Sunday, September 17, 2006

17 September 2006 - All need to be saved

Sunday 17th September - "All need to be saved"
Romans 3:9-20 and Matthew 7:1-11)
[Credits to author James Alison and blogger Kim Fabricus]

Introduction – What Makes Methodism Methodist?

One of my hobbies for the last couple of years has been to discuss different aspects of Christian teaching and theology with other people on the internet.

A question that comes up repeatedly is “What is it that makes Methodists Methodist?”

Some people probably know that neither John nor Charles Wesley ever wanted to start a new denomination – they both wanted their followers to remain Anglican. But I think that Methodist has also become a victim of its own success. I think that Methodism was so successful in 19th century America that today it often seems as if there isn’t anything particularly unique about Methodism. For many people, the Methodist way of telling the Christian story has almost become “generic Protestantism”.

But over the last few hundred years, Methodism has made a contribution to Christian doctrine. And so in thinking about “What makes Methodism Methodist” I thought that this evening and for the next three Sunday evenings that I am planned to preach, that I would look at some of the very basic beliefs of Methodism.

For those of you who are theology boffins, I’m not claiming that we’ll look at Methodist doctrine in great depth. For those of you who want to run screaming from the room at the sound of the words “doctrine” and “theology”, please relax. It’s my intention to try to communicate the basics in a fairly down-to-earth way that will help you on your Christian journey. You can tell me later whether I’ve succeeded or not.

For this evening and for the next three evenings, I’d like to use a framework that has been called “The Four Alls”
- All need to be saved
- All can be saved
- All can know they are saved
- All can be saved to the uttermost

John Wesley is not the originator of “The Four Alls”. This “catch phrase” was developed at the turn of the 20th century. It’s a catch-phrase that tries to express the core of the Methodist faith, what it is that we believe as Methodists.

- All need to be saved
- All can be saved
- All can know they are saved
- All can be saved to the uttermost.

All Need to be Saved

Tonight I’d like us to look at the first of these – “All need to be saved”.

“All need to be saved” is a way of expressing in “real life language” the Christian doctrine of original sin. It’s the message that we are all sinners. It’s the message that we cannot save ourselves and therefore must look to God for our salvation.

But now I need to own up and tell you that I’ve got a very personal problem. And my problem is that I’ve now put myself – as a preacher – in the position of preaching that you and I are sinners. Personally, I have less of a problem telling you that I’m a sinner than I have telling you that you’re a sinner.

So I’d like to begin by sharing with you just a tiny part of my testimony about my own Christian journey.


There is a school of thought which says that most people don’t know that they are sinners and that therefore there is no point in preaching the Good News that God wants to forgive people unless and until you first preach to people that they are sinners.

For good or for evil, I grew up in a congregation where this was the point of view. So every sermon was about 9/10th “you are a sinner” and about 1/10th “God forgives you”.

I actually grew up thinking that the Gospel message – God’s good news – was something like. “Jesus died to pay the price for your sins so God the father is obliged to send you heaven, but he’s really annoyed about having been hoodwinked by the crucifixion.”

Of course, I had heard the message that God loves me, but what I mostly heard was “God hates sin and you are a sinner”. Now, in the logic of a child, what that combination boils down to is “God hates me”.

So I grew up thinking that God loved me a bit but that he hated me a lot. I actually got to the point where hearing the words “God loves and forgives you” made me ashamed and made me run and hide from God’s presence.

And then, one Sunday, many years after I’d left the congregation in which I was raised, the preacher said “God loves you” and suddenly, by the grace of God, I got it.

Oh! God loves me! Real love! Oh! When they said God forgives me unconditionally, they meant unconditionally. God accepts me as I am, God forgives me! Wow!

And I wanted to get up in the middle of that sermon and tell everyone the good news.

Being Wrong Can Be Forgiven

“All need to be saved”. We are all sinners. I’m a sinner and you’re a sinner too. We all need to be saved.

But, dare I say it? There is a joyful flip-side to being a sinner.

And the joyful flip-side is that “being wrong can be forgiven.” When I say I’m wrong, I open myself up to the benefits of God’s forgiveness. It’s when I insist that I don’t have a plank in my eye but that you do have a speck in your eye, that the trouble starts.

All need to be saved. But being wrong can be forgiven.

The evangelist J. John tells a story about hailing a taxi on the streets of London and asking to go to Lambeth Palace – the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The taxi driver asked J. John if he was “one of those Christians” and J. John responded “yes”.

“Please, will you pray to God for me”, the taxi driver said, “I really need God’s help”. J. John said “You can pray to God yourself” “No I can’t,” the taxi driver said. “You don’t know the half of it. God wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Not after the things I’ve done.”

J. John asked the taxi driver if he wanted him to pray with him and the driver pulled the taxi to the side of the road and they prayed together. And the taxi driver learned that he could come before God just as he was that that God did want to have something to do with him.

*I* think that most of us know, down deep in our hearts, that we need forgiveness. I think that there are many people in this world – like me and like the taxi driver – who want to run away from God and who do run away from God because we are ashamed of who and what we are.

I expect that there are a small number of people who don’t think that they need forgiveness, but I don’t think that it’s my job as a preacher to try to persuade them – I think it’s the job of the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sins.

But I do believe that it’s my job as a preacher to make explicit and to put into words what we all know about ourselves down deep inside – that we are sinners. I do think it’s my job to articulate the truth that God has told about us: that all need to be saved.

But I especially think that it’s my job as a preacher to proclaim that the “joy” of being a sinner is the fact that God offers us his love and forgiveness. All we have to do to benefit from his love and forgiveness is to accept them.

First God Forgives, Then we Repent

We don’t have to beg God to forgive us. We don’t have to persuade God to forgive us. God’s forgiveness is offered to us because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Some people say we have to repent before God will offer us forgiveness. I disagree and I certainly don’t think that’s a Methodist view of God.

I do however think that repentance is necessary, but not because God won’t forgive us if we don’t. What repentance does is to open our eyes to accepting God’s forgiveness.

As one of my internet acquaintances says, “God forgives you, therefore you are free to repent.” God forgives first and it’s because of his forgiveness, that we are free to repent.

It’s as if forgiveness were a Christmas present and God puts the Christmas present of forgiveness under the Christmas tree, but the only way we can benefit from the present is to open it up. It is only when we open the present of forgiveness, that we can benefit from what’s inside. But the present was already there before we decided to open it.


The first of the “Four alls” is: All need to be saved. This phrase expresses the biblical truth that we are all sinners. However, the joy of the Gospel message is that before we were aware of our sin, Christ died for us.

Before we even repent, God offers his forgiveness. God forgives us. Therefore we are free to repent. Being wrong can be forgiven.

Come to the table of the Lord, all who are hungry for God’s forgiveness. Come and feast on the banquet that God has prepared for you before the foundation of the world. This is God’s table. His food, like his forgiveness, is freely offered to anyone who will take it. Amen

17 September 2006 - God, but not as we expect

Sunday, 17 September 2006
(text: Mark 8:27-38)


By George, I think he’s got it!

No, I’ve not got the citation wrong. I’m not quoting Professor Higgens from My Fair Lady and I’m not referring to Eliza Doolittle

I’m talking about Simon Peter, one of the twelve and a close companion of Jesus during his mission on earth.

In the story so far as Mark is telling it, Jesus has performed deeds and miracles of power Jesus has healed his fellow Jews, but Jesus has also healed Gentiles and he’s shown that he does not believe in following the religious system that the Pharisees have set up.

And the Evangelist Mark, as he is telling us the story of who Jesus is and what Jesus is here for, is just about to close the first half of his story and to move on to the second half of his story. And the second half of the story of Jesus begins with Peter finally “getting it”. “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ.”

By George, I think he’s got it! “Finally!” we sigh! We saw it coming ages ago as Mark told his story, but the disciples just didn’t seem to get it.

The only thing is that Peter doesn’t quite “get it”. He’s still expecting Jesus to be the kind of Messiah that he – Peter – is looking for. The conquering hero who is going to drive the Roman occupation out of Israel. The Messiah as a general whose display of earthly power will prove that God is on the side of the people of Israel.

So, when Jesus says that he is going to suffer, that he is going to be rejected by the elders, that he will die and rise again, Peter takes Jesus to one side and gives him a good talking to. Because everyone knows that the Messiah can’t suffer. A suffering Messiah is as contradictory a concept as a winner who loses. It just can’t happen.

God incarnate has been present in Peter’s life for the last three years, but not in the way that Peter expected.

God – but not as we expect

I really like the way that Mark portrays the disciples – and especially the way he portrays Peter. Mark’s Peter is impulsive, loud, big-hearted and is forever getting things wrong. I don’t know why, but I feel a certain affinity for this picture of Peter.

And here he is again: The Messiah has been present with Peter but not in the way that Peter expected.

Isn’t that just the way that we are? We pay lip-service to the idea that God is everywhere, that God is among us in the here and now, but we don’t always live out that stated faith

It is sometimes said that children have an innate sense of justice and fairness. Since I’m not a parent, I will stand to be corrected by those who are parents, But since I have also been a child, I’d like to offer the observation that children’s so-called innate sense of fairness and justice is often an innate sense of “*I* didn’t get the same as the other guy.”

In fact, I’ll be so bold as to suggest that it’s not just children who have this sort of “innate” sense of justice: so do many if not most of us adults. Most of us are well aware when we’ve not got the same breaks as someone else, but we often overlook our high-minded concepts of “justice” and “fairness” when the situation involves the other guy not getting as much as we have.

For many of us, our view of “how things ought to be” is a sort of “Superman” view of the world. It’s a world where the “bad guy” is clearly defined and where the “good guys” – that’s us of course – are clearly defined. It’s a world where the good guys are stronger than the bad guys and where God makes sure that the bad guys get punished. If there is an agent of God – a Superman – who can go after the bad guys and make sure that they get punished, then so much the better.

Then everyone lives happily ever after. The world will be a world of peace because everyone will be following the good-guys’ rules and they’ll get punished if they don’t.

This might be a simplistic picture, but I think that’s the way it is for many of us. I’d suggest that even those of us who know better, even those of us who know that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again secretly harbour this “Superman” view of God and of Jesus. I’ll hold up my hand and admit that, down-deep, I think that this is the way that “things ought to be”.

A Flaw in the Picture

But if you stop and think about it, there is a flaw in this picture of God as Superman, in our picture of a God who takes sides between people. (And I’m talking about God taking sides between people, not about a God who tells us the difference between right and wrong.)

There is a flaw in the picture of God as a God who says “these people are the good guys and those people are the bad guys”. What if *I* am the person who God does not love? What if *I* am the person who God is itching to punish?

Because if God takes sides between people, then by definition someone has to be the person who God does not love.

God is among us but not the way that we expected to see God.

Like Peter, we expect that a God of justice will punish evil-doers. Instead, God calls us to work with him to achieve justice by healing and restoring victims.

Like Peter, many of us expect that an omnipotent God will eventually destroy in his path all that is ungodly. But instead of killing, God chooses to be killed and to “destroy” death and violence by rising to new life. And God calls us to imitate him, to conquer violence not through violence but by finding alternatives to violence.

Take Up Your Cross

This is strong stuff. This is absurd. Some of you may disagree with me and that’s OK – disagreement is allowed. But for me, I think that the absurdity of the crucified Messiah is the reason that followers of Christ must take up their cross daily.

There are all sorts of ways that people have used the phrase “a cross to bear” that don’t – in my opinion – apply here. As difficult as it may be to live with an acute or chronic illness, I don’t think that this is what Mark’s Jesus is saying in this passage. As difficult as it may be to be the victim of natural disaster, war, drought or famine, I don’t think that these things are meant either. And “having a cross to bear” doesn’t mean having a abusive relationship or watching a loved-one succumb to addiction – however genuinely difficult those situations may be.

In this passage, Christians have a cross to bear because they proclaim a message that is absurd to the world – a message that is absurd to many people’s sense of “how things should be”. We proclaim a crucified Messiah. A Superman who refuses to use his super powers to destroy people. We proclaim a Messiah who did not cling to equality with God but rather who lived and suffered and died in human form.

We proclaim a God whose divine powers are focussed on raising New Life and not on destroying existing life. We proclaim a Messiah who is a suffering servant and not a conquering hero.

God is among us, but not in the way that we expect.


This morning, we come together as the Body of Christ to celebrate Holy Communion and to meet with Christ in a way that we expect.

This week, we will meet with God in many different ways, some which we expect and some which we do not.

I pray that our eyes will be opened to see God in every place in which God is present. That we may see where God is working in the world and live out our calling to witness to God’s love and faithfulness. And may we be strengthened by this sacrament to live and work to God’s praise and glory. Amen

Sunday, September 10, 2006

10 September 2006 - Racial Justice Sunday

Racial Justice Sunday
(texts: James 2:1-17 and Mark 7:24-37)


Most of us probably couldn’t have missed the fact that tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of “9/11” – the attacks on The World Trade Centre in New York City and on the Pentagon when many hundreds of innocent people lost their lives.

I expect that this event was one of those events where mostly everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news. The events were terrible indeed.

I don’t know how many of you know that before training for the ministry I worked in the City of London in the pensions and insurance industry. On the 11th day of September 2001, 398 of my colleagues who worked in the World Trade Centre lost their lives.

I know someone from another company who had her life spared because she was on a business trip. But everybody with whom she worked closely lost their lives, including a young man of incredible promise and ability who had just turned thirty. How do you go to work – how do you carry on – when everyone you work with has been murdered overnight?

Let’s say it clearly and unequivocally: these acts were pure, unadulterated evil. There is absolutely no way that the murder of a single human life can be condoned let alone the murder of many hundreds; there is no way to justify such acts of horror. That anyone should claim to commit mass murder in the name of God is an outrage.

The Need for an Enemy

But what has 9/11 got to do with Racial Justice Sunday? I believe that the events of 9/11 were a sort of watershed that allowed many people in the West to believe something that they wanted to believe anyway. And that is a belief in the essential “badness” of people of Middle Eastern Origin and in the essential “badness” of people who profess the Muslim faith.

If you will permit me to wax political for the next thirty seconds, I’d even venture to suggest that this belief in the essential badness of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern Origin replaced a void that had been left when the Berlin Wall came down and we in the West no longer had to worry about the essential badness of those atheistic communists.

It’s as if that part of our human nature that needs to make an enemy of someone was at a loss. People in Western Society needed a group to hate. We needed an enemy. And, as a society, we filled that void and found our enemy in the Middle East. And then “9/11” came along, and then “7/7” in London come along, and we felt that we were confirmed in the justice and rightness of our views that these people are our enemies.

I have allowed myself – as a Christian preacher - to wax political for just a few moments because I believe that this isn’t just a political issue. I do believe that these issues are theological as well and that they are closely tied to the Gospel.

The Gospel and Racial Justice

If you have been asking yourself “What has Racial Justice Sunday got to do with the Gospel?” or “What has 9/11 got to do with the Gospel?”, my answer would be to point you to today’s two bible readings.

The message is quite explicitly stated in James’ letter: “you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance”.

I believe that James’ instructions about “outward appearance” can legitimately include not discriminating against people because of their ethnic origin or religious convictions. It’s not so much about appearances as it is about believing that one sort of person is better than another sort of person.
James is warning Christians against getting caught up in the worldly idea that the best way to behave is to favour our own kind.

And I think that our gospel lesson is a clear indication that Jesus believed that people of all races were to be included in the Kingdom of God. I acknowledge that the first story – of the healing of the Gentile woman’s daughter – might appear at first glance to suggest that Gentiles are inferior to Jews in Jesus eyes, but I don’t think that’s the case.

I don’t have time to get into “why not” in this sermon, but I’m happy to share my reasons with anyone who is interested after the service.

For the moment, I want to point out two things: Firstly, Jesus does go on to heal the Gentile girl even after questioning her mother. Secondly, this story follows immediately after the story of the Pharisees challenging Jesus about his disciples not following the ritual purity laws.

In effect, Jesus and his disciples are being given notice to either decide whether they want to be in or out of the prevailing religious system that’s governed by the Pharisees. And I believe that Jesus makes a choice to remain outside the established religious system; Jesus choose to identify with the “out group”.

Jesus knows that God does not decide by external criteria who is inside the Kingdom and who is outside the Kingdom. Jesus knows that the Messiah has been sent to save all people, not just a selected in-group. Jesus knows that it is God’s intention to draw all people of all creeds and colours into the Kingdom.

I sometimes get the impression that there are people who think that this message of inclusivity is wishy-washy and bland and wet. And rather than this – allegedly – wet message, they want to hear to strong words of the Christian Gospel.

The Dignity of All People

Imagine for a minute, however, that you are a middle-aged woman born in Africa. You are strong and intelligent and you had the get-up and go to come over to the UK in order to try to make a better life for yourself and your family.

But like everyone in the village where you came from, you can’t read. You can’t read English nor can you read the two African languages that you speak. You do, by the way, nonetheless have a knowledge of the bible that puts most British Christians to shame.

Despite being motivated and intelligent, you are forced to work for a low wage in a menial job where tensions between other employees are running high.

One day, you come to work to find that one of your colleagues has been charged with murdering another.

Imagine that you are that woman. And imagine that God’s word says to you that you are a precious and dignified person whose life is worth just as much as the owner of the business, whose life is worth just as much as an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer.

If you are that woman, the message that God loves everyone equally and intends to draw all people into his Kingdom isn’t bland and wishy-washy. I daresay it’s exciting. And it’s something to get up and shout about. It’s something worth dancing around the church about.

Maybe we’re beginning to catch a glimpse of how Racial Justice Sunday is connected to the Gospel message. Maybe we’re even beginning to catch some of the excitement of the Gospel.

The message that God offers his forgiveness and therefore his Kingdom to all people really is an exciting message.

But this message is also a challenge to the darker side of our human nature. It’s a challenge to us because it’s part of our human nature to want to draw boundaries between who is “in” and who is “out”. It’s part of our human nature to want to designate certain people as being beyond the pale.

I believe that events such as “9/11” and “7/7” have had the effect of legitimizing the fears of many people in the West. It’s given us as a society an excuse to fall back into the temptation presented by our sinful nature. It’s an excuse to see people who are different from us as beyond the possibility of God’s love and forgiveness.

But the exciting message of the Gospel is that God’s invitation is offered to everyone. African Christians have an expression that comes from the Authorised Version of the bible – “God is no respecter of persons” It means that a person’s status in life is of no consequence to God.

Whoever you are, where ever you come from, you are a person of worth, a person of dignity and you are precious in God’s sight.

This is the message of the Gospel and it’s an exciting message indeed, which is why it’s a message of Good News.

The world may be caught up in the fear of people who are different. The world may say that it is legitimate to fear people of Middle Eastern origin, Muslims, black people or Eastern European asylum-seekers,

But, as Christians we have been given the truth and we are called to stand against all forms of racism and xenophobia.

All people are children of God and all people are made in the image of God.

Jesus died on behalf of all people, Jesus rose on behalf of all people and Jesus gave his teachings to all people.

To do justice is to be faithful to the core of the Gospel.

As Christians, we are called to believe in life before death as well as life after death.

3 September 2006

This is a two-part sermon. During the service, each section (Mark and James) is preceded by the scripture reading and a relevent hymn was sung after the first talk but before the second bible reading. The lectionary readings were used.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 text here

It’s not your religious practice that matters, it’s what in your heart. This isn’t just a theme that pops up for the first time here in Mark’s Gospel, it’s a theme that recurs throughout the bible.

Throughout Hebrew Scripture – throughout the Old Testament – we are told in the Law and the Prophets that God hates the worship, the religious rituals and festivals of his people when they are engaging in those religious practices but still doing what is evil in the sight of God.

Well, if it’s what’s in our hearts that’s important to God rather than our religious ritual, That’s good news for us!

As good Protestants and good Methodists, we aren’t about to suddenly start thinking that it’s important to keep kosher or that it’s important to say the right prayers in the right order with the right words.

Methodists are big on “heart-stuff”. John Wesley had his heart strangely warmed when God’s Spirit gave him assurance of his salvation. ‘Sincerity rather than ritual’ is something that Methodists should be quite good at.

If we’re not keeping the Jewish purity laws and we believe in sincere and heart-felt commitment to Christ, what could this reading have to say to us?

A Challenge to the Church

Someone suggested that this reading is supposed to be ‘a challenge to the entire way that we structure our lives’ And, if we start thinking in this direction, I think that perhaps we might begin to get a sense of how this passage could apply to us.

And so I started thinking down this line – How is the church structured today and what would be a challenge to that structure? I’m not claiming to have all the answers, and I invite you to think about this question yourself. How is the church generally structured? What would be a challenge to that structure? You might want to think very locally or you might want to think more broadly.

One thing that occurred to me – and I can see some connection here with the Pharisees – is that, by and large, the institutional church’s function seems to be one of preserving and perpetuating our religious rituals. We meet together in a church building, on a Sunday, to worship in a way that is actually – whether we like to hear it or not – fairly similar to the way that many other Christian denominations worship. We pray similar prayers, we sing similar hymns, we use a similar pattern of worship. We share similar sacraments and rites of passage: baptism, confirmation, marriage, funerals.

I’m not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with any of this or that keeping our religious traditions is a bad thing. I believe wholeheartedly in this sort of public worship and prayer – if I didn’t, I’d hardly have believed myself called to a ministry of word and sacrament.

God in a Box?

I’ll even confess that I support church involvement in rites of passage for non-church goers. I believe that events such as baptisms, weddings and funerals give the Church the opportunity to demonstrate God’s extravagant generosity and hospitality to the world in a really tangible way. We can hardly say that we believe in God’s amazing grace and then say ‘Sorry, we in the church have God’s love and grace in a box here and we’re only going to doll it out to members of the club.”

In fact, though, I wonder if the Christian church does act as if we have God in a box and we’re only going to grant access to him to those who are members of the club or who look like possibly becoming members of the club. And I think there might be something to this because I think that’s why Jesus was angry with the Pharisees.

The system that the Pharisees observed – which was the well-intentioned tradition of their forefathers but not the law of God - had the result of creating an “in group” and an “out group”. And not even between Jews and non-Jews but also between Jews who kept the traditions and were considered clean and the Jews do didn’t keep the tradition and were considered unclean.

By not participating in these human-constructed rituals, Jesus and his disciples became unclean Jews and part of the “out group”. God’s law – God’s real law - wasn’t actually meant to do that. The primary purpose of God’s law is to draw people of all races, tribes, nations and genders together. The primary purpose of God’s law is to draw outsiders into the people of God. But these man-made traditions were resulting in the weak and marginalised being left out.
And I wonder, sometimes, if the Christian church doesn’t do this too. Rather than proclaiming to the world that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female, but that all people have equal dignity in God’s eyes, we create this little God-box called “Church” where people are welcome if they want to join the club but otherwise we don’t really know how to interact with them, even with the best will in the world.

Two Confessions

Now, before I go any further, I have two confessions.

My first confession is to first of all to tell you I did pause for a minute and pray ”God, do you really want me say this during my first service? I barely know the congregation.”

I think God’s answer was. “This is not a message about XYZ Methodist Church. It’s a message about how human beings use religion. It’s a message about what sometimes happens in the Church.”

And, for my part, preaching this is simply about what I believe this passage has to say. What better time to say all this when no-one could possibly think that I’m making a pointed remark to this congregation specifically?

But my other confession to you is that *I* do the “God in a box” thing. I know I do. I don’t think that I am holier than anyone in this regard and if I pretended to be right now you’d very soon find out that I was lying.

I don’t have any easy or magic answers for how to bring the gospel to a world that no longer understands what we mean when we talk about salvation or the Kingdom or resurrection.

But there is one thing that I *do* hope. And that is that you too are so excited about the Good News of Jesus that you will want to accept an invitation to journey with me, to pray and to discern how take God out of the box and make his love known more widely both inside and outside the Church.

James 1:17-27
text here

Faith and Action

“Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to God’s word; instead, put it into practice.” (James 1:22)

This is vintage James. In fact, if you had to sum up the entire message of James’ letter, this verse could probably do the trick. “Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to God’s word; instead, put it into practice.”

This reading has a lot of ideas and it’s a bit complicated. I think that this is because there is a tension in the Christian life between God’s free offer of forgiveness and God’s commandment to live out our Christian faith. For want of a better term, it’s a tension between personal faith and action. And James is already struggling with this tension at the beginning of his letter.

If we’re talking about proclaiming the Gospel to the world, what are we talking about? Is it our goal to get people to make a personal profession of faith in Christ? Or do we proclaim the Gospel to the world through actions of service and hospitality?

Each of us might want to give this matter some consideration about what we think. For me personally, it’s my belief that the Methodist answer is that it’s not a question of the Gospel being either personal faith or social action, it’s both.

I think that it’s clear from our history that the proclamation of God’s love at the level of personal faith is very important.

I think that it’s also clear that Methodism does not believe that being a Christian is just about saying: “We’ve accepted Jesus as our Lord and saviour” and to go on living as the world does.

And when I talk about living the way that the world lives, I’m not just talking about things like abusing drugs or alcohol, having a number of domestic partners one after the other or being an incorrigible gambler.

I’m talking about things like Christians making their own domestic comfort the number-one priority before which everything else is sacrificed.

As Graham Carter – the recently-installed President of Methodist Conference – put it, being a Christian isn’t simply a matter of personal piety, it’s a matter of how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis.

It’s about how we understand justice, community and the worth of individuals in a local, national and global setting.
It’s about how we behave at work, at home, in the community. It’s about our citizenship, our shopping habits and our use of scarce resources.

God’s Good News to humankind is that each and every human being who ever lived is of utmost important to him. Each and every human being is a person of dignity. God does not prefer rich people to poor people. God does not prefer successful people to unsuccessful people.. God does not prefer one gender, God does not prefer one race, God does not prefer one class.

God’s forgiveness is offered equally to all. God’s love is offered equally to all. God was so serious about offering his love equally to all that, when God was incarnate here on earth as Jesus Christ, he actually forgave all the people involved in his agonizing and shameful death.

God is so serious about offering his forgiveness and his love equally to all people that he was even willing to die.

We can proclaim the message of God’s love until we are blue in the face, but if we don’t live it out, no one is going to believe that we’re serious. Actions speak louder than words.

Practical Application

So what does this mean in practical terms?

First of all, I believe it means being a people of scriptural and prayerful worship. That’s the ‘faith’ component of this pairing of ‘faith and action’

Our faith has to be scriptural, because scripture is the means by which we come to know God’s will for us. Our faith has to be prayerful, because we have to incorporate scripture into our own lives. And our faith has to be worshipful – which doesn’t necessarily mean we’re always happy. But it does mean that we believe that God is the centre of the all that exists and that God’s laws determine what our values should be.

But secondly, let’s be people whose actions are taken in the light of the Gospel message. Let’s be people whose lives witness that we really believe in the dignity and worth of all human beings. Let’s be people who live like God offers his forgiveness to everyone and that God wants all to be included in the feast of life.
For some people, because of their particular gifts, this might mean campaigning for peace, for debt-reduction in Africa or for affordable housing in this country. For others, living out the Gospel might mean teaching, working in a hospice or a hospital or being the primary carer for someone who is house-bound.

For all of us, at a practical level, I think that it means things like speaking up when individuals are not being treated with dignity, I think it means registering to vote with the aim of voting for the party we think will advance the Kingdom (I’m not going to decide which party that is for you, though.) It means that everyone who is not on a tight budget should be thinking about buying Fair Trade items whenever possible.

And, for all of us at a practical level, it also means praying for the world and for our nation and neighbourhood.

For most of us, the primary way we are going to witness to the gospel is by living it out, in our everyday lives, outside the four walls of the church.

God’s word and God’s law are not meant to be things that we keep inside a treasure-box to be pulled out only on Sunday morning.

God’s law is meant to draw every single person who ever lived into the Kingdom of God, not to keep them out.

God’s word is offered to every single person who ever lived to help them become the person who God created them to be.

And God’s forgiveness is a free gift, given to us by a loving and outrageously generous father.

May we give generously and lovingly of the forgiveness that we have been given by God.