A message from the Superintendent

GOOD TO KNOW

Sunday 21 June 2020

Psalm 86:1 – 17 (ESVUK)

 

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.  Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.  Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.  For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.  Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.  In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.  There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.  All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.  For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.  Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.  I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name for ever.  For great is your steadfast love towards me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.  O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.  But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant, and save the son of your maidservant.  Show me a sign of your favour, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

 

 

Matthew 10:24 – 39 (ESVUK)

 

[Jesus said] A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.  So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.  Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

O Jesus, I have promised

(Hymns & Psalms 704, Singing the Faith 563)

 

O Jesus, I have promised

To serve thee to the end;

Be thou forever near me,

My master and my friend;

I shall not fear the battle

If thou art by my side,

Nor wander from the pathway

If thou wilt be my guide.

 

O let me feel thee near me;

The world is ever near;

I see the sights that dazzle,

The tempting sounds I hear;

My foes are ever near me,

Around me and within;

But, Jesus, draw thou nearer,

And shield my soul from sin.

 

O let me hear thee speaking,

In accents clear and still,

Above the storms of passion,

The murmurs of self-will;

O speak to reassure me,

To hasten or control;

O speak, and make me listen,

Thou guardian of my soul.

 

O Jesus, thou hast promised

To all who follow thee,

That where thou art in glory

There shall thy servant be;

And, Jesus, I have promised

To serve thee to the end;

O give me grace to follow

My master and my friend!

 

J E Bode (1816-1874)

Greetings and peace to you in the beautiful name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

I feel I must begin by pointing out the elephant in the room; and I am not thinking about the potential damage to carpets and furniture that could result, rather on this Father’s Day we are presented with a rather strange and difficult passage of Scripture.  I believe such feelings are heightened on account of who it is that is speaking in our gospel reading from Matthew chapter 10.  It is Jesus.  Does it seem a somewhat inconsistent statement from Jesus; something so out of character that part way through our reading Jesus says this:

 

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ (Matthew 10:34) 

 

How can this be?  I am reminded of the time long ago when singing in the school choir the setting in Handel’s Messiah of part of Isaiah’s prophecy:

 

‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,  Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ (Isaiah 9:6)

 

How can the Prince of Peace make such a declaration?  In our reading from the gospel, Jesus describes what can only be seen as absolute disharmony between family members, of children and parents set against each other.  Jesus continues saying, ‘a person's enemies will be those of his own household’. We see that it can be extremely hard to be a Christian when those we know and love the most aren’t, or at least aren’t yet.  Jesus knows this first-hand having experienced opposition from His own family as He sought to fulfil His Father’s will.

 

It is a matter of individuality that will determine what we hold as being the most important priority in our lives.  Opposition may come from very close to home, but Jesus sets a clear standard for our lives of faith.  On this Father’s Day we recognise that not everyone will be blessed with a wonderful earthly father, yet God in Christ must be the top priority and first place in all things:

 

‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’ (Matthew 10:37)

 

This being said, and having our priorities right, we may consider more closely the cost of our call to follow Jesus.  It is an understatement to say we are living through interesting times.  At many different levels and for a variety of reasons we may be facing days of fear.  We are frightened of all that has happened and all that may still happen; we may feel fragile and vulnerable and for most of us we have never lived through such uncertainties, difficulties and hardships.

 

However, as we reflect on our discipleship and the cost of our call to follow Jesus, we discover that Jesus prepares us for all that we may have to face, just as He did for His twelve disciples.  There is no sugar coating here, and it would not be possible for Jesus to deceive.  He makes it very clear that our calling to follow Him requires total commitment and the cost may be great. 

 

There is an unbridgeable gap between servant and Saviour, or at least there would be if God, in Christ, had not reached down in order to lift us up.  We can accept this gratefully for as Jesus says:

 

‘A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.’ (Matthew 10:24)

 

As the name or title suggests, to be a Christian is to seek to be Christ-like in all we do, say and even think.  In acknowledging this we realise it is a tall order, our great high calling in the service of Christ the King.  We stumble and fall; we progress and slip back; we can be effective or shoot wide of the mark.  Discipleship can be a roller coaster of highs and lows.  There will be good days and difficult days.  Jesus knows this will be our experience, yet still He invites us to follow.  If we find that we are misunderstood or falsely accused, then Jesus tells us to take heart and look to Him.  If Jesus, the true Master of the house, is accused of being Satan, whose name of Beelzebul actually means ‘master or lord of the house’, then the servants should expect even worse treatment.

 

If we are looking with fear into the future; if we fear the path that lies ahead; if we fear our faith is too weak; then Jesus reassures us and invites us to follow, in spite of any difficulties and hardships.  After all what can people do to us, even powerful ones, in comparison with God’s saving, sovereign grace.  False actions and evil deeds will be exposed.  We are called to look to Christ:

 

‘So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.’ (Matthew 10:26)

 

In looking to Psalm 86, David appears to have been in quite a fix.  He was facing opposition; in danger of his life through the actions of the ruthless; and seemingly hated by many.  And so he offers his lament to God.  He acknowledges his own faults and failings against the backdrop of God’s mercy and grace:

 

‘For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.’  (Psalm 86:5)

 

He shows us his life of devotion and the importance of prayer as he cries out to God:

 

‘Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.  Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day.’ (Psalm 86:1-3)

 

He trusts that God will answer his prayer.  David extols the characteristics of God and lifts them up before us so that in our day we can find comfort.  Indeed we can hold onto the repeating phrase David uses which has already been mentioned.  It is steadfast love:

  • For you, O Lord are…abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 68:5)

  • For great is your steadfast love towards me (Psalm 68:13)

  • You, O Lord, are a God…abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 68:15)

 

People have shared with me how the impact of this pandemic has left them feeling terrified at present.  It is particularly true today that sometimes our fears may be threatening to stifle and smother us in waves of anxiety and in the depths of despair.  Yet here we see David, unafraid in spite of the opposition, threat and risk he faced from those around him.  And he tells us how he can face any fear. So in the darkness of our earthly lives, when we may feel overwhelmed David helps us to keep our hearts and minds focused on the most important thing, more accurately the most important One:

 

‘For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.’ (Psalm 68:10)

 

When terrors, threats and troubles seem insurmountable let us remember this verse to our comfort and peace.  And so David, in order to be able to live his life, looks to the One and only God:

 

‘Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.’  (Psalm 68:11)

 

After all, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ we are told in Psalm 111:10.  This is not a fear we talk of such as fright or alarm at the threat of punishment, rather it is the reverence, respect and awe with which we can approach the throne of grace as we seek to serve God faithfully in the world and honour God’s name.  We speak it as we pray the Lord’s Prayer saying, ‘hallowed be thy name’.  God is holy, sacred, the first-and-foremost. God first is the teaching of Jesus.  There is no feeling of fear or anxiety in this, rather it promises the potential of experiencing life in all its fullness. 

 

Putting God first means we turn away from us and our self-centredness, self-obsessiveness and instead turn to Him and trust in Him. Perhaps afresh or for the first time we can acknowledge the blessing of David’s heartfelt prayer:

 

‘But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.’ (Psalm 68:15)

 

In our own lives therefore, the only fear we should ever have is one of awe in approaching our holy God of grace and judgment.  How important it is to consider all God has done for us and offers to us in Jesus and that, in response to such a gift, we would commit our lives to Him, by faith. 

 

It is very significant in Scripture that Jesus is the one who comments most on hell and judgment.  This being the case, we should again ensure we have our priorities right:

 

‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ (Matthew 10:28)

 

Yet this fear of the Lord God Almighty is based on the wonder we feel as we stand within God’s love and care, for all that He has made and in particular for us.  We are precious in our Heavenly Father’s sight, of far greater value than sparrows.  I suppose speaking from my own perspective, Jesus’ claim in verse 30 ‘But even the hairs of your head are all numbered’, could be seen as being somewhat less impressive.  However the meaning here is that God’s knowledge of everything about us is complete. He knows the big things and the little things. They all matter to Him.

 

Jesus is sending out the Twelve to continue His mission and He presents us with the same challenge of our calling to discipleship.  We may even see this as a guide for us in our lives of faith.  We are to set shyness aside, how difficult is this we may think, and as Jesus has instructed we are to share the good news in the bright light of day.  From the highest vantage points we are to proclaim this wonderful message of our heavenly Father’s love for us in Jesus.  We are to acknowledge that we are Christian.  We belong to Jesus and seek to follow Him.  And what a return will be lavished on us in doing this!

 

‘So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,’ (Matthew 10:32)

 

The Lord forbid that we would ever deny the One who saved us.

 

Jesus invites us to follow Him; we don’t enter into discipleship in ignorance.  He tells it as it is, so we know what may lie ahead of us.  We do not count the cost as we take up the cross.  The lost and found items in the kingdom of God are different to how things are in this world.

 

‘And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ (Matthew 10:38-39)

 

Do we believe in Jesus and what He says?  How will we respond to His invitation to follow?  For the sake of Jesus, from the fathomless wells of God’s love and grace, we need to take up our cross, remembering it will be one that we can bear.

 

Last week the Methodist Church in Ireland installed their new President and Lay Leader of Conference.  As many things are at present, this important occasion was shared through an online streamed service.  Around 700 people were watching the five socially distanced people of the Secretary of Conference, the outgoing President and Lay Leader, and the incoming President and Lay Leader.  The symbols of office had been laid down on the altar by those who had finished their roles.  The Conference had elected the new leaders and God had affirmed their calling.  Yet on this unique occasion both the Lay Leader and President of Conference had to step forward themselves to take up and put on the signs of their new positions within the life of God’s Church.  God had called them; the Church had recognised and appointed them; but they had to make the move and respond.

 

This is the same for each one of us.  People may have been praying for us and prompting us for years to give our lives to Jesus.  God in Christ, whether as a still small voice; a trumpet blast; or a powerful storm, may have been calling us and inviting us to follow Him for years.  However unless we respond, all of the prayers and promptings; the signs and the symbols will have no effect on us.  Perhaps on the other hand, as we listen to Jesus it’s all a bit too terrifying to consider that He is calling us by name.  Life is terrifying enough at present we may think.  Yet the call is made, the invitation has been graciously sent.  Do we deny it?  Do we reject it?  I pray not. 

 

Jesus tells us to have no fear; do not fear; fear not.  May we receive this good news.  May we accept God’s gracious invitation.  May we be prepared to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  May we choose to respond, assured through Jesus’ own promise:

 

‘So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,’ (Matthew 10:32)

 

That’s good to know.

 

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

Truro Methodist Circuit, Cornwall    |   01872 262907