Sunday, February 3, 2013

Three ways to do what Jesus tells you

May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus asks his disciples: ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? It is, I think, a very good question. It is a question, I believe, that if Jesus were to come on clouds in his glory tomorrow that he would ask of many who are members of his Church. Indeed, if he were to walk in the door of this church building right now, I wonder how many of us would be able to claim with any degree of honesty that we both call him Lord and do what he tells us? 

And by failing to 'do what he tells us' I do not mean occasional falls from grace, which all mortal flesh is prone to, even the greatest saints; those falls from grace after which we beg God's forgiveness and truly repent, resolved to turn our backs on those wrong-doings forever … no, I mean the kind of things that we weave into the fabric of our daily lives … aspects of the teaching of Christ and his Church that people simply reject … they say 'well, yes: I know that this is what Christ taught; and I know that this is what his church has taught for the last 2000 years; but I don't think it is relevant any more; it doesn't speak to the age we live in; it isn't relevant to my life; so I am not going to make it part of my life; but that doesn't mean that I am not committed to following Christ!'

And it certainly isn't for me to say who is and isn't a Christian … but my adhering to Christ's command to 'judge not lest ye be judged' does not help us answer the question our Lord asked : ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? But perhaps I can put forward three suggestions as to why there are those who are happy to call Jesus 'Lord, Lord' while adopting a 'pick and mix' approach to doing what he told them to do; three things which are absent from the life of many that allow them to happily believe that they can be followers of Christ while ignoring the way that he asked his followers to live.

These three things are worship; the study of scripture; and prayer.

We all know those who say they are 'spiritual but not religious.' And I do not deny any person's right to describe themselves in that fashion. However, I would think that if someone wishes to consider themselves a Christian then they are bound by those basic tenets of the Christian faith, the ten commandments, among which it might surprise them to learn is included the command to keep holy the Sabbath day. One of the main ways we do this is by coming to church to worship God. 

Of course there are some who will say they can keep it holy at home by themselves. Personally, I have yet to figure out how a person at home in their bed, garden, or living room can manage to receive the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour from that location. The sacraments are not available to those who are 'spiritual but not religious.' And Christ himself commanded us to 'do this in memory of me.' Those who cut themselves off from the sacraments cut themselves off from Christ.

Next on my list was the study of scripture. Now, Christ nowhere in the gospels makes the statement that if you are to be his followers you must read the bible daily … and he didn't do this for two simple reasons: the first is that what we call the Bible did not exist in his day; in fact, not a single word of the New Testament was written down while he walked the earth; the second is that many of his followers could not read. 

However, we now live in an age where almost everyone can read. Jesus told his disciples to listen to him, to hear him, to follow his commands ... how may this be done if we do not know what it is he tells us? And how can we know if we do not read his words in scripture? And we should also note that when those who could read tried to challenge the authority of Jesus, he again and again pointed them to scripture, what we would call the Old Testament, telling them to study it if they were to truly understand God and understand the Good News that Jesus was bringing to mankind. And the Old Testament does tell us to meditate on scripture … in the circumstances of the time, that meant listening to it being read aloud by those who could read and then pondering it prayerfully in one's heart … and in the circumstances of today it means reading it for ourselves … 

And of course we must … for it it is in scripture where we hear the word of God, where he speaks to us. It is only a matter of plain logic that if we do not read the Bible diligently, prayerfully and regularly that we are then cutting ourselves off from the voice of God … we are refusing to let him speak to us … he may speak to us in other ways … but it is in scripture that we know assuredly that what we hear is his word … and against which we can test any private revelation that we may have … we may think that God is speaking to us directly … but if what we think he whispers in our ear goes against what he has already spoken in scripture then what we thought was him speaking to us was certainly not him … it may have been our own vanity, it may have been the temptations of the world, it may have been the devil trying to lead us astray … but it was not God … 

I could go on and on with other reasons as to why we should read our Bibles, but if I did so I wouldn't have time for my third suggestion as to why people do not do as Christ tells them, which is prayer. Prayer is what helps us conform ourselves to the will of God. Yet how many today neglect their prayer lives? The numbers are probably beyond counting. And the number of times we are told to pray in the Bible, either by direct command or by the example of the saints is vast. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, giving us what we call the Lord's prayer; and what did he say when he did so? He said 'when you pray' not 'if you pray' but when you pray; time after time also he gave them & us the example of his own prayer life to follow; most profoundly when he knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his passion … an example, I think, that is hard to ignore for any who would call themselves his followers; and St Paul in 1 Thessalonians said we should 'pray unceasingly' … meaning not only that we should pray as often as possible with our lips, but that our whole lives should be a prayer in action … something that is impossible if we are not obeying our Saviour in the ways that we lead our lives …

And I wonder if you noticed an interesting fact about the three suggestions that I made as to why people might say“Lord, Lord”, but not do what Christ tells them? All of them – worship, the study of scripture, and leading a life of prayer – are things that Christ asks of his followers. To neglect them or to ignore them completely is in itself to not do what Christ asks. Little wonder then that those who do not do so will also neglect to do the other things that Christ asks them to do.

I can not look into the hearts of any here today and know how well they keep to the Lord's commands to worship, study scripture, or pray … I would certainly suspect that as you are sitting here today they are not alien concepts to you and they are commands that you are open to trying hard to do better and better at … and so I would make one last suggestion this day: Lent is almost upon us … a time when it is not unusual for those who follow Christ to make an extra effort when it comes to worship, study, and prayer. Perhaps they are areas you will take into consideration when you are planning what you will do over the course of this Lent? And if you do so, you may find that not only are they a reward in themselves, but also they bring with them the further reward of making it easier to do what Christ tells you to do in other areas of your life … a reward that will bring you treasure in heaven, and and help bring you to eternal life … something that I pray for us all in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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