Kilmorack and Erchless Church

Sunday 26th June

 

for all the good we see        we give thanks today

for all the hope we have     we give thanks today

for all the peace we know   we give thanks today

Prayer

Creating God, by whom all things are designed, from whom all live is given, today we come to tell of your might, to remind ourselves of all that you are capable of, and all that you are for us.   Today we come to remember your grace, the mercy you show to us, even when we cannot fully appreciate it.

When we have so much to be thankful for – forgive us for so often feeling sorry for ourselves.

When we have been given so much – forgive us for so often wanting the wrong things.

When we have so much to offer to your world – forgive us for so often holding back.

So move us, we pray – in this time of worship.  Move us from away from fear and towards freedom, move us away from bitterness and towards peace, move us away from our past and towards your future, so that me may go on to live as your people, celebrating freedom, sharing love, assured that you are in all our tomorrows. Amen

Story

A man was once in prison and he still had a long stretch ahead of him, and he really wasn’t coping well.  Then some of his cell mates noticed some strange behaviour.  He was going around as if he was searching for something but they couldn’t work out what it was that he was trying to find.  The first time they asked him he told them that he was looking for a bit of cheddar, which seemed odd.  The next day he explained that this time he was trying to find a little camembert, and the day after that he said that he was hoping to find some stilton.  None of this made sense, so someone asked if he was hungry or something.

No”. he explained, “I don’t want to eat it, I just need to find some cheese so that I can get out of here”.  None of that made any sense to anyone, as he could tell by the looks on their faces, so he had to explain a little further.  “It’s just something I remember from way back”, he said” “I heard this man in a church say that he had once been a no-good prisoner, but then he found cheeses and cheeses had set him free”.

There may have been some misunderstanding going on there, but maybe it is an understandable misunderstanding.  People might say that Jesus Christ set them free, but such people often appear to be the most uptight and the least free looking people you will ever meet!  Yet Jesus did say that he had come to set people free, and added that when he did they would be free indeed.  That sounds like something which is worth searching for.

So what does that mean, and how can we get it, and how can we avoid contributing to the misunderstandings.  Good questions, and ones which our bible readings will lead us into, without any ‘cheesiness’ at all.

Bible Readings         

The people to whom these words were written had been converted by Paul on one of his missionary journeys.  Now it seems new evangelists are arriving in the area trying to convert people to a form of religion that was much more legalistic.  They taught that true faith required conforming to all the laws of Moses.  This sort of teaching seems to have made Paul’s blood boil.  He argues passionately for a very different kind of gospel, the gospel that he had first taught and they had first believed.

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Freedom is what we have—Christ has set us free! Stand, then, as free people, and do not allow yourselves to become slaves again.

13 As for you, my friends, you were called to be free. But do not let this freedom become an excuse for letting your physical desires control you. Instead, let love make you serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” 15 But if you act like wild animals, hurting and harming each other, then watch out, or you will completely destroy one another.  16 What I say is this: let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of the human nature. 17 For what our human nature wants is opposed to what the Spirit wants, and what the Spirit wants is opposed to what our human nature wants. These two are enemies, and this means that you cannot do what you want to do. 18 If the Spirit leads you, then you are not subject to the Law.

19 What human nature does is quite plain. It shows itself in immoral, filthy, and indecent actions; 20 in worship of idols and witchcraft. People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and ambitious. They separate into parties and groups; 21 they are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these. I warn you now as I have before: those who do these things will not possess the Kingdom of God.  22 But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have put to death their human nature with all its passions and desires. 25 The Spirit has given us life; he must also control our lives.

This middle part of Luke’s gospel finds Jesus at the height of his popularity, but he makes a decision which doesn’t seem to make sense.  He decides that he must move away from the places where he has so much support, and head towards Jerusalem which was the stronghold of the authorities who feared him and opposed him.  It is clear from the small illustrations contained in these verses that those who supported him and followed him really had not understood what his mission was about, or what kind of freedom it was that he was seeking to gain for them.

Luke 9: 51-62

51 As the time drew near when Jesus would be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind and set out on his way to Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead of him, who went into a village in Samaria to get everything ready for him. 53 But the people there would not receive him, because it was clear that he was on his way to Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”  55 Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then Jesus and his disciples went on to another village.  57 As they went on their way, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  58 Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.”  59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But that man said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.”  60 Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”  61 Someone else said, “I will follow you, sir; but first let me go and say good-bye to my family.”  62 Jesus said to him, “Anyone who starts to plough and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God.”

Sermon

There was once a man who committed a crime. He was duly sentenced and served his time in prison.  Finally he was free to leave and continue his life.  Yet once back in his hometown, he would frequently meet people who knew about what he had done, and they would tell him that he did a terrible thing – that he broke the law – that he deserved to be punished.  Every time someone said something like that, he would get on a bus travel back to the prison and ask if he could come in, because he felt that he wasn’t good enough to live in the community like everyone else.  Well, given the problems we have with prison overcrowding I doubt if he would be allowed back in.  In any case, we might conclude that a man like that was very silly.  He had paid the price for his crime, it was all behind him.  His task now was not to keep on punishing himself but to use his freedom in ways that are good and positive and constructive.

I tell that little story because I think it captures the essence of the frustration that Paul feels when writing to the believers in Galatia.  He has told them that in Christ Jesus their sins have been forgiven.  He has told them that in Christ they are a new creation, that the old things have passed away and everything has been made new.  He has told them that they are free from the burdens of the past.  He has told them these things and they have believed him.  But now people are telling them that they need to do more in order to be acceptable to God.  Now people are telling them that they need to do other things in order to earn forgiveness.  Those negative voices are coming, in this case, not from the people in their communities, but from the religious types who are more interested in their traditions and reputations than in welcoming a sinner.  So doubts are creeping in to the minds of those believers in Galatia.  Some of them are feeling the pressure to keep doing more and more, losing their sense of freedom to a new sense of burden and duty, to feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

You can hear the frustration in Paul’s words.  Did Christ set you free from the guilt of the past so that you could keep going back to it all and mulling it over again, so that you could continue to be a slave to the incessant demands of guilt and regret?  No, “Freedom is what we have—Christ has set us free! Stand, then, as free people, and do not allow yourselves to become slaves again”.  Not freedom to go on with attitudes and behaviors that are harmful and destructive, he makes that clear.  That can only ever lead you back into the same problems you have faced before, but freedom to focus now on what is good and healthy.  Freedom to build lives on the key guiding principle of loving one another.

Well so much for those foolish Galatians.  We can be glad that we are not like them!  Or could it ever possibly be the case that we just might be?  We too have heard and believed the gospel of God’s grace, the promise of forgiveness full and free in Jesus Christ that becomes real for us whenever we repent.  We have had moments when we have unburdened ourselves in prayer, confessed those things which have left a bad taste in our memories and troubled our conscience.  We have believed that in Jesus Christ our sins have been forgiven, and that in the process we have been made new.  Yet, are there not still times when we are haunted by regrets, by the guilt that clings and will not seem to leave us.  We have believed that in Jesus Christ our sins have been forgiven, and that in the process we have been made new.  Yet are there still not times when that which remains unhealed within us leads us back to the sort of selfish and short-sighted behaviour that led us to have the sense of guilt and the regret in the first place.  That is not the way of the kingdom of God and it is not the way to live a life that is truly free and content and worthwhile.

In the gospel today, Jesus sounds rather harsh at times.  The would be followers were willing to go with Jesus, but they had things to do at home first, they still had unfinished business that they were carrying with them.  So they are told that, “anyone who starts to plough and then keeps looking back is of no use for the Kingdom of God.”

Well maybe we haven’t done much ploughing recently, so perhaps we could paraphrase a little.  No singer who keeps worrying about how badly they sang the last line is going to be giving their best effort to the next line.  No golfer who is thinking about the terrible slice they hit on the last shot is going to be totally focused on the current shot.  No driver who is mentally reliving that rather bad right hand turn they made five minutes ago is going to be properly focused on the road ahead.  And no child of God whose thoughts are milling around past regrets is going to be free to live and to love as they are called to do in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We want to learn from the past but not live in it.  We want to believe in forgiveness and not doubt it.  We want to let go of our burdens and not keep carrying them.  All of this is our gift and our calling.  “Freedom is what we have—Christ has set us free! Stand, then, as free people, and do not allow yourselves to become slaves again.”

Prayer

Here we remember and we celebrate the freedom we are offered, freedom from all that has hurt and damaged us, freedom from all that leads us to hurt and damage one another.  Here we dare to dream of what the world might be like if we were all able to treat one another with that attitude.  So we thank you for this vision which Jesus offers us, and for the great sense of possibility which it holds out before us.  We thank you for the love that we believe in, and the many different ways in which we have experienced it, and for all the various ways in which we can share it.

You call us to be free – but how often we feel trapped: trapped by what people expect of us, by our fear of people not liking us, by our anxiety about the future.  You call us to be free – but how often we feel tied down, held back by the sense that we are not good enough, or by memories of past failure, or a sense that others must be better than us.  You call us to be free – but how often we simply go round in circles, repeating the mistakes of our past, acting the way we have always acted, doing things the way we have always done them.

Whenever we hear the voices which give us negative messages, whether they are the voices of other people, or the more powerful and dangerous silent voices from within ourselves, may we recognise them for what they are – and not let them set our direction.

Whenever we get a sense of hope, a hint of possibility, an awareness that we are loved, whether those moments occur in church or through any of the other channels by which you communicate with us, may we recognise it as your word, and trust it, and hold firmly to it.

So we pray for those we love, asking your blessing on them.  We remember those we have loved who are no longer with us, asking that you hold them in your care.

We pray for one another, that the influence of your spirit may grow among us.

We pray for our communities, that we may find ways to encourage all that is good and healthy.

We pray for our churches, that through all our errors, we may find ways to let hope shine out.

You have taught us that all our efforts without love are worth nothing: send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts the gifts that produce good fruits, without which our lives achieve little.  For the sake of Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, one God forever, Amen.