Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

A sister and brother were talking to each other when the little boy got up and walked to his grandpa and said “grandpa, please make a noise like a frog.”  The grandpa sad “No” The little boy said again “Please, please make a frog noise.” The grandpa said “No, now go and play.”

Then the little boy turned to his sister and said “Go and tell Grandpa to make a frog noise.”  So the little girl went to her grandpa and said “please make a frog noise.”  Again the grandpa said “No.”  “Please…. Please grandpa make a frog noise.” 

The grandpa said, “Why do you want me to make a frog noise?”  The little girl replied, “Because Mummy said when you croak we can go to Disney world!” 

All of us know that one day we will die, but it’s not something most of us spend much time thinking about.  Did you know though, that someone has invented an alarm clock which not only tells the time, but also tells you how many days you have left to live?  It does this based on information it gathers from your social network connections, your family history, health and lifestyle, and other factors.  The strap line for this product which they hope to develop is “Alarmclock cares enough to tell you the truth.” 
What would happen if tomorrow your doctor called you and said "I'm very sorry, I have some bad news for you. You have terminal illness, and there is nothing we can do for you.  You only have a matter of weeks left to live."  What would you do then?  What if anything would you change about the way you live? 

Chances are, I suspect most of us would want to make changes in our lives if we knew are time was limited.  We’d want to make the most of the precious time we have left, and everything would be imbued with greater meaning and urgency, knowing that these moments are to be our last. 

Bronnie Ware spent several years working as a palliative care nurse, looking after terminally ill people.  Based on these experiences she wrote a book called ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying’.  Which she listed as:
·        I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
·        I wish I hadn't worked so hard
·        I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
·        I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
·        I wish that I had let myself be happier

Steve Jobs who died in October 2011 was fond of saying, “Live everyday as though it is your last … and one day, you will be right.”  How many of us can honestly admit we live each day as if it could be our last? 

Another similar question, what would we do if we knew Jesus was going to return to earth on a certain date? Would our response be the same as if we knew we didn’t have long to live?

Harold Camping, who ran Family Radio in the USA, famously predicted that the world would come to an end on the 21st May 2011.  Donations from loyal listeners flooded in, and Harold Camping spent $3 million on a massive billboard and radio advertising campaign around the world.  Many of his followers believing the end was nigh, dropped out of med school, quite their jobs, even left their wives and children, and spent all their savings to spread the word about the Rapture.  

Of course none of us can know when Jesus will return.  Jesus himself said Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)  So as Christians we are called to live in that constant state of readiness for the return of Jesus – I don’t know about you, but I find that a challenge! 

In Paul’s first letter to the Christian’s in Thessalonica, he wrote to help them grow in the faith and to comfort and encouraging them by affirming the reality of Christ's return.  But not long after this, word came to Paul that some of the people in the church had misunderstood his teaching about the Second Coming, and to further complicate the situation, a letter had been sent to the church written by someone claiming to be from Paul, saying that the day of the Lord had already come.

It is for this reason that Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonians, to address the problems that had arisen within the church, and to encourage the church as it faced a period of persecution.  Paul writes “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.” (2 Thess 2:1-2)

One of the consequences of the belief that the day of the Lord had already arrived, was that there were some in the church who had decided to quit their jobs, and put aside all their responsibilities.  But their lack of activity was putting a burden on the church, because there was no welfare state to look after them, so the responsibility was falling on the shoulders of others within the church to care for them.   

This is why Paul, in very strong uncompromising language writes ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.’ (2 Thess 3:6) 

These people who had quit their jobs, and set aside their responsibilities, may have thought there were being more spiritual by not working, but their actions were having a damaging the church.  In verse 11 Paul writes that in their idleness, they are being disruptive, and using a play on words says “They are not busy; they are busybodies.” (2 Thess 3:11)  As the expression goes, the devil makes work for idle hand.  Rather than working, and helping to play their part within the life of the church and wider community, they were putting their nose into other people’s business, spreading panic, and harming the body of Christ. 

Paul instructs the church to keep away from these people, in case others might be tempted to follow their example.  Instead Paul reminds the church of the example that he and Silas set when he lived amongst them.  “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.” (2 Thess 3:7-9)

Paul was a tent maker by trade, and he worked to support himself.  He did this for several reasons:
·        So as not to be a burden on the church
·        To set an example for others to follow
·        So that he was free to preach the Gospel
o    If you read a newspaper, the political slant of that newspaper will very often reflect the political views of the owners of that paper.  Paul didn’t want to feel bound to any wealthy benefactor, so he could preach the Gospel without accusation of political influence.

Paul says that ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ (v10)  This passage has to be read in context, because in Paul’s other letters he stresses the importance of caring for the poor, and care for the poor and disadvantaged is one of the marks of the Christian faith.  The Apostle James writes, ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ (James 1:27) In other words to care and support those who do not have the means to helping themselves. And in Acts 4 Luke tells us that the believers shared all their possessions, and that there was no needy person among them, but that they gave to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)  In this passage from Thessalonians, Paul is addressing those who can work, but refuse to do so.  It’s a wakeup call to them.

So what practical application and lessons can we draw from this passage?

Work Matters

Firstly we see that work matters to God.

We can sometimes have a negative attitude towards work.  Homer the famous Greek writer said that the gods hated humans so much that they invented work as a way to punish people. But actually the opposite is true, work, and the ability to work is a God given gift.  In the book of Genesis God put Adam into the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).  

Work is a worthy pursuit, designed by God, who is Himself a worker. Work is woven into the very fabric of creation.   

One thing we need to recapture as Christians, is the understanding that work is a gift from God – ask anyone who has been made redundant, and is unemployed, to tell you what a blessing work can be. 

When people talk about Christian service and ministry, they often tend to think about it in terms of the jobs people do in church.  But we need to recognize we can serve God wherever we are, we need to identify our Frontline.  That is the place where we spend the majority of our time, because it is on our frontlines that we can make the most impact for God. For those in paid employment, your frontline will be your place of work.  For others it may be caring for children, grandchildren or elderly relatives.  If you’re retired your frontline might be the club that you belong to.  It’s on our frontline that God calls us to be his witnesses.  For example, a man was standing on the station waiting to go to work, when someone asked him, what do you do, and he said “I’m a Christian thinly disguised as an accountant.”  He understood that his primary calling was serve God in that place or work. 

Paul in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Think what a difference we could make if we starting seeing our frontlines, our work – whether paid or unpaid, as the place where we serve God. 

One day in 1671, Christopher Wren, who designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London, saw three bricklayers hard at work.  He asked the first one “What are you doing?” to which the bricklayer replied, “I’m cutting this stone.” The second bricklayer, responded, “I’m building a wall.” But the third brick layer when asked the question, “What are you doing?” replied, “I’m building a cathedral to the glory of God.” 

John Stott said this about work.  “Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God

That is why work matters, because through our work we bring honour and glory to God, and also help serve one another and the wider community.

Lifestyle Matters

The Second thing we learn from this story is that how we live matters. Paul writes “never tire of doing what is good.” (2 Thess 3:13)

In Ephesians Paul says “Be very careful, then, how you live” (Ephesians 5:15). The things we do in public, and also in private, matter.  You’ve probably heard it said before, but your life may be the only Bible some people will ever read.  As believers we are called to ignite the fire of God in those we meet, not extinguish the fire by our words, attitude or behavior. 

People will judge the Christian faith on what they see in us. 

It is said that Gandhi read the Bible, and wanted to believe.  But when he went to church, he was not allowed to enter because he was not white.  So he never believed, saying I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” It’s even said that he went on to say “I would be a Christian, were it not for the Christians.” Many people put off Christianity by what they see of Christians.  This was the danger that was developing in Thessalonica, with those idle Christians who were going around stirring up trouble for others. 

What do people see when they look at you?  Do they see someone who is compassionate, understanding, trustworthy, honest, someone who goes out of their way to help others out. Or do they see someone who is self-absorbed, judgmental and not to be trusted, a gossip, prone to fits of anger, who uses inappropriate language.  How we live our lives matters greatly.  Paul was able to say to the Christian’s in Thessalonica, “look at how I have lived, follow my example, just as I follow the example of Jesus.”  

Paul encourages us to not grow weary in doing good.  We need to make the most of every opportunity that God gives us.  Because every single day is a gift, which we’ll never be given again, so we need to make the most of every moment God gives us. There is a quote attritubuted to Stephen Grellet a Quaker who said “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

We’re in this together

The third and final point I’d like to make is that we’re in this together. We are mutually dependent upon one another.

Did you know that the design of many wooden church roofs, was similar to that of the hull of a ship. And that the nave, the central part of the church, derives its name from the Latin word for boat.  Using this imagery of the church as a boat, we can have two pictures of what the church looks like.

The first is a cruise ship.  On a cruise ship, the majority of people on board are passengers, who have paid good money to sit back and enjoy the cruise while they are served on hand and foot by the hard working crew. The passengers can relax and watch the scenery slip slowly by, and enjoy all the facilities the cruise ship offers, the entertainment and food, and relax and unwind while others do the work.

The other image of the church is of a life boat.  The purpose of the life boat is not to serve the people already on board the boat, but to save lives.  Every person on board the lifeboat has a job to do. There is no room for idleness on the lifeboat, because it’s on a mission to navigate lives stormy waters, and rescue people.

Of these two images, the one of the life boat better represents what the mission and purpose of the church is about.  But the reality is tend to treat the church more like a cruise ship. Expecting to sit back and enjoy being served.  The 20/80 rule operates in most churches.  20% of the people do 80% of the work.

But Paul makes it clear, there is no room for idleness in God’s church.  We all have our part to play, serving God and serving one another.

It doesn’t matter who we are, every single one of us, young and old, at school, college, working, unemployed, or retired – we can all serve.

John Wesley said One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us.

And Rick Warren said Faithful servants never retire. You can retire from your career, but you will never retire from serving God.”

None of us know how long we have on this earth, or when Jesus will return, so it’s important we learn to live as if each day could be our last, and make the most of every opportunity God gives us, and as Paul instructs “Never tire of doing what is good.”

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Give me a good digestion

Judith and I have recently returned from a holiday visiting National Trust properties in Devon and Cornwall. One of the places was Antony where Alice in Wonderland was filmed. Inside the house we found this prayer which has been used by the family over generations and which I would like to share with you as it is still relevant today.

            Give me a good digestion, Lord
            and also something to digest
            Give me a healthy body, Lord
            with sense to keep it at its best
            Give me a healthy mind, O Lord
            to keep the good and pure in sight
            which seeing wrong is not appalled
            but finds a way to set it right.

            Give me a mind that is not bored
            that does not whimper, whine or sigh.
            Don't let me worry overmuch
            about that fussy thing called “I”.
            Give me a sense of humour, Lord,
            Give me the grace to see a joke,
            to get some happiness from life
            and pass it on to other folk.

Liz Dunthorne

Prayers For Use In Memorial Service

Prayers suitable for use in a memorial service - before the prayers begin people are given a piece of card to write the names of their loved ones on.

I asked for strength and
l got difficulties to make me strong.
Lord this grief is too difficult to bear.
Please help me.

I asked for wisdom and
l got problems to solve.
Lord this grief is too much for me to cope.
Please help me.

I asked for prosperity and
l got brawn and brains to work.
Lord l am so worn out with this grief.
Please help me.

I asked for courage and
l got dangers to overcome.
Lord  l am frightened by this grief l face.
Please help me.

I asked for patience and
l got situations where I was forced to wait.
Lord l am so impatient with this grief.
Please help me.

I asked for love and
l got troubled people to help.
Lord this grief overwhelms me.
Please help me.

I asked for favours and
l got opportunities.
Lord l am too exhausted with my grief to use the opportunities you give.
Please help me.

I received nothing I wanted
I received everything I needed.
My prayers have all been answered.
Thank you Lord that you know us better than we know ourselves.
You give us exactly what we need but not always what we want. AMEN

Quiet music during which people can come up with a card to place on the prayer board.

Memorial Service Talk

Talk given by Margaret Carter at St Martin's Annual Memorial Service on Sunday 3rd November 2013
Dear God, help us to hear what you have to say to us today. Amen
Everyone has a story that needs to be told and heard by others, no matter how many times it is said. These stories are from people at St Martins, both men and women.
1. My mother's death was complete shock. I had just turned 22 and I felt she had been taken away from me far too early. I was filled with a heavy heart, a deep sadness and completely engulfed by a feeling of unfairness. Our relationship ended there and I feel l have been denied the opportunity of seeing her grow old. Even after almost 40 yrs l still feel a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, especially on Mothering Sunday and other Anniversaries.
2. After 27 yrs of marriage and abuse our marriage ended. I felt a deep sadness and guilt about why my marriage should end. The confident person l once was had become a depressed shadow of my former self. The sparkle in my life died along with the relationship...friends who were in our lives before also disappeared. But as a Christian l felt God's hand on my life. And although the grief is on going time heals and l can now enjoy new experiences, joy and light.
3. My dad died suddenly nearly 25yrs ago. I felt l had to be strong for everyone else and so never really grieved. Over the years l have often seen my father in my dreams and woken up feeling that loss all over again. I began to see those dreams as an opportunity of meeting my father again and l am thankful.
4. My mother died unexpectedly when l was 14 and her death had a profound effect on me. My father rarely talked about her or her death and l grew up 'closed', in a way to protect myself from further feelings of abandonment and loss. Over the years my twin sister, my brother my father and my older sister, died and grief has become in a way 'normal' to me.
5. I died inside too and l am not yet back to life. Life will never be the same again, sometimes l smile but it’s only on the surface.
6. My husband died. People ask, How are you? You are doing well. But no-one knows the emptiness, the ache, it’s as if a limb has been removed, it is so, so very painful.
7. I was my wife’s carer for many years and couldn’t believe it and was in shock when she died. Then l felt the guilt, had l done enough? That was followed by complete emptiness because l wasn’t needed anymore.
8. When my dad died I felt complete shock and despair, followed by anger with God. 40yrs later my mum died and my feelings were ones of relief that she would not suffer anymore.
These are people’s real stories from St Martins....stories of  grief and bereavement. Some things in these stories will be familiar to us, some things not. Our stories will be different we have our own personal stories to tell. They are all stories of love because only the unloved and the unloving escape the pain of grief. The fact that we are here is testament to the fact that we have loved unconditionally.
A little about my story:
My mum died in the year 2000. She was a lovely warm person, with a wonderful sense of humour. We shared that same sense of humour and would often start to laugh uncontrollably about something…we didn’t need to explain.
But grief is one of the strangest emotions we can feel, taking us so much by surprise. I always steel myself for occasions like birthdays and Christmas, but at other times, like when l hear a song on the radio she used to sing or l catch sight of her cardigan l'd kept, which still smelt of her, would bring me to tears. I came through those intense emotions of denial, isolation, anger, acceptance, bargaining and depression and 13 years on l can look back with thanks for the life she had and that God made her the person she was. Those intense emotions will all be there in our grief but not necessarily in the same order.
The 1 Corinthians 13 reading is the one l chose for my mother's funeral and l have chosen it for today because it’s about love. And bereavement is about nothing, if it's not about love. ......the cost of love.  Losing that one special person, who not only loved us unconditionally but someone we had the privilege to share our life with.
We may experience all kinds of difficult emotions and it may feel like the pain and sadness we're experiencing will never go away. These are normal reactions to a significant loss. At our time of loss we are often surrounded by friends and family who want to help us. But sometimes they are unhelpful, especially when they say things like:
The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.
The Fact is: Trying to ignore our pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face the grief and actively try to deal with it.
SUCH AS: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.
In Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean we are weak. You don’t need to “protect” our family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing our true feelings can help them and us.
SUCH AS: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
In Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.
And finally: Grief should last about a year and you'll be over it.
In Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.
These comments are often made because people just don't know what to say.
Grief is a natural response to loss of someone we loved. It’s the emotional suffering we feel when something or someone we love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be. We may associate grief with the death of a loved one—which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief—but any loss can cause grief, including: divorce, loss of a job, unwanted retirement, house fire, a mastectomy, the removal of a limb or loss of something precious.
In our vulnerability and helplessness we can try to bargain with God; to regain control and postpone the inevitable
      If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
      If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
      If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
      If only l hadn't fallen asleep while smoking
      If only l had bolted the door. If only....if only....
Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience.
Losing someone or something we love or care deeply about changes our world forever. It will never be the same again. Sometimes we look at the world and not even know what season it is. Bereavement affects your faith, it can make it stronger, or weaker, or it can stay the same. The dynamics in that family or group of friends are changed forever. We need to grieve while trying somehow to work out our new journey in life.
The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold. Grief is a natural and important process in remembering and feeling the connection to those who have died. The intensity of the grief can show us just how deeply we can feel for ourselves and for others. It shows us the deep love we have in our hearts.
But there is hope...that unconditional love we mentioned earlier, is ours, freely given by God . Just as the cost of loving that special person in our lives is grief....the cost of Jesus loving us unconditionally was his death.
Each day will bring us joy, sorrow and challenges which can overwhelm us. But God is waiting for us to reach out to Him, to lean on Him in our pain, to allow Him to share in our sorrow, love us through it and to develop that lasting, meaningful relationship with Him. AMEN