Y2What


I want to share something with you in a way that goes against my natural inclination.  I am always wary of letting my preaching become a personal ‘testimony’ in a way that ends up being a reflection on me rather than focusing clearly and only on God’s grace for us and his Word to us.  I will risk it today in hoping that it might also lead you to similar reflection...


Text:  Luke 21:13-15
13But this will be your chance to tell about your faith.  14Don't worry about what you will say to defend yourselves. 15I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or to say that you are wrong.  CEV


For me I don’t know that it’s ever been an “enemy”.  I admire Luther at Worms, or Bonhoeffer in prison, or the saints and martyrs ancient and modern who have had to stand and give a defence of their belief, their faith.  But I never had to face even a really hostile year 9 class (not more than a couple of times...).
For me it’s more likely to be the relative of someone whom I know (but I’ve never met the relative before) and I’ve been asked to visit them in hospital, facing serious or even terminal illness.  Then what do I say?  Or the new faces of new parents of new students who have just become part of my “flock”.  In my first parish I once had a woman ask me to baptize her infant son; and also, would I tell her about the Bible.  “What kind of background have you had with the Bible before, with the church?”  “None.”  I spent an initial hour talking with her and went home and realized that nothing I said made sense.  It was all biblically accurate, but it didn’t make sense.  Now what?  Or the angry non-Christian husband whose Christian wife has been cheating on him.  What do I say?  Or the teenage girl in hospital who lovingly holds my hand and says, “I just want to die.”
Frankly, I’d rather a courtroom where I could speak with dramatic gestures and practice all my best apologetic skills!  With grand theological formulae and maybe a quotable quote or two for the generations to follow!
But that’s not what I’ve been called to....
Every once in a while, and at many different points in a life, you have to ask, not only “What do I say?” but “What am I doing here, saying this, saying anything at all?  Why am I here?” and I mean this with some sense of ‘depth’ – question one’s vocation, one’s calling in life – for me:  my calling as a pastor, as a husband and father, as a friend and colleague, as a son, as a citizen, a member of the community.  Sometimes that questioning really strips us down to a level of honesty and commitment and even trust that doesn’t necessarily come to the surface when we simply go about day to day “being busy”, and “doing stuff”.
Why do I do what I do?  Is it because I’m good at it?  Is it because I’m not good at anything else?  Is it to pay my bills?  Is it because I just ended up here?  Is it because I’m a slave to duty?  Is it because I’m passionate?  Is it because someone else told me I should?
As a secondary student I was always good at Maths and Science.  Because I was good at those subjects – particularly at a time when they seemed to be valued above everything else – I was affirmed and encouraged in those subjects.  To study Maths and Science were at the top of my subject selection, at the top of my “to do list”.  Nobody considered encouraging me to study literature, or history; after all, I was good at Maths and Science!
I remember distinctly, at the start of year 12 – with a full load of Maths and Science subjects in hand, and even some possible leads into universities come the end of the year – I remember distinctly having an unsettling “picture” in my mind of continuing with Maths and Science until I ended up in a lab of some sort, surrounded by all the right equipment, wearing a white coat, doing Maths and Science ... for the rest of my life!  And I didn’t like this “picture”.
While sorting through a whole lot of other adolescent issues I was dealing with at the time I somehow came to realize that I dreaded the idea of not pursuing study and a career that would enable me to be sharing with others; I didn’t want to sit by myself and do what I was “good at”; I wanted to share something important with others.
I probably could have explored a whole range of career options that would have fit the bill with that one!  But, at the time, I guess I particularly appreciated – in the midst of my adolescent chaos – I particularly appreciated the ministry of a few people who consistently shared the Gospel of God’s love with me, looked after me in that love, picked me up and encouraged me in that love.  And I ended up pursuing studies to become a pastor, with the idea that that might lead me somewhere I wanted to be, and give me something “to do”!
It did, and it did.  But not in some “figured-it-all-out-for-the-rest-of-my-life” way.  I’ve had general challenges and specific calls along the way that have made me think not only “what will I do”, but “why do I do this?”  And I always end up back at the same place:  to share God’s love with others – like others have shared it with me.  I want to tell others that they are loved by God.
This is incredibly liberating for me.  It doesn’t quickly or easily determine the details of the tasks I have to plan and do, the approach I have to take, the mistakes I have to fix up, the skills I have to yet develop.  In almost 30 years of ministry I have had to re-orient and re-start and re-skill repeatedly in terms of the “what do I do” in a rural parish, a secondary classroom, an urban congregation, a primary school...  That isn’t sorted out quickly or easily. 
But it is liberating, and empowering, and encouraging to know “the why”:  I want to share God’s love; to be passionate and excited and even desperate to share God’s love with others.
Guess what?  It’s not only important to me in my “job” – it keeps me going in my marriage, in my parenting, in relationships and tasks of all sorts – to share God’s love; to be passionate and excited and even desperate to share God’s love with others.
There’s no ignoring the fact that we come to worship today very conscious of our congregation’s annual meeting.  And in various ways we are prepared and primed to talk about “what” we are going to do.  I want to ask you to put the meeting over there for a few more minutes.  Consciously separate from the meeting and all that the meeting is about.
What if we weren’t meeting today?  Then why be here?  Why have we come together?  Why are we gathered as a congregation?  Why gathered specifically for worship?  Why God’s Word, why the Lord’s Supper, why some songs and prayer?
In the most basic sense of all we are gathered because we have been called and gathered by God’s Spirit – we have been brought here by the Holy Spirit.  We have been brought here by the Holy Spirit who wants to tell us, and then tells us, “You are loved by God!”  It is as simple as that.  [Pastors put a lot of time and effort into thinking through all the complexities – at a basic level it is as simple as “You are loved by God” – make sure that is clear!] 
And having been called here and gathered here by the Holy Spirit and told “you are loved” – forgiven, incorporated, nourished, guided, encouraged – the same Spirit enables and empowers us to give expression to that love – to love God and to love our neighbour.
“You are loved by God – the creator almighty!  the saviour of the world!  the Lord and giver of life!”  Focussed on that, now hear these words from the Gospel, which are not necessarily for you and me today spoken in the context of war and insurrection, earthquake and plague – maybe just family struggles, illness, financial challenges, uncertainty about choices for the future, even a wealth of opportunity! – surrounded by whatever life presents to us at the moment, hear these words of your brother and Saviour Jesus:  (Remember:  You are loved by God!)  “This will be your chance to tell about your faith.   Don't worry about what you will say to defend yourselves.  I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or to say that you are wrong.”  (Remember:  You are loved by God!)
And without you and I ever realizing it, the “why” [that we are loved by God] has become the “what” [that we are loved by God].  The reason why we are here [that we are loved by God] is the foundation for what we do here.
That’s why I thank God for the call he has given me through you to serve in this community – I get to tell people, “You are loved by God!”  The “what” of my ministry is shaped by the “why”.  The words I am given are the very same as what has been given to me:  the Gospel of God’s love.  Maybe this isn’t my “defence” (I’ll admit it can be a challenge!) — Not my “enemies”—not at all!—(just ordinary people; but the community that surrounds me, where I have been “put”; with their questions, their anxieties, their needs, their joys, their wondering about “how it all fits together” and “who am I and where do I fit in?”, and certainly their mistakes, their guilt, their need for healing of body and spirit and relationships)—I’m surrounded by that (the same way you are)—and while I don’t have a simple, fits-all, comprehensive thing-to-do that meets each detail of the complexities of the context of this community I do have a totally reliable and utterly irrefutable and absolutely universally applicable point from which I can confidently make a start:  “You are loved by God.”
Think about it.
That’s why we worship here this morning.  That’s why we meet today.  That’s why we will continue to think about “what”...
Because “you are loved by God”.
Amen.