Monday, April 21, 2008

Preaching Practice

I promised earlier that I would republish my first sermon here once delivered... I've had to amend a challenge at the end for reasons that you will see. However I'd like to think that the way I've reformatted that challenge for use on the Internet, kills several birds with one stone. If you aren't up for a read tonight... then in the words of Tim Bisley from Spaced...
"Skip to the end!"

I say that because there is still something important at the end that everyone on here should be willing to do irrespective of personal belief.
Anyway, for our sermon we were asked to preach on Luke 7:36-8:3 and here was what I felt led to share:

When you read the story of the sinful woman anointing Jesus, you feel there are certain parallels with the tale of Cinderella.

There you have a woman who is frowned upon by those around her, who nevertheless seeks out the hero because she wants to be with him. At the end of the Bible story and the fairy tale, both women are exalted despite their position in society... on account of what their love means to the Prince or Jesus.

They are both rags to riches stories.

Or perhaps it’s a bit like Saturday night’s programme of Britain’s got talent. I don’t know if you saw it… but there was a woman who was an immigrant worker from the Philippines who sang the song “I will always Love You”. Most people there were singing just to get a glimpse of glory… a shot at fame… but she was also singing for other immigrants and her children who she was separated from. When it came time for her to sing, she moved the entire audience to tears. I wonder how many people watched that show and thought badly of her because she was an immigrant … and yet failed to appreciate that she was singing her heart out so beautifully?

In the passage we read that Simon the Pharisee was... well, a bit of a lousy host. He was glad to have Jesus round for what Adrian Plass might call “a salvation sandwich, or a cup of sanctity”. To him Jesus was a guest, here today, gone tomorrow. All of a sudden a woman who Simon and his socialites – the “It Crowd” of the day considered sinful… bursts into the room and overcome with emotion, starts showing Jesus more hospitality than Simon had done. To this unnamed woman, Jesus was so much more than just a guest. She poured out the entire contents of her heart before him. She had seen Jesus for who he was; desperate to be touched by God... she desperately clung onto him. Max Lucado in concluding his book, Just Like Jesus; makes the observation that we can be seekers of salvation... or seekers of the Saviour.

Simon wanted a pat on the head and a photo opportunity. The woman wanted to know God’s forgiveness and love in her life.

When Simon becomes upset that someone who he considers dirty is showing him up; Jesus makes a comparison between two people who both had their debts cleared. One person didn’t consider his debt that big… and said a quick thank you before clearing off. The other realised just how much trouble they had been in and how emotionally indebted they were to the person who had cleared their debt. They didn’t deserve to be let off such a fee… and yet they walked off scot free. They weren’t going to forget that in a hurry.

I don’t know about you, but when I am deeply grateful to someone for an act of kindness and can’t pay them back for it, it changes my attitude towards them. If I can’t pay them back directly… then I seek ways to live my life in a way that doesn’t make them regret their choice to help me.

In the film Saving Private Ryan, Matt Damon’s character is the recipient of an act of kindness he can’t repay, after his colleagues lay down their lives for him in order for him to be able to live out his. The only way he can thank them… is by living a good life.

Jesus not only saved us from a debt we could not pay; he also came to give us... give all of us who choose to follow him purpose. He takes what is broken and makes it new... and if we love him and are truly grateful, we’d be willing to let him use us.

I’m not clever enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m too sinful. I don’t have enough faith. I don’t have the time. These are all things we can be guilty of saying when God knocks on our door with an opportunity. I know I often am.

However, just look at a list of some of the lowly or shady backgrounds you find among Jesus’ followers in the New Testament. The first gospel is written by a man who once was an extortionist, the inner circle of apostles were fishermen; one of the 12 was once a terrorist. Some followers of Christ were once outcasts because of demon possession, illness or lifestyle. We don’t know for certain, but the woman who broke into Simon’s house may have been a prostitute... whatever her lifestyle was, it was clear that her own people wanted nothing to do with her.
Jesus made it clear that God wanted everything to do with her.

The spotlight is very much thrown on women in this passage. This is surprising because at the time of Jesus, society didn’t consider the contribution of women worth mentioning. Our society has moved on from that… but there are still many kinds of people we can be prejudiced against… even against ourselves sometimes.

Look where God started with those people. They went from the bottom of the barrel, to the icing on the cake.

They went from the rags of brokenness, to the riches of God’s kingdom being poured out into their daily lives.

It can be the same for every one of us today.

Last week I took part in a First Aid training course for work. I was absolutely terrified before the assessment, because I was frightened that I wouldn’t be good enough.

I was missing the point.

The assessors weren’t looking for Charlie Fairhead, Doctor Kildare or some other medical genius. They were looking for someone who was willing to use the basic skills they had learned; willing to do their best in a situation to keep people going until more help arrived. They weren’t looking for a person who was trained to perfection. They were looking for someone to be a willing servant.
Similarly it’s easy for us to fall into the trap that God only calls the obvious people to serve him.
All God needs from us is our willingness to be a part of his plan. Everything else we need on our journey... he will give us.

I heard a story once about a Prince of India who was wealthy, powerful and commanded the fear and respect of all his people:

One day the prince decided to take a walk among those people. As he made his way through the crowds of excited socialites, another person caught his eye.

There before him was a stinking shabby looking beggar, who was standing amongst the other people with nothing but a bowl of rice in his possession.

The prince approached the man but instead of giving him anything, he asked the poor man for some of his rice.

The beggar was bemused and hurt.

How could this man who had enough gold to buy entire fields of rice many times over, have the cheek to ask him for food? Surely it should be the other way round.

However, the beggar was afraid of the prince and dared not refuse him. He held out his hand and placed three meagre grains of rice from his bowl... into the hands of the prince. The prince thanked the man and moved on.

Overwhelmed by the unfairness of the world, the beggar broke down in tears. But as the tears rolled down his face and plopped gently into his rice, he noticed something glimmering back at him. There, sat in the middle of his rice were three nuggets of pure gold.

Suddenly it dawned upon the beggar that the amount of gold was equal to the amount of rice he had given the prince. Though he was now wealthy enough to buy food for himself for a good while... as he stood looking at the prince far away out of reach in the distance, he was left wondering what could have been... if only he’d had the faith to give the prince all of his rice.

It doesn’t matter where we have come from, or what we have done. God wants us to pour our hearts out before him. He wants to transform us.

At the bottom of this blog entry, you'll find a link. If you’ve felt challenged by anything that has been said, I’d like you to click on that link and play the game for a few minutes. It's all good as by playing, you'll be helping people in countries who have little access to food.

While you are doing that, I'd like you to also consider taking the opportunity to give something to God. Whatever that might be, I leave up to you. It could be something exciting that you are experiencing. It could be something you are struggling with. Or find hard to talk about with others. You might want to use it as an act of recommitment or repentance. When you have a quiet moment to yourself, think of the story of the beggar and the prince...and think of the contents of your heart... and what you might want to give God out of your own personal "bowl". Then ask God to take it, and trust him to give you out of the goodness of his grace.

Regardless of what you choose to do about praying, here's the link to the food programme:

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