Sunday 11th July 2021
Communion - Spiritual Nourishment For the Spiritually Weak
Why do we take communion?
Paul sums it up today - (although he doesn’t mention communion specifically) -
We take it because we are weak -
Being weak is ok -
Because God makes it clear to Paul that HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT -
“for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
AND communion -
… is the ultimate symbol of GOD'S GRACE
2 Corinthians 12:9 seems like the perfect verse
…to return to congregational communion with -
And I’m going to take Paul’s statement that god's grace is sufficient for us -
….as a springboard for this pre-communion reflection
And highlight 5 REASONS
….…why we need to hear it again, and again and again.
‘God’s power is made perfect in weakness?’
why doesn’t he just CREATE US to be mighty faith warriors from the start -
…build us from stronger stuff!?
I don’t actually know -
…but I suspect that strength isn’t always what it seems
OUR ‘worldly’ ideas of ‘strength’ -
…is perhaps a little narrow
Take an iron rod and a willow branch for instance-
If you bend them both say 20 degrees,
…one will SNAP -
……and the other will flex
The stronger looking one -
….won’t be the one to survive
Perhaps by choosing to MAKE US DEPENDENT ON HIS GRACE -
….rather than making us self sufficient with loads of awesome character and skill traits ,
….. we are in some counter-intuitive way,
…………better fitted for this life AND -
We are the humble willow branch dependent on the mighty tree it is attached to,
…rather than the strong, tough looking …….independent iron bar
God chooses to display His power in us by sustaining us in our weakness.
…in relationship with a mighty tree
And - forgive the metaphor,
…but what a tree!
It’s hard to think of words,
… to do justice to the splendor of all his creative power
Even the words of last weeks closing hymn only begin to scratch the surface…
“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed”
All of this AWESOMENESS-
…makes God’s preferred method of showing off his power through PATHETICALLY WEAK VESSELS LIKE US,
= seem rather strange.
The worldly images of gods -
the zeus’s, Thor’s, Hermes, Apollo’s, Jupiter’s etc
- excel in raising up (or destroying) -
Worldly heroes and devout followers
…..mighty in bravery, fighting prowess, intellect and beauty
These are the requirements,
… for the representatives of the classical and worldly appealing Gods of HUMAN LEGEND
But our heavenly God in contrast -
…choose some pretty ordinary specimens -
We’re told in 2 Corinthians today,
…that God’s grace is sufficient,
…….and his power is made perfect in:
No hero’s need apply!
Paul was one of the tougher followers of God in the NT -
Certainly in the courage and brains department,
= but it’s his weakness that he highlights today,
When Paul begged God to take away his thorn (whatever it was),
….God said this to him:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
back to the illustration that popped into my mind on Monday -
Perhaps on some level PAUL wanted to be strong like the Iron bar (free of apparent weakness)
…but God knew that only the humble willow branch would suffice for his purposes.
Q - Why Does God Use Our Weaknesses?
This verse is one of those scriptural double take, ….raise your eyebrows in surprise moments.
It doesn’t make sense on the surface.
God could have delivered Paul and said to him, “My power is made perfect in my deliverance.”
He could have said,
“My mighty deliverance is sufficient for you.”
But he didn’t.
he left Paul in his crippled state and said,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
God’s power is greatest,
…. when we’re at our weakest.
And what we need most in our weakness,
… is God’s sufficient grace,
= not more strength,
….. and not a dramatic deliverance.
In other words,
what we need most is NOT necessarily a change in circumstances.
we need to God’s grace that is sufficient,
…. for the very circumstances we find ourselves in.
=This is so backward,
… from how the world operates.
So, why is God so doggedly insistent on using weaknesses to DEMONSTRATE his strength?
Why does God repeatedly say, “My grace is sufficient for you?”
Here are a handful of reasons why…
1. “My Grace Is Sufficient For You,”
…..Means God Gets All The Glory
…….. and I don’t become a narcissistic big head
If I could consistently sustain myself through trials by my own grit and heroicness ,
…..then I could take some of the glory.
If God made me more like,
… those Greek classic hero’s I mentioned
…….in other words
Or in today’s money -
…a Hollywood hero who improbably saves the day (and the girl),
…….again and again!
But he hasn’t
I can’t sustain myself in the slightest.
If God wasn’t behind me pushing,
….. and before me making a way,
= I would fall flat on my face at the first trial
No one will be boasting of their own strength in heaven.
I will be boasting about how God sustained me through anxiety and heartache and trials.
I will be boasting about how God answered my desperate prayers for my children.
God’s power is made perfect in weakness = …because it ensures that he alone gets all the glory.
If God’s grace alone is sufficient to sustain me,
…. I can’t take credit for sustaining myself.
God does it all,
…and we will boast only in him.
And he alone can do all that -
…and yet remain perfectly, selflessly humble
As the image of the broken Jesus,
….. humiliated on the cross declares
2. When God’s Grace Is Sufficient,
…my relationship with him grows
One of the great lies I’m tempted to believe is that I’m sufficient.
There are whole books in the shops,
…written to convince me that if I follow their 10 step plan,
…then I can reach my inner capacity to be super successful in everything.
In life, in marriage, in parenting, in working, in making money, in confidence etc, etc…
EXCEPT LIFE HAS TAUGHT ME
(Including life as a CPN)
…that no one is completely sufficient in themselves
As somebody wrote:
Trials are a match that burn down my facade and fallacy.
I can cope with some stuff -
…be reasonably successful in others
But if start to believe in my own sufficiency,
….I’ve discovered that something will come along to give me a REALITY CHECK.
I simply don’t have the spiritual strength AND SUFFICIENCY,
…to keep going when the Red Sea is before,
……. me and the Egyptians are behind me.
It’s at these moments in life,
….that I have clung to God with renewed vigour
Like the humble Willow branch -
…I have felt connected and nourished by the strength of the mother tree
God’s grace IS sufficient.
God is Omni-sufficient.
Sufficiency and strength and power,
course through his being like the LIFE GIVING SAP in the tree,
…… flowing to even the smallest twigs
3. “My Grace Is Sufficient For You,” Highlights The Glory Of His Deliverance
Here’s a historical fact:
God loves to deliver his people when the stakes are highest,
….. and the odds are the worst.
In the book of JUDGES,
…. God wouldn’t let Gideon use 30,000 or 3,000 men.
He carved his army down to a measly 300 men,
= making the odds of victory so unfathomably small,
… that only God could bring deliverance.
Goliath was an executioner armed with a colossal sword and spear.
…David was a shepherd boy attacking with a sling and a few rocks.
=Only God could snatch victory from the jaws of this defeat.
God’s power is made perfect in weakness because it shows that God,
…. and only God can deliver.
We don’t have the power to rescue or deliver or save.
……But God’s grace is sufficient to do all those things
4. If His Grace Is Sufficient, It Forces Us To Trust In God Alone
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9,
….Paul recounts one of his darkest moments:
“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
God allowed Paul’s circumstances to become so bleak, so dire, so desperate,
…..that he felt as if he had received a death sentence.
From Paul’s perspective,
…..death appeared to be imminent.
Why would God let things get so horrifically bad?
Why would he let Isaac get all the way to the altar?
Why would he let Daniel actually be thrown into the lion’s den rather than rescuing him beforehand?
God wants his people to know,
…. that he alone is their hope.
God leads me through the Valley of Death,
… so that I’ll trust in him alone.
So that I’ll cling to his sufficient grace.
So that I’ll give up the ludicrous charade,
…. that I can go it alone.
5. Because God’s Grace Is Sufficient, It Deepens My Trust In God
I don’t know about you,
But when things get really bad,
..I start playing out various scenarios in my head.
For example, if my finances are tight,
…or the overdraft is reaching its limit,
= I start doing all sorts of calculations about how we can nip and tuck here and there
This isn’t wrong -
…unless we leave no room for God
….………no room for reliance and trust
All too often -
…I turn to God (AND HIS SUFFICIENT GRACE)
IF I can’t make the balances work despite my best efforts!
I think this is why Proverbs exhorts us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and not to lean on our own understanding.
When I lean on my own understanding,
…..I’m failing to trust God,
……..whose power and ability to deliver,
…………… are far beyond my understanding.
When God does intervene and rescue me,
…it becomes abundantly clear to me,
= that it was not due to my magnificent strategizing,
…….but his glorious, sufficient grace.
His Power is Made Perfect In Weakness
Because God works powerfully in the midst of our weaknesses,
….we can agree with Paul when he said, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
We may be weak and feel like we have a thorn in the flesh,
…but Christ is strong.
His power sustains us and keeps us,
…..and we can rely on Him.
LORD, Please help us to lean on you with all our weight. As charles spurgeon once said, ‘Help us to throw ourselves on your faithfulness as we do on our beds, bringing all our weariness to your dear rest.’
We know the solution to weakness is not a stiff upper lip. It’s to lean on you, our God with all our weight – to throw ourselves on the one whose power is made perfect in our weakness. Then, and only then, are we strong.
Please help us to see this and in humility receive it we pray.
Sunday 4th July 2021
Praise and Warnings (Psalm 95)
We are in the cusp of singing in churches again -
it was legal from last week,
…but the number of caveats,
……and strongly worded cautions
Received from the Church guidance bodies,
= have caused us to hold back a little as we make sure we have all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed,
…. in our mandatory health and safety plan
I know speaking to other ministers that everybody across the churches are having similar conversations -
Weighing up the benefits,
…against the risks
(Which include not frightening the more anxious in their congregations)
As I reflected around all these issues on MONDAY,
I found my mind wandering from legal to the spiritual -
…what is it that is so special and truly uplifting in SUNG WORSHIP ?
WHY AM I MISSING IT SO MUCH?
Why has it always been cherished as such a fundamental part of faith expression LITERALLY ACROSS THE MILLENNIA?
And it wasn’t long before I concluded SUNDAYS SERMON had begun brewing,
…before I had even selected or looked up a text!
Choosing a book was easy -
PSALMS (the hymn book of the Bible)
= was a no brainer…
And selecting a psalm on worship wasn’t so difficult either -
…surely I can't go wrong with psalm 95 I mused?
It came to mind because I remember reading once that the opening line of psalm 95,
Is quite possibly the most used line in any psalm -
…to open church worship services with:
I’ll soon be opening our service with this very invitation
WHAT COULD BE MORE APPROPRIATE AS A CALL TO WORSHIP? -
“O come - let us sing to the Lord”
Psalm 95 is a particularly PRAISE orientated psalm -
...I’m going to highlight how is should also be CHALLENGING,
= as a sort spiritual preparation,
…. ahead of us recommencing OUR sung worship
It took a while for me to really learn to appreciate the value of sung praise -
I think I overdosed on ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS,
and similar songs growing up in the Anglican tradition -
I enjoyed the thrilling tactile rumble that went up my spine as the old organ hit some of the lower notes and literally made the floor boards shake -
But the singing always felt so.. so,
When my mum moved to a free church when I was about 12,
… I encountered a very different style of music -
Accompanied not by the mighty organ …but rather bearded men,
…. with rainbow strapped guitars,
…… and ladies with tambourines…
But all the songs seemed like romantic love ballads with Jesus’ name crowbarred in -
The FIRST TIME I heard a hymn sung with gusto that really affected me,
…wasn’t in church at all,
= it was on TV -
I was about 10 or so and sitting next to my Dad on the setee
NOT songs of praise,
….but the old 5 nations rugby tournament!
Wales v England,
...at the old Cardiff Arms Park.
the soaring rendition of BREAD OF HEAVEN started up….
And I felt genuinely moved -
I’m afraid it hasn’t converted me to WELSH RUGBY (sorry!)
…THIS ENGLISH LEOPARD CAN’T CHANGE HIS SPOTS!
= but it did open my mind to the possibility that praise didn’t have to dampen the spirits -
…it can make your SOUL SOAR!
Combine the right TUNE,
...with the right SINGERS,
…..and the right SENTIMENTS,
= perhaps you can experience something ‘other’
….something unlike any other experience.
The Bible scholar, JAMES HOWELL -
Wrote that on occasions,
...when singing with others,
…... he feels almost as if he can get sense of what heaven is like
...the reformist monk who helped the CHURCH drop some of its religiosity,
…..and get back to the HEART OF FAITH,
Wrote that he couldn’t imagine FAITH without MUSIC
Some folks were extremely SNIFFY about music and religion
They believed that you should only CHANT or SAY psalms for instance.
...singing can be FUN they argued - MERE ENTERTAINMENT,
….therefore it is inappropriate and self-indulgent,
Martin Luther was flabbergasted at the OLD PRUNES,
...and he wrote this defence;
“Music is a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching….
I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God.
Music drives away the devil and makes people happy; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance and the like.
Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honour…..
This precious gift has been bestowed on humanity alone to remind them that they are created to praise and magnify the Lord.
But when natural music is sharpened and polished by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect wisdom of God in his wonderful work of music, where one voice takes a SIMPLE PART, and around it sing three, four or five other voices, leaping, springing round about, marvelously gracing the simple part, like a square dance in heaven with friendly bows, embracing and hearty swinging of the partners.
He who does not find this an inexpressible miracle of the Lord is truly a clod.”
Get off the fence Martin,
...tell us what you really think!
SO - back to psalm 95,
A PSALM - that no matter what the dry old prunes say,
= was written to be sung loudly and with lots of instruments!
(and if you’ve ever heard traditional Jewish praise,
...you’ll know how WILD and FRENETICALLY FAST PACED it often is)
Like DAVID embarrassing his wife in 2 SAMUEL,
...when he danced excitedly at the head of a marching praise band in nothing but his underwear!!
I mentioned earlier that the opening of psalm 95,
…is perhaps the most used call to worship in CHRISTIAN HISTORY
It helps set the tone -
IT INVITES TO
sing and celebrate together, BUT not for the sake of it -
….that 1st line reminds us,
……. = it’s an offering to the LORD
A GREAT WAY TO EXPRESS OUR LOVE
And it brings us to the 1st challenge,
WHEN WE praise,
…. Q = is it to the LORD?
Do we mean what we sing?
Are we singing our hearts out;
…. to primarily please GOD, OURSELVES or the FOLKS around us?
IT’S an ESPECIAL challenge at special occasions like our anniversary.
We RIGHTLY want people to be entertained by our singing,
...but that intent should be ECLIPSED,
…... by an EVEN GREATER desire to PLEASE and BLESS God -
…..= is it?
Let’s be honest -
...and recommit ourselves to the GREATER PRIORITY if necessary.
B4 we get too ‘LOST IN SONG’,
….it’s worth pointing out in ANY SERMON ON PRAISE,
That SONG of course,
...should only constitute a FRACTION of our praise.
Psalms 62 and 65 for instance,
...both encourage silence.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence, from him comes my salvation”
Psalm 56:8 tells us that even our TEARS can be an offering;
“You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle, are they not in your record?”
So -- for the 1st 7 verses of psalm 95
...we rejoice and praise,
….THE PSALM gives us lots to celebrate -
-He is our ROCK (a safe place)
-he SAVES us (we modern praisers can visualize the cross)
-he is our KING - above all others
-he HOLDS the whole world in his hands -
….all the intricate laws of nature are set in place,
-and we get VERY PERSONAL in verse 7
= with shades of psalm 23,
….we are reminded that he is our shepherd -
….Very close and NURTURING
(not ‘up there’
...but right beside us)
But then we get to the 2nd half of verse 7 -
….THE TONE CHANGES.
We have CELEBRATED the blessings,
...now we are reminded that with every BLESSING comes RESPONSIBILITY
“O that today you would hear his voice,
..do not harden your hearts”
And so we come to the 2nd challenge:
It’s easy to pass over the psalms as ANCIENT and IRRELEVANT -
...written a long time ago to long dead people
(even ancient in Jesus’ day)
DO THEY STILL APPLY?
Let's take a glance at who the psalm is talking about when it says
‘Don’t harden your hearts as at Meribah’
These were the wandering ISRAELITES in the desert,
...ON ONE FAMOUS OCCASION RECORDED IN EXODUS
…...they had moaned, groaned and rebelled against God
...they had formed a ‘let’s go back to egypt’ committee!’
The WRITER of HEBREWS -
...1000’s of years later,
…..detected some hardened hearts among fellow followers.
He REMINDED them of the PSALM in Hebrews 3:13
….and pointed out that the word TODAY,
……….. should be read as applying to the READER
(ANY reader - then or now)
IT’S A TIMELESS CHALLENGE
“O that TODAY you would listen to his voice and not HARDEN your heart”
The people that didn’t LISTEN,
….psalm 95 tells us,
…….had no regard for God’s ways
….Love your neighbour as yourself for instance
WE said earlier that WORSHIP can involve,
….MUSIC, TEARS, SILENCE ….
Now we learn that it also involves -
...PERHAPS MOST OF ALL,
…..how we treat one another.
Our sense of JUSTICE, KINDNESS, WILLINGNESS TO SHARE,
…….. TO HELP
I remember one college lecturer,
….when introducing the PSALMS,
Telling us that WORSHIP is traditionally a time for praise -
...the 3rd challenge this morning,
……= hear the warning.
NOT a finger pointy nasty warning,
But more like a LOVING FATHER (or shepherd, to stay true to the Psalm)
...urging his beloved CHILD to be careful,
Mind the edge - son - daughter,
...don’t get too close or you will get hurt or hurt someone else.
Our singing praise -
...WHO are we trying to please?
2) It’s you (and me) - TODAY…
“O that you would hear his voice - Do not harden your hearts”
3) Does our praise extend BEYOND OUR HYMN BOOKS?
...does it extend to the way we treat and view our fellow man and woman?
...does our praise remind us of how we should strive to live?
I mentioned the scholar James Howells earlier -
...he’s spent a lot of time studying the psalms.
I underlined a paragraph in one of my books -
...I’ll read it to finish;
“If we dare to sing praises to God, we’d best be careful about how we as praising people actually live.
There is an implicit moral demand tucked inside praise:
if God is God, if God is magnificent, and worthy of all adulation, then we are on the hook to live in God-like ways, to be holy, faithful, as obedient as possible.”