Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday 23 November 2008 - Sharing our Gospel

This is a thematic sermon based loosely around the texts of Ephesians 1:15-23 and Matthew 25:31-46.

The Gospel text deals with the 'separation of the sheep and the goats'. A number of commentaries suggested that this parable is not about the judgement of Christian believers or about the judgement of Jewish people, but about the judgement of 'the people' - those outside both the Jewish and Christian faith (or, as some suggest, those who have never heard the Gospel message). In any event, this parable should give us some pause about thinking that we can ourselves judge who will be separated out of God's Kingdom.

This is a rather gentle sermon. Some will think it's not hard-hitting enough given the Gospel reading. This particular congregation has been through a lot of loss recently, hence the approach that I've taken here. Ultimately, the Kingship of Christ and the reign of the fullness of the Kingdom of God will be Good News.


Seize the Day

Carpe Diem. The English translation of this Latin phrase is 'Seize the Day'. And my bet is that most people who know the meaning of this phrase probably know it not because they learnt Latin in school but rather because they are familiar with the film Dead Poets' Society starring Robin Williams.

For those of you who are not familiar with the film, Williams plays one of the central characters: a maverick English teacher named Mr. Keating, teaching in an elite US boys' boarding school in the 1950s. One of Mr. Keating's great personal passions is poetry. But I think that it would be fair to also say that his absolute central personal passion is this phrase 'Carpe Diem' - 'seize the day'.

The film portrays Mr. Keating as a man whose central mission is to help each one of the boys to think for himself and to discover his own unique talents and abilities. And so the scene is set in the film for the inevitable tragedy that is to follow when these boys start thinking for themselves rather than following the paths that their parents have laid out for them and which they expect the boys to follow unquestioningly.

Because once you learn what your passion is, you can never unlearn it.

Paul's Gospel / My Gospel

The Apostle Paul certainly knew what his passion was: the grace and love of God as disclosed in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Once a Jewish Pharisee passionate about God's unswerving love for the Jewish people, Paul's dramatic conversion to Jesus Christ transformed him in a person who became passionate in his conviction that God's unswerving love is for all people regardless of race, gender, or social status.

We might find it difficult to understand Paul's obsession with the Gospel, but imagine growing up being taught that you have the most fantastic treasure on earth because of the circumstances of your birth only to be told later by God himself that, actually, every single person on earth has access to the same great treasure.

Perhaps if we think of the Gospel message - God's Good News - as a treasure we can get some sense of Paul's enthusiasm and why he felt that he literally had to go to the ends of the known earth to tell everyone.

Because once you learn the Good News, you can never unlearn it.

Now, not everyone is as privileged as Paul was to have such a dramatic personal insight into the Gospel.

But I'd like to float the idea this morning that many of us will have our own ideas about what God's good news is - about what the Gospel message is. Or probably more accurately, we will all have our own different insights into the One Gospel.

For Paul, his insight seems to have been something like 'No matter who you are, where you come from, or what your lot in life, God loves you.' For Jesus, I think it was something like 'God is our Loving Father'.

For me, my version of God's Good News is something like 'Where love is, there God is'. For a friend of mine, his version of God's Good News is 'God believes in you'.

Other versions of the Good News that I've heard people talk and preach about are: 'God loves each of us as unique individuals'; 'There is no sin that is too big to forgive'; 'Never stop hoping'; and what I call the 'Footprints in the Sand' gospel: the idea that God is with us in the trials and difficulties of life.

These are all just a few examples of what I'm calling 'personal gospels'.

Each of us has our own unique Good News about God, our 'personal gospels' because we are all different. Taken together, all these billions of unique insights into God's Good News can't even begin to express the totality of who God is. But nonetheless, we try to express the entirety of God's being and his goodness. I think we try because we are human and it's human to want to communicate and share with other human beings.

Christ the King

Today is the celebration of the festival of Christ the King.

It is also the last Sunday in the church year and the Sunday when the Church tries to express in some way or another the inexpressible perfection of God and the hope that he offers to us in Christ.

And so the Church uses the ancient images of the arrival of a perfect Kingdom and a perfect ruler. And we use the images of fair-play and justice for all: images of the poor being fed, the ill being healed, and those who have been unfairly imprisoned being at last treated fairly. And we dream that those who exploit the vulnerable and take advantage of weak will be banished from God's new reality and that justice and peace will reign. We anticipate a future where everyone will be able to 'Seize the Day' - especially those who don't have that opportunity at present because of their life circumstances.

'Christ the King' is a symbol, an image, a human attempt to express something that is essentially inexpressible: God's love, justice and goodness. As human beings, we will never fully understand these things in this life, but we can share our personal good news - our personal insights into God - with each other.

So this is my challenge to us this morning: that we share our personal gospels with each other. Not as an exercise in converting the other person to my way of thinking, but rather as an exercise in me hearing the other person's Good News. Because together, all our personal gospels form a more complete picture of who God is and they help us each to learn and grow. These are examples of treasures that we can share with each other and grow as a Christian community in the process.

Because once you learn more about the Good News, you can never unlearn it.


My prayer this morning for all of us comes from Ephesians:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know him, so that, with the eyes of our heart enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Amen

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