Summary: A message of encouragement during a Corps visit in the values of The Salvation Army.

A short survey; can I see a show of hands, who has had a really good week? Who has had an average sort of week? I can see from your faces that some have had a really tough week.

I asked these questions because sometimes we come to a place like this thinking, we are all in the same boat. Others may have had a really different week to us while some may have had a week that is similar to ours, this week.

I’d like to share something about myself with you.

The family that I grew up in are an interesting bunch of people, I come from an average-sized family by Fijian standards there are four of us kids, I have an older sister, a younger sister and a younger brother, while he’s the youngest he’s now 50. My Dad was a Plumber for all his working life, he had his own business and Mum was a lab technician before children and after children also. Dad passed on in 2016 and Mum is still alive and living in Nelson in New Zealand, she turns 83 this year.

Sadly, Dad never got to meet Ayodya or Janaki, why that is a sad thing is because he would have really enjoyed their company and I’m sure that they would have enjoyed his. Dad was a very good Grandfather, an excellent Grandad to our boys and their cousins. I would say the practice that he had to bring his own kids up mellowed him a bit in life, I say this because he was a strict father, a good man, very straight up, very honest, very firm and strict. I however only recall Dad going to Church once, he and Mum came along when we were Corps Officers at Sydenham Corps. Dad had his own belief system and was very focused on it.

Growing up if I was ever going out Dad would say, “Remember who you belong to.” I think this was his way of saying, “behave yourself son”, and that if I got up to no good he would hear about it. Nelson at that time was a pretty small place.

In John’s gospel, we come across a passage of scripture where Jesus tells his disciples in an interesting way who they belong to. At the start of the 13th Chapter of this gospel just before the Passover feast Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of lords gets down on his knees and washes his disciples’ feet. He does this and says to his disciples “you call me ‘Teacher and ‘Lord’ rightly so for that is what I am.” He goes onto say that “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus their Master washed their feet and he told them to do the same setting an example. This was the role normally kept for the lowest servant in the household, why because during the day the streets were full of animals and animal by-products, the feet carried this and diseases that went with it. The Master served; remember that, Jesus our Master served.

The point however I want to get to here is that the way Jesus did what my Dad would do when I was going out somewhere was to say to his disciples, “By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. Repeat

This was a commandment, a command, no suggestion here, “love one another!” In addition to Jesus pointing out the two great commands that sum up the law and the prophets this – new commandment, to love one another!

So here we have Jesus doing this thing, giving the disciples a heads up on how they should behave and the outcome of that behaviour, when they were going out somewhere. Jesus does it in a way that is easy to remember. Something like ‘Boys, people will know you are my disciples if you, love one another.’

Really simple this – no smart goals, no fancy vision and mission statement, no ensuring everyone on the team has a position with certain responsibilities and the uniform, no uniform, no outcomes reported back to DHQ. Please don’t think that I don’t think that in our organisation these are not useful and sometimes important things. The only thing that Jesus points out here as an important witness to “all men” of the disciples being Jesus disciples is that they “love one another”. This is really clear cut, if you, if we, want to be recognised as Jesus disciples, if we want to have an effective Christian witness – we are to love one another. It is key for our witness as individuals as a Corps, as a movement that we are acting out of love for our fellow believers and neighbours, those people we mix within community no matter who they are.

The first letter of John is clear cut on this matter, John points out, “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And we have this commandment from Him: Whoever loves God must love his brother as well.…” 1 John 4:20

Paul takes things a step further when he says in his letter to the Galatians, in Galatians 5: 20-21.

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The interesting thing with this list is that often we look at the things like impurity, debauchery, witchcraft, drunkenness and orgies and say to ourselves there’s no way I’d get involved in those things; but the stuff in the middle, the discord (disharmony), jealousy, selfish ambition, dissensions (disagreements) and factions (groups) are from time to time going on within the body of the Church, where is the love for one another in these things? Paul makes it clear that those who practise these things “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” If we partake in these things, if we engage in these behaviours, we are caught in sin and will not be a party to God’s glory until we repent of such behaviour. If you are a disciple of Jesus, you will be loving the other disciples, this will be your witness to all men, this love will then attract others to the body which is the Church. It is key for our witness as individuals as a Corps that we are acting out of love for our fellow believers and neighbours, for those people we mix within community no matter who they are.

I want to encourage you in the Salvation Army’s values for these reflect the love we are to have for one another!

No 1 is putting Jesus first if we are truly putting Jesus first there is no issue with our not loving our fellow believers and others. Why because if we are putting Jesus first, our lives will reflect his love, his giving caring nature, his love for the Father and his fellow man. Sacrificial and responsive to need. If you are a disciple of Jesus, you will be loving the other disciples, this will be your witness to all men. You will be walking the talk.

Paul in his letter to the Church at Thessalonica says this; May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thess 2:16-17).

May you be encouraged, built up in character and strengthened. At these times things for many of you are tough. I am encouraged myself by the witness of your officers, Captains Salesi and Tina have been through some hard times recently. As a couple, they are an example of Christ's love for one another, family and the community here. I am sure Tina is looking forward to being back on her feet. In the meantime, they have family with them supporting them, also they have been engaged in their roles plus Captain Salesi has been working hard behind the scenes during Tropical Cyclone Harold, long hours in his role as Divisional Emergency Services Co-ordinator. I commend them to you as people of great character who have a heart of love for others and their Lord.

As we deal with the fall out of Covid-19 and the impact that it is having on the economy and many people’s livelihoods, “may God continue to encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” May you extend the love that God has shown us through Jesus example, through the example given by many generations of true followers and disciples, sacrificial caring, nurturing of the needy, the lost and the people who are struggling. Currently, there are many struggling in Fiji, many are struggling worldwide also. We have an awesome opportunity to be a witness of God’s love, to not only love our fellow believers but to love others in our neighbourhoods some who may not even know Jesus.

Again the values we have in The Salvation Army include “Care for others” the subtext of this is that as Salvationists we go out of our way to be love in action. I would encourage you that if you see a need that can be met and you’re are able to meet that need to do so. That might be where we see a need for someone to have food at this time that we share what we have, a few coins for bus fare, a bag of rice or bundle of dalo on someone’s doorstep might mean a family eat that day. Even if we are in a place where we don’t have physical things we can still show God’s love with a smile and a greeting. I’m currently passing people in the street who are looking down, life for many is tough. A greeting, Bula or a wave might be just the pick me up they need, the best thing with those things is that there is no cost and it does the giver as much good as the receiver to pass on a smile or a blessing, saying, “May God bless you brother, sister!”

As Salvationists, another of our values is to “do the right thing”, “doing the best we can with what God has entrusted us with.” It's been said that bread or we could say breadfruit for myself is a physical thing, but giving my breadfruit to my neighbour is a spiritual thing. Doing the best we can stretches beyond the physical though in many ways. Keeping confidences, not being the one to gossip when possibly passing on something that might hurt another is tempting. Again, it is key for our witness as individuals as a Corps that we are acting out of love for our fellow believers and neighbours, the people we mix within community no matter who they are. Going out of our way to involve people who would otherwise be on the fringes of society, those that some would say are unlovable by extending the love we have received, this love that Jesus has shown us and entrusted us with, to others. May you be encouraged and strengthened in every good deed and word!

This fits well with another of our values, “walking the talk” In New Zealand, there is a phrase ‘too much hui and not enough doey”, which means “plenty of words and meetings but few deeds.” While we are saved by faith through God’s grace that is not then an excuse to put our feet up and feel or be all religious. Jesus example was one of sharing, healing, teaching, reaching out to the needy, loving where no love was being given, welcoming the lost, those who were on the outskirts of society.

As William Booth pointed out in his vision of the sea, Jesus the Divine creature was in the sea saving those drowning in their sins and taking them safely to the shore.

I have often thought that I have one lifetime, one opportunity to make a difference, I know the love of God, his grace, his forgiveness, the Holy Spirit here with me. I can talk about it, but I want to make a difference with this one life, to be as useful as I can. To extend the love that God has shown me, continues to show me, to others reflecting something of my Saviour. Does that mean I always get it right, no. But God is good. I would encourage you today to always act as you believe. Today there will be some who are struggling with this, sometimes the old self shows up and distracts us from the right path, we fall back into old habits old sins. While the Devil would tell you, you are trapped there. Jesus would say “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24. The power in that comment comes in denying your temptations and distractions, letting them die on your own personal cross and following the path of Jesus, the path of right living.

May I encourage you today as you leave this meeting to go in the strength of God, to put into practise your faith, extending a loving hand, a loving conversation to one another to the people who you come across a day by day. To live in the knowledge that you can and will make a difference, a positive difference as you love one another. As Jesus said that is your witness. This is a powerful witness. May you also meet where you can the needs in your wider community, reaching out a helping hand, where you have it giving your greeting, your respect, your time – not just possessions where there is a need, I encourage you to be the blessing, to live to be of use to others as you respond to the love that God has given you!

Today you may have come here in need of support and prayer, you may have come thinking that you weren’t really worthy of entering this place, you may want to put something behind you and encounter the love of God. As we close the service here we have a place of prayer, a place of encountering God’s grace etc.