Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 17 February 2019.
I wonder how often you have been led by an interesting headline into reading a newspaper or magazine article which had nothing to do with the headline itself. That was only the hook to draw you into spending time on what the writer had to say, and you end up wondering just what the writer really did have to say after all.
Just what was the story or message or appeal? Was it there at all – or was it a means of getting you to look at the nearby advertisements? In short, were the words really worth the effort in being written, never mind being read?
Or was it a waste of time?
In Isaiah we are given something different because it concerns God’s words for the time and God’s eternal word. For Isaiah God’s words are eternally significant and they are not just ideas thrown out for those who may happen to be listening or interested.
When God speaks, things happen. The creation comes into being and life appears where it was not there before. When God speaks things happen. God’s words are not idle or a way of passing the time of day. They are never idle or frivolous, and they do not trivialize either God or His creation or His purposes.
And when spoken to the Israelites then in exile they are serious promises, for God makes promises in order to keep them and so that His people may be encouraged or rebuked, and that they may enter life and abide in it.
The promises of return and restoration were fulfilled in part when the Israelites returned from exile under the Persians, and they were fulfilled again after 1945.
God’s promises are never idle or trivial or insignificant and they are certainly not there to entertain speculators or provide a living for sceptics.
And that is why we honour not only the Old Testament but the New Testament as well and within it both the gospels and the epistles. Down the centuries people have found faith in them and with it forgiveness, hope, purpose and even their vocations.
So when Paul writes about death, he does not speculate or offer amusement to scholars. These words also are filled with the purposes of God.
And so Paul goes out of his way to reassure us that death is not the final answer, and it is certainly not the end. It may be the end of the introduction to the book but it is definitely not the full meaning of its message.
If death is a mystery, then what God does within it and after it is an even greater mystery. What to the superficial is a full stop to life is to a believer a place for drawing breath before continuing into what comes next.
What is of the earth gives way to the heavenly, and what is time-bound enters the dimensions of eternity. Above all the power and the fear of death are overtaken by wonder and glory and all are directed to and centered on Jesus Christ who has led us into and through death itself.
So it is in the gospel that we keep finding the life that does not only start this side of death but which continues the other side of it. To live the life of Jesus is to enter that life of eternity from the midst of the here and now and in the busy details of our own lives.
This is the context in which we are to come to Jesus’ teaching in the gospels. Not judging others before we have had a long and critical look at ourselves is a major part of it.
Where one person has one besetting sin or attitude then another person has different ways of being probed and being tested.
To be free of sexual sin does not entitle us to be self-righteous any more than being free of sins of power or money or the desire to be in control of all aspects of our own lives – or of the lives of others.
And Jesus did not die to forgive us only certain kinds of sins – He died to free us and forgive us all kinds of sins.
And that includes sins of the body or of the mind or of the emotions. The desire to dominate is as much a fault as the deliberate cultivation of doubt of what Jesus has done and indeed who He is.
That is partly why we need each-others’ strengths when we encounter our own weaknesses.
But there is something else for the life which is rooted in Jesus is going to be fruitful for that is what being rooted and grounded in Him is.
Equally, the life founded on His words, finding comfort and stability and strength in them is also compared with a house built on rock – with foundations excavated and made firm.
Indeed, the greater the house then the deeper the foundations. Excavating those foundations may take a long time and involve many difficult encounters. But then this is worth it when we know that Jesus is the designer and the builder of the home He desires to enter as His own dwelling.