Herewith Tim's ecellent sermon from Sunday... Sobering stuff but important for us all to take note of!
Theme: Principles, not rules
Jesus said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
Those words from our Gospel reading this morning give a message that’s still all too relevant today. People talk about the coming of Christ’s kingdom, but often they see that only in terms of a sort of “big bang theory”, of the idea that Jesus will come again soon, taking over the world and transforming it in God’s power.
The book of Revelation is often the trigger for this; it has a lot of passages that can be misinterpreted.
It’s true that Christ’s kingdom is coming. It gets closer every day, and I hope we’re all contributing to it. But Jesus himself said that no-one can know how or when it will come, and I’d rather believe him than any of these strange self-styled prophets.
But people do like to be told what to do in detail - it saves the need to think, and we’re all inclined to be lazy about thinking. There’s an attraction about a religion that doesn’t require us to think, that tells us in detail everything we need to do to achieve salvation, or nirvana, or whatever we call our ultimate objective.
That wasn’t Jesus’ way, though. On many occasions he showed that he had little patience for those who thought rules were the way to God.
3 Just 2 principles
Jesus gave his disciples just two commandments: Love God, and Love your neighbour. Living by those two principles, and letting them guide everything we say and do, is all we need.
But what do they actually mean?
Love God – and hate anything that is against God, anything that gets in the way of loving God, anything that makes God come second, anything that separates me from God's love.
Love your neighbour – and hate anything that comes between me and my neighbour, anything that forces us to take sides.
In particular, I need to beware of anything that makes me feel I am better than my neighbour, anything that creates intolerance. Most of the sects I mentioned earlier thrive by being separate, by believing that they are the one small group that will be “saved”, that they have the exclusive rights to God's truth. God's truth just isn't like that; it's for everyone!
The advantage of having rules is that if you don't break any of them, whatever you do must be OK. When we have such general principles to live by, doesn't that make life impossibly difficult?
Well, yes – except that we have God's Holy Spirit to help us, and of course our fellow Christians. We have to decide things for ourselves, though. Only you can decide how far you're prepared to go in returning the love God has shown you.
Let's take just two areas as examples: our time and our money. Those are two things most of us have less of than we'd like, so how we spend them is always difficult. I'm going to describe three positions, but in fact there are many shades of grey in between.
Some choose to be on the edge. They usually come to church at the big festivals, and quite often at other times, but when something else comes up it usually wins. They probably put a token pound or so in the plate, without really thinking about how that relates to what they spend on other things.
Others are definitely involved. They're at church most weeks, and don't automatically say no when asked to do something. God matters to them, and they try to reflect that in the priorities they set – but don't always succeed! They give what they think they can afford, remembering what God has given them.
There's another group, though probably very few could claim to be in it all the time. They are committed – God comes first. That doesn't mean they spend all their time in church, of course, but it does mean that when it's important, a church commitment comes first. It also means that God has first claim on their money, something it's very hard to accept. Those words give the wrong impression, though; if we're committed, we give because we want to give, because it's a way to show our love – just as it will be when we give lavish presents to our loved ones in a few weeks at Christmas.
(In Old Testament times everyone was expected to give a tenth of their income, in terms of crops and increase in livestock, and a similar practice continued in this country until well into the last millennium (C16).)
No-one can tell you how committed you should be; you have to work that out for yourself.
As many of you know, I belong to a barbershop club. Just by becoming a member, I make quite a commitment. As well as the regular Thursday evening rehearsals, I have to find time to learn new music, and I'm expected to be available for a fair proportion of the occasions when the chorus sings in public, which happens maybe once a month. Being on the edge certainly isn't an option!
What's the difference between being involved and being committed?
Think of a bacon-and-egg breakfast. The hen that lays the egg is involved; the pig that provides the bacon is committed!
Jesus gave his disciples just those two commandments: Love God, and Love your neighbour. They're all the rules we need; all that's left is for us to commit ourselves to applying them.