Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 8 May 2022.
• First Reading: Acts 9: 36-43 (The death and healing of Dorcas; Peter summoned; raised her to life)
• Psalm 23
• Second Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17 (The death and healing of Dorcas – Peter summoned – raised her to life)
• Gospel: John 10: 22-30 (‘My sheep listen to My voice, I know them, and they follow Me’)
Having just been through the local government elections, we all (I hope) voted for those we wished to represent us. We were voting for individuals who were sponsored by various interest groups and to pursue their respective policies and proposals for local government.
Each candidate stood for a particular set of political priorities and were voted for accordingly. Each was a means to an end rather than an end in him or herself.
But the lessons point us in a rather different direction. The passage from Revelation is about the worship of heaven. Here God is being worshipped for Himself. He is being worshipped because He is God and that is the starting point.
Everything else flows from that – the praise and glory, wisdom and thanks and honour, power and strength are attributes that are part of the worship and in it they are ascribed to God as of right.
He does not have to earn anything – He is due our worship by virtue of being God and that is enough.
Yet God still offered to be God to the people if they would accept Him as their God.
In the same way, in church we worship God from within a broken and sinful world because He is God and He is due our worship for that reason but has still called us into a relationship with Him.
There is no transaction – there is no trade off between God being God and our ability and willingness to praise Him. It is not as if there is a quota of justice or peace that God has to deliver before we are willing to sing a hymn or utter a prayer.
Our worship is in this way, utterly and wholly unconditional. It comes out of our faith in and our relationship with Him.
To this extent it is an exercise of faith and perhaps this is the point.
In the same way, the church exists to serve God, first of all in its worship. Again there is no transaction even though the church exists because Jesus has revealed to us who and what God is and has called us into an intimacy that we would never have imagined, never mind obtained for ourselves.
Again, this is not a matter of any kind of transaction. We do not believe a little because He has only done a little for us. Neither is our worship a demand for other services: an hour of time in church in exchange for the fertility of the fields or the granting of a certain amount of rainfall.
Neither is it a transaction in which we are to expect a certain amount of social or racial justice, or a quota of sustainability in our lifestyles.
These things may be highly desirable and as the church draws closer to God then so its relationships and transactions may be expected to have a deeper impact on society and a sense of social and racial and environmental justice for that is the kind of society that we are becoming.
Yet it all comes back to where we start – and if we start with God then our faith will increase as we come to know God better in Jesus Christ and as our relationships with one another also find a deeper foundation in Him.
Perhaps this is the point of the Gospel lesson. Jesus was being pressed to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ as if that was going to settle the matter.
He refused to do this and instead told those who were asking Him. ‘I have already said, but you do not believe it. You do not believe it because you are not My sheep. My sheep already know but no matter what I say, you will refuse to believe it.’
I am of course paraphrasing Him. But with our own capacity for rumours, conspiracy theories and fake news, any direct declaration by Jesus would soon have been demolished or distorted. Nobody would be convinced, then or now.
So Jesus made it a matter of personal faith and personal relationship. Here there is no proof – only fellowship. If the people were already committed to Him then they already knew Him to be their Lord and Messiah.
If they were not, then they would either be searching for Him or they would be busy looking for excuses to reject Him, and there would be no middle ground.
To compare this with the tides: they are either coming in or going out, and the period of slack water between the two is far too short to build a lifestyle or personal philosophy.
But for all that, we do get occasional glimpses into the reality that is in and beyond Jesus. There are those markers and events which make all the difference for us.
One such was the raising of Dorcas, or Tabitha. Peter had been called to her bedside when she was sick and arrived when she had already died, and in the power of the name of Jesus raised her again. This was not a resurrection and yes, she did eventually die in the fulness of her years.
But for those who knew her it was a pointer, and an encouragement of faith. Any who doubted would still do so, but any who had faith would also be renewed and strengthened in it.
But Jesus raised her again because it was His pleasure to do so. She was never going to earn that raising, but there were enough people there whose prayers were effective and were willing to trust. And that really did build up the people round about in faith.