
You didn’t – I didn’t – we couldn’t … God did it. This covenant is not about what you do, can do, or have done, this is all about what God has done …
I remember being a group leader at CHW many years ago, sitting with a bunch of lads in their late teens – it was a great week, God had been speaking into the lives of many people:
we were in the forest, there had been good weather, the praise had been really.
It was the last conversation we would have as a small group and one of the older guys, sadly but meaningfully said,
“I don’t want to throw all my lot in with God, because I know I wouldn’t be up to it – I know it demands a lot.”
There was a moment of silence, and I honestly thought long and hard about how to respond. I think I thanked him for his honesty. But I also made sure he knew this:
“… yes, it might be demanding at some times – partnering with God to do what the prayer says ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ … bringing heaven down to earth, yes, that might be costly in ways we cannot yet fathom. But it’s not a deal you don’t do, because you don’t think you can’t make it!
God has done it.
God has created the covenant with his people.
God in Genesis 12 says, I will, I will I will …
God in Genesis 15 walks the bloody trail of the treaty …
God in Christ in the Gospels goes to the cross and rises again defeating death.
This is not about what you do, or do not do. This is about what God has done.”
And what God has done is offer us this gift – God has entered his world, God has invited life … life in all it’s fullness … God offers us nothing less than life with gods very self …
Don’t – don’t think you’re not worthy, you’re not; God makes us worthy by coming toward us, don’t think you couldn’t do it – it’s not about you … don’t rip off the wrapping to this greatest gift of all and say, ‘great, just what I didn’t want!!!’
Friends, as we stand and renew ourselves again, we stand on who God is …
Lord God hear our prayer as we bring ourselves …
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