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Preached on: Sunday 31st January 2021 The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-31 Message PPT slides multi pages. above). Bible references: Philippians 2:12-18 Location: Brightons Parish Church
I'm sure, like me and many others, many of you will have had the experience of driving with your family through a spectacular awe-inspiring scenery only to have one of the kids call from the back of the car “Are we nearly there yet?” and sometimes I think that when it comes to the way we react with God, many of us can be like that; we can be so intent on reaching our destination that we miss out on the journey and the beauty of the journey. And of course, sadly, our spiritual journeys often involve us listening to the culture around us, telling us how we should feel what we should think. On our spiritual journeys, we're often influenced by the world which is concerned about getting things done, about getting where we're going, instead of making the most of the journey. That's why I think that we have such a big problem in the Church with people who say they want to be holy, be godly, be spiritual, be great husbands and fathers, or wives and mothers, be generous givers, be prudent spenders, be all these things, but, at the same time, struggle to become what they say they want to be. We're a society that's focused on “being” rather than on “becoming”. There's a good chance that some of you are sitting in your living rooms right now thinking to yourselves - I wish you'd get to the point! or Where are you going with this? because that's what society has taught us to think. We have to focus on results, on outcomes. I'm still pretty much at the beginning of my sermon but already some of you are wanting to know how it ends. The problem is, life doesn't work that way, life is not about that, it's not only about being, it's about becoming. The difference between how you were when you were born, and how you are now, is not because someone told you that this is how you should be and you became, but rather, it's a gradual process of becoming. Who we are and, if we think of the Christian life when we refer to someone, converting to Christianity, we're glad to say Oh so-and-so became a Christian yesterday which is a reason for celebration but, we should also bear in mind that although he or she became a Christian yesterday they're going to spend the rest of their lives becoming more Christlike, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you and to act according to His good purpose. Christian life is not just about being it's about becoming! It's quite a long time since I trained for the ministry - Scott might be able to tell us how things have changed since I trained back in the 1970s - but when we were taught about preaching, we were taught that sermons should last 20 minutes, they should have three points, and, if possible, you should use alliteration to illustrate your points because you'll remember better. We were told that congregations couldn't really concentrate for any longer than 20 minutes so, don't go over the 20 minutes. And there were all these rules about how to get from the start to the finish of your sermon in the right way. And those rules, the three points, the preaching no longer than 20 minutes, alliteration, always accepted, I think we're both told get to the point! Those are the rules but, of course, life isn't like that, and I’m sorry to say, today’s sermon's not like that either because we spend our lives out there in the world, in the world where TV and media define who you are. That creates in each of us, even in Christians, it creates an impatience and a need for speed, and a need for instant results, and that moulds us into a position where we expect that kind of result in every area of life, but the problem is, instant results might work in some areas, they might work in the office, they might work at Mcdonald's but they don't work in life. Instant results don't come in marriages, for example, don't come in friendships, they don't come in parenting. Instant results don't come in building character, or in the spiritual life. Instant results don't happen in any area of life that really matter. In those areas, it's going to take some time. We all know what Jesus said in John 14 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” See, it turns out that Jesus is not only the truth, he's not only the guy with the teachings that we need to know in order to get to God, Jesus is also the way. The way is not simply a set of rules to be followed that we can learn and then sit back and relax because we've found the way, the way is not a destination, by definition, the way is the life of Jesus The way Jesus lived - that's the way, and what happens when people are so used to instant results try to embrace the way of Jesus, we find that it can't be done overnight, because that's not a place or a principle or a set of beliefs. The way of Jesus - it's a life to be lived - it's a person who has to be embraced, and learned from, and understood, and grown into relationship with. So, what happens is the only thing that can possibly happen in that scenario …… we get burdened by guilt or discouragement or frustration, because we're not getting it immediately. It's not enough that we realize that Jesus is the way, we have to pay attention - this is going to sound as if I’m playing my words here - but we're going we have to pay attention to the ways in which Jesus is the way. I'm not trying to be clever with words here - we say that Jesus is the way to Heaven, if we confess our belief in Him, He will forgive us our sins and set us right with God. That's what we're told in the scriptures, and when we say that, when we tell people that, then we are expressing one of the ways in which Jesus is the way. It's true, of course, it's true that if we confess our sins Jesus will forgive us our sins, but that's the beginning of a process. Jesus will also transform us from the inside out if we are following in His way. If we say, read the bible and learn about Jesus, again we are expressing one of the ways in which Jesus is the way because it's true that we need to learn about God by studying His word but, more than learning about Him, we need to learn to know Him, we need to learn to become more like Him, because the way is not about learning, it's not about knowledge, it's not about information, it's about becoming more like Him. So, I’m afraid, although Jesus is the way, he doesn't fit neatly into a concise three-point sermon, that's no longer than 20 minutes, and makes a joke at the beginning to keep you interested, and another joke halfway through to maintain your interest, and all that stuff what I’m trying to say is, Jesus is the way, but not in a concise three-point sermon kind of way, not in using great stories and appealing to people's need for entertainment, kind of way it turns out that Jesus is the way and I think I’m getting it a little better now, I think I’m learning to be a bit more patient with myself, because, after all, Jesus is patient with me and if I’m hard on myself and if I’m critical of myself, then I’m pursuing the way in the wrong way. Does that make sense? If Jesus is the way then we must pursue the way in the correct way. How many of us get frustrated with ourselves over our failures, and many of us beat ourselves up and condemn ourselves because we feel incapable of doing this, the spiritual things that we would like to do, because we don't pray enough, we don't go to Church enough, we don't evangelize enough, we don't read the Bible enough, we don't pray enough. Listen, the way of Jesus is a way of gracious kindness, the Jesus way is full of patience and rest, it's a way that will give us rest for our souls. If, and in our pursuit to follow the way of Jesus, we find that we don't have peace or rest, we find that we are agitated and frustrated, then, maybe, we need to ask ourselves if we are actually following Jesus in the right way. Maybe, instead, we're following Jesus in the world's way or in our own way? Jesus said in Matthew 11 28-30 “Come to me all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you a rest. Take my yoke upon, let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy to bear and my burden is light.” And that promised rest is not just for the end of the journey. Are we finding that rest in Christ here and now? Are we learning from Him in a way that lifts our spirits, a way that is gentle and encouraging? Are we experiencing Him, His infinite love that He has for us? Because, if we're not, and maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is – Did Jesus mean that this peace and rest that He promised was only for at the end of the journey? Was Jesus saying come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, come to Me and live your life with Me, which will be a struggle, but after you die you'll find rest that's what Jesus said? Of course not! Jesus said Let me teach you how to live. In other words, Jesus is not only the way to Heaven, He's the way to eternal life, right here and now. He says my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Folks! this can only mean that that we should be experiencing rest now, not just in the sweet by and by when we die, but we should experience that rest that he offers, every day of our lives. If we are in harness with, if we are learning from Him to live in His way, which is easier. His burden is lighter. If we do that, we will find rest for our souls as we walk with Him and share His yoke. Side by side, learning the Jesus way. So, what does that mean if we are not experiencing that kind of peace and rest in our spiritual life? I think there's only one thing we can conclude; that maybe we're pursuing the way in the wrong way. Is Jesus harsh? Is he a slave driver or a hard task master? Does he stand over us with a whip? or Do we sometimes realize, when we look closely at the master with the whip, that it's our own face that we see and not the face of Jesus? What I mean is, the way of guilt is not Jesus we have, is not Jesus, the way of endless self-doubt and self-blame and self-castigation and self-pity and self-condemnation. They're not the Jesus that should be self-evident when you see how many of those terms begin with self and explaining how humanity went wrong and got twisted up in sin. Here's what the apostle Paul writes he says, this is from The Message translation, he says “They traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them.” See, when we experience constant condemnation and fear and guilt, is that coming from Jesus? Or is it coming from the image of God that we've created ourselves? Or that our society has created because we're trying to follow the way using the tools of this world? We impose on ourselves the need for instant results and instant success and instant growth in the way of Jesus, and then when they don't materialize right away, we cast blame on ourselves, we get angry with ourselves, we grow disappointed and frustrated, which are the very things that Jesus promises we can escape if we walk with Him. Now, please don't sit there thinking or feeling terrible because you're sure I’m talking about you. I've often said from the pulpit that I’m preaching at me as much as anyone else, but that's exactly the kind of thing I’m referring to. As soon as we understand that we have something to learn or that there's something that we've been doing that's not leading us on the way, we feel terrible, we sink into discouragement But, the way of Jesus is gentle and humble, the way of Jesus is patient, the way of Jesus is about becoming more than about being. We can follow Jesus in a hurried, frantic, rushed, schizophrenic kind of way, but the problem is that's not the way of Jesus, and if we try to follow the way in that way, we never find a way! Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life, and so we follow the way which leads to truth, which leads to life. If you've not yet decided to follow the Jesus way, I hope you will make that decision. To become a follower of Jesus. It begins with understanding that your way, my way, is not sufficient and is a dead-end, and that the sin problem is a problem because it keeps us serving ourselves and keeps us alienated from God, and, as we realize this, we confess to Christ in prayer. We state our desire to Him that He forgive our sins and look kindly upon us, and the great thing is that's exactly what he wants to do, and then we turn and we leave our way, and we get on His way. But, he will teach us a new way of living which will gradually change the way we think and the way we act in every area of our lives. So, if you've never done that before I invite you today to become a disciple of Jesus and walk with Him, with us, as we learn together to leave our old ways behind. Something specific to suggest that you might do this week, next time you feel guilty or discouragement or excessive hurry or panic or any other negative emotion, just ask yourself Is this what God's voice sounds like? Because, I believe you'll quickly realize, that it's not, and then ask yourself What is the way of the easy yoke? What way does Jesus, who loves us and accepts us completely, what way does he want us to live? What does he want us to know at this moment? In other words, ask yourself, Where is God in all this? Here's a hint: God is the one who always loves you, who always has patience with you, who never guilt-trips you, or hurries, or manipulates you; He never uses fear to motivate. God is the one who is steady and calm in the middle of your panic. God is the one who always says this to you “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet, my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace removed.” This is God's eternal, unchanging stance towards you and towards me, regardless of our failures, regardless of our shortcomings and our mistakes in the way, and I encourage you to allow yourself to hear God's voice this week, and don't worry, we won't get there overnight but, the great thing is, God wants you to enjoy the journey, to look out and see Him in action in the world around you, and know that He's there and that H's enough. Let us pray. Heavenly Father, in spite of all that we hear and read about our Saviour Jesus in Your Word, in spite of His love. His life, His humility, His service; in spite of all that we sometimes fall and fall for, the world's lies that You're a hard and cruel taskmaster; in Jesus we have seen and heard of Your love, and patience, and goodness, and kindness. May we walk with You in the way of Jesus, the way that leads to eternal, abundant life, the way that begins right here where we are, and leads us ever closer to You, and may we know that, even if we get sidetracked or turned away, You are patient, and kind, and will lead us back, and back to whatever or wherever we are on the journey. Help us to know that You are eager to walk with us, whether we're just starting out in the way of faith, or whether we're closer to the end of our journey, You are still the same Good Shepherd who wants the best for his sheep. Amen.