Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
Jesus Predicts His Death
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
The Way of the Cross
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Last week, if you followed the lectionary, you would have heard the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus more or less says no, because He has come to help the Jews, not the Gentiles, which is very difficult for us to read and comprehend. This is not an all-loving Jesus; this is a rather harsh Jesus. He was rude to the woman, and He called her a dog. Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. His human part is still developing, and He is still learning about and understanding his ministry. Jesus is only just realising that He is not just there for the Jews, He is there for everybody. Jesus only realised this after He had met the Syrophoenician woman and heard her response to His refusal to heal her daughter. So, He changed his mind and healed the girl.
Jesus is being rude again in today’s reading. He is being rude to Peter, who has gone from hero to zero within two verses. The climax of Mark is Jesus asking, “Who do people say I am?” Who do we think Jesus is? Is He just a biblical figure and a great storyteller? Is He just a miracle worker, someone who can feed 5000 people with only a few loaves and fishes and raise people from the dead? How we respond to these questions changes our lives. If we only think that Jesus is a miracle worker, then so what? But if we believe Jesus is the Son of God, then that changes everything.
In John 6:66, Jesus’s message was not liked, and many turned back and no longer followed him. In the next two verses, Jesus asks his disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter is saying that Jesus is the Messiah, the person sent by God to save us. Jesus may not be who they expected, for instance, a warrior with a mighty army. Other people claiming to be the Messiah had appeared in this way, but they had failed.
Jesus was pleased with Peter’s answer but, as we see in Mark, His attitude quickly changes. He tells Peter to shut up and “Get behind me, Satan!” Once again, Jesus is coming across as a bit rude. What Jesus was trying to tell Peter was, despite knowing Jesus was the Messiah, Peter was wrong to rebuke Jesus for talking about his upcoming death. Jesus is saying Peter’s thoughts did not come from God, but man. Peter was right about Jesus being the Messiah, and he was right to follow Jesus, but Jesus is making him aware of what will happen to his followers. They will lose their lives.
Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, was skinned alive in Armenia. James the Less, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, had his head bashed in. Andrew was crucified in Greece. Judas Iscariot, as we know, hanged himself. Peter was crucified upside down by Emperor Nero. Thomas was stabbed by a spear in India. James the Great was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. Philip was tortured and hung up to die. Matthew was staked to the ground in Ethiopia. Jude, also known as Thaddeus, was crucified in Turkey. Simon was crucified and sawn in half. Even Matthias, who replaced Judas, was beheaded. The only disciple that we believe died from old age was John, the author of the Book of Revelation.
The disciples went to horrible deaths, and that would not have happened if they did not know Jesus was the Messiah. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a famous book called The Cost of Discipleship (1937). He says the reason Christianity is suffering is because people go for cheap grace. People think by saying that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour, they will be alright. These same people never put their beliefs into action and speak up for Jesus. But as Bonhoeffer, James and Mark say, people should show their faith through their actions. If you want your faith to show, then it has to be full of good works. It is not a cheap grace; we have to suffer for our God. Jesus is telling His disciples that they will suffer, but your soul will also be saved.
As always, it is our choice. God does not let people into heaven who do not want to be there. The only people who will get to heaven are the people that want to be there. To want to be there is to love God and to love God is to show it.
This sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 12th September 2021
Taming the Tongue
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
I have found some interesting facts about the tongue:
How do we use our tongue? It is important to remember that everything can be used for both good and bad. A knife, for example, can be used as a tool, but it can also be used as a weapon. Nuclear atomic energy is a clean form of energy, but it can also be used as a weapon of mass destruction. The same applies to the tongue; we too can cause enormous devastation.
A man came up to me and said, “Martin, you remind me of a computer.” I thought, wow, is that because I am quick, can solve most things and retain information? He said, “No. As you get older, you lose your memory, you become outdated, you crash unexpectedly, and eventually have to have your parts replaced.” Rude!
So, with our tongue, we can uplift, or we can vilify. At a football match, there is chanting from the spectators. This chanting can uplift, and players have said there is nothing better than hearing their names being sung. Yet, the chanting often becomes quite nasty against the opposing team.
We can control the tongue. We can control what we say and what we do. The reading in James is reminding us that there will be a judgement day. What we say and how it is received is very important. James is warning us to be careful.
There is a little mnemonic, which is quite useful: THINK. Before you speak, you have to think:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
Before you speak, THINK, and if your words fit that criterion, then go ahead and speak.
This Sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 12th September 2021
Jesus Honours a Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Jesus wants some peace and quiet and has been wanting it for ages. He is travelling to the land of the Gentiles and is desperate for some quiet so that he can gather his thoughts. Yet, he does not get it because he is approached by a woman whose daughter has an unclean spirit. Despite being a Gentile, the woman knows about Jesus and follows Him.
Before I became a minister 20 years ago, another minister called Alwyn Knight preached on Mark 7, and I remember one of the things he said. Jesus said to the Gentile woman, who according to tradition is called Justa, whose daughter is called Berenice, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Many theologians and preachers have trouble with this verse. What Jesus said comes across as very harsh and horrible. He has called the woman a dog, which is not something you expect from the Son of God. But Alwyn Knight pointed out, this verse is not showing us the twinkle that Jesus had in his eye. He claimed this was a bit of banter between Jesus and the woman.
Yet, most commentaries say that Jesus meant what He said. He was calling the woman a dog, and that is difficult for us to get our heads around. Why would Jesus call this woman a dog? But the woman gets the better of Him by saying, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus appreciates this remark and tells her that for saying that, the demon has left her daughter. She went home, found her child lying on the bed and the demon gone.
What does this passage mean? I would like to share the first joke I used when I began preaching as a lay preacher about 23 years ago. A man wishes to go to a nightclub, but the bouncer stops him and tells the man he cannot come in. “Why’s that?” asks the man. The bouncer informs him that only people wearing ties can enter the club. The man asks what constitutes a tie, and the bouncer tells him it is something long and thin tied around the neck. So, the man goes away and finds a set of jump leads, which he ties around his neck. When he returns to the club, the bouncer says, “You cannot come in because you do not have a tie.” But the man says he has and indicates the leads tied around his neck. The bouncer sighs and says, “Okay, you can come in, but don’t you start anything!”
Now, how does this joke relate to the Gospel reading? I think what Jesus is doing is showing humanity. We have this idea that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. If He is fully human, then Jesus has to have some human foibles. In this passage in Mark, Jesus is showing his human side and that, perhaps, He did not recognise the full extent of his ministry. Has this woman, this Gentile woman, made Jesus realise that He has also been sent as a Saviour to the Gentiles?
I believe this passage shows us Jesus’s human side. He was rude, and somehow we need to process that, but it did prompt Jesus to rethink. Had His ears been opened to the wider ministry of the Gentiles, rather than sticking to the Jews? We believe the second miracle in Mark 3 also involved a Gentile. Does the passage make Jesus realise He is not just serving the people of Israel but that His mission is worldwide? Did this Gentile woman make Jesus change His mind about helping the Gentiles? There was only one time before this where Jesus changed His mind; that was about changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2).
Should theologians, preachers and all Christians consider Mark 7 as the moment when Jesus realised that His ministry is worldwide, and that there are no boundaries about hearing the word of God, that His ministry is for all people? So, think about it. Was this the beginning of Jesus’s wider ministry?
This Sermon was first preached at Wanstead URC on 5th September 2021
2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c] If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith and Deeds
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
The Book of James was written in AD 49, 16 years after the death of Jesus, but we do not know who wrote this particular book. Tradition says it is James, the brother of Jesus. He was later known as James the Just, and he led the council in Jerusalem. For the sake of this reading, we are going to assume the author was Jesus’ half-brother. His half-brother Jude also wrote a book in the New Testament, and the interesting thing is neither James nor Jude were followers of Jesus while he was alive. We can assume the brothers converted after the resurrection when they realised their half-brother was the son of God.
There are 59 imperatives in the Book of James: 59 things you should do. These are instructions on how to live your life, which is why James is considered a book of Wisdom rather than an epistle. It tells us we should not have favourites and not assume things because of someone’s appearance. Faith is not like that. Faith is a commitment and about doing what is right. Faith is making sure your actions are selfless rather than selfish.
Martin Luther and other religious speakers liked the Book of James because it is a reminder that salvation comes from knowing Jesus Christ. We do not get into Heaven by doing good things. God is not looking down on us, giving us points for our actions. It is not a case of getting 100 points before being allowed into Heaven; we are allowed in because we believe Jesus Christ is our Saviour. It is because we believe in Jesus Christ that we do good things.
This Sermon was first preached at Wanstead URC on 5th September 2021
This continues on from the Plumb Lines sermon.
Reading: Mark 6:14-29 New International Version
14 King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”
15 Others said, “He is Elijah.”
And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.”
16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”
17 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
There are three Herods in the Bible, and they all get confused with one another. The first Herod was Herod the Great. He is the Herod who was around at the Nativity of Christ. Herod the Great got his power from Emperor Augustus. He was a builder and built many great things, but he was evil. He had, we believe, nine wives and many concubines, but then when someone has as much power as Herod the Great, they can do anything. Israel was ruled by the Romans, so Herod had to be friends with Augustus, who gave him the kingship.
Herod Antipas was never king but he is the Herod in this story from Mark. He was full of ambition, paranoia and took after his father, Herod the Great. His father killed three of his sons, one of his wives, and his brother. He was just ruthless because he believed they were taking power from him. Interestingly enough, Herodias, the wife of Antipas, was the granddaughter of Herod the Great, who had killed her mother. Herodias was used to living in a situation where family members were killed and I wonder whether or not that in some way influences her behaviour. The third Herod, who we hear about in Acts, is Herod Agrippa who kills James.
There are stacks of things that we can learn by reading this passage in Mark 6. All the time, the Bible is teaching us and trying to make us better people. When we read this passage, remember that Herod was not a real King. He never actually had the title King. This passage is the longest passage within the Gospel that does not have Jesus as its central point. So, why does Mark include it? Instead of Jesus, it relates to John the Baptist, but it must have been very important for Mark.
A lot of history confirms much of what Mark says. The main author is Josephus (Joseph Ben Mathias), a Jewish historian who records these events outside of the Bible. Josephus tells us that Herod murdered John the Baptist. There is no mention of Herodias or Salome, who the Bible does not name but Josephus does, actually having anything to do with the murder of John the Baptist. But Mark is of a different opinion and Herod, whilst a bad man does not come out of it too badly. Mark has put the total blame onto the women. Mark is not anti-women, and we have had two powerful women in Mark 5 and 7 to prove this, but in this story, whilst Herod’s pride destroys things, he does not come over as being a very, very bad person. And this is where the plumb line in Amos 7 comes in. God's plumb line probably says Herod is bad, whereas other people may disagree.
John is imprisoned in the same place as Herod’s banquet. At the banquet, the women are on one side and the men are on the other. This is a bit like the 18th and 19th century where the men withdraw to drink port and the girls and the women talk about knitting patterns or whatever affairs they are interested in. So, we have this separation at this banquet. Herod sat with the people he wanted to impress, and how Herod impressed people was by having risque parties while the women were somewhere else. To impress his court, Herod asked a young woman, who Josephus names Salome, to do a dance. She danced to seduce the men, and she was probably only 12 or 13 years old. So pleased was Herod with her performance, he offered the girl anything she wanted. He even offered half his kingdom, which was not his to give as he was not actually a king.
The girl, who was Herodias’ daughter, asked her mother what she should request. Herodias really hated John the Baptist, because he told everybody that her relationship with Herod was wrong. Not only was she Herod’s niece, she was also married to his brother, Philip I. As far as the Jewish were concerned, this was incest and adultery, which John told her. Although this was the truth, Herodias was very upset. What do people do with the truth? Remember the reading in Amos? Do we ignore the truth or do we get rid of the messenger? Herodias did the latter, saying to her daughter, ask for John's head on a platter.
So, the daughter went to Herod, and said she wanted John the Baptist’s head on a platter. According to Mark, but not necessarily in history, Herod is crestfallen. The word Mark uses is the same word Jesus used when praying in Gethseme. His soul was heartbroken. Pride stopped Herod from going back on his word, so he delivered. John was an innocent victim of a power game.
I want to conclude by asking, if we were part of this gathering, who are we? Are we Herod, full of pride, not wanting to go back on our word for fear of losing face. Are we Herodias, a victim of their upbringing and of murderous intent? Are we like the girl, being manipulated? Or are we the other party-goers, who see this happening, but do nothing to stop it. I think we would be like the party-goers, not doing anything to stop it but still thinking it is wrong.
This passage is challenging us today in a similar way. Whenever we see something that is not right, are we going to be like the party-goers, and not do anything about it, or are we going to stand up for what is true? But standing up for what is true got Amos condemned, got John the Baptist condemned, and got Jesus condemned. Eleven of the Twelve Disciples, or twelve of the thirteen if you include Matthias, died horrible deaths because they spoke the truth. The cost of discipleship is high, but Mark challenges us to take our place in the party and think about what role we play. Are we going to be perpetrators of violence or observers of violence? There are lots of good people out there, but they have not stopped many of the world’s atrocities. There were lots of good Germans, but they never stopped Hitler. There were lots of good Chinese people out there but they never stopped Mao Zedong. There are lots of wonderful Russians, but they never stopped Stalin. There are lots of good people out there today, but they do not stop the violence by speaking out.
A question I always ask myself is what scars have I got to show because of my Christian faith? Have I spoken out when I have seen an injustice? Is my moral plumbline askew from God’s? Perhaps we should all ask those questions.
This sermon was first preached at Wanstead URC by Reverend Martin Wheadon on 11th July 2021
Reading: Amos 7:7-15 New International Version
7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied.
Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:
“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
and Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
There are various questions that strike us during this reading. We have to remember Amos was actually a poor shepherd. He had not been trained, he had not gone to Northern College or Westminster College or anything like that. He was just obedient. That is one of the key things about God; God does not necessarily use the most intelligent people, he uses those who are most obedient. It is availability, not ability, that God looks for. Amos was very much in that camp. He was obedient and he was available.
Amos gives some very unpopular messages. The Lord tells Amos that he must set a plumb line. As we all know, a plumb line is a weight on the end of a rope or piece of string, which gives you a perfectly straight line. God is comparing the plumb line with God’s moral values - the things that God believes and to which people must adhere. This plumb line gives us a measure of what God believes in, as does the Bible.
Now, if I made a plumb line, how skewed would my plumb line be in comparison to Gods? My moral values have been forged by friends, family, society, television, and social media. My plumb line resembles what I think is true, but how true is it compared to Gods? Luckily, God has given us his plumb line in the Bible, which tells us what to measure as the truth. God is very clear in the Bible that God does not like poverty, does not like people being oppressed, and is not happy when people manipulate and take advantage. When we think about how good our actions have been, we need to compare them to how good God thinks we have been. There is God's plumb line, there is a society's plumb line and there is our plumb line, but sometimes, they are not all the same measurements.
In this reading, we have Amaziah, the chief priest of Bethel, and King Jeroboam, who ruled over the northern kingdom. King Jeroboam stopped people from the northern kingdom from going to the southern kingdom where Jerusalem was, yet everyone was expected to go to Jerusalem to fulfil their sacrifices and so forth. So, what King Jeroboam did was provide two other temples for his people to worship God. Amaziah was a priest assigned to one of these temples, which was Bethel. The other one was in a place called Dan.
Amos has been asked to give Amaziah some bad news. The northern kingdom was not behaving as it should, so they would be annihilated. It is important to remember this book was written around 760 BC, because in 721 BC, Assyria invaded the northern kingdom and wiped it out. What we are reading is a prophecy from Amos, 40 years before the event.
What happens when you hear the truth? Amaziah had two options. The first is to ignore Amos and believe the message does not relate to him or means something else. Secondly, he could get rid of the messenger, and that is what Amaziah did. He did not like what he was hearing and thought Amos was bad for morale, so asked Amos to go away. But Amos said, I can go away, but the truth remains the same. Unless they change their ways, they will be destroyed.
The message we can take from this passage is, where do we set our plumb line? What is the cost of our discipleship? If we have to say something, which we know others will not like to hear, what should we do?
The Cost of Discipleship is a book written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is a lightweight book but it has heavyweight content. Bonhoeffer says that the cost of discipleship is, if you go to heaven, what scars will you be proud to show that you have sustained because of God. So, this passage examines us. It asks, what is the cost of our discipleship? Then we have to ask ourselves, what comes between us and obeying God? What obstacles do we put in the way to prevent us from obeying the word of God?
This sermon was first preached at Wanstead URC by Reverend Martin Wheadon on 18th July 2021
Reading: Mark 6:1-1 (New International Version)
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
This story should be read in conjunction with the earlier episode in Mark 3 where Jesus is rejected. In Mark 6, Jesus is speaking in his hometown, Nazareth, in a synagogue, a place where he should feel safe and secure. In Mark 5, he raised Jairus’ daughter. He was able to do the most amazing miracles, even raising people from the dead, no wonder crowds surrounded him. In Nazareth, he was preaching to people he knew, so thought it would be a good audience. But because they knew him, they did not believe the things he said. To them, he was only a carpenter, a local boy. They were prejudiced against seeing the truth.
I wonder what blinds us from seeing the true person. Is it because we label them, and that we have our own prejudices? Prophets were workers for God, and here, Jesus is rejected in his own home town. How do we cope with rejection? Does it stop us? Should Jesus have said, “well as I've been rejected, I'm not going to go on”? Or did it not stop him, but just continue with such self-confidence knowing that his ministry was so important?
It is interesting that the lack of miracles coincides with the idea of Nazareth having no faith. This means that faith and miracles must in some way be connected. In chapter seven, Jesus sends the apostles out in pairs, and not just in order to drive out evil spirits and heal sick people. He sent them out with very little: no extra shoes, no money, just a stick, meaning they had to be reliant upon the people they met. Their trust in God would have been enhanced. They would have had some bad experiences, no doubt they faced rejection, but also some good experiences. Some people would have accepted them, allowing them to perform healings and exorcisms. So, the disciples learned to trust in God with their meagre list of resources.
The apostles became vulnerable and in many ways, this vulnerability meant that hospitality was forthcoming. Perhaps if they had gone out showing their wealth and expensive clothes, their message would have been overshadowed, but because they went with very little, the only thing to focus on was the message: repent from your sins; Jesus can forgive sins; there is a new way for salvation.
The great thing about this story is Jesus’ humanity. Here we have Jesus, the human Jesus, who has a hometown, a place where he was able to lay his roots, a place where he was a carpenter. Interestingly, in this version, Jesus was the carpenter rather than the son of a carpenter. The people Mark wrote about saw him as a workman, but he is not appreciated or accepted. This is the God of the universe being rejected. They took offence at him. How could the next-door neighbour be the Son of God, especially as they have seen him grow up? His brothers and sisters are mentioned, but not Joseph, the father, suggesting, as I read in a commentary, the people thought Jesus was illegitimate.
What makes this story important to me is this rejection by the family, both in Mark 3 and in Mark 6, which shows that when Jesus was alive, his family did not really understand him. Yet, after the resurrection, they did. We have two references, one in Acts 1:13-14 and one in Galatians 1:19, where the brothers of Jesus became prominent in the new Christianity. So, after the resurrection, they must have been one of the 500 who saw Jesus’ transformation. One brother, Jude, writes a letter, which becomes one of the 27 books in the New Testament. Another brother, James, becomes head of the church in Jerusalem. So, these brothers are prominent in the new Christianity, but they had previously rejected him. In Mark 3, they called him crazy, that he was beside himself. So, we have this wonderful story where these brothers did not believe, but in Acts and Galatians, their attitudes changed and they did believe in Jesus.
The other thing to note is, if we do not understand somebody, we will tend to demonise them. So, Jesus was derided because he was a carpenter, and people could not see beyond that label to the bigger picture. This story is true because it is quite embarrassing. If you were trying to create a superhero, you would not let him be rejected by his family. You would not have these vulnerabilities. Yet, somehow, his power to heal was limited to the amount of faith the person had. This embarrassment tends to suggest that it is true. It is difficult because I like my superheroes to be flawless. I do not like them to have weaknesses, but here we have the Son of God, with weaknesses. Fully divine, fully human, but within that humanity, he cannot heal everybody.
Another thing to mention is Jesus’s mother, Mary, and perpetual virginity. I have read that within the Roman Catholic Church, and within Islam, Mary could not have any more children, because she was a perpetual virgin. So where do these brothers and sisters come from? Within the Protestant Church, we believe that they were Mary’s because she was married to Joseph, but the Roman Catholics and Muslims say that they must have been from Joseph’s previous relationship. In this case, Jesus’ family are step-brothers. They still rejected Jesus, but still transformed after the resurrection.
The reading is also mentioned in both Matthew 13 and Luke 4. There are slight changes within the narrative, but because it is in the three Synoptics, it makes you believe that it is a true story. We can learn a lot of truth from this passage. We learn that we demonise those that we do not understand.
It also gives us some comfort in knowing that, when we try to preach and express our testimonies, and our words fall on ears that do not really want to hear the message, that the same thing happened to Jesus. The same thing happened to the apostles, the early disciples. So, it gives us some hope that, if even Jesus can not get his message across, then we are in good company when we fail. Of course, some people do not want to accept the truth because it is very inconvenient. It is costly to follow Jesus, his ways, values and morals. A costly suggestion in Acts is that we give our possessions to the poor, but, of course, Jesus was not against people having possessions. In Acts, there are lots of people, for example, Lydia, who were able to create wealth and use the wealth in order to help the disciples. So, Jesus is not against the acquisition of wealth, he is suggesting how we use it and questioning our motives. If we can use it for the furtherance of the kingdom, then that is okay.
It is worth looking back at Mark 3:20-35, where Jesus heals on the Sabbath. The scribes who come to test Jesus cannot say that the miracles did not happen. Instead, they say Jesus must be possessed by the devil or working for the devil. So, Jesus’ Galilean ministry of healing, exorcisms, teaching, miracles and radical thinking, which upset people’s traditional values, must have happened otherwise the scribes would have claimed the miracles did not happen and offer proof. So, when people argue that Jesus did not exist, we have this wonderful story where we can reveal Jesus did, in fact, exist.
When people say there is no evidence of Jesus existing, they forget to look at the evidence that is outside the Bible. If we look at that, we appreciate that the basic storyline is confirmed by non-Christian sources, such as Josephus the Jewish historian, Tacitus, Suetonius, Aeneas, Pliny the Younger, Trojan, and the Greek writer Lucien. All of these writers, outside the Bible, confirm the basic storyline of Jesus. Therefore, we do not have to rely upon the Bible in order to know that Jesus existed. So, this story in Mark 3 and Mark 6, embarrassing as it is, proves to me that miracles did happen. So we should not be embarrassed. It proves to me that Jesus was a real person. He was struggling, his family was embarrassed by him. But Jesus does not panic, he responds calmly. He makes us think about our values and suggests that perhaps the family we are born into is not the family we necessarily deserve. It is the people who believe that Jesus considers family. Of course, we know that the brothers do respond after the resurrection in the most magnificent way. They move from Jesus being an embarrassment to being the source of their salvation.
The other thing about Jesus is that he is able to forgive sins. This of course is a very radical thought. By whose authority is he able to forgive sins? How dare he forgive somebody’s sins? It is not really Jesus’ place to do that! Yet, he claims that he can forgive sins. The fact that the story of Mark 3 and Mark 6 has the humanity of Jesus coming through, and the truth of Jesus coming through, makes this a real person. We remember that in John 6:66, many disciples turned back and could no longer follow him, because Jesus’ message is a hard message. Even Jesus could not convert everybody. But in John 6:68, Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life”, and that is vital. It is important to know the reason why we follow Jesus, and follow this costly message, and follow the priorities, which are sometimes different to society. It is because Jesus has the words of eternal life.
Jesus works through people’s weaknesses. I was reminded of the Confederate Prayer.
The American Civil War was the most dreadful of civil wars, affecting some 31 million people. In the spring of 1864, a battle exploded on the outskirts of Richmond. After the fighting ended, armies marched off to grapple elsewhere. Some soldiers moved onto the battlefield to bury the dead. One party came upon the Confederate soldier. He lay amid the dead in the front of the battle line. Just before burying him on the field, the gravediggers made the usual search of the body, inside the shirt pocket was a sheet of paper on it. This common soldier, a day or so earlier, had scrawled some thoughts. They were a statement of what life meant to him. As such, the words are an everlasting testimonial to one simple human being.
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly how to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
This sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 4th July 2021 by the Reverend Martin Wheadon
Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 (New International Version)
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In chapter 11, we heard about Paul and all the suffering that had occurred to him. For following Jesus, he was beaten, stoned, lashed and constantly in danger. He speaks to the people of Corinth and, having established his credentials, he speaks of having a thorn in his side. Is this thorn epilepsy, is it malaria, an eye disease? We have no idea. We do know that he asked three times for this thorn to be removed, but this prayer was not answered.
This leads us to the subject of unanswered prayer. What did the thorn do for Paul? He learned how to be vulnerable. He learned how to rely upon God's strength, and not always on his own. He focused on God's grace and God's transforming power. So, the thorn in Paul's side ensured there was no self-absorption or self-importance. It is interesting to know how God uses our weaknesses or not our strengths. We, of course, know of God's grace and the undeserved and overwhelming love that God offers. That amazing grace “how sweet the sound” as John Newton wrote.
In Roman times, gods ruled over humans, judging them harshly. So, having a God of love that pours kindness onto undeserving humans simply because it is in God's nature was very foreign to the audience of Paul. Saying there is only one God, and that this God is a God of love was difficult for people to comprehend.
Where do we see God reveal God's love? Sunsets, meeting your life partner, concerts, music, reading a good book, recovering from illness? People tend not to look for the love of God when things are going well, but they often blame God when things are not going to their satisfaction. So, the thorn in Paul's side reminds us that there is another aspect to God. Paul prays three times and the prayers are not answered. Yet, Paul did not respond by refusing to believe in God, he responded by working out how the pain, the thorn, could actually help his life. Pain is essential to life and warns us of danger. It stops us from being conceited. Paul was very pleased with the success of his mission. The thorn reminded him all the time to be humble.
How can God use our weaknesses? It is when we are vulnerable that our relationship with God strengthens. Perhaps if you have just been told some really bad news, for instance, someone has cancer or a life-threatening disease, whatever it may be, it is not something that God has given you, but it is something from which you can deepen your relationship with God. A God who is a God of grace and compassion. Sometimes it is in weakness that we experience the fruits of faith, and our relationship with God gets better.
Paul prayed three times, and the answer was no. Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, And the answer was no. So, not all our prayers are answered, and we must live with that. We endure the situation, and we try to understand what God is doing through it. What is God trying to teach us? How is our relationship developing with God? Are we truly trusting that God of the universe? Do we really believe that God knows what he is doing, that God is sovereign. Is it unfair that, just because we believe in God, we think our life should be absolutely fantastic, or is it more realistic to understand that God is a resource to get us through difficult moments when they arise? It is for us to show how our faith in God helps us get through even the harshest of times.
Paul's letter to the Corinthians is very much an example of us trying to learn through unanswered prayer. It is an opportunity for us to testify about our experiences of God. Sometimes, by telling people how great God is because we have had such a wonderful life does not really resonate with people. But if you talk about how God has helped you through the difficulties of life, because all people have difficulties, it is going to greatly enhance our testimony. It is talking about our experiences of God through painful life episodes and vulnerable situations that increase our experience and relationship with God. Sometimes we just have to endure the afflictions that life gives us.
Please note, I believe that God does not give us suffering. I do not believe that God is testing us. I think that life tests us, but a God of love does not test, even though we have the book of Job, whereby the discussion between God and Satan is very much a case of testing Job to see if he remains faithful. The code of the New Testament is a code of love, not of testing; but life tests, and it is up to us to use the resources God freely gives us to try to get us through the most dreadful of situations. Rely upon God's grace and compassion. Trust in God and know that we are part of a bigger picture. Whilst we can not see where our piece of the jigsaw fits in the bigger picture, we trust that everything is moving towards salvation and eternal life.
This sermon was first preached at Gants Hill URC on 4th July 2021 by the Reverend Martin Wheadon
One of the toughest questions any person, let alone Christians, has to answer is “why is there suffering?” I think suffering is part of life, and we have the resources of a loving Christ to help us through all of the difficult situations in which we find ourselves. Yet, we always strive to look for meaning. What is the meaning of the suffering we are facing or observing? Here are a few reasons people have suggested for the purpose of suffering.
Suffering allows us to show love. When Christians see someone suffering, they respond by offering love to others, just like the love given to them through Christ. Being there for people is a way of showing God's response to suffering. The Church is there too, via street pastors, food banks or night shelters, to help God respond to the suffering and the needs of people.
Suffering could also be a result of free will, the consequences of foolish actions. Every action has a consequence, and because we have the gift of free will, it is not up to God to keep on intervening and getting ourselves out of difficulties. So, the precious gift of free will leads to suffering because people are not putting others first. Instead, they put themselves first because of greed, pride, envy etc. The free will that we enjoy is also the cause of others suffering.
Sometimes we can learn from suffering. It promotes discipline, endurance and perseverance. If suffering is a long term situation, perhaps there are lessons we can learn from it or disciplines we can improve upon. Paul, for example, had a constant thorn in his side.
Suffering is common to all of us. It is human, it is inevitable, it is part of life. Perhaps the suffering of others brings us together? It certainly brings families together when a child is suffering. It prompts the question of what is fair. Often people complain that it is not fair that they have got gout, arthritis and so forth. Yet, what exactly is fairness? I have heard that if you do not experience the lows, you cannot enjoy the highs. It gives you some contrast. Having temporary low periods heightens the good times when they arrived.
Suffering teaches us humility and grace. When suffering, you may look for the little chinks of light, positive things. It makes you more aware of your circumstances and enables you to find grace in the smallest of things. Pain can push us forward; we can grow from pain. Suffering can promote willpower and develops character. It allows us to respond to and sympathise with other people's pain. As I have already said, suffering is something that everybody has experiences, therefore, all humanity can help one another.
How one responds to suffering is a personal choice. We cannot help what happens to us externally, but as Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” The way we respond is up to us; it is our choice. As Christians, if we respond well, it helps us help others determine how they should respond. Suffering reminds us of our vulnerability. It is not a personal thing; we have not been targeted. It is not God's punishment for anything we have done.
Suffering, of course, is also a warning. Pain is a warning. If you put your hand over a hot stove, your body immediately forces you to retract it. If you have a hangover, the pain is a warning you had too much alcohol or drugs. It is saying, please do not continue to do this. An awful pain in your stomach warns the body that something is wrong. Suffering can also be cleansing, a purging. When you have come out of a period of suffering, you sometimes feel purer and better. It can increase your compassion for others. Our hardships help us understand how others are feeling and help us respond accordingly. We become more empathetic; we want to help.
Suffering is a reality check. It stuns. It tells us we have to stop what we are doing and get help. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, so the phrase goes. When we are suffering and feel like giving up, we somehow keep going and find new resources or willpower. This can develop us and make us better people. History is littered with people who have suffered, and as a result, have become better people. Abraham Lincoln, for example, suffered depression and suicidal thoughts, yet this made him a better president.
There is a quote from the 2006 biopic Rocky Balboa, which sums up what I have said. “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!” Suffering has many reasons, from which we can extract lots of meaning, but as I said at the beginning, suffering is just a fact of life. We have the resources of God to help us get us through, and, of course, we have the resources of the Church, our friends and our family to help us. If we are suffering, we should never feel that we are a burden. We must share our experiences of suffering, and in so doing, enable others to respond, enable them to show their humanity and kindness. Knowing these people are there helps you to keep going, as does knowing God is with you. God, of course, is in the suffering. God has suffered. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, suffered for us on the cross. God is not a God who is remote. God is with you, so use God as a resource. Pray. Read the Bible. There are many instances of suffering in the Bible, for example, Job. Know that you are not alone. You have not been singled out for punishment, so rely upon God to help you through the suffering. Amen.
Written by Reverend Martin Wheadon, May 2021
I read that agreeing with a woman is like reading the software licence agreement. In the end, you ignore everything and click “I Agree”. The reason why I mentioned that is because it is similar to the terms and conditions for being a Christian. We click and agree, because we think we are Christians, we go to church and everything else. But the terms and conditions for being a Christian is something that we need to unravel. It is easy to click "I agree", but if we actually look at the words, it is far more difficult and complex than that.
Today's readings, especially in John, is about love. I am going to express something that I hope does not receive your displeasure: before the world began, there was love. God operates outside time, space and matter. In fact, God created them, therefore, he cannot be confined to our understandings of the concepts. In Genesis 1:1, when it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” God created time, space and matter. So, who created God? What was there before God created the earth? God has to be love, and it is from this love that the universe was created. There has to be, alongside cause and effects, physics and so on, a prime mover, the very first start. Scientists look into the Big Bang and discover all sorts of wonderful things, but God created in the beginning, so God is love.
Now, if God is an emotion, that helps us with a few things. The first thing is, how does God possibly hear our prayer? Does God speak perfect English? Does God know all the 6,500 different languages around the world? But if God is love, God will respond to emotion. Have you ever been moved by a piece of music, for example, played on an organ in church? Sometimes music warms our hearts, creating emotion rather than words. So when we pray, God does not care what words we use, but what God will know is the emotion and feeling we are putting into that prayer. It is the emotion that is expressed that goes to God, and God is, therefore, able to cope with all the various prayers that come up from us because God responds to the emotions that are behind them. Words do not matter, it is the emotion and the motive behind them.
God created the world, and it was wonderful. God took six periods of time to create it, and in the seventh period, God rested. It is quite important to remember that God incorporated rest in the seven days. We need to rest as well.
Jesus was radical. Last week, if you follow the lectionary, you would have read John 15:1-8: “I am the true vine.” For generation after generation since Adam and Eve, the people of Israel had failed to live up to God’s word. Prophets, such as Amos, pointed out where they were going wrong, but they did not listen. Jesus has now arrived saying, I am God enfleshed, I am the Son of God, therefore, you must follow me, not Israel.
Jesus is a radical being saying all sorts of amazing things. He says he will forgive sins. This is very radical. Let us say that I argue with my wife, who has done something wrong. I am feeling aggrieved and my wife is feeling aggrieved. Suddenly, a neighbour, who has overheard, comes round and says, “I forgive you.” What gave that neighbour the right to forgive us, when it should be my wife and I doing the forgiving? Yet, that is what Jesus was saying. He said he can forgive sins, that he has the authority to do so.
In John, Jesus says seven “I am” sentences. I am the bread. I am the light. I am the narrow door. I am the gate. I am the true life. I am the resurrection. I am the true vine. The words “I am” in Hebrew sound very much like “Yahweh”, which is the Jewish for God. People were not allowed to say that, or else they will be punished by death. Yet, according to John, Jesus said “I am” seven times. That is seven times Jesus claims he is the same as God. That is how radical he is, and I think we have to understand that, in our terms and conditions, we do not follow a God who sticks to the rules. Jesus breaks rules. For example, Jesus broke the Sabbath by healing people on that day of rest.
So, Jesus is a radical person, claiming the most amazing things. Judaism, in itself, is an amazing thing because it only has one God. In Greek and Roman times, the more gods you had, the better. This monotheistic religion claims you only need one God; you do not need Zeus or Jupiter, you do not need the God of War, you do not need the God of the Sea, you only need to have one true God. At the time, that was a revolutionary concept, which Jesus was behind. Jesus was a Jew saying radical things, making people rethink what they believe.
In John 15:9-7, what Jesus is talking about is love. Not just any love, but “as I have loved you.” The way he has loved us is sacrificial. There are eight translations of love in Jesus’ time, of which C.S. Lewis has identified four: a child/parent love, a friend’s love, lust, and Agape, which is self-sacrificing love. The latter is very hard to achieve, so it was not very popular before Jesus arrived. But this is what Jesus is asking us to do, to love one another as he has loved us. This is Agape, self-sacrificial love. It is putting other people before yourself.
Not only was Jesus radical, but the Holy Spirit is radical as well. The reading in Acts is very radical. It says you no longer need to worry about the rules concerning clean and unclean food given in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. That is another pillar of Judaism taken away. Another was the rule about circumcision. Gentiles were not circumcised, but the Holy Spirit was using the gift of Jesus to pay for the sins of those who ate the wrong foods and were even circumcised. This is a radical God, but it is the God you have signed up to in your terms and conditions.
We may think to ourselves, those challenges were then, what challenges do we have now? A hundred years ago, our challenge was determining women’s place in the church. This groundbreaking discussion meant the Congregational Church became the first to allow female ministers. We saw that the love of Jesus could not stop at these boundaries we put in place. So, it was only right and fair that women should know the love of the Holy Spirit and be ministers.
In the 21st century, the debate has turned to the LGBTQ+ community. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queers and others who do not identify as heterosexual - what is their place within the Christian church? This is something we have to work out. The radical Holy Spirit is allowing us both free will and free-thinking. There is a radical God who wants everybody to know the love of Jesus Christ, and we have to start thinking about how we make that a reality. Whilst we say that what is in the Bible is true, perhaps the LGBTQ+ community does not get a fair look. We often cite Leviticus, but if we look at the Bible through the eyes of Jesus, perhaps that community deserves a warmer welcome. We live in a world where we sometimes have to be counter-intuitive. We live in a world where we have to have a distinctive voice. Some people use the Bible as a way of being distinctive, believing that by excluding people, they are keeping the truth of Jesus. But perhaps that is not right?
I want to leave you with this: God's love is for everybody. God’s love is self-sacrificial. Jesus said, “I am the shepherd”, and just as the shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, Jesus laid down his life for us. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus knew he was going to die, so tells his disciples to “Love one another as I have loved you”. He did not mean to love one another by doing nice things but lay down your life for one another. That is the radical love for that our Terms and Conditions have signed us up. Amen.
This sermon was preached at Wanstead URC by Rev'd Martin Wheadon on 9/5/21
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon