(a sermon from 11th Oct with Matt 22.1-14 in mind. The photo is from the first lockdown).
STAND FIRM in the Lord dear friends. This is a sermon about standing firm in the faith. How to do it.
A Couple of weeks ago I asked you to count your blessings. Well done those of you who have, you’ve told me how you’ve seen more blessings. It really is amazing.
And last week I invited you to try the practice of waking up in the morning and saying Good Morning Lord!
Those of you who’ve been trying this, you will have found the proof of the pudding.
And those of you who thought my sermon a little simple and shallow and have decided that that sort of thing is only for simple Christians – Oh I need to pray for you.
Some years ago I took a lot of flack for preaching an insipid sermon about being Nice. I preached a sermon saying ‘Do you think we could just be a little nicer to each other’.
Boy did I get it! What kind of a preacher am I if I’m just preaching this kind of primary school level simplicity! To which the answer is: if you really can’t work out how to be a nice Christian, then we really do have a lot of work to do.
The key part of this sermon is Be Gentle. Be Gentle. Be Gentle with yourselves, be gentle with others.
Take it as a prayer: Lord help me to be gentle .
St Paul is preaching about how to Stand Firm in the Faith. I wonder if I were to ask you to come out with a list of tips on how to do that I wonder what you would say?
What does Standing Firm look like?
You might think that what it means is being clear on your doctrine, or being immoveable in your opinions.
You are standing firm.
Paul says – this is how you stand firm – forgive each other.
Paul pleads for two colleagues, Euodia and Syntyche, to be at peace with each other.
I know these two people really well. You have known them too. You come across two perfectly good and holy and respectable and sacrificially giving Christians in a Church. And somehow, they’ve fallen out with each other. Maybe accidentally, a slight, maybe deliberately, maybe you cannot remember, but there’s no going back. Unforgiveness has settled in.
I bet that each of them thinks that She, in this case, is in the right, that She is standing firm – the problem is the Other Person.
And the effect is that the whole body of the Church is weakened. We become tired of tiptoeing around the subject, the relationship, perhaps one finally leaves the Church, but that actually doesn’t solve anything.
So Paul doesn’t Order them to unite.
He doesn’t say Which is at fault – so quite likely neither and both are at fault.
But who will take the first step to say – Look I’m sorry.
And when you say Sorry, will you fill it with small printand addendums – I’m sorry IF what I said may have caused offence, of course I would not have said it if you hadn’t been such a doofus.
St Paul calls us to Stand Firm.
And then gives an example of what that looks like, and it looks like being humble, and being the first to say Sorry, being the first to build a bridge, and that means Not giving excuses and mitigating factors, it just means saying sorry.
Stand Firm says Paul. How are we going to do that?
Step 1. Rejoice. I feel as if I have preached on this to you already. But note that step 2 is Rejoice. Its obviously an important thing. Keep counting your blessings, Keep waking up with Good Morning Lord!
If Euodia could see that Syntyche is actually a blessing from the Lord to her. And vice versa. Could they both learn to rejoice?
Step 3 is to Let your Gentleness be evident to all. Turn it into a prayer – Lord may my gentleness be evident to all.
I can’t help notice that when I say Hi to the people who deliver deliveries to my door that they’re really surprised. They expect to get a mouthful about being late, about the packaging and so on.
Being rude is the lazy cheap easy option- let your gentleness be evident.
I was in a queue in the Co-Op and 2 people in front of me – she didn’t like the fact that he was a bit close to her and would he mind stepping back a bit and he clearly had a Trump-like attitude to Covid and she works for the NHS
and I’m thinking Please just let your gentleness be evident.
This is an everyday spiritual discipline – showing gentleness – in the way we treat ourselves, each other, in our relationships, being a little less judgemental, a little quicker to forgive.
Jesus tells another parable. It’s a wonderful parable about Inclusion. About Welcoming Everyone.
The Pompous self-righteous people – God welcomes them – they say No, but that’s their problem.
God says Go and get Anyone, find the bad as well as the good. Oh my!
You do realise that when Jesus says Anyone that that’s what he means. He’s not fussed about colour, politics, social status, sexuality, money, sense of dress, – even criminality – the bad as well as the good.
He’s not asking you to sort yourself out first and then we’ll see if you’re worthy enough.
This is grace upon grace. This is gift upon gift. This is love. This is evident gentleness
Step 3 is Let your gentleness be evident.
Step 4 is Prayer.
Step 4 is actually Do Not be Anxious. But that is simply not possible. You cant do it. I can’t do it. Its like saying Don’t look down! So Paul doesn’t make that step 4, step 4 is to Pray.
Pray about anything, everything, Don’t wait until you’re in Church, don’t wait until you’re feeling Spiritual.
If you’re feeling really angry or sad or confused – then talk to God about it. (what a friend we have in Jesus! Take it to the Lord in prayer)
Speak to God a little and often through the day, talk to Him about what’s worrying you, what’s on your mind, what you see that causes you joy and whats troubling you.
Don’t leave it until your evening bedside prayers – pray it now.
That’s the lovely thing about having prayer ministry here after Communion distribution, just to be able to go and be prayed with or for. They’re not there to give advice, they’re just there to hold you in prayer before the Lord.
Step 4 is pray. But what happens if you pray? You’re thinking well if I pray then I expect God to answer my prayers,
or I expect to get upset when God does not answer my prayers.
But Paul doesn’t go down that route at all. He says Here’s what will happen if you keep praying – you’ll get God’s Peace – and that Peace is going to Guard you – it will protect your heart and your mind.
That really was not what you were expecting Paul to say.
When he said Stand Firm – we were expecting him to go on to give us some solid meaty doctrine.
But no Standing Firm looks a lot like Rejoicing and being Gentle, and Praying a lot – not being worried about whether or not a prayer is answered in a specific way but knowing that the fruits of that prayer is that you will receive God’s peace and that peace will guard your heart and mind.
I will preach more about prayer over the coming months.
But for now I want you to be Gentle.
Gentle with those who are not here.
Gentle with yourselves and the demands you set upon yourself. Gentle with your faith. Gentle with those who mock our faith, Gentle with those who are not like you.
Gentle with those you cannot forgive.
Lord may my gentleness be evident to all.
Let you gentleness be evident to all
Because I think in doing so that you will find good reasons to Rejoice,
that you will find your heart and mind guarded by God’s peace,
and that will all be helping you to Stand Firm in your faith. Amen