Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 2 July 2023.
• First Reading: Genesis 22: 1-14 (Abraham instructed to sacrifice Isaac)
• Epistle: Romans 6: 12-23 (The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life)
• Gospel: Matthew 10: 40-42 (Anyone who welcomes you welcomes Me, and anyone who welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me)
One of the things I miss about the days before the pandemic is our coffee mornings. I could go around the tables and say hello to those who had come to see us.
Many were regular friends and visitors but there were always those new to the event. I could tell something about them from the way they looked and dressed, but the real question was, well, who is this? Where are they coming from and going to? How do they see themselves? What is the story?
And yes, faith and sense of belonging in the Body of Christ is a central part of our identity as people. This is what defines us most directly. Yes, we have our present homes and memories of our parents and schools, and yes, we have our tastes in sport and culture.
But for us as Christians, that sense of being starts, not with the church but with Jesus Christ. Take Him out of the equation and we have – well, nothing. Maybe an organization with its history but nothing that really lasts.
Now look at Abraham, plucked from the comfort of the Euphrates and sent on a journey into Canaan, armed with little more that a promise of things to come. At that stage, he did not really know what was yet to come.
Then the promise came: a son, born to his aging wife, Sarah by the usual means of human reproduction. The promise of a progeny lasting into eternity in the counsels of God, a realm of God’s blessing and His covenant.
As many as the stars of the heavens and the sand on the seashore.
And then it came like a thunderbolt: sacrifice Isaac, the son of the promise and the centre of all his hopes. Other cultures practiced child sacrifice, so why not?
The demand must have been crushing. Everything promises to be set aside – and for what?
But Abraham was already used to speaking with God. He had already had his faith proved and vindicated. Surely, God could bring His promise out of even this impossible demand, surely?
And so he was willing to trust God with everything on which his hope had been founded. No second thoughts or reservations. No turning back – even if he had been tempted to do all of this and more besides.
In short, if God was going for broke, then Abraham would do the same. This was discipleship taken to the ultimate degree.
But then in Matthew, Jesus says something more about discipleship.
It is that He is personally and intimately committed to the care of His disciples. It is tucked away and it creeps up on us, but yes it is there.
If anyone welcomes you as My disciple, then they welcome both Me and My Father.
Mark says the same thing, early on in his gospel: the personal kin of Jesus are not His natural family but those who hear the word of God and do it. (3: 31-35).
And it is there in John: ‘I in them and thou in Me that we may be made perfect in one’. (17: 23).
It is the same principle at work throughout the gospels. Discipleship in Jesus is far more than being member of a club, and attending its activities as the mood leads us.
It is far more about who we are, where we belong and where we are going. Not just a matter of taste in clothes or sport. More the central aspect of who and what we are.
And this is where Paul sets out some of the issues for us. Either we are bound by the principles of sin and self, of belonging to the existing order of greed and getting and controlling.
Or we are of the Commonwealth of God in Jesus Christ. Redeemed by His sacrifice on the cross and now resurrected in Him before we have even tasted death.
But then we are already being led into putting to death our personal appetites and demands. We are being challenged daily in where our sense of being lies: is it with self or with God?
If we are engaged only with self, then we are committed to a destiny that can only be death of the body but that of soul and spirit as well. To be consumed in self, with noting left to show for our lives. Nothing of any value or significance anyway.
But the alternative is that we belong to Him who saved us from ourselves and from that self-consuming destiny of futility and waste. Saved rather to the purposes and commonwealth of God in Jesus Christ – into His holiness and righteousness, His justice and His peace. And that of none other.
For if a self-dedicated life is already wasted and taken up in its own kind of reward, which is death, then the life of righteousness in Jesus Christ is a life taken up in unearned and unearnable blessing and grace, life eternal that begins here and now and into which we are being trained and prepared by the trials and challenges that confront us day by day.
The question posed by our hymn Love Unknown asks: ‘Who am I that for my sake My Lord should take frail flesh and die?’ is answered by Jesus Himself: ‘You are mine. Nobody takes you out of My hand.’