THE THREE P’S – Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Isaiah 62: 1 – 5
1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 11
John 2: 1 – 11
Well, this is the sermon that almost wasn’t. Somehow, in sending it to Fay so she had a steer on prayer preparation, I managed to delete everything I’d written.
But starting again is not always a bad thing.
Last week I expressed that I am constantly surprised that the Anglican Church only recognises two sacraments. We do so, so we say, because these were the only two things Jesus gave us as definite ‘things to do’. These two sacraments are Baptism and Communion.
But there are two other things Jesus definitely gave us to do that we traditionally either ignore, or pay lip service to. I think the church would look very different had we included these two things as sacraments.
Of course we don’t need something to have the status of a sacrament to carry out Jesus’ wishes. I don’t think he gives much heed whether we label something a sacrament or not, but he does get concerned if we disobey his commands, and perhaps had we ascribed to these things the term, Sacrament, that would have made us address them more carefully.
And so I’d like to make brief mention of these two things and go on to see how God encourages us today in them.
The first of these is the Great Commission. (Matthew 28: 18 – 20)
18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
This is Jesus’ final instruction to his disciples. It is their job. That is why Archbishop Temple said that the church is the only organisation on earth that exists for the sake of its non-members. It’s why we exist. If we do only one thing, it should be introducing people to Jesus and making them disciples.
It is why Paul said to Timothy (2 Timothy 4) 4In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable;
This, Timothy, is what should consume you!
The great missionary movements of the 18th and 19th centuries did much to introduce people in countries abroad to Christ, but somehow the impetus for missionary work at home petered out. The church turned Christianity into a cultural accoutrement. We tamed it. We took away its edge. Actually we distracted it from its primary task – the Gospel.
The second explicit instruction Jesus gave us is in John’s Gospel (John 13: 14) Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
When you wash the feet of a brother and sister in Christ, you are doing more than just serving them.
You are humbling yourself in their presence which is a good thing to do. Truly loving others involves getting to know them and assisting them. It does not involve what Dr Phil calls enabling them. Sometimes it involves making them uncomfortable. It always involves presenting them with Jesus as the forefront of our service.
When I was ordained a priest I was informed that my job, alongside keeping the church Christian, was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. A good example of my disturbing the comfortable could be my asking any of you, “So when was the last time you spoke to someone about Jesus?”
So there are two things which could well have been given the status of sacraments, and that are at the heart of our active lives as Christians.
But I don’t want to dwell on the ‘should’ this morning. I’d like to reflect briefly on three things that God always ensures when we earnestly seek to serve him. These three aspects are catered for by each of the three Lectionary readings this morning and I’ve called them The Three P’s.
- We are partnered by God
- We are provisioned by God, and
- We party with God
- Partnered (with God)
Our Isaiah reading describes God giving the Exiles a bit of encouragement for the task that lies ahead. Judah had messed up and was exiled to Babylon. But she was due back and the task of picking herself up and actually fulfilling her missionary role to be a light to the Gentiles was every bit as daunting as the task we have to return from spiritual exile and hold out the light of the Gospel to unbelievers.
God doesn’t simply castigate them for failing in their mission. He says he’s going to partner them. He’s a fellow worker yoked to them. In fact he says
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,*
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;*
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,*
and your land Married;*
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
As Jesus put it in his great commission to us: And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
In the primary task we have of sharing the Good News of Jesus and making disciples of all nations God is our intimate partner. He is with us in the task.
- Provisioned (for the task)
In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth he makes it very clear that he is providing them with the power they need to get the job done: the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In Luke 24 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’
And clothed they were! They waited and prayed and at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down upon them with tongues of fire, Peter burst out of the room in which they had been closeted and preached that amazing sermon that saw 3000 people added to the faith. Pentecost – the birthday of the church – saw the beginnings of the great spread of the Early Church as the Holy Spirit empowered them to be witnesses.
7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
That’s a pretty impressive kete of provisions. So if ever we feel daunted by the idea of sharing our faith, God is linked to us in partnership and he will infuse us with the power we need to carry out the task. We just need to step out in faith and do it.
- Party (is the task)
Now the third “P” might surprise you. Many people have been surprised at Jesus turning gallons of water into wine after the initial wine had been consumed.
John’s Gospel claims 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Jesus first ‘proof’ that he was the Messiah was to make alcohol available to a celebration where the guests had already had a few! Jesus was no party pooper.
Now I want to make it very clear that alcohol is a dangerous substance, and if you, like my mother, have decided that you’ve seen the harm it can do (in my mother’s case the damage it did to her father), and you are not letting alcohol pass your lips, then that is a good thing.
However, God has no rules about these things. In fact in discussing what to do with tithe money in Deuteronomy 14 God says to the Israelites, 25then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; 26spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.
Now before you begin to think that we read different bibles, the message of all this is that the context of the work of God is celebrative.
If we see the sharing of the Gospel as an unpleasant workload we are not talking about the same Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus frees from the enslavement and damage of sin. It brings eternal life. It brings health. It brings maturity, it brings peace, it brings the ability to rejoice! The context is a party because there is a reason to celebrate!
The joy of the Lord is your strength.
Jesus partners us in the work, he provides what we need to get it done, and the nature of the work is celebrative.
Let us pray:
Wonderful and wonder-filled God, we are in awe of you. Forgive us for reducing your work to something that is unpleasant. Help us to get excited about you and about the vital task of sharing you with other people who have yet to be introduced to you. Give us the faith to believe what you say, and to hold out, however tentatively at first, that burning bright light of Jesus’ salvation; for you are Lord and you love us with an everlasting love.