Sermons

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 3 February 2019.

Scripture: Jeremiah 1: 4-10 / Luke 4: 21-30

Text: Jesus began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing   (Luke 4: 21)

IN THE NAME OF GOD, FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, AMEN

When did you become a Christian?

Can you remember a particular moment when you made up your mind and accepted Christ as Lord?

Or, like Paul on the Damascus Road, was there a particular experience, a time when you encountered God – or better – God encountered you - and your eyes were opened and you came to faith?

Alternatively, perhaps the awakening of your faith was something more gradual, something which crept up on you to the point when, however falteringly, you realised you had a faith and you did believe in God.

Having listened to many people telling me the story of how and when and why they came to faith, I have long thought there is no right way and no wrong way.

Rather each person’s journey is different, each person’s story unique and each person’s experience holds its own validity.

John Wesley’s account of the real awakening of his faith is worth recalling.

Already an ordained minister, Wesley found himself despairing and he recalled feeling as though he no longer had the faith to continue preaching.

Confiding about his spiritual struggles and his yearning to give up the ministry to a Moravian friend, Peter Bohler, Bohler counselled Wesley otherwise telling him to preach faith until he had faith.

Wesley acted on Bohler’s advice and to his astonishment he was able to lead a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins.

However, still struggling with what he believed and why, and little motivated even to pray for his own salvation, on 24th May 1738 Wesley attended a meeting in Aldersgate where he heard someone read from Martin Luther’s preface to Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Let Wesley take up the story;

About 8:45 pm while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.

I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

For my own part, having attended Sunday School in Kilmarnock’s Henderson Church, and then actively involved with the 1st Kilmarnock Boys Brigade during my teenage years, before finally university and ministry, I have always been involved in the life and worship of the church and have always felt as though I had some kind of faith.

Although I can recall quite clearly the time when I started to feel called into ministry, and the conversations which followed with my own minister, John Weir Cook and others, the Christian faith, prayer and being part of the church has always been part of my life.

You will have a different story, perhaps you will find an opportunity to tell me, but as I said, every person’s journey into faith is different, no right way, no wrong way, each person’s account holding its own validity.

Yet to the extent to which that is true, in more recent years I have come to think of it differently – not so much the story of how or when or why anyone of us came to faith but the question of what it means to live faithfully today.

Today, said Jesus, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing

Today………………..

By the time Jesus reached Nazareth his ministry was already well established but, beyond noting Jesus preaching in the synagogues and that the news about him had spread throughout the countryside, Luke offers no further detail.

Instead Luke places the visit to the synagogue in Nazareth near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry because he wants his readers to know that Jesus was rejected by the very people who ought to have welcomed him.

What should have been a joyful occasion, the local boy, Joseph’s son, coming home, people impressed by how he had grown up, his eloquent turn of phrase, a great credit to his family, turns instead into a tragic episode with Jesus being rejected and literally thrown out of town.

And for Luke this rejection offers a preview of what will come in the rest of his gospel; that Jesus came unto his own and his own received him not.

If the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah is one of the dominant themes of Luke’s gospel, one of the noticeable things about the Sabbath sermon was Jesus emphasis on the present.

Jesus did not speak to the congregation about the past and the great heroes of their faith.

Jesus did not speak to the congregation about the future and how all the things Isaiah had spoken about - good news being preached to the poor, freedom for prisoners, the blind recovering sight and release for the oppressed - would come about.

Instead when Jesus spoke, he spoke about the present and the way in which the scripture had been fulfilled in their hearing - and one of the things I take from his sermon is our Lord’s concern about what it means for us to live faithfully today.

In other words, the real question is not when did you become a Christian or how or why your faith was awakened – rather the real question concerns what it means to bring the Christian life with its values of compassion, forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, care and love into our relationships and activities, our conversations and actions, not yesterday, not tomorrow but today.

The Bible records many instances of people coming to faith – and again they are all as different as the people concerned.

Moses on the hillside attending to his father in law’s sheep, found his attention drawn by a burning bush.

Isaiah worshipping in Jerusalem’s temple found himself blessed with a vision of the heavenly court.

And as we heard, the young Jeremiah sensed God’s calling but did so with an even greater sense of being unprepared and inadequate for the task.

Moving, insightful and brutally honest – would any of us claim to be good or worthy enough to be called by God – the Biblical scholars have noted this passage stands within a long Biblical tradition of such calling stories which draw upon familiar ways of describing the human encounter with God.

However, in her commentary on this passage, the Old Testament scholar Esther Roshwalb suggests Jeremiah’s encounters and conversations with God were continuous encounters throughout his life.[1]

In other words, as well as establishing Jeremiah’s authority as a prophet, far from being a one off experience, this text suggests something of the ongoing encounter between God and Jeremiah, the prophet’s continuing sense of unworthiness and God’s continuing promise to nurture and support and help him.

Today…………….there are two other occasions when Luke records Jesus using the word ‘today’.

The first is during his encounter with Zacchaeus when the little tax collector promises to pay back anything he has stolen or taken dishonestly and Jesus declares;

Today salvation has come to this house[2]

The second occasion is at Calvary when Jesus promises the repentant thief;

Today you will be with me in paradise[3]

Nazareth, Jericho and Jerusalem, the synagogue, the sycamore tree and the cross – the three occasions when Jesus makes reference to today – so what about now, what about now, what about us, what about today?

Today there is an invitation – Christ’s invitation – to sit at his table and to share in the communion he will create.

Bread and wine, symbols of his body and blood, tokens of his dying and undying love – and with them comes Christ’s promise to nurture, support, encourage and enable all of us to live as Christian women and men today.

So let me ask again; what matters more, the story of how and when and why you came to faith or the question of whether or not people will recognise Christ in you today?

And what do you think is more important; whether your faith was awakened recently or a long time ago or the extent to which Christ’s care, concern, forgiveness and love is evident in how you live your life, the values you hold, the priorities to which you aspire, the things you say and do?

Christ warns us it will not always be easy, it will bring its own challenges but as we hear of him preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth exactly how will this scripture be fulfilled in our hearing………not yesterday………. not tomorrow……..but today?

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen

 

[1] Esther H Roshwalb, Jeremiah 1: 4-10: Lost and Found Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 34, 2010, pp351-376

[2] Luke 19: 9

[3] Luke 23: 43