A Sermon preached by retired priest, Rev Peter Coley on Sunday 3 June 2018, Trinity 1

Readings 2 Corinthians 4.5–12, Mark 2.23 – 3.6

Intro.  Demise of church in the western world

  1. Power of God
  2. Pressures of experience
  3. Picture of resurrection

Conclusion costly service is life giving the way of serious Christian work

Introduction

One of the biggest contrasts in the world Church today is its demise in the western world,  and its growth in the rest of the world. Today the church in China, in many parts of Africa, in even places like Iran are experiencing amazing growth as people find the light of Christ and share that light with others. I think this lack of growth in the West  is very much tied up with what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. It is a problem for us here at St Mary’s and probably in most churches today.  A common cry amongst church leaders at the moment is ‘how do we make disciples who will be able to disciple others?’

Jesus calls us all the time ‘Come live in God’s world and know his life in you, come and be recreated in his image and delight in his world.’ Carry on the process of discipleship in others and build my kingdom.

We see how vital true discipleship is when we reflect on the last words of Jesus to his church ‘to go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them all that I have taught you, baptising them in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.’

You and I are his church, members of his body here on earth- charged with this great commission. But this great commission is more like the great omission, and so we decline in numbers, in our commitment, in our power to change the world and in our zeal for God.

This morning I want us to look at the life of St Paul, one of the great kingdom builders, one of the true disciples to answer Jesus call to go and make disciples, and honestly review before God our own discipleship and what God might be calling us to change in our lives.  For to follow Jesus is all about change, as we are made into the image of the one we follow.   In true Anglican tradition three P’s to observe in the life of St Paul:

The Presence of God, the Power of God, and the  Pressures in his experience of God,

  1. The Presence  of God in Paul’s life

Paul’s whole experience of the living God begins with an encounter on the road to Damascus. That blinding light was the means by which the presence of God would enter him as he is later prayed for by Ananias and receives the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps from that experience he can now say in verse 6 ‘For God who said ‘let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’.

Surely, this is the starting point for every disciple of Jesus, to encounter the living God and to know his holy presence in our lives. You may not have had a Damascus Road experience, but somehow God’s hand has been upon you, drawing you to follow his Son into the light. I can remember such a point in my own life when I could sense God calling me to follow him to put my life in his hands and I knew for the first time God’s Spirit at work in me. It was like windows of understanding were opening up and God became real, and I had an urgent desire to know him more, to be discipled and walk in the light! The fact that you are here this morning shows a desire to know God more, to have more light, to be filled by the Spirit of God, to draw the curtains and open up the windows of your heart and let the light of God shine in every day of your life!

  1. The power of God

Last week Annie and I had a pottery lesson.  We had a marvellous morning on the wheel throwing several pots and much to our amazement could do it!  At least to our own satisfaction – for a first time- can’t wait to get them glazed!

Clay vessels were as common as dirt in Paul’s day, just about as ordinary as anything could be. So he says yes that’s just like us servants of God, us disciples we’re absolutely nothing special in fact so unspecial that God can use us!  For it is in our ordinariness that the power of God is demonstrated.

Verse 7 But we have this treasure (the light of Christ) in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.

You see the people in Corinth thought they were very sophisticated and liked their preachers and leaders to be fine well educated, eloquent speakers. Paul didn’t have these hallmarks, it might even be that he stuttered, he had put all his learning all his prestige in the Jewish hierarchy to one side compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ his Lord’. And as he lived this way the power of God was to be seen in his life and witness.

Some of you may have read some of the books of Henri Neuwen.  He was a professor in Theology at Harvard university, and a leading theologian. Eventually he found the whole system of writing papers presenting them and ‘getting on’ in the academic world stifling and destroying his inner life. He subsequently made the decision to leave that life and set up the L’Arche community living with people that had special educational and physical needs.

Out of his life working there he began to write his most inspirational books that have been a blessing to millions around the world. The power of God at work.  The seed that must die before it grows. The least in this world becoming the greatest, the humble being lifted up, Christ on the Cross, before his resurrection, here is the power of God.

Jesus disciples will always remain humble servants of God, given an authority and power not their own, that God’s glory may be shown to the world. Power in weakness, that’s God’s way.

3.The pressures of his experience

We cannot imagine what it was like for Paul, the disciple of Jesus as he experienced the pressures that his discipleship would place upon him. Indeed Jesus had told him on that Damascus Road that he would face suffering.

And O boy did he suffer:

verse 8, ‘we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.’  Doesn’t make much sense in terms of the good life suggested by the world does it? –But absolute sense in terms of the growth of the kingdom of God.

It wasn’t that Paul was some kind of a masochist. No he saw in the onslaught he faced in presenting the kingdom of God a reflection of the master’s road to Calvary and eventually to resurrection. For in his bodily and mental suffering Paul patterned the life of his master. And that powerful presence of Christ in him would bring life to others. So Paul can say, ‘death is at work in us, but life is at work in you’.

He who would lose his life for my sake will gain it.

One of my great heroes is the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton. His crew of 27 set off in 1914 to be the first to traverse the Antarctic continent. When there vessel Endurance was crushed by ice they had to set up camp on ice flows; and eventually reached the uninhabited Elephant Island. A small crew including himself then set off in a small lifeboat on an 800 mile journey in freezing seas to a whaling station, eventually to return to his men and incredibly, with no loss of life. All the time Shackleton portrayed true Christian leadership as he put the life of his men above his own. His love for his men meant he lead them in such a way that the harder conditions got, the higher became their morale!

God’s presence, God’s power, dare I say God’s Pressure in the Christian life. Embracing these seems to be the kind of discipleship that will form other disciples.

Conclusion

We have a simple choice, either we live with God’s life or we don’t live at all!! The creative power of the God who said ‘let there be life’ is alive through Christ, and we are privileged, yes incredibly privileged, to live in it. This power of God is not innate in us, by ourselves as Paul says in our passage, we are ‘clay jars’ just as Adam was a clay man until God breathed life into him. This life is God’s not our own.

This means that a lot of the self perpetuating myths we here about what it is to live a full or even a good life have to be jettisoned! This myth says that to be properly alive means being well, rich, happy and preferably sexually fulfilled!  And goes on to suggest that immediate gratification is the goal of human life.

What an absolute contrast to what Paul is showing us by his life and teaching here in 2 Corinthians, for his life is but a reflection of Jesus, and would fail at every stage if measured by the myths that our age would tell us about life.  For Paul argues that real life flows from God and returns to God, and how that life works out in practice in the world that God has made, is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We have no other model of a human being fully alive except Jesus, the Son of God. Can we be true disciples, take up our cross and follow him and grow the kingdom?