Sunday, 2 November 2008

Saints alive

Sunday 2nd November 2008

Readings: Joshua 3 v 7-17
Matthew 23 v 1-12

In our Old Testament reading this morning, there is a sense of anticipation and excitement.
The Israelites, who have been wandering in the wilderness for the best part of 40 years are, it seems, finally going to enter the promised land.
Its taken an incredibly long time.
And many of them died on the journey.
But now, it seems, that after all their wanderings since their release from Egypt, they are finally going to occupy the land that was promised to them all that time ago.
I always want to be contrary when I read of God’s people and the promised land in the Old Testament.
I always want to ask – what about the folk who already lived there?
Didn’t they have any rights?
How is it OK for the people of God to stake a claim that seems to take precedence over other claims?
Biblical Imperialism, for me, raises more questions than it answers.
But the fact is that wherever God’s people went, they cleared out the people who were there before them.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, our reading tells us this morning of one major obstacle standing between the people and the land they’ve been promised. And that’s the river Jordan.
One more river to cross.
Our story tells us that God wanted to perform a miracle so that people would realise that their new leader Joshua was just as great a leader as Moses had been before him.
But for me, in this story, its not so much the miracle that God performed that stands out.
Its not so much that God caused the river to stop flowing so that all the people could get safely across.
The miracle was that, first of all, someone stepped into the river.
Its all very well believing that God can perform miracles.
Its another to step into the river and see if it really happens.
But, before God could perform a miracle, someone had to put their feet in the water.
Someone had to believe enough to get their feet wet.
It wasn’t enough to say I believe.
There had to be a stepping out in faith.
God can do anything.
But God’s people must be prepared to step out in faith to follow and to be a part of God’s miracles.
And not just in ancient times.
Today, God still relies on you and I being prepared to put our toe in the water.
Being prepared to take risks.
Being prepared to live in faith and not just talk about it.

Yesterday, as I was driving up the coast, I heard an interesting wee snippet on the car radio.
GP4S – a company formed by the merger of Group 4 security and Securicor had noticed that there was a higher than usual circulation of fifty pound notes. There was an assumption that folk were hoarding larger denomination notes against the predicted recession.
GP4Ss take on this trend was that either folk are keeping their money out of banks OR they are gathering cash rather than reverting to plastic.
So which is it?
Are you stashing your cash under the mattress? Or are you cutting up your credit cards? The interesting thing was that, at the end of this report, they did admit that their evidence was scant, based on a barely perceptible change. And yet, speculation was rife. It seems that financial analysts are determined to read all they can into the current trends in the credit crunch and are desperate to have their predictions of the downward spiral into global recession confirmed.
Doom and gloom is the only trend that makes news.
The journey I was making when I heard this news was to Gourock where I was facilitating a conference for church office bearers. The key note speaker there was talking about all the doom and gloom statistics we like to promote in the church- declining membership roles, dire financial straits, crisis of belief – all the things I’m sure you’ve heard on not a few occasions. Then he pointed out the peaks in the kirk’s history, the times when all these worrying markers actually peaked rather than troughed. Times of war, and then post war. Times of recession, times of national depression. It seemed to be that in times of need, folk turned to the kirk for support and guidance.
Do you think that would hold true for today?
Do you think that today global crisis would encourage folk to turn to the church for guidance and support?
While I am not pessimistic about the church and its potential for good or in the ability of folks like you and I to reach out with love for others, I do have qualms about the public perception of the kirk.
And I know that, for many folk, the church is the last place they’d turn.
Well, simply because, too often, the church, the folk who make up the body of Christ, have failed to practice what they preach.
You and I have talked the talk but not walked the walk.
And that’s precisely what we see Jesus railing against in our gospel this morning.
Folk who know the law inside out, folk who ensure that that law is upheld but folk who simply don’t practice what they preach.
Listen to them, says Jesus, because he doesn’t want folk to think that they can disrespect them and disregard their teaching which is sound.
Listen to them, says Jesus, but don’t live as they do.
And then Jesus tells us a bit about how we should live:
The greatest among you must be your servant.
And that brings us right back to youth church this morning.
We are all called to be saints.
To do those simple, everyday things that make a difference for others.
To be servants.
One of the many amusing things in the Americam presidential election campaign has been the way “joe the plumber” keeps getting cited. If you’ve been following the extensive coverage, you’ll have heard of joe the plumber, a real life metaphor for the ordinary guy in the street.
It seems to be that if you can make a difference for Joe the plumber, then you’re on to a winner.
This week, that has resounded for me as the same kind of line Jesus took.
If you want to be great, you must serve.
We are called to make a difference to the every day folk around us.
We are called to serve.
We are called to be saints.
We might think that that is not going to change the world.
But can you imagine the difference there would be in our world if we all lived up to our calling.
If we all served each other – the saints of God.
If WE practised what we preached, folk would flock to the kirk.
The church would, once again, be an institution that served the world around it, by serving God and by living up to its calling to be a community of saints.
The church would then be able to make a difference in the world.
We are loved by God.
God calls us saints.
Lets go then and put our toe in the water, step out in faith and serve each other. For the glory of God.

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