Sunday, July 24, 2011

On being critical ...... .sermon for today based on Nehemiah as we launch the E100 challenge ... but reflecting on the weekends events

I’m sure you won’t disagree that the events of the last couple of days, have shocked the world … We’ve seen pictures of children and others at death’s door in Somalia because of famine, we have seen one man causing devastation in Norway as almost 100 people, mostly youngsters being killed in the bombing and shooting attacks on Friday; We have also heard of a devastating train crash in china killing at least 32 people and injuring many others and then there was also the death yesterday of Amy Winehouse a musician who died at a young age of 27; and then only this morning we wake up to the news of another murder - this time of a women in her 20’s found in Nottingham and another shooting, this time in America.

So many people and places in the world who are suffering - many tragic and devastating events happening – not only for those involved, but for many people across the world. As I have been watching the news there have been many tears and lots of questions. Questions such as why did a young talented songwriter and singer feel the need to use drugs and alcohol? What was it about her life that she tried to blot out? Why when the western world is so rich, are there so many people in Africa starving to death? Why would someone who claimed to be a Christian kill up to 100 people for no apparent reason – and these are just some of the thoughts and questions going through people’s mind and being vocalised on our news and the social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

These are questions that we may never know the answers too – all we can do is pray for those who are most affected, for those who have lost loved ones and those who have committed crimes. Yet I am saddened by the fact that there are so many people – both Christians and non Christians, who use these tragic events as an excuse to judge others. Already I have read of some people who talk about how Amy Winehouse deserved to die, because of the lifestyle she chose – they have no thought of those who are left behind, no thought of showing compassion for her friends, family and fans and no thought of asking the question – what it is about our society that puts so much pressure on those in the public eye that they are not able to cope. Sadly Amy will be remembered by many because of her battle with drugs and alcohol rather than as a gifted talented song writer and singer.

There will also be people who want to attribute blame to God and organised religion for both the events in Norway and in Africa – people who will call for the end of all organised religion simply because of the work of one man, who has deluded himself that killing is right even though it’s against everything Christianity stands for – and people who claim somehow that the people in Africa deserve everything they get – because it is a punishment from God.

The problem is that the world and church is full of self proclaimed prophets and armchair critics. It’s easy to analyse, scrutinise and talk about all the problems in the world and attribute blame to others – we call it putting the world to right, but in doing that we absolve ourselves from any responsibility. What the world needs is people who will stand up and take action – not people who just discuss or complain or be judgemental about a situation. And there’s where our reading from Nehemiah comes in.

Nehemiah saw a problem and was distressed. However instead of complaining, attributing blame or wallowing in self pity and grief – he took action. Nehemiah knew God wanted him to motivate the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, so he left a responsible and well paid job within the Persian government to do what God called him to. Nehemiah knew that God could use his talents to get the job done. From the moment he arrived in Jerusalem he organised, managed supervised and encouraged people, he met with opposition, confronted injustice but kept going until the walls were built. Nehemiah was a man of action.

I’m going to give you a quick summary of the book of Nehemiah, before we look specifically at Chapter 9. As the start of the story Nehemiah is talking with the Jews who had reported that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were in need of repair. Nehemiah then takes on the burden of rebuilding the walls, and when the time is right he goes to his king – the king of Persia asking for permission to leave work and go to Jerusalem. The king agrees and so armed with royal letters, Nehemiah, sets off and meets up with those who will help him. In chapters 3 – 6 we read the story of how the walls were completed, and the work that went into it as well as hearing about the opposition that they had and how Nehemiah dealt with it. In Chapter 7 Nehemiah continues in his leadership role, and organises the people, taking a registration and appointing gate keepers, Levites and other officials. In chapters 8 and 9 Ezra the scribe leads the city in worship and bible instruction which leads to chapters 10 and 11 where we see an affirmation of faith and religious revival as the people promise to serve God faithfully. Finally in chapters 12 to 14, Nehemiah concludes with a listing of the clans and their leaders, the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem and the purging of sin from the land. 

Going back to chapter 9, that we heard earlier, we see the Israelites on the 24th day, when they spend ¼ of the day hearing God’s word and ¼ of the day confessing their sins. The Levites pray and retell the whole story of Israel, and chapter 9 gives us a brief outline of the story of God’s faithfulness to his people throughout the ages. Verse 6 talks of creation, 7-8 God’s promise to Abraham of land and the covenant with him; verses 9-12 talks of God’s faithfulness during the Exodus, Verses 13-15 talk of the giving of the law, 16 -18 talks of how even when the Israelites worship idols and disobeyed him, God did not desert them and gave his people numerous blessings and remained faithful to them.

A few words and things in particular jump out at me when I looked at this passage - firstly the willingness and determination of Nehemiah to do what God called him to, even though it meant giving everything up. Each year we say the covenant prayer together and this is in essence what we are praying when we say the words of the prayer –Put me to what you will … put me to doing – put me to suffering – let me employed for you or laid aside for us …. In other words we are willing to do whatever God asks us to do no matter what the consequences.

The second thing is God’s faithfulness to the people – his faithfulness to them when they were in exile, when they were rebuilding the walls which was completed in just 52 days, and also throughout their whole life. God didn’t abandon them because of their wrongdoings, but remained faithful to them even allowing them to renew the covenant he made with Abraham and others, when they didn’t keep to their side of the bargain. God remains faithful to us always, and will not abandon us – we are reminded of this each time we share together in the communion meal. That passage we heard from Mark’s gospel, record’s the origin of the Lord’s Supper which we celebrate today. Jesus and his disciples’ ate a meal, sang psalms, read scripture and prayed. Then Jesus took 2 traditional parts of the Passover meal, the passing of bread and drinking of wine, and gave them new meaning to represent his body and blood, explaining the significance of the cross. If we read the rest of the chapter, we see that this takes place about the time that Judas agrees to betray Jesus and at the same time that Jesus predicts Peter will deny him. Even though he knows that 2 of his closest friends and disciples are going to turn away from him in their actions and words, Jesus does not give up on them – but continues to be faithful to them, and gives them a way of remembering him and all he has done for them by initiating a new covenant between and his people – a covenant that no longer replies on the sacrifice of animal blood, but one that, through Jesus, means we can have a direct relationship with God.

And the third thing that jumped out at me was that when the Israelites confessed their sins, and reaffirmed their faith promised to faithfully serve God, there was religious revival. It wasn’t down to one or two people to do this, the whole community was involved.

If as a church, we want more children and young people or even adults to come to get to know God better or even to come to church – we all need to be involved in doing that. It’s not the job of the leadership team or those who already have jobs in the church – each and everyone of you needs has a role in it, by using your gifts and talents to help the whole church and community in the work that God calls us to do.

If we want the world to be a better place, it starts with each one of us – as individuals and as a church - we need to stop trying being so outwardly critical, for our thoughts and comments influence others, but we need to take action – action in prayer, action in showing compassion and action in helping others see God in the middle of their and the world’s suffering.

Michael Jackson, sang a song called man in the mirror – the chorus says “I'm starting with the man in the mirror - I'm asking him to change his ways - And no message could have been any clearer - If you wanna make the world a better place - Take a look at yourself and then make a change!

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