Reflections on Lazarus

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I think it would be fair to say that I have been known to weep at the lectern at Trinity Church , or at the side of someone who is hurting at the side of one who I love. I often say that my greatest strength is the big heart that the Lord gave me for his people and I also say that it is also my greatest weakness for in order to have a big heart we must be prepared to be vulnerable to be sensitive and so we must be prepared to hurt.

The day after Paul, our last minister  died, his wife Kate asked me to visit her. Although in my prayers all I had wanted to do was sit beside her and share her grief, the thought terrified me, it terrified me because I couldn’t possibly know her pain. I felt impotent, because I knew there was nothing I could say, there was nothing I could do. When we were alone, we sat together and cried, we held each other and together we wept as we shared our personal and unique grief, because that was all we could do, because there are not words in a situation like that.

I shared my experience with my tutor at college, I also shared my disappointment in myself when I weep with those I love, when I in front of you. I shared my fear of weeping when I lead a funeral, my fear of appearing weak, inadequate, thin skinned with a heart too big and too vulnerable for ministry. It was this scripture that my tutor turned to and it was these words which I read with relief;

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Jesus wept, Jesus saw Mary and the others suffering and their grief tore at his heart and he stood beside them and he wept.

There are times in our life when all we can do is stand with people we love and weep with them, we weep with them in their suffering because we have to let their suffering take its course. We sit beside them in their dark places and we wait for the light to return, for those of faith know the light will return he will shine again. Jesus knew that day that Lazarus would return to them, but still he wept.

One of the hardest things I find as a mum is watching my daughter suffer, I think we all know the feeling of powerlessness when our children are hurting. All we want to do is take whatever is making them hurt away. Jesus must have felt that way as he saw his friends hurting. But he knew that we have to have faith in Gods timing even when God’s timing isn’t as immediate as we would like. Jesus knew that there are times when God allows us to be in difficult places. Because sometimes we need to be in those dark and painful places to draw near to God, to rely on God and to allow him to change something deep within our lives. Because sometimes it is in the darkness of the tomb when something has to die in order that it might be made new, and when something dies there is pain but in that death and through that suffering a greater purpose is revealed.

Sometimes we have to be in the dark tomb to know the blinding sunshine when we walk out of the darkness into the light. Sometimes we need time in the tomb before Jesus calls us by name and we walk into the light leaving behind a part of us which needed to die. Sometimes we have to let go and we have to let things die, but in that death a greater purpose is revealed. The difficult thing is the not knowing and that is where faith comes in. Some of us may be in our own tombs today and we may feel that the light will never come. But it will. It will in but in Gods time.

When we come to this story we already know what happens in the end, but remember those gathered at the grave that day, the last thing they expected was a resurrection from death. Lazarus had been dead for four days, Martha and Mary thought that all was lost and that they would never see their brother again and yet his death and his resurrection happened in Gods time, and it led to Jesus declaring His most powerful statement of His ministry: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. “

We are those people we are a resurrected people, and to be resurrected something has to die; something has to perish so that we might find life, that we may be made new and that hurts.

As a result of this dramatic resurrection it says;“ many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” The effect of Lazarus’ resurrection was so powerful that people were brought to faith. There was a reason for his death, there was a reason for his loved ones mourning and suffering and the reason was to bring about the faith of those Jesus was going to die for.

But still, Jesus wept.

Why? Because God takes no pleasure in our suffering. Because God knows our pain and sorrows and He’s saddened because of what we endure. That’s why Jesus wept. Jesus is by our side in our weeping he is with us in the darkness and he sends the spirit to comfort us, it says in the word; “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” the Spirit weeps with us, feels our pain and communicates the depths of our emotions to God the Father.

We may feel alone in the tomb, but we aren’t, we may not see any light but the Lord is waiting to call us by name. There will be times in our lives when we may not know how to express our pain and suffering. And even if we could put those feelings into words – it wouldn’t begin to touch how deeply we’ve been hurt. But that doesn’t matter! Because, God shares our suffering and we don’t need to put our sorrows into words, because God’s Spirit intercedes for us with groans. Those words which we can not find, those words which we cant express are shared with the father through the Holy spirit. And through the Holy Spirit God KNOWS precisely how we feel at every moment in our lives. He is there at the best of times and he is there at the worst of times and when we are hurting, when we are in those dark places he weeps. He weeps because;

 

He cares for you.

He understands you.

He loves you so much He wants you to know that He feels your deepest sorrows.

He wants you to know that he weeps with you because he loves you.

 

You may feel in a dark tomb today but the story of Lazarus should encourage you, it should remind you that the Lord is not only with us but he weeps with us, he comes to us in our dark places and he will create something new and something beautiful. He will call us by name and he will bring us into the light in his good timing so we must be patient and have faith. Mary was impatient with Jesus, she questioned his timing because she didn’t know the end of the story. But we do, so we can be assured that God will always hear us and God will always answer our prayers and God will always bring us into the light.

 

 

Walking away from the resurrection a reflection for Easter Sunday

Have you ever given up on something, lost your faith and walked away, only to find that if you had waited just a little bit longer you would have had your reward, your faith would have been restored, your hopes and dreams would have been fulfilled? All would have been well. On that first Easter Sunday the disciples walked away, they walked away from the resurrection and I think if we were honest we often walk away from the resurrection ourselves.

IMG_0614I want to explain that by sharing a resurrection story with you, it’s a story about this orchid. Irene bought me this several years ago and I put it in my study, but like all plants in my care it died and I was left with a stick and a very yellow leaf. I didn’t want to through it away because Irene had given me it, so I left it in my study window, slightly hidden by the curtain and from time to time I looked at its poor sorry self, a stick and a yellow leaf. But my love for Irene made me keep it because it was a gift of love from her. Then one morning a couple of weeks ago I pulled back the curtain and I saw this. It’s beautiful isn’t it? I can’t believe that I could have thought it dead and thrown it away and if I had walked away from that orchid I would have missed out on the joy that it gives me each and every day as I look at it beautiful resurrection. My orchid is a story of love, hope and patience and each time I look at it, it reminds me to always walk in faith, always walk towards God and never away from Him. Always allow for a resurrection in my walk with Him.

This orchid reminds me of that day at the tomb when the disciples walked away, when they gave up, when they must have felt that all was lost and when their faith must have been slowly ebbing away. It’s easy for us to judge their actions, to look at their story with hind sight and to wonder if they ever regretted walking away that day? to wonder if they wished that they had waited just a few moments

more like Mary did? I can’t imagine how much I would have regretted not waiting and having the opportunity to be the first to see the risen Lord. To be the one chosen to share the good news for the first time. But at the same time I understand, because like us the disciples are human beings with human patience, human frailty and at times a human lack of faith and sometimes the easiest thing to do when we are disappointed, when we feel let down or discouraged is to walk away. That morning they chose to walk away, and when they walked away they walked away from the resurrection. I am sure that if we reflect on our own stories we can also remember times in our lives when we too have walked away from the resurrection.

Because sometimes it is easier to walk away from hope, and walk towards shame and despair because shame and despair are our familiar friends, they are what we know best, in the strangest of ways they feel safe and comfortable. The disciples had let Jesus down, they had seen him crucified, they had witnessed him die the most shameful of deaths and then they had gone into hiding, because they were terrified and feared for their own lives – they must have carried a lot of shame with them they must have felt despair. As they walked away from the tomb that morning they walked closer and closer towards their shame because their shame was safe, they understood their shame, shame wouldn’t disappoint them, shame wouldn’t let them down.

The disciples felt despair and shame, their hopes and dreams were not realized all they had hoped for was lost and so they walk away from the resurrection because of their shame. It is their shame and despair that cause them to walk away from Jesus. They walk away and too often we also walk away.

This part of the Easter story is so easily missed so often overlooked but I think it is really important because it is the story of human fragility in action and we are fragile human beings. We can learn so much from their story, from their behavior, from their decision that morning as they walk away from the resurrection. Because we can see ourselves doing exactly the same, because we too walk away from the resurrection, we have all walked away It’s what humans do. God knows I have walked away, you have walked away. We walk away.

But God waits, God is patient and God is faithful. He knows that we walk away and he knows that we fragile human beings walk away because walking towards freedom and relief, terrifies us, he knows this and he yet he still waits and he offers us grace and hope. He knows that we walk away because sometimes grace and resurrection seem impossible to us, he knows this and still he waits for us to turn around.

So what does it do to make us turn around? The bad news is that we cant, we cannot turn ourselves around or think or reason ourselves to turn around. But the good news is that we don’t have to turn ourselves around because God pursues us through Jesus and He will turn us around – if we let him.

Because the good news is that as we walk away in our shame filled despair we are pursued by Jesus and he walks along with us and he meets us in or darkest and most shameful places and he offers us a resurrection of our own. This is the miracle of the Easter story. Jesus meets our shame and despair at the cross, the place where he was shamed and where he said ‘father forgive them’, he is waiting there for us today, he is there now in this very moment and if we walk to meet him there he will resurrect us and make us new – just as he was resurrected. He will break through our brokenness, he will turn us around and he will defeat our shame.

This is the good news. The crown of thorns they placed on his head to shame him now becomes HOPE. And the good news is that we have the opportunity to leave our crowns of thorns which we wear with shame day after day, which pierce our skin and cause us pain, we can leave them at the cross and we can do it today, and I pray that later in this service you will. We don’t have to wear them, we don’t have to carry the burden of shame, we aren’t supposed to carry them, that’s why Jesus died for us that’s the good news, all can be made new in Christ and in our brokenness and despair our old self can die and be left at the cross, our new self be resurrected and that crown of thorns we wore becomes hope, because hope walks toward God and not away from him. Nadia Bolz Webber describes it like this;

The Christian life is a life of continual death and resurrection. As Christians we don’t stop messing up when we are saved, we continually mess up, that’s wh
at humans do.

To me the greatest revelation of who God was is actually at the cross. Because that actually is God on the cross, that’s God saying: forgive them; they know not what they’re doing.

God knows, God waits God understands and God forgives, he knows that we don’t know what we are doing, he knows our failings and he is still there waiting holding our his love his grace and his offer of peace and hope.

At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus but we should also remember to celebrate the resurrection of ourselves for we are a resurrected people, yes we fail, yes we mess up yes we fall down and yes – yes by the grace of God we are resurrected. Friends, sometimes I feel I am resurrected every day and I rejoice in it because as part of the old Helen dies, as part of the old Helen is nailed to the cross I walk in faith with my Lord as the new Helen stands up and walks free.

The resurrection is Gods walk with us even when we walk away. God knows us and he knows that sometimes grace and forgiveness are difficult for us to see, impossible to understand, not possible to accept. He knows that sometimes the only thing we can do is walk away, because we don’t know what else to do and when we do, God will walk with us. He will walk with us until we feel we can turn around he will walk with us until we are so weary that we fall in our hopelessness and brokenness and finally, finally, look to him. He will wait until the day when we are ready to surrender our broken selves and submit to him. He knows that when we do we share the resurrection with him.

God isn’t urgent for us to walk toward resurrection, He knows that its not a quick fix, he knows that it is the long walk that moves patiently and deeply though all the brokenness in our life and he knows that eventually we will be restored. We will have our resurrection. We will be made new in him.

Sometimes it’s hard to do this, sometimes it is hard for us to understand with our human minds. Look at Mary, Mary didn’t immediately understand, she stood and wept in her despair, but then she heard a voice say her name and then she knew. Because when Jesus spoke her name he broke through her pain and despair. Like Mary, sometimes we must all stand and weep and listen for Jesus because we, like Mary, are all bearers of resurrection, we can all be made new in Christ. Jesus will always break through. He stood with Mary that morning as she wept and then he broke through and he will break through for all who weep.

Sometimes it’s the same for us, sometimes it is when the day is almost done and we are most weary, when we are on our knees and when we weep, sometimes it is then, in that moment when the crown of thorns is too painful to bear, in that moment that we will hear the voice which calls us by name and we will know, we will see, just like Mary we will open our eyes and see the answer in front of us – Jesus, and he will break through, he will take that crown of thorns gently from our heads and we will see hope. In the depths of our despair God breaks through and washes over us with Grace and forgiveness. God doesn’t give up even when we walk away and he will walk with us even when we walk away from Him.

I want to finish with these words from Nadia Bolz Webber, they were her words at the end of her Easter Sunday service and they encapsulate everything which I have shared with you today, this is what she said:

“It happens to all of us,” I concluded that Easter Sunday morning. “God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.”

God will wait for us to turn around and walk towards him, and when we do God will break though our brokenness, God will take away our shame and despair and God will walk alongside us and God will keep loving us back to life.

 

Forgiving Judas

Last week I reflected on our own resurrection stories. How for each of us there will always be a possibility to nail our old selves to the cross and be born again in Christ. That for each of us there could be a resurrection story no matter how much we mess up and no matter how much we disappoint ourselves and our Father in heaven. How there is always hope, there is always grace and there is always forgiveness no matter what.

Because as Christians we believe that for each and every one of us there is an Easter story waiting to happen. God will reach down to us in our shame and despair and He will surround us with his love and grace.   There are no exceptions. Even when we walk away, even when we turn our backs on Him. He will pursue us to the very end and he pursues us through Jesus because through him we will receive our forgiveness, through him we are made new.

Then this week, I watched a documentary about Judas and I started to think about the message I had shared with you on Sunday and I thought about the message in relation to him, to his story, because there was no Easter for Judas, there was no resurrection for him. There was no light shining that would overcome all darkness, he never felt the joy of the spirit on Pentecost, he never saw death defeat sin, he never received grace and forgiveness. He walked away in shame and despair and he did not feel the loving arms of his father reach down and comfort him. There was no resurrection story for him.

When Judas went to that field to take his life he carried with him the burden of guilt and remorse and as he hung from that tree he never experienced Gods words of grace. In his isolation he didn’t know that Jesus died for our sins, including his.

If we go back to John’s words as he describes that night, we see a series of contradictions – we see Jesus flanked by both love and betrayal, the beloved disciple and Judas. The bread dipped and passed to Judas, an action that showed special friendship, and yet announces his betrayal, the betrayal of the deepest most intimate friendship. The tender foot washing, the last supper, the central sacrament in Christianity, and Judas is there, he too has his feet washed; he too tastes the bread and drinks the wine. He is invited to be part of the Easter miracle, and in a way he is. Then Judas leaves the light and goes out into the darkness. Here John paints pictures of extremes, love and betrayal, darkness and light, the trusted friend who then became the enemy for all time.

It’s a tragic story, a story which hurts and for me the saddest part of the story is not the betrayal, terrible as it is, for me the pain is in Judas’ terrible realization of what he had done, what he must have felt and carried, how in his shame and despair he saw no alternative but to take his life. The human isolation, the shame and despair, the regrets and repentance. Perhaps this hurts because we have all felt these human emotions at some point in our lives. We have all felt shame and despair, we have felt regret and remorse and yet we have been able to name these feelings, we have been able to name the shame and we have been forgiven, we have received grace and in our brokenness and frailty we have been restored.

There was no restoration for Judas, no Easter story, no forgiveness. Perhaps what hurts in this story is the if onlys, the what ifs. Because had his course of action been different he could have shared the resurrection, he could have known the spirit of Pentecost he could have been part of the good news. But by taking his own life he not only gave up on himself, he gave up on God, because forgiveness can only be received by those who repent and accept and although we know from Matthews gospel that he repents, he takes the coins back and leaves them on the floor of the temple, we also know that in his shame and despair he doesn’t accept. So great is his burden of guilt and shame that he gives up hope in God, and in doing so he closed his mind to what had been in front of him and stepped out of the light and into the shadows. His tragedy was that he didn’t realize that even he wasn’t beyond forgiveness. What hurts me the most in his story is that the Judas story is the story of others through the ages. That there are people out there who may feel the same, who don’t feel that forgiveness is for them, who share the Judas feelings of being an outsider, not good enough, unforgiven. What hurts me in this story is the humanness of it, the reality and the truth. I am not here to judge Judas, I am not here to judge those in shame and despair, but if I believe in the cross, if I believe that Jesus died for us so that we could be forgiven if I believe he died for all sins including ours, including Judas’ then I have a responsibility to share this and if you believe this then you have a responsibility too. We should have an urgency to reach out to the Judas’ of this world and convince them to accept Gods grace and love.

Maybe Judas had to betray Jesus, maybe it had to happen that way to fulfil the prophecy we will never really know. All we know is that his betrayal led to his isolation and the rejection of his community, we know that for all time the name Judas is one of the worst insults we can throw at someone. We know that that no one went to seek him out we know he was judged. But is it our place to judge? Was it the disciples place to judge? Did they fail him? Do we fail the unloved living in their shame and despair? Should they have acted on Jesus command to others, as he loved them? Should we? Because he needed more than anyone to hear the words of love and forgiveness and he needed to hear of Gods grace. There are Judas’ out there and they need to hear this too, and we are the ones to tell them because we all have the authority and we all have the responsibility to remind people that we are all loved, we are all forgiven.

Judas-window-001

This is a picture of a window in a little church in Morton, Dorset. The image can only be seen from the outside and it is the image of Judas, the betrayer of Christ. It is the creation of the glass artist Laurence Whistler, and it was finally installed in 2014, 14 years after Whistler’s death and almost 30 years after the parishioners, appalled at the subject and the strangeness of the image, rejected this valuable gift.

The church had been destroyed during the bombings during the second world war and it was slowly reconstructed by the faithful, including all the beautiful stained glass windows. The rector, Jacqueline Birdseye, led the move to bring Judas back to the church, because she believed it was a symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness.

What interests me is the image is the light that shines onto Judas face because it reminds me of when I came to faith thirteen years ago. Shortly after my salvation one of my closest friends was found dead in his home having suffered a heart attack. We had been Buddhist leaders together for many years and I felt a terrible pain and loss because he had died without knowing the love of Jesus. When I shared this with a close friend she shared her view on salvation which is this; that she follows a God who pursues us to the last moments of our life and that in those moments before death we will never know if salvation takes place. It is between God and the dying. This gave me great comfort back then and it gives me comfort today as I look at this window. Like my friend I can’t limit God, the God of love, of grace and forgiveness, I cant know what miraculous moments take place during the last breaths of others. But it is my hope that salvation, grace and forgiveness can take place, even at the very end.

I don’t have any answers for you today; I am not sharing an opinion or a point of view. Today I offer you the questions that I have been grappling with this week as I reflected on Judas’ story, and my biggest question is what would have happened if Judas had walked towards the resurrection, what would have happened if he had received forgiveness and grace?   What would have happened if he had heard the words of grace and forgiveness that were just for him? What would have happened in his story and more importantly, what would have happened in ours?

I want to finish with the prayer of Jesus from John 17, the prayer that Judas didn’t hear;

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy. 14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

Amen

Helen Lambert

Minister In Training

Sermon on 2 Timothy 3:1-9 by Helen Lambert (1st Nov 2015)

Helen Lambert 1st Nov 2015

2 Timothy 3:1-9  New International Version (NIV)

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.

 

I have to say I was not thrilled and I was certainly not set on fire when I read the scripture for todays service. We don’t enjoy hearing warnings do we? I hated it when I was a teenager and my parents used to read the riot act before I went out. But now I am a mum myself, I see these words were born out of love and a desire to protect me and now I find myself warning Polly of the dangers that the world can present.

Because Paul is right, we do live in terrible times, you only have to switch the news on to see that and in these terrible times we need to be on our guard. But I don’t think that Paul is just warning the way people behave out there – I think he is also warning us that we cant be complacent we cant sit smugly and think to ourselves – well that’s how they are, I think Paul is saying that we need to look inwards and we need to search ourselves. I think Paul is actually saying here is a checklist for you to use, a list of nineteen characteristics, which can take us away from God and lead us into worldly ways. It might be painful, but we have to honestly look at this list and if we feel uncomfortable, if it doesn’t sit right, then we need to ask why? Because perhaps, just perhaps, we are actually just as guilty as the people ‘out there’ who we like to judge and condemn.

Paul wanted to warn Timothy, and he wanted to warn us, that there will be dangerous times ahead and with them there will be times of great stress and suffering.   There will be times when our faith will be pushed to the limit of its endurance, when we will be under attack and under threat. There will be times when we will get it wrong and we need this check list in our lives, we need to use it, and we need to use it with an open and an honest heart. Because I have learnt the hard way that sometimes we have to get on our knees and put our hands in the air and admit our sin and ask for forgiveness. I am blessed to have a friend who will tell me when I have to do that very thing, and I have many times. I think everyone needs a Helen in their lives – even though it really hurts sometimes, a Helen in your life is your greatest blessing because they love God enough to be obedient and they love you enough to tell you the truth. If you haven’t got a Helen in your life I pray that you find one.

So Paul is encouraging us to make this personal, He is encouraging us to make us good judges of ourselves and our own actions – not the lives and behaviour of others. Paul has been around enough to know that we are all human, and humans make mistakes, we all mess up and we will never be perfect. But he wants to share the good news, the good news that if we open up to God, if we get on our knees and put our hands in the air, by Gods grace we are surely forgiven. Because we do mess up, sometimes we mean to and sometimes it just happens and it has been entirely unintentional. Human beings mess up, but God says its ok, that’s what I am here for – come to me, tell me all about it, open your heart and I will forgive you and what is more I will help you so that you don’t mess up in the same way again.

I have often heard people criticising Christians for being hypocrites, for having double standards. People who go to church on a Sunday and proclaim they are good Christian people and yet they are such hypocrites. Well what better place for them to be but in church, because in church they will hear the word of God, in church they will have people to pray with them and in church they can repent. Church is the best place for hypocrites to be because in church they might change.  We can all be hypocrites, Polly is always telling me how I am one. But the good news is that we can have hearts for change and in this scripture Paul is asking us to have hearts to change, to look at our checklists, to be open and honest with God and allow him to make the changes for us.

So lets look at this checklist, where does Paul begin with this list of warnings? He begins with those who love themselves, Jesus said ‘deny yourself and follow me’, he asks us to deny ourselves because He knows that self-love destroys human relationships, it destroys the relationships that God wants to have with us, and the relationships he wants us to have with those around us. If we love ourselves and if we become self-centred, how can we truly freely love others? How can we serve God if we are serving ourselves? Because it is through the love and care for others that we come closer to Christ. We are denying ourselves so much by being self-obsessed, by centring on our own needs and not those of others, because God comes to us in the moment we look to the needs of the stranger, the lost and the broken.

Then he comes to the idols in our hearts, those things we hang on to, those things that make us feel comfortable and safe, things like bitterness, anger, hatred, judgement and hard feelings. We know they are hurting us but these little idols can also in a strange way make us feel good, and we actually like to take these little idols of hatred out and we feel comfortable when we examine these ill feelings that we hold for others, and we enjoy dwelling on them even though we know they are so destructive and the more we take them out the more they will weigh heavily in our lives.

Then there is the love of all money – Jesus said the love of money is the root of all evil, we cannot be the servant of two masters, God and money. Remember that Paul was writing to Timothy in Ephesus, which was a place of great wealth, which was full of lovers of money. He was warning against the love of money because he knew that once money has control of you, God finds it hard to get in but if you let God control your money he can control you and enrich your life in ways unimaginable – in ways which money cannot buy.

Next on the checklist is pride – this one is often hard to see, we have to really search ourselves deeply to find this one but often it is pride that we stumble over. How often do we hear people describing themselves as a ‘self made man’ taking all the glory for their accomplishments and not giving God any of the glory. If you have a thankful heart and if you always give God the glory then your thankful heart will be unlikely to stray and God will honour your gratitude and testimony.

This brings us to the unloving and harsh heart that desires to get even, refusing to forgive and wanting to hurt others, if there is someone you refuse to forgive, and it could be yourself, then you are forgetting that God loves this person, Jesus died for this person, God forgives them and he will deal with them, not you. We are called to forgive seventy times seven, we are called to live a life of Christian forgiveness, Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” not forgive us and smite those who hurt us.” if there is someone who is still in your heart and who you can’t bring yourself to forgive I encourage you to begin praying about it today. Bitterness and unforgivenesss eats you away, its like a cancer that grows inside you and it will destroy you. Corrie Ten Boon once aid that ‘forgiveness wasn’t a case of letting the other person win – it is setting yourself free.’

Un-forgiveness is a sign of the world and it leads to slander to gossip and mischief making. Ruining peoples good name, lying about them, gossiping about them and making false accusations are all the work of the enemy. This is how the enemy uses us, he whispers in our ears, he feeds us lies and he makes us see things through his eyes and not Gods so we can no longer see the truth. He sets us into the shadows which are made in darkness and which distort the truth – but once you let God bring light in everything changes.

I could go on because Paul lists nineteen sins that we should be aware of and as we read this scripture, we need to remember something, this is Gods list its not Pauls, God inspired Paul to write it, God set it on his heart to share with Timothy and to share with us. God wants us to live abundant lives in relationship with him and if we use this check list, if we put on the armour of God then we can live the life that God intended us to have. If we are honest with ourselves and have open hearts we can be the free people he wants us to be. God doesn’t want us tied to worldly values and worldly lives, and we mustn’t think that once we give our lives to Christ because we are infallible because if we think like this we fall into the trap in verse 5 , of ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’. If we are just going through the motions, being Sunday morning Christians for an hour a week then we are not living the abundant lives that God intended for us. If we seek a life outside the bible, outside Gods word then we are not living in the true knowledge of God. If we are taking the glory for ourselves, the gifts and the blessings and not giving them back to God in praise, gratitude and testimony then we are empty. We find truth in the knowledge of God, we find fulfilment in the knowledge of God, How do we do it, we do it by searching ourselves and by testing ourselves. We do it by asking ourselves, and we start with this question – are we living right with God or is it all surface? Are we authentic, or are we a show? If we open our hearts to God he will reveal to us that which needs to be confessed and brought into the light, that which has been in the shadows and in the darkness and he will shower it with light he will shower it with grace and he will transform that darkness and that ugliness into something beautiful. Be honest with God – reveal to him all your darkest fears and worst secrets, he knows them already – and then ask him to examine your heart with you and reveal the truth to you so that you might be set free.

I have recently been raving about an amazing American Pastor called Nadia Bolz Webber, she isn’t to everyone’s taste, she is radical and very liberal, but I love her because this summer her recent book set me free. She has a very real and honest approach to her faith and her ministry and she believes it is in our brokenness that God comes to us and does his greatest work. I want to finish with her words on forgiveness from her book ‘Cranky beautiful faith’;

“God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word … it’s that God makes beautiful things out of even my own mess. Grace isn’t about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace – like saying, “Oh, it’s OK, I’ll be the good guy and forgive you.” It’s God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”
― Nadia Bolz-WeberPastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

 

Lets pray

As heads bow and eyes close lets ask God to create in us a clean heart, an open heart and a loving heart, a heart free from grudge and bitterness a heart ready to serve.

Let these words of scripture speak to us and speak into us so that we might be right with God and so that we migth be right with the world.

 

 

Renewing Vision Sermon on 2 Timothy 1 by Helen Lambert

by Helen Lambert 2015

2 Timothy 1 New Living Translation (NLT)
Greetings from Paul

This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. I have been sent out to tell others about the life he has promised through faith in Christ Jesus.

I am writing to Timothy, my dear son.

May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace.

Encouragement to Be Faithful

Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.

I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. 10 And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. 11 And God chose me to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of this Good News.
There is a contrast between people who have vision and people who lack vision. Vision is that elusive thing that dares to dream big dreams about the future. Vision is what an inventor has when he or she thinks outside the box to create something new. Vision is what a mother has as she looks at her newborn baby and imagines all that her child could grow up to become.

Vision has a way of ignoring its critics and chasing its dream regardless of how many people say it can’t be done. Vision has a way of ignoring those who say it can’t be done and doing it anyway.

I have spoken many times about the vision God gave me for this church and I believe we are entering exciting times, I can feel it in my bones. Over recent years there have been many prophecy’s spoken over the Wharfedale valley and these prophecy’s say that God is on the move. But the question is are we ready to stand up and run with him? Are we ready to open our hearts and minds to His vision for this valley, for this church? Are we ready to hear the call and make real Gods vision for Gods people in this community? As Paul encourages Timothy in his last letter to him, he also encourages us, the question is are we ready to listen or do we just hear words? Are we ready to act or do we want to watch? Are we ready to be on the move with him or will we save it till another day?

Paul was fully aware of our human fragility and that there will be times in our walks when we feel lost, when we become dry and when our vision fades and the flame of our passion begins to dim and that’s what was happening to Timothy, Pauls young protégé, he has become overwhelmed and burnt out.

Paul had sent Timothy to try to salvage a mess in the church in Ephesus. Yet when Timothy got there, he found himself in a situation which was way over his head. The entire leadership team in the Ephesian church was older than he was, and didn’t respect his leadership and to make matters worse, Timothy was shy and timid, so he had a tendency to avoid confrontation with them. The stress of his ministry was effecting Timothy’s health, and he found himself sick with constant stomach ailments, and now to top it all, his beloved mentor Paul had been arrested by the Roman government and was lying in prison awaiting execution.

Things couldn’t have seemed worse and Timothy’s must have felt defeated and in his defeat his vision had shrivelled. The excitement and enthusiasm that he’d once felt when he joined Paul’s ministry team was gone. Somewhere between his bad health, his discouragement about the church in Ephesus, and his fear for Paul’s life, Timothy’s vision had slipped away. Paul knew that Timothy needed his vision renewed, and that’s why He wrote him a second letter – the last letter we have from Paul’s pen before his execution. In these final words Paul reflects back on the vision that had fuelled his life and his ministry, in order to encourage and renew Timothy’s vision and it also serves to encourage and renew our vision as readers who eavesdrop on Paul’s words over 2000 years later.

There are five points which I would like to reflect on today because I feel that these words written over 2000 years ago are speaking to this church today at the start of exciting times which lay ahead for us and for this community. Times which will need us to ‘fan the flame of our faith’, rediscover the gifts God has given us and renew our vision for this church.

I want to focus on;

  1. Renewing Our Vision For Worship (2 Timothy 1:1-3)
  2. Renewing Our Vision For Prayer (2 Timothy 1:4-5)
  3. Renewing Our Vision for Service (2 Timothy 1:6-7)
  4.  Renewing Our Vision for Outreach (2 Timothy 1:8)
  5. Renewing Our Vision for Nurture (1 Timothy 1:8)

Renewing Our Vision For Worship We find an emphasis on worship in the word “serve” in v. 3. But this is not the usual New Testament Greek word for “serve,” this is the Greek word latreuo. This word latreuo is used 20 other times in the New Testament, and it always refers to service offered to God as an act of worship. This kind of service is never directed toward other people, it’s always directed toward God first. As Paul looks back on his own life, he views his entire life since coming to faith as an act of worship directed to God. For Paul worship was a lifestyle of devotion, not just a Sunday morning church activity but every moment of his life. For Paul worship was first and foremost about celebrating Jesus Christ and celebrating Christ’s presence among us, realizing that he is here with us not just when we gather as a congregation for worship but in every moment of our daily lives. It is in every moment that Paul worships God and he does this through service. I recently read that; ‘True worship, is defined by the priority we place on whoGod is in our lives and whereGod is on our list of priorities. True worship is a matter of the heart expressed through a lifestyle of holiness. Thus, if your lifestyle does not express the beauty of holiness through an extravagant or exaggerated love for God, and you do not live in extreme or excessive submission to God, then you need to make worship a non-negotiable priority in your life.

Renewing Our Vision For Prayer I love the way that Paul expresses his heart as he lovingly tells Timothy how he prayed day and night for him and as he prayed he remembered Timothy’s tears and his longing to be reunited with him. As he prayed for Timothy he was reminded of how Timothy came to faith in Christ, he remembers all that he was and all that he meant to him. As he prays he opens his heart to God and he lifts his dear friend up to God and as he does so he reminds Timothy of the great love he has for him, the great faith he has in him and the great vision he has for him. As Paul pours out his heart to God, not only does he renew his own vision, but he encourages Timothy to do likewise. Pauls prayers were an outpouring of his heart to God and because Paul’s life was so focused on God whatever was of concern in his heart automatically bubbled up in prayer to God just like our bubbles today, because for Paul prayer came to him as easily as breathing and because of the prayer life he had, he regularly enjoyed an intimacy with God which empowered him and strengthened him even in the darkest of times. In Ephesians 3:20. It reads; “By his mighty power at work within us, God is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope” (NLT).  God did great things through Paul and Paul encourages Timothy by telling him that he will do great things through him too and God can do great things through us too – it starts with pursuing his heart in prayer. That’s the heart of prayer, daily intimacy with God where we share our hearts with him and he shares his heart with us. This is what the Bible means by abiding in Christ, remaining in his love, being constantly aware of his presence. Through this intimacy God renews his vision for us and gives us the conviction to run with this vision.

My vision for this church is that we become a house of prayer, a place where prayer provides the foundation for every ministry and activity that we are involved in. It may sound silly to you, but think about it, do you talk about things as much as you pray about them? I love this saying; Prayer doesn’t prepare us for the battle; prayer is the battle.” Our ministry and our vision needs to flow from our knees and I want us to be a church on it knees with our eyes fixed on Jesus, I want a great outpouring of what is on our hearts and I want God to hear our visions and dreams and I pray that he will bless us and bless us and bless us.

Which brings us to the renewing of our vision for service: and we renew our vision for service by re discovering our God given gifts, and allowing God to re new those gifts in service to him. In verses 6-7. Paul reminds Timothy that God has given him all the equipment he needs to be effective as God’s servant. But the fire of God’s gift in Timothy’s life was going out. This image of dying flames reminds me of the end of the evening in winter, when our fire is going out because no new wood has been added for a while. The flame isn’t burning anymore, but instead there are a few glowing embers that are gradually losing their heat. I hate that time of night, when the fire dies away, and the day is coming to a close. But then the next day, when we go to make the fire up again we always discover those glowing embers at the bottom of the grate and so we carefully fan them back into flame to bring warmth and light into our sitting room once more. I always feel the open fire transforms our sitting room, it makes it cosy and inviting, a place where people wish to gather. Likewise in this passage Paul encourages Timothy to “fan the flame” of his gifts, so that once again he could burn brightly, with intensity, so that he can be transformed and transform others through sharing the love of God. The way we fan the flame of our spiritual gifts is by using them. The flame only loses its blaze through lack of use, and gradually our gifts become glowing embers.
We learn in this passage that it was fear that was holding Timothy back from using his gifts. The word “timidity” means “a state of fear because of cowardice or lack of moral strength. This may sound harsh – but Paul loves Timothy enough to be brutally honest with him and so he tells Timothy that this timid fear doesn’t come from God. What comes from God is an attitude of power, love and self-discipline. Power is the capacity to face our fears and use our gifts, even when we’re shaking like a leaf. Love is the capacity to express God’s love through our gifts when we use them. Self-discipline is the courage to go forward even when we’re timid and fearful.

I know that here are times in all our lives when at the end of the day there are only embers, when our vision for service needs to be renewed. But I also know that it only takes one step to fan that flame and bring it back to life, it is the first step out of our comfort zone in order to use our gifts and renew our vision for service. There is no substitute for actually using your gifts, drawing on the Spirit for power, love and self-discipline which God will give us in order to face our fear and do it anyway.
My vision for this church is a vision of service and its summed up in one phrase: ‘Every member a minister.’ At times you must think I am a scratched record, but I truly believe that every single follower of Jesus Christ in this place is called and ordained by God as a minister of Jesus Christ. Ministry is not the exclusive property of Derek, or of me, ministry belongs to the people – it belongs to you – every one of you from the oldest to the youngest every single one of you is a minister of God if you listen to the call.

My dream for this church is to see our members truly see themselves as God’s ministers investing their gifts, talents and resources to make God’s vision become a reality in this community.  When God gives a ministry vision to a person our job isn’t to get in the way, but it’s to help make it happen. It may or may not succeed, but why not try to make it happen? Whenever I have asked Derek if I can set up a project he always says the same words; ‘ok lets give it a go’. So I encourage you today to get on your knees and renew your spirit of vision and dare to dream – dare to give it a go.

Which brings me to outreach, we renew our vision for outreach by testifying about Jesus. Christians are often tempted to be ashamed of our walk with Jesus We’re tempted to hide our witness, to keep our faith in Christ hidden inside our hearts and our churches, rather than letting it flow into our words, our conversations and our actions. We are often afraid to be a fool for Jesus.

If you need your vision for outreach renewed face your fears and testify about Jesus tell your stories, putting into words how Jesus has changed your life. Share the good news of Christ, tell people what this means in your life, use your stories to build relationships with unchurched people so that you can shine as lights in their lives. Think about this, have you ever noticed that the longer you’re a Christian, the less non-Christians you have as friends. So we need to be reminded that relationships are the primary mechanism for sharing our faith in Jesus. We need to be out there through those doors looking for the lost the broken and the seeking. To share the good news of Christ in our words and through our stories and it is this attitude that starts removing every barrier that keeps unchurched people from understanding and responding to the good news of Christ.

This brings me to the last point, nurture. In verses 8-10 Paul speaks of the good news of Christ, the gospel, the means by which we are brought into a relationship with God and the amazing changes that can take place in our lives by Gods grace. When I read this passage for the first time I underlined these words; ‘He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.

God has a plan for each and every one of us and as a church we have a responsibility to nurture those around us to be the people and to live the life that God calls us to live. Just as we nurture our children and loved ones, as we encourage and love and empower those who are nearest and dearest, God also calls us to do likewise for his church for his people. Sometimes this can be hard, sometimes we are rejected and our encouragement and gratitude is allowed to fall to the ground rather than take root in the hearts of others. But just as we are asked to forgive seventy times seven so too are we called to love and encourage our brothers and sisters in faith and those who have not yet come to faith.
I know this is easy for me to say, but I believe this is what we are called to do and what God wants to say to us today. I know that there is always tension between our vision and the way things are, because if vision only described the status quo, it wouldn’t be vision. So the disparity between vision and the status quo creates tension, like a rubber band that’s been stretched. Often we’re tempted to let this tension pull the vision down to the status quo, to soften the vision and make it more acceptable to the way things are. Instead, we should let the tension pull the way things are closer to the vision, creating the necessary changes in our lives needed to pull us toward what God has for us.

I believe God wants to pull us closer to His vision this year. God wants a congregation of renewed vision for worship, prayer, service, outreach, and nurture. I believe he calls us to let the tension between His vision for this valley and the way things are stretch us and as it does so excite us, and fan the flames of mission so we as a church once again burn bright. Our vision wont be renewed by just hearing this sermon or reading a book. Our vision for worship is renewed by actually worshipping; our vision for prayer is renewed by actually praying; our vision for service is renewed by actually using our gifts to serve; our vision for outreach is renewed by actually testifying about Jesus; and our vision for nurture is renewed by actually responding to God’s call to encourage our brothers and sisters in faith. There is no substituted for action, for doing what God has called us to do so I ask you this – will you stand up and will you run the race- will you accept the baton, will you be members who are ministers?

I want to finish with the words from a book I read over the summer and which really encouraged me and set me on fire;

“God does not call us once but many times….. sometimes those calls ring clear as bells and sometimes they are barely audible, but in any case we are not meant to hear them all by ourselves. It was part of Gods genius to incorporate us as one body, so that our ears have other ears, other eyes, minds, hearts and voices to help us interpret what we have heard. Together we can hear our calls, and together we can answer them, if only we will listen for the still, small voice that continues to speak to us in the language of our lives.”

I believe God is calling us as a church, I believe that every member here today is a minster, the question is – do you?

 

Lets pray….

Lord I believe that you have spoken to this church today and you have commissioned us to open our ears, our hearts and our mouths and to be prepared to renew our visions, and for our ministry and our vision needs to flow from our knees. Empower us now lord by the power of your holy spirit fill our timid hearts with courage to hear that small voice which speaks into our lives and the lives of this church and to serve you well all of our days.

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