This sermon was delivered Gordon McCulloch to the congregation at Holy Trinity in Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland on the 26th August 2018; Holy Trinity is a Scottish Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Glasgow and Dumfries.
Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18 Psalm 34:15-22 Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-69
“Please join me in my prayer.” Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen. (Ps. 19:14)
Here’s a question for you … “how far will you go to prove your love for our lord”? … That is a horrible question, and a question we are all afraid or ashamed to even think about, let alone answer, because this question really proves our faith.
It is not because we want or do not want to do things for the Lord, but it is very difficult to know or find out want he wants us to do. Yes we know when we get it right, and we certainly know when we get it wrong, but I am asking, what task you thinking about or are going to do next.
If you are like me, I have absolutely no idea; non-what-so-ever, in fact I barely know what I am going to do tomorrow except go to school … but someone, some expert could answer glibly, and say, why not go to Africa and teach the word there? … We would all agree that, that would be a noble task and a worthy deed, but is that what he wants me to do? …
What about our loved ones at home … or our current responsibilities, what would happen to them? … Do we drop everything and become a crusader for the Lord in Africa just for the sake of doing something … or because someone’s told us to do it? … Do you see how horrible this question is? … And it is difficult to answer … and I do not get the impression that many people can.
And yet, I have been to church meetings where the preacher has managed to wind up the whole congregation so high, to answer that question positively in favour of their church, and I have actually seen the congregation wanting to throw everything away in gay abandon, and openly confess that they are going to devote the rest of their lives to some deed for the Lord … without any thoughts of the damage they would leave behind or the consequences.
But I have also seen those same people a few weeks later totally confused about what they are going to do, because when reality hit them, that is well after the church meeting … when the hysteria had died down … and they are left all on their own … trying to put it all together then trying to forget about it … behind a wall of shame and apathy.
… I am not getting at these people or their church because these people, these Christians do want to serve the Lord, and they are prepared to make a serious commitment publically … but the problems begin when it comes to getting started … and when there is nothing to get their teeth into, they become very discouraged feeling like a failure. … Can you relate to that? … At some stage in our lives we have been all out for the Lord, but all out for what … and to do what exactly? … It’s certainly very confusing?
… Yet we all know that there are many great men and woman of God who have answered his call, and who have or are committed their lives to do the Lord’s business every single day, somewhere on this earth, in various capacities. … So we must ask, how did they manage it?
So to make a start, we could ask someone. We could go and ask an expert … because we are certainly not short of them. … People who are great communicators … but somehow people that can never really give us the answers we are looking for, yet still manage to come across as experts.
… Now you may be saying that there are people whose words are worth listening to, and there are … and there are many people who are wise and reliable, especially those who have been through it all … but all I am saying is … all I am saying is there are many who are not … and we need to discern the difference between them, as this could result in pain and destruction.
The exact same is true for our spiritual side of life as there are many religions who claim to know all the answers. … Yes, they all have good, nae great words of advice, but we must discern whose words, and which advice to follow. … The fact that we are here this morning, or a member of a Christian church means that we have already decided who to follow, and that is our Lord Jesus Christ of course, our good shepherd, who said in John 10:26-28 ”My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: … And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand”. …
What lovely verses … that will do for me … because Jesus is the one who has the words of eternal life … and we shall never perish … and neither shall any man harm us. … Jesus is our expert, because he walked this earth as we do … he suffered just the same as we have … in fact the Jews killed him … but he rose again from the dead and opened the way for us to follow directly on his footsteps. … Wow, that’s strong … and we are following him.
3. Other religions
Before I became a Christian, and even after it, I have, I am not ashamed to say, enquired after other religions. … When I worked within a large computer company years ago, I was even put on courses to get to grips with “the new age movement” which was very prevalent within the company in the early 90’s … but in all honestly, and in all religions that I enquired … none of them inspired me … none of them could attempt to answer my deeper questions … and all of them I found wanting because … Christianity is the only religion, or belief, where the founder died and rose from the dead. … Every other founder, of every other religion is dead and buried somewhere, or cremated somewhere, and all of them are truly dead and without life.
Our Lord however is very much alive … and here in this morning in this very church … sitting beside you in fact … because he is Omni present according to the bible … and it is for that very reason we are here to worship him today. True?
… And there may be some people in this very church who have had a personal encounter with our Lord … in one way or another … whether it is a visitation or a word or even just a feeling of his present or something. … These encounters are more common than you think, and they are very very real because they seriously changed the lives of those who have experienced them, and we have all seen such a change.
But there are also many other Christians … and I mean proper Christians, who have not had any such encounter … but who have simple believed. … For them John 20 verse 29 is so prevalent, where the risen Christ spoke to Thomas and said … “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, you hast believed: but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. … And I have always taken that verse to mean that they are even more blessed because of their faith in him. … Yet regardless of our experience, it is sufficient enough that all Christians believe that they have someone or something living within them, and that something is the living spirit of God, who ensures we all stay on the path … his path.
And this then takes us to the answer, “how far will we go to prove our love for the lord”, the answer being … “however far he lets us” … because if we are not up to it, or we go off in a tangent, the lord will surely close some doors and bring us back to earth with a bang. … He will not ask us to do anything where we struggle badly or something that we just do not want to do … or something that he does not want us to do. So take relief in that, because if we are struggling badly with something because we don’t like it, then we are never going to excel in it … and we do not need to be an expert in to know that … and we do not need to be an expert either to know that there is no other religion who has their leader personally guiding their disciples … is there? … No.
But you may say, all other religions have clear rules and laws and guidelines to follow … so do we … we have the Old Testament … the Old Covenant which I am sure everyone here does their level best to obey … and that is good … but we all fail at times … but we are not under the Old Covenant … we are under the New where Christ died to restore our relationship with God himself, regardless of our sin … and who thereby releases the Holy Spirit into our lives. … Name a religion that is even a little bit close to our New Covenant? … I can’t and I do not know any other religion that starts off by saying “your sins are forgiven, and that you belong to the Lord forever” … before you even start.
It’s like I said a few weeks ago in my sermon, you don’t have do this this and this to try and earn something like other religions, we start by believing that we are cleansed throughout by the blood of the lamb, we are free from our sins, and that God is living deep within us. … It is a totally different perspective than any other religion. … Yes it is hard to take it all this in, but that is what our New Testament is trying to tells us.
Also, in my last sermon a few weeks ago, I also spoke of Jesus explaining to the Jewish people in Galilee that he was the living bread that came down from heaven … the Bread of life … and not the bread he miraculous fed the five thousand with, remember Jesus remained popular with them as long as he was providing free food … but today we hear him telling these same Jews that if they don’t eat His flesh and drink His blood, then there was no life in them … and how did they react? … They took offense and voted with their feet at this difficult doctrine and went off on one.
And to be honest, I don’t condemn them, because this is very difficult to understand and take in, and the Jews simply did not understand … nor how could they? … They did not know Jesus was going to die on a cross … let alone rise again … and they couldn’t have known anything of Holy Communion.
To them, his words sounded like cannibalism, in fact after his death, (and this has been documented by Josephus), that many in the region thought his disciples had actually ate his body from the Romans, and that is how they hid or destroyed his body … and so we fully understand there grumblings of … “This is a difficult teaching. Who can listen to it? And so many turned away and no longer followed Him”. … I fully understand them.
But I like the next part, “When Jesus saw them leave, He asked His twelve disciples, Do you also want to leave? And Peter answered, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the holy One of God”.
Now that is a confession of faith that we can believe in. … And yet I always wondered … see those disciples who left, those disciples who had seen all those wonderful miracles … where would they go? … That always confused me … because if I saw someone miraculously healing somebody, raising them from the dead, conjuring up food … getting money from a fishes mouth … walking on water … even turning water into wine, for example … my thoughts would be, “how do you do that? … Are you going to show me? … Teach me to do that! … In fact I would hound him until he did. … That is not very nice, but come on; so would you probably, regardless of how you would put it.
And that is what I liked about Peter again, yes he was impulsive and hot-tempered, but he knew where it was at, he knew Jesus was no ordinary man, and he knew, there was nowhere else to go.
… And what is brilliant about this is that Peter did not know anything about the Eucharist, or the Lord’s flesh and blood, it didn’t matter to him … he wasn’t bothered, he just took it on in faith … he took it as it came …because he had his faith in Jesus and he would follow him regardless … wherever that took him.
And Acts 4:12 backs this up when it tells us that Peter told the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish leaders … that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people except the name of Jesus”.
And there is more to this than you think, because Peter was somehow turning his back on his Jewish upbringing. … Think about it … Peter could have rested on his identity as a Jew and one of God’s chosen people which he was … a descendant of Abraham as a way of salvation … couldn’t he?
Peter could still rely on the animal sacrifices to cover his sins, and receive forgiveness like he was taught from birth … and Peter could even have hoped that his good deeds outweighed his bad deeds in becoming self-righteous … just as many people do today … but we know that doesn’t work for long. … But no, Peter gave his all for Jesus … and he believed and he followed him.
All that was away back in the day, but for us in this present age … we find it much easier to believe that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” … and we find it easier to believe that Jesus suffered and died for every single one of us … to atone for our sins once and for all … and we find it easier to believe in the promise of “whoever believes in Him will not perish but have the gift of eternal life”.
And we don’t believe or even think for a second about eating His flesh and drinking His blood like a cannibal, because we have the advantage of knowing that Jesus was pointing to the Eucharist at the Last Supper … and the celebration of Holy Communion … and we do not or cannot walk away from that, we are addicted to it, whether it is here in Holy Trinity or some other Christian church … we are well and truly hooked.
And we just cannot turn away from the words of Jesus either … and go our own way … we are not free to do that, either the power of the Holy Spirit within would only allow that for a while, before bringing us back with a thud … just like the prodigal son. … Jesus “is the way the truth and the light” … because Jesus speaks the words of eternal life and we cannot, regardless of how hard we try, cannot turn away from him without consequences.
Yes these teachings are difficult, and yes following him can be painful … demanding us to change when we don’t want to … but we change to suit that new life that is now living within us, in the power of the Holy Spirit … in the power of love … and in the knowledge that God wants us for himself. I will finish there for today but end with a short prayer.
Let us pray,
Father, we thank you for Jesus, we thank you that he died to save us and restore our relationship with you.
Father help us to understand the Holy Spirit working us within, and guiding us to do your will and not our own as we sometimes wish.
Father help us to understand that you have our best interests in mind always, even unto the ends of the earth.
Father we ask in Jesus name, Amen.