Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Expecting the Unexpected - Preaching the Nonsense

 This is an edited version of the sermon preached at the Setting Apart Service for Bill Henderson (13/10/2020)

Scripture Readings included Luke 6:24-34 and 1 Corinthians 2:6-18. 

Sermon:  Expect the unexpected 

Without a doubt 2020 has been the year of the unexpected.    In the run up to this year plenty companies and institutions have played about with the visual aspects of 2020.  Ministries Council way back talked about having 2020 vision - where did we see the Church, indeed ministry being in the year 2020?  It was something to work towards over about 6 years, although being disbanded wasn’t on the cards!  And then

2020 arrived with a hint of trouble on the horizon which by March had become the entire skyline.  Church buildings closed and worship services took on a whole new shape.  Like the Israelites in exile we learnt how to sing new songs (or not), and like the Israelites in exile we pray to go home. 

We listen to the experts and pray for the willingness to embrace this new normal whilst pinning for what we had despite the fact that included the hard work of making bricks without hay, which in modern parlance was trying to get everything done without the time or the resources to hand, and therefore never finishing.  With notable exceptions most people don’t thrive during unsettled times.  Even as adults we can be homesick, missing the simplicity of childhood.  Sometimes we just have to admit nothing makes sense. 

And in that moment of accepting that fact we are open to so much.  In that moment we step back and we throw open the door of possibilities.  We relinquish control, we admit we don’t have the answers and we stop trying.  In that moment we find freedom and space - the trick is to not panic but just take a breath.  

As preachers we have to do that all the time.  We have to read God’s word and we are charged with proclaiming it to others.  And therefore we are supposed to be able to make sense of it.  Absolutely.  We study, we analyse, if we are linguistically gifted we can read the Hebrew and the Greek and parse to our hearts content.  But sometimes we need to stop and admit that the message is nonsensical.  

Before I get fired - hang in there.  Think about the reading tonight - woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort or love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Seriously people.  Of course I can preach how awesome this message is and you will have heard sermon upon sermon teaching you this.  But as preachers we have to look deeper than the surface - this message clashes with the expected message.  It did at the time and it does today.  But if we just accept it as it is written we miss the power, the drive, the wisdom behind the message. 

Paul writes in the Corinthians passage we had earlier about wisdom - God’s wisdom.  

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

The message of God is not some trite meme we post on Facebook or platitudes for the hurting or a weapon to crush the other.  The message of God is powerful and challenging.  It is a call to live like Christ in this world today.  It is a call to stop looking at our own comfort whilst offering from what we have left over.  Jesus said ‘even the birds of the air have nests and foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’.  He knew what it was to be misunderstood by his family who thought he was mad, or to be run out of town.  The message of love we preach includes death on a cross and the message of eternal life includes resurrection. 

The message of God is secure - it is his message and tonight’s readings leaves us with no room for compromise. We are not just called to worship God but to live lives that reflect the height and depth of his love for his people and for his world.  After all, not a single person here tonight, in this building or sharing through technology has done a single thing to deserve God’s favour.  Whether you have followed all of God’s commands since you were a child or fell out the gutter - you are equally welcome in God’s kingdom.  And that doesn’t make sense and yet makes perfect sense. 

We will never talk people into the kingdom of heaven - even the most crafted sermon will not do that.  A great sermon, however simply given, will niggle, will plant seeds of discontent and make the hearer wonder if there is something more.  And it will be seeing Christians throughout the church loving others more than their bank balance, loving enemies, blessing those who hurt and curse, and willing to hang out where Jesus is - with tax collectors and prostitutes, with the misunderstood, the excluded and the feared that will show the true wisdom of God. Every day, each and everyone of us can preach God’s message. The question that we all have to ask ourselves - ‘Am I preaching God’s message or my message?’  Just remember when you think you have God figured out - expect the unexpected. 

How deep are the wealth and the wisdom and the knowledge of God!  How inscrutable his judgements, how in searchable his ways! 

From God and through God and for God all things exist - to him be the glory for ever! Amen (Romans 11:33,36)

Congratulations Bill and welcome to the Readership of the Church of Scotland

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