Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 11 September 2022.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 4: 11-12, 22-28 (The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely)
• Psalm 14
• Epistle: 1 Timothy 1: 12-17 (The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners)
• Gospel: Luke 15: 1-10 (The lost sheep; the lost coin. Rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents)
This is a day of very mixed feelings. A national grieving at the passing of Elizabeth II, much loved throughout the realm, even among sceptics. And the immediate passing of the crown to King Charles III, who has spent his life in so much activity and engagement, all the while preparing to grieve the passing of his mother.
This has been a time when the nation has rallied to comfort its King and yet when the King also serves the nation to rally it for the difficult times ahead, while being critically compared with his late mother.
It is a time when the nation is at war, a war being fought in the fields and forests of Ukraine and yet where there is also a line of economic warfare passing through every kitchen and living room of our land as we face the costs of heating our homes and lighting and cooking our meals.
You might say that this is a time of judgment on the land and maybe it is, for it is not only the things that buffet us but also the ways in which we respond to that buffeting.
And perhaps this is the time to read of the severity of the judgments of God pronounced by Jeremiah when God says that enough is enough. The people had wandered too far and have rejected their God just too often.
Any yes, we know that while Jerusalem was spared during the prophecies of Isaiah, it was sacked during the times of Jeremiah and he had warned them of it.
And if this was an end to the story then we might all give up, and either surrender to total hedonism or just hide under the bed.
But this in only the beginning of our story today.
In the letter to Timothy, Paul who is also beginning to contemplate his own passing, reflects on the unbelievable mercy of God, which he had encountered personally and intimately.
Although he was an avid persecutor of the church, Jesus met him and turned his life around. What had been central to his life, he put aside and what was central to the message of Jesus Christ became intimate and essential to Paul instead.
God had taken a persecutor and made him a proclaimer. One with power of arrest and imprisonment was endued with even more power, not to condemn but to release into new life.
Power in this world was replaced by authority in the realms of eternity.
What was a temporary authority bestowed by the chief priests and Pharisees was replaced by the fulness of the Holy Spirit as Paul was now filled with a new message of forgiveness and freedom, or the price paid by God personally and intimately.
Whatever had gone before was now set aside and a new kind of future beckoned.
And then there is the gospel message. It is a word of more than forgiveness: it is a word of searching out that which is lost, that which has rejected the things of God and yet which may yet be found anew in them.
It is a word to both the righteous – or is it the self-righteous in the land and to those who thought themselves lost and rejected. Surely, God would not forgive THAT.
It is a word that calls the self-rejected to look again at the mercy of God, to those who thought themselves atheists but found it to be a dead-end to look again and to receive the love and mercy of God.
Those whom the world despises and rejects, whom it uses and then throws aside as used up and useless, who are so taken in their sorrows and situations as to be unable to see the hope and the light that is waiting for them – in this life as well as that beyond. Yet Jesus says that He searches them out in order to bring forgiveness and blessing.
It is a huge mistake – even a distortion – to believe that Jesus died on the cross for the sake of the church.
He did nothing of the sort. He died so that all in the world, in every corner and inclination, every culture and background, may find new life in Him, and by finding that life in Him that they may come together before Him.
Jesus did not come for the church: He came for all who would receive Him and the church is the gathering of those who have done so, in every land and every language.
As we look towards an uncertain future, we are given great promises and assurances.
In the midst of these times, God has bestowed incredible trust and confidence in His people. It is not just that He has given His all, which He has.
It is also that as we turn to Him so He enables us to find in Him our sense of being and of purpose.
In the unlikely event that our King may read these words, what God says to us He also says to our King:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.”
What God says to our King He says also to us. We are all chosen to serve Him in this time and this hour.