Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 10 September 2017.
In 1940, Sir Winston Churchill requested the US government to provide rifles for the British Army which at that time was chronically under-armed and had lost much of its equipment at Dunkirk. This was agreed and a consignment was to be duly dispatched.
Churchill was wholly scandalized to learn that when landed the rifles would be put into a warehouse for later attention. He demanded that they be put into lorries immediately and dispatched to the troops manning the country’s defenses – and the rifles were to be in the troops’ hands the evening of the day they arrived on the dockside.
That is urgency. Whenever he instructed “Action this day” he meant it.
Now look at our lessons. In the Book of Exodus, the instructions for observing the Passover are set out, and it was to be held on a specific day – and not a day or two later. It was to be held with great solemnity, including the smearing of the lambs’ blood on the doorpost and lintels, and yet it was also a social event, held in the family and if necessary with two families sharing the meal.
But it was going to be a matter of life and death, to be remembered and relived in every generation of Jewry. And it is.
But there was to be no room for argument or negotiation or the sharing of personal feelings and perspectives. This was an instruction from God and the people were mandated to follow it if they valued their lives.
Now look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he is remarkably free of detailed instructions, except perhaps one or two.
Owe nobody anything, except the duty of love. To love is to fulfil the law and to love starts with God, it extends to loving the brethren in the church and to loving and caring for neighbours with the same diligence as they cared for themselves. No more and no less.
Writing to the Corinthian church Paul would spell out what he meant by love, and as we read it we find that it has nothing to do with the self-obsessed, erotic emotionalism of ‘lurve’ as we may have had it expressed during our own youth.
To love is to prefer the other, to be attentive to the other, to put the other ahead of self.
It does not mean busy-body prying or gossip, but it does mean awareness and sensitivity. There is no restriction on compassion or generosity, except, interestingly, that we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
And to love oneself must mean to feed, clothe, shelter and care for oneself and by a natural extension, our families and our dependents.
But Paul goes further, for here also there is urgency. It is time to wake up, to be alert and to see the character of the times. It is time to live as if Jesus were coming back to Jerusalem that day. These were not things to be delayed, to be thought of later when other more pressing concerns had been attended to.
Moreover, the scale and the dimensions of love are provided not by our own convenience, but by the nature and character of Jesus Christ Himself. Hence the instruction to ‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ’. Nothing less, nothing else. And yes this is indeed sacrificial, for that is the kind of love of which Paul writes. In other words, the kind of love Paul sees is wholly radical.
And it can only be entered by setting aside the demands of self in all its aspects, its interests and its appetites.
Perhaps this is where we need to look at the gospel where Jesus first of all tells how to resolve disputes in the church.
But here He also provided a profound reassurance about His own presence within the church and among its members.
Even the smallest gathering – no more than 2 – could approach Him in confident prayer, knowing that He would hear and would answer.
There is of course a qualification. Some may require a television campaign for the Mercedes Benz car and a woman sings ‘O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz: my friends all have Porches, I must make amends.’ Ho, Ho, Ho.
I do not think that this is the kind of prayer that Jesus would make – and the prayer that He promised to hear and answer would be the kind of prayer He would pray Himself:
A prayer in time of personal need or extremity, a prayer for another, a prayer that came within one of the phrases of the prayer He had taught them Himself, the Lord’s Prayer.
To draw this together, we are all being pressed with the urgency of our times and of the gospel. Time is now a fragile commodity and is easily wasted in our own amusement or interests.
But offered to Jesus Christ time may also be transformed into something glorious and miraculous. Its dimensions may move mountains, melt hearts and overflow to all with the wholly unearned gifts of God.
ACTION THIS DAY!