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Saturday, May 11, 2013

7th Sunday of Easter: No Religion but Social Religion, No Holiness but Social Holiness

No Religion but Social Religion, No Holiness but Social Holiness


My life this week has been lived out very “socially”……we travelled 550 km to Durban (on the southern east coast of Africa) to visit and meet our first grandson, Caleb Samuel Poole, who is one week old as I write this, and nine days old as I preach this.

Our grandson, Caleb Samuel Poole ....and no, he didn't actually drink his first babychino, I just couldn't resist buying him one on his first outing :-)

 In Durban we also visited my older brother Kevin, who is one week into healing from a bad fall off a ladder! So, 12 hours on the road, 48 hours with friends and family, a few more hours (as those of you who know us can imagine) spent in various coffee shoppes……as you can see, a very “social” week. And in all these places (yes, even on the road….and yes, even in the privacy of my family’s homes), hopefully I have lived out the consequences of the Resurrection on my life in all these places, because……there is No Religion but Social Religion, No Holiness but Social Holiness. Our religion is not religion, our holiness is not holiness, if they are not lived out by us, incarnated (given flesh) by us among the people that we share our homes, streets, workplaces….and yes, even our coffee shoppes with. There is no such thing as solitary or private religion! (John Wesley)

So with that theme in the background, let’s work through our readings


As I read this, pointing upwards for God, to the screen for Jesus, and to the congregation for us, the church, notice the social aspect of this part of Jesus’ High Priestly prayer….notice how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, are primarily social…they can’t exist without each other, they refuse to live without each other, and…they invite us into their social circle……..ETERNALLY!!!

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus’ prayer is that as we come to faith, that we would find some kind of oneness with other believers and that we experience a level of love that is similar to being in the very presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit….so that the world may know God’s love through Christ for the world. Christianity is a social religion and there is No Religion but Social Religion, No Holiness but Social Holiness

Now, let’s read through our reading from Acts and see where social religion and social holiness might take us (please note, you might not like where it leads to)

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

Of all the people mentioned in this reading,………. the female slave, her owners, the spirit, Paul and the others, magistrates, the crowd, the jailer, other prisoners, ……….  Who is free in this reading? Certainly not the slave girl! She is not only in bondage to an evil spirit, but is controlled by evil persons who use her "gifts" for their own profit. Perhaps it is the owners of the slave girl who are free...free to live a life of luxury because of the "great deal of money" they make from the slave girl's fortune telling gift…but then they are not really free, they are in as much bondage to her as she is to them. There is no question that Paul and Silas are free. But are they really? Accused of "advocating customs unlawful for us Romans," Paul and Silas find themselves chained to the wall in a dark prison cell. This doesn't sound like freedom to me! Perhaps it is the jailor who is free. The prisoners are chained to the cell wall. The jailor is free to play a game of solitaire, sleep, and walk around the jail compound. He is free...that is, until the earth shakes and the prison doors fly open and the prisoners are unchained. How will the jailor explain this to the authorities he reports to? He ends up thinking it would be better to commit suicide than to face the consequences of this event. This doesn't sound like freedom to me! Who is free in this reading? Who is free in this congregation this morning?

Are you free? Is there something you long to be free of?

One question opens the door to freedom: "What must I do to be saved? (from this thing I long to be free of)" Only one answer brings freedom: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!"

Being free for you and for me is only a question away! Perhaps like me you find yourself praying a prayer like this: God, sometimes I wonder if I can really be free from those things that seem to draw me away from you. If you do, then try adding this to your prayer: Keep prodding me to ask the question: What must I do to be saved? so that I can hear your Word: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved."

Cedric, what does that really mean in my life, today?

Let’s see if our third reading (the last 9 verses of the Bible) helps us to answer that question:

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Many people act as if the Bible begins with Genesis, chapter 3: the sin and fall of humankind; and ends with Revelation 20: the lake of fire and death. But Genesis, chapters 1 and 2 are the beautiful story of God creating the heaven and earth, plants and animals, humankind, and more. And Revelation, chapters 21 and 22 tell of God's creation of the "new heaven and the new earth." These are the boundaries within which we are called to live out, to incarnate, social religion and social holiness,…..not the boundaries of sin and hell, but the far wider boundaries of holiness and heaven, on earth, now!

In light of the rest of the Bible, these last words of Scripture are words of comfort and assurance, of freedom, to us who live in a broken world which certainly seems to be imprisoned by sin and death or hell.
Here is the message of the last few verses of the Bible: God is in charge! We do not have a God who tells us: "Look, my children, whatever will be, will be." God does not say, "Shape up! Accept what is. That's the way the cookie crumbles."

Instead, our God assures us with these words: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End." In other words, "I have everything covered; from A to Z. I am in charge!" I recently conducted various Memorial services for Louis Luyt, and at each of these those who paid tribute to him described him as “large and in charge”, be it in his family, in his work, in SA rugby….Large and in charge. Now, exactly how true those words were of Louis is obviously debateable, but they are infinitely more true of our God……whether it looks that way or not, in your personal life, in your home, in your workplace, in your church……our God is large and in charge! Remember this truth, because it is linked to another amazing promise from God, a promise which when taken to heart enables us to experience the freedom we long for, right now, which in turn sets free in us a religion which is social and a holiness which is social….right now!…….Here’s the promise God makes to you and me NOW:  "Yes, I am coming soon." Did you hear that?........... "I am coming soon."
When Dr. Martin Luther King was asked, "How long must we wait?" he answered: "Not long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again!" How long? "Not long, because no lie can live forever!"

Instead of thinking of Christ's return in chronological terms, think of His words, "Yes, I am coming soon," as a way of saying: Christ is near to us. Near to you now, to set you free….near to you now, calling you and equipping you for a religion, a faith, which is social, calling you and equipping you for a holiness which is social.

I suggest we end with the words our reading ends with, as a prayer from our hearts: Come, Lord Jesus….
And I will end with the last words in our Scriptures: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Cedric, thanks for the really good 8am service this morning. Your sermon was outstanding.
Graham S