Committed

I’ve spent some time pondering the great theme of commitment this Easter. It is, of course, a central theme of evangelicalism but if we scratch a little below the surface it is also a theme of the left as well. Liberalism has always supported an agenda of justice and equality and it is clear that neither of these are possible without some significant commitment from individuals to both behaviours and policies which support them. Commitment, it would seem, is necessary for the realization of any hopeful future.

However, we don’t travel too far down this path before we strike the rather turgid note of moralism or even legalism. It is a mere step to the side from the valid observation that for most good things to persist they require good people to be committed to them to the deathly notes of condemnation poured out on all who will not bow the knee or sign the petition. Salvation by works is writ all through this music.

So how do we strike a balance. Christ calls for commitment to Himself and to the Kingdom in multiple places throughout the Gospel. (Take for example the ‘follow’ motif  in the NT. Jesus uses this word to call for commitment on multiple occasions and it is expanded in many other places to summarise the whole of a disciple’s duty and, indeed, to call for greater commitment to the cause of the Gospel.) There can be no doubt that we are to commit to both him and to his kingdom and that the decision to commit is both worthy and required on more than one occasion. (Rev 32) Recommitment is, in fact, another significant theme in the NT. I suggest the balance is struck in this way…

We should not shy away from both the notion of commitment to God and to the needs of the kingdom of God but this should always be tempered by an even greater emphasis on the commitment of God in Christ to us. Always and on every occasion it is the commitment of Christ which is the greatest theme of the NT and which also acts as the truest motivation for commitment to God by the individual. Every individual commitment should reflect that in committing to God what we are really doing is offering a small (but necessary) token of thanks for the enormous commitment God has shown to us.

So on this Easter morn I rejoice in Christ’s commitment to us all and I am reminded that this commitment calls forth a renewed commitment from me to all that Christ would have me be and do.

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2018

He Is Risen!

John 107-13/ Phil 26-11 / Ruth 41-6

Today we celebrate with all our might the commitment of Jesus – the man who faced down death and won!

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Empty tombThe only people who truly commit are those who believe. Without belief, commitment is either fake or it is fleeting. It is either pretend commitment or it is  passing commitment. Passing commitment is commitment that looks good to begin with but is withdrawn when it becomes inconvenient. But Christ’s commitment to us is unquestionable because He gave all that He had to give – He gave His life!

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Commitment proves itself largely by staying in the game, by remaining faithful; by finishing the job and by paying the price. And there’s always a price friends for without a price there’s no need for commitment. Without a sacrifice there’s no work to do and without an exchange of goods our commitment is an empty promise.

Today of all days we celebrate commitment but not ours. Rather we celebrate One who was committed to us! We celebrate One who stayed in the game till the very highest price was paid. Today we celebrate the commitment of Jesus!

 Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

We need to ask ourselves what the essence of this commitment was however. We all know He died but His death is really just the top of a mountain of commitment. Underneath that is the bulk of the mountain upon which the top rests and for Christ this bulk is the greatest mountain that ever existed.

You see Christ’s commitment begins with a terrible wrenching away from His home in eternity with God. Christ has left His home and His comfort and all that was familiar to Him to commit to us – very much as Ruth left her home and people and everything she had known to support her mother-in-law Naomi.

And this is a commitment that is counted daily in grief and loneliness as we exist without those whom we love. Christ choose to leave His loving relationship with God and to commit to us

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Secondly it’s a commitment to the cause of a separated and barren people; the same kind of commitment Boaz was willing to make to Ruth. Naomi had nothing left in the world except a property she could not manage and a daughter-in-law who had no future. So her future was blank; her present was one of desperate poverty and her past one of complete loss. However, Boaz was willing to buy into that bloodline in order to revive it and bring hope to it. He was willing to bear that risk in his own flesh.

Christ does the same for you and I today. He buys into our checkered past and our barren future and he says to each one of us – through me you shall prosper again; you shall rise again; you shall rejoice again! I shall bless your bloodline and restore it to its intended glory. You shall live again.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Finally Christ is not only willing to restore our bloodline but he is willing to invite us into His bloodline; to make us inheritors of what was only His. His future has become our future; his possession our possession; his glory our glory; his place in heaven our place in heaven! We get to share in all that was his just as Ruth and Naomi get to share in all that belonged to Boaz.

It’s a double whammy. Christ restores our inheritance and He makes us to share in His inheritance. Christ saves us and he give us a new future which was wholly His.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

I wonder, are we prepared to receive these things? We can only do so when we realise that our futures are nothing without Christ. We can only do so when we realise that what we have is ashes. We can only do so when we desire health more that we desire  comfort and security.

The surgeon promises healing but only if we’re prepared for some discomfort. We cannot be operated on at home. The ground promises a crop but only if it will yield to the plough first. The grain will give us bread but only if it is crushed first to make the flour. We have to leave behind the body of death if we are going to receive the gift of life and, frankly, some people prefer certainty so much that they will not open their lives to Christ and to His uncertainties. Come Lord – help us to let go of the past.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Today Christ is Risen but not so that we may stay at home – rather so that we may enter into a new home with Him; a home we could barely imagine – a home where pain and grief are gone and where we may find true joy and true comfort.

What we experience today is but a shadow of the things to come. What we are addicted to today is but a shadow of the comfort and joy Christ has won for us today but – we have a choice to make. Shall we stay with the old and let Christ hang on the Cross or shall we make the swap; rags for riches; pain for pleasure; grief for fulfilment.

Are we prepared to listen to the Good Shepherd and follow Him into the good pasture or will we prefer our old inadequate joys instead? He longs that we should listen. He longs that we should follow. He longs that we should enjoy the blessings of a life committed to following His call.

He is committed to us. Are we now to be committed to Him?

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

I appeal to you today. Don’t stay at home! Don’t stay in your comfortable but sad existence. Take a risk with God! God risked everything for us – will we not take a risk with Him? Choose today whom you will serve. Choose today whose future you will take. He will not force us but He continually calls to us as the Good Shepherd to open our hearts to His voice and to say to Him, ‘Yes Lord, I will follow you.’

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Easter Sunday is, in fact, a day of decision for us all because it’s the day that God’s decision for us becomes clear. With Christ’s rising it is clear that God has conquered death and crossed the last barrier between us. God has come to us and we are now faced with this incredible offer… ‘Come with me now and walk with me.’ ‘I give you honour for shame; peace for hostility; joy for sadness; riches for poverty and passion for apathy. I have come, says Jesus, to bring life, life in all its abundance. But we need to say yes to God! Are we willing to say ‘Yes’ to God today? Are we willing to open our hearts to Him again. Are we willing to take a risk with God because essentially faith is a risk in that it is always a step into the unknown.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

This is not a foolishness risk. It’s not an unwise risk. It is, rather, a step of trust and, wherever trust is involved there is an element of risk. Marriage involves risk. We cannot know what the future will hold. Our promise at the alter isn’t to guarantee the future of the one we are giving ourselves to but to guarantee our love in that future. When we have children we take a risk. When we play sport we take a risk, when we invest we take a risk but these are usually not foolish risks. God calls us today to take risk with Him – to put our lives into His hands and to trust Him.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

If you’ve never made that commitment before I invite you now to say yes to this prayer I am about to pray and then to tell one of the people you know is already following God and we will help you grow into this wonderful inheritance.

Dear God, I see you died and rose again to give us all a wonderful inheritance. I want to be a part of that. Help me to receive all that you have for me today. Help me to open my heart to you and to become your follower. Help me to say ‘Yes’ to you today and every day from now on. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

 

 

Easter Break

The Easter Break in New Zealand is somewhat unique in the Western world. We get both Good Friday and Easter Monday and have done for a long time. Australia doesn’t make Easter Monday a break though South Africa calls it ‘Family Day’ and so they effectively get it as well.

In this we follow Britain which does call both Easter Friday and Easter Monday a holiday but neither Canada or the USA take both days off. In Canada all of the country bar Quebec take Easter Friday and only Quebec takes Easter Monday – go figure? In the USA neither are holidays. Frankly I think we’ve got it right.

Easter is early this year coming as it does on April 1st. In Western Christianity, using the Gregorian calendar, Easter always falls on a Sunday between 22 March and 25 April inclusive, within about seven days after the astronomical full moon – according to Wikipedia. Usually we’re about half way through the school term and families are needing a break, to say nothing of teachers and everyone else!

family-on-beachMy memories of Easter holidays spent at my grandparents small crib in Alexandra are still bright with joy and adventure. Swimming was still possible and so long as the weekend wasn’t too drab much of the time was spent outdoors with cousins and others. It was a great weekend. Yes we experienced the odd really bad weekend but even cooped up in a small but different space for a weekend where books could be read and card or board games played it was a special time.

Of course it is the true high point of the Christian calendar and much is made of it in Churches but typically many are away on Easter Sunday and so whereas in the States it becomes a time of immense activity in church as congregations gear up for an influx of annual Easter going visitors here, we simply don’t get that response and we are used to many of our best volunteers being away.

Again, I think this is healthy largely because this western culture we’re in simply doesn’t stop and, frankly, it’s killing us. I would much rather have a large group within my congregation return from a good Eater rest ready to serve well for the rest of the semester/term than have a group of stressed and over-worked volunteers drag themselves back to church after a busy Easter with very little in their gas-tanks to take us any further.

For goodness sake – don’t feel guilty about taking a break this Easter. The Sabbath, said Jesus, was made for humans not the other way around. Easter is our greatest Sabbath but it too, was made for us, not we for it!

God bless you all this Easter.

Richard D. (Moderator)

Who is my neighbour?

Neighbours Day 2018:

It’s Neighbour’s Day on both the 24th and 25th of this month (March). I wondered how you are going to celebrate this special and valuable day? I wonder if you’ve asked the question at the heart of Neighbour’s Day “Who is my neighbour?” This question, which was asked of Jesus by a teacher of the Law no less, has echoed down through the ages and is, perhaps, more pertinent now in this day and age than at any other time.

In this day of refugee crisis, growing international tension and shocking civil war; in this day of homelessness and of breakdown of community identity throughout the Western world, surely the one major question we must ask is who is my neighbour.

neighboursday18-page-001.jpg I find there are two aspects to this question which must be answered – one which is essentially political and one which is far more relational.

The first political question simply asks who should we consider is on our side – who believes as we do – who sees the world as we see it and, further, who will help us when we need help.

This is a deeply problematical way of putting the question because the essential thrust of the question is to separate the world into those we will accept and those we will reject. It is very much the same question in the same spirit which was put to Jesus. “Who can I rule out so I don’t have to be neighbourly to everyone?”

It’s the question which is now finding political sympathy across Europe with the rise of deeply worrying separatist and exclusivist parties in France, Germany, Britain and other nations.

The second way to frame the question is to emphasise the relational aspect of it so that the question is really asking us to get to know our neighbours. It therefore asks us not to exclude anyone but to get to know them better. It asks not so much, “Who is my neighbours”? but “Do I know my neighbour?”

In many ways this was how Jesus chose to answer the question put to him. He did not offer any clue about how to make a decision as to who was ‘in or out’ but instead he showed through the story he told what it meant to be a neighbor, and how to get to know one’s neighbour.

Who is my neighbour? You are the one who: needs my help, needs my protection, needs my open heart, needs my understanding…who doesn’t need my judgement, my prejudice, my suspicion, or my lack of generosity.

On this special Neighbours Day 24 to 25 March, let’s return to this key value of Kiwi society – we are all cousins – we are all that person who is in need of welcoming, and a helping hand. We are all neighbours!

Richard D