Sunday, 30 March 2014

The pearl

Lent 4 year A Sermon 
The Kingdom of God is like the finest pearl…its value is worth selling everything in order to possess it.

Have you ever got to that point in your faith…that you were prepared to give up everything…everything…to buy that pearl…to take your place in the Kingdom of God?

Abraham was…

Before there were even a people called the Hebrews, before a single word of the Bible was written…before Moses received the Law…before David
before Jesus…Paul reminds us……

Abraham side
an old man named Abraham… was right with God …reached the point in his faith… that he didn't waver regarding the promises of God…but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God…being fully persuaded that God had power… to do what he promised.

Abraham couldn’t have kept the law… it didn't exist…

Abraham’s faith is why it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was totally convinced.

And Paul tells us… the words “it was credited to him” were written not just for Abraham alone…but also for us, who believe in him… who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death because of our sins and raised to life for our justification.
For us who believe…

Pearl slide
Just before our Bible readings this morning…
we all stood and said I believe…
together…we recited The Apostles’ Creed.

And for a brief moment before we began… we stood at a crossroad of faith…waiting to take a step…
waiting to make…or renew our confession of faith…
And that is what we did…we vowed… our belief

Did you realise you were doing this…
were you fully conscious of what you were about to do as you spoke those words…

Were you paying attention…or did you engage in
what a friend of mine calls… ‘ritual inattention’?

Now ask yourself honestly… which of the following motivated you…I promise I won’t ask you to tell…

Word slide
Compliance, identification or absolute faith

Ask yourself, ‘was I simply being compliant with Diane’s request for us to stand and speak?…

Or…‘maybe it was about identifying with others in our church family’

Or was I fully conscious that I was publically proclaiming a vow of faith…stating for all to hear…
what I truly believe …expressing the faith that’s embedded and internalised…in my heart and in my mind

What’s truly amazing…is that regardless of what motivated you…what underlying process
was going on for you…the external result was the same …you stood, you spoke a Christian Confession of Faith.

These three reasons for expressing belief – compliance, identification and unwavering faith – are actually the normal stages everyone goes through
in their faith journey…

As little children… we come to church and sing the songs and say the prayers in compliance to our parent’s wishes.

YAK slide
When we’re a bit older and finally have the power to say ‘no I’m not going…I’m going to sleep in’…we’ll be very blessed it there is a youth group like YAK where the food is good and where other Christian kids we can identify with…are studying the Bible… as we continue to grow in our faith. New Adult Christians also benefit by identification with a study group as their faith matures.

Word slide
It might take us a very very long time in life… to make it to the third stage…of embedded…internalised faith. We’re we can say with absolute certainty…yes…I really believe what I said in the Apostle’s Creed…and from now on my life will reflect what I believe.

As children it’s natural for us to adopt the behaviour encouraged by our parents so they’ll approve of us…and to avoid their disapproval.  But later as teenagers what’s important to us is identification…the actual ideas, beliefs and reasoning behind our responses aren’t so important.

Some of us might stay in the identification stage our entire lives…conforming to group expectations so we can have satisfying relationships with other people and even with God.

But when our faith continues to grow beyond that…
at the level of internalised faith… we choose to make our public profession of faith…not because other people expect us to or will like us better…but because the vow we make are fully consistent… with the values embedded in our hearts. Speaking out what we believe feels good for its own sake.

When our faith is embedded in us…we make a decision …that isn’t dependent on anyone else’s opinion…
or judgement of us – we claim an internal source of authority… that reserves the right to choose…
and take responsibility for our choices. We decide for ourselves that God is real…and God’s will…
revealed in Jesus Christ… is the way we want to live…

Have you ever stood at a faith crossroad…at the intersection where you must choose between following Jesus or walking away from faith?

At such a crossroad we’re faced with the choice … no it’s not for me or…yes…this is what I believe…
and from now on it’s going to influence the way I live. From now on I’m going to walk the walk
and not just talk the talk…

For some of us this faith crossroad occurs every day
if we intentionally ask ourselves the question…
‘what would Jesus do now?’
Though we often push it to the back of our minds.

I will never forget the day I stood at the crossroad of faith for the first time and made a personal commitment praying specifically to Jesus… asking him into my heart.  

Sure, I was baptised as a baby, went to Sunday school and church right till I was 16,  I was confirmed as a twelve year old and was given this Bible…

I had to memorise the shorter catechism…I had to be able to recite the answers…what is the chief end of man…to love God and enjoy him forever. I always had a sense of God love and conversational presence…

And that stuck with me…even when church was to boring I quit going…

but it wasn’t till I was in my mid-thirties that I faced a time of real decision…a friend of mine in television was determined to get me to ask Jesus into my heart...and so I started to develop a deeper understanding of God…
Father Son and Holy Spirit – even did a course on the Trinity at Otago…which really inspired me and deepened my faith.

But I will never forget the day I gave myself to Jesus… And you know what motivated me to do it? Simply this…I had a weakness…I wanted something…I hoped God would give it to me if I made this decision.

Now I’m not very proud of that reason…but there it is.

But God who’d always been there for me… used my weakness….as a crossroad of faith…into a decision to follow Jesus… the decision which is actually makes Christianity Christian.

I found my pearl of great price worth giving up everything else to possess…I stepped across the threshold of the kingdom of God…

And today it’s true… like the old song…he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.

So whether you’re skating along on the coat tails of your parents in the compliance stage of your faith, or whether you just really like belonging to this warm and wonderful family of God, today I invite you to take a step…make a conscious intentional decision…that what you are saying is truly where you stand…

This year is the 200th anniversary of the planting of the seed of the Gospel in Aotearoa New Zealand. All great missionaries know… that the clay pot in which the gospel is carried to a new land must be broken so the good news can take root in new soil.  It’s the same with our hearts…when the good news is planted…that in Jesus…God has invited all of us into a personal relationship with him that is eternal.

As Jesus said I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

Do you believe this?”

The Presbyterian Church spent many years drafting its own kiwi confession of faith. It’s called the Kupu Whakapono which in Maori means statement of faith…

I invite you now to stand and say it with all the faith you can muster.

From this land of Aotearoa New Zealand
we confess that we believe in and belong
to the one true and living God,
who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Love before all love.

We believe in God the Father,
sovereign and holy,
Creator and nurturer of all,
Father of Jesus Christ,
sender of the Holy Spirit,
and Judge of all the earth.

We believe in God the Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour,
truly human and truly divine,
who lived among us full of grace and truth.

For our sin he was crucified
and by the power of God was raised from death,
forgiving us, setting us free and bringing to birth God’s new creation.
Now ascended, he calls us to repentance and faith
and restores us to God and to one another.

We believe in God the Holy Spirit,
the giver of life at work in all creation,
who inspired the Scriptures and makes Christ known,
who transforms hearts and minds
and gathers us into the community of Christ,
empowering the Church in worship and in mission.

We belong to this triune God,
women and men,
young and old,
from many nations,
in Christ he iwi kotahi tatou, [we are one people]
witnesses to God’s love in word and action,
servants of reconciliation,
and stewards of creation.

As God’s people,
we look forward in hope and joy
to the return of Christ,
to the new heaven and earth,
where evil and death will be no more,
justice and peace will flourish,
and we shall forever delight in the glory of God.