Sermon for Sunday 12th July 2020

Sermon for Sunday 12th July 2020 by Revd Lynda Mead.

A few weeks ago we had a great Quiz on Zoom, so I thought I would try a sort of New Testament Quiz for you all today to start these few words, - actually there are only two questions and no prizes so it isn't really much of a Quiz, and so no pen or paper needed.
Q. 1) What do these names have in common - Matthew; Mark; Luke; John: Paul; Peter;
James, Jude ? 2 points
Answer They are all writers whose work can be found in the New Testament.

Q.2 Who physically called them to follow Him ? {tricky one this}
Answer If you answered 'Jesus' you can have one point, but if you remembered that there is no evidence to prove that either Luke or Paul ever actually met Jesus, then you can have 2 points.

End of Quiz. We are now in the season Of Trinity when we follow a Gospel - It's Matthew, and some of Paul's Letters - Romans now others to come, continually and with virtually no other Gospel or Letters intervening. We are steadily working our way through Matthew's Gospel, and Paul's letter to the Church at Rome (the Epistle) the Old Testament moves about somewhat, mostly the Prophets. That we have a certain continuity is partly that there are no great Festivals or Feasts (except for Patronals really), until we come to the Autumn where of course we here will have lots of Feasts and festivals - and then it will be Advent and Christmas. But Trinity means that we get a chance to really hear and listen to the words coming down from the time of Jesus and the early days of the Church, uninterrupted as it were.

We are not moving about so much, in our hearing the Scriptures in our main service, we are following on, which can be a very good thing for us all. This does imply that you hear/read the Lectionary readings week by week (if not day by day) and sometimes that is not the case for any of us.

We have two or three readings - from the Old Testament telling us the story of God's [2]
covenant with His people, the children of Israel and how it all went wrong, and then the New Testament, Gospel and Epistle, and it is on these latter two I wish to speak a little, not because there is anything amiss with the Old Testament Readings, but because the other two are more directly concerned with Jesus - and what we - you and I, know of Him. They tell His story, what He did, and what He left for us to know.

Week by week in Church we listen to or read the words of men (sorry, no words of women except in the Old Testament) about Jesus, about His life with us, about His death and resurrection. We hear about the men of the early Church (still not very many women) and how they went out into the world and told everyone of the Good News of Jesus Christ, how they spread the Gospel, regardless of their own safety or indeed of their lives. They were persecuted, imprisoned, punished for this, most of them died preaching Christ Crucified, died holding out salvation and eternal life to all who would listen. The story of the beginning of the Church.

We hear their words, we listen because we wish to know more of Jesus, to learn more
of Jesus, learn more of God's great mercy and forgiveness for all who would repent, we wish to go on in faith, in understanding. It is truly a living part of our following Jesus, to read and to hear the Holy Scriptures, and that leads us to place great value on these words, by listening/reading with thought and reason. For that is why God gave us these attributes, so that we might use them in our growing relationship with Him. I hope that we go home and think on these words - Old Testament, Gospel, Epistle, We want to grow in faith and these words help us and guide us, they also test us at times.

Reason and thought have led us to understand that we have, at times, to interpret as well as read and listen, for we are aware that all the books in the New Testament were written, if not quite with an 'agenda', certainly with a purpose and an 'audience' in mind, and they were written in a time and culture which is not ours.
But we can learn to understand, that time even as we realise that it is not our time [3]
and culture. As the writer J. Hartley said, "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there." At the moment, as I said, we are hearing Matthew and Paul, we are hearing the stories about Jesus - His parables, His teachings, His miracles, His healings, one after another from the former outcast tax gatherer Matthew. And Paul, the Pharisee and former hard line persecutor of Christians instructing and advising, preaching and guiding the small Christian presence in far off Rome.

We are learning, we are taking on board what is both said plainly and what lies behind their words; always keeping in mind my favourite word 'context', and that there are the others involved in this telling of Jesus. Former fishermen, former prostitutes, ill-educated lower class men and women, foreigners, all of whom are telling us of Jesus. None of the 'elite', the educated and learned figures much here, not at the time of Jesus. Oh, and not to forget, there are cowards, liars, defectors and generally unimpressive and unimportant people witnessing to Jesus, and speaking/preaching to others. These are the people who tell us of Jesus, mostly because they were either with Him or heard of or saw Him.

We listen to Mark, who ran away a lot, most probably in Gethsemane and certainly when journeying with Paul; (Spoiler, he did come back) we listen to Luke was a Gentile, not even a Jew and certainly never met or knew Jesus himself, just heard of Him from others and witnessed the change in people; we listen to John who quite frankly, is not a completely reliable commentator as he is not above altering times and places to fit his account of Jesus the God become Man, the foretold Messiah, we listen to Peter who after all was just a fisherman, probably illiterate, and at times seemed to be of limited acuity and certainly not very reliable in times of danger. And to Jude about whom no-one knows very much at all, and James whose previous claim to fame was that, with his brother, was a hot-headed speak-before-you think man whose main concern was angling for prestige in heaven.
But we do read these men and listen to them all, study them and learn from them.
More, we take their words as 'gospel' - pun intended. We take the words of these [4]
people, and to a certain extent, we have faith in them as a part of the foundation for our own faith in Jesus Christ - why we are Christians.

That isn't all there is to it, being a Christian, listening to the words of others - but what a bunch we have just established they are, because as they met Jesus, so too have we met Jesus in our lives, we believe because we know Him personally. Jesus is in our lives, is one with our own life. We truly have a personal - sometimes uneven, sometimes wobbly but always loving relationship with God whom we have come to know in the Lord Jesus. You may have noticed that I do keep rather harping on about these men whose words we lay much store by, about who they had been, how they were 'former '- well undistinguished reprobates might be a cover-all word for most of them.

By the way, that's the way it was then, there is no gender issue here. Does it matter that Matthew was a quisling, that Mark was a veritable coward, that John played around with the facts and Luke wasn't even there ? That Paul was an appalling human being, James a braggart and still we do not know much about Jude. The important word here is, of course - WAS. It is an important word for all of us, as much for all men and women - 'WAS' or before the encounter with Jesus, you might prefer. Whatever we have been, when we meet Jesus, it all changes, when we let Jesus into our lives and give Him the rule and kingship of our lives, everything changes. Whatever we were - sinner, reprobate, coward or liar, morally suspect, in Jesus we find forgiveness and mercy, and we find and live a new life.

We find a new direction, a new sense of worth, a sureness and peace and our place, and it does not matter what the materialistic world thinks of us, for we are with Jesus.
St Paul, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because .........(we) are set free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8) I think that we all know only too well, that our world does not always seem to be able to let go of what a man or woman was or did., Very often others cannot seem to look at the 'now' of a man or woman, how often are [5]
the words spoken in judgement - 'once a thief/killer/liar/ always a thief/killer/liar'. a conclusion that offers no hope of change, of redemption, of forgiveness and reconciliation. But Jesus does, Jesus always holds out to any and all, the promise of mercy and understanding for past mistakes and failures. A true repentance and acceptance of forgiveness, means a new life in Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah (The Lord says) "Remember not the former things, .... Behold I make all things new." (Is. 43)

And just as there was the incredible change in the life of these men, we too can know
such change in our lives. And it is because we can see who they were and who, in Jesus, they became, we can read in confidence, and trust their words. We do hear the word of God in their words, through their examples of faith and trust, and in their resolution to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Love in obedience to His command.
Meeting Jesus changed their lives, it will change ours also. Amen