This is a short sermon aimed at adults (and whoever else doesn't fancy a kip) at an all-age communion service. The texts are: Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26.
We’ve spent some time this morning discussing how God wants us to be rooted and grounded in him and in his way of doing things. The passage we read from the prophet Jeremiah tells us that the person who follows the ways of God “Shall be like a tree planted by water….It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green.”
But this passage also raises the issue for me of whether being a follower of God means that you won’t have any hardship, that you won’t have any illnesses and that life will be one big bowl of cherries. Because in real life things don’t always seem to work out that way. There is even a popular saying that acknowledges this phenomenon: “No good deed ever goes unpunished”.
It would have been easy to take the Jeremiah passage and preach to you that following God is the path to happiness or to self-actualisation. But had I done that, I would not have been preaching the truth and I would not have been proclaiming to you a biblical worldview.
The New Testament shows us that the early church suffered for the sake of following Jesus. And in Luke’s version of the beatitudes, which we have just read, we see that Jesus expects his disciples to be hated, excluded, reviled and defamed because of him.
So what exactly is the deal here? If we follow God will we be happy or will we have troubles?
I’m afraid that rather than give you an answer I’m going to come back at you with a question. Why is it that you are following God? Why is it that you wish to be a disciple of Jesus?
Because if your reason for following God is “to be happy” then you are following God for the wrong reason. In very simple terms, the reason for following God is because God is God and God is to be obeyed. The reason that we follow God is because God’s way is the right way. Sometimes, following God will make people happy, but that’s certainly not to be guaranteed.
Often times, following God is so contrary to the way that the world works, that being a disciple of Christ might actually involve hardships. Certainly Christians in places like China and in Burma or other countries where the church in persecuted know the negative consequences of being a Christian.
Closer to home, many Christian people struggle with an environment at work where they feel that they are being asked to behave in ways that are contrary to their Christian faith. Sometimes they have to choose between behaving in a Godly way or keeping their jobs.
But in the Beatitudes, Jesus assures people who choose God’s path, that although they may feel persecuted, that they are actually blessed. Anyone who sets their life on the path of following God and who suffers in consequence of their discipleship is blessed by God. Contrary to the common view that to be happy, rich, and have a full belly is evidence of God’s blessing, Jesus’ tells us that if worldly happiness is our main objective, then our reward is now and not in the Kingdom.
So what is following God all about then?
One of the commentators on the Jeremiah reading puts it this way: “The dice are loaded in favour of righteousness; injustice is on borrowed time.”
As Christians, we follow God’s way not only because it is right and because God is to be obeyed, but because we believe that we have a real and a concrete hope for the establishment of the Kingdom of God. We believe that, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus “The dice are loaded in favour of righteousness; injustice is on borrowed time.”
Everything that God does has one objective: the Kingdom of God, the New Creation, the Resurrection Life. This is the place where justice and righteousness will be established and where the Messiah sits at God’s right hand. The prophets longed for the establishment of God’s Kingdom of justice and righteousness and as Christians, we believe that Jesus is the fulfilment of their prophetic longings.
Following God is about Truth. It is about doing what is right. It is about trusting that God is working his purpose out and that, because of Jesus, there is a real and concrete hope for the future of humankind.
In the Kingdom of God, the poor and the hungry are poor and hungry no longer. In the Kingdom of God, all those who have suffered at the hands of evil are validated and blessed by God.
The establishment of Kingdom of God requires divine intervention, but it is not just a “spiritual heaven”. The divine intervention has been done: God sent Jesus, who died because of our sins. Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death and the power of evil. Jesus’ Holy Spirit has come into the world and empowers Christians to spread the power of life, truth and righteousness into the world.
As Christians, we know that we are God’s tools here on earth. We do not follow God because following him will make us feel good. We follow him because, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we have the firm hope that “the dice are loaded in favour of righteousness; injustice is on borrowed time.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray that we will be like trees planted by the water. May we send our roots out into the living waters of the Holy Spirit. When the heat comes, may we continue to grow strong in the knowledge that God has promised that his Kingdom of justice and righteousness will prevail. Amen