YEAR C, EPIPHANY 8  

(Sunday 8, Feb 25-29)

 

Luke 6: 39-49              (SERMON: CREED-IBILITY GAP?)

1 Cor 15: 51-58

Isaiah 55: 10-13

Psalm 92: 1-4, 12-15

 

CALL TO WORSHIP

 

God is always true and dependable,

the rock where nothing flawed exists.

 

It is good to be able to give thanks to our God,

to sing praises to your name, O Most High.

 

You shall go forth in joy

and be led forward in peace.

 

It is good declare your love in the morning,

and your faithfulness by night.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Loving God,

            you are the Source and the Soul of the universe

            and the nurturing Secret of every loving heart.

 

Together as a congregation we come to you,

            some of us have gathered eagerly,

            some have come dutifully,

            some have prepared most prayerfully,

            and some have arrived in a late rush.

 

But we are here, and glad that we are.

 

So that this hour of opportunity may not be squandered,

we earnestly pray for the blessed spur of your Holy Spirit,

            so that eagerness may be shaped by love,

            duty may be become enlivened with delight,

            prayers may be tinctured with unselfish love,

            and that rushed souls may find the core of your peace.

 

Then may we worship not to suit our own inclinations,

but as your majestic love and beauty deserve.

 

Through Christ Jesus, who our host on this Lord’s Day.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND PETITION:

 

Merciful God, we are all sinners, needing grace to cover our sins and amend our lives.

We bow before you seeking forgiveness, and for cleansing from the soot and souring of evil.

We also humble ask for whatever painful therapy is needed to get us in better spiritual shape,

 

Holy God, awesome Friend of sinners,

please interfere in our daily lives.

Please interfere as much as is good for us.

 

Make us hungry for whatever your deem most valuable,

to strive for this with undivided tenacity,

to show particular love to whoever you want us to love,

and to cherish those pleasures which delight you most.

 

With every milligram of the free will you have given us,

we choose to ask you:

Please don’t allow us to screw up;

make us yours today and forever.

 

Through the grace of Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

 

My friends, God is not about to give up on us. The forgiveness of Christ is real and lasting. As far as the east is from the west, so far and more has he removed the burden of our transgressions from us.

 

The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            [Note: this prayer can be preceded by a word with children.

            Show them some sawdust and a plank etc.

            One blindfolded child is asked to lead another one.]

]

 

Why do you see the speck of sawdust in another’s eye,

but do not notice the plank of wood in your won eye”

 

Dear Lord Jesus,

thanks for your jokes with a sting in them

that help us see how foolish we can be.

 

We criticise those we don’t like,

But you pray for them.

We hate saying sorry,

But you forgive us before we even ask.

We pretend we know the way,

But you really do know the way.

 

Teach us, and help us,

to be sincere triers,

even though often

we are likely fall short

of your example.

Amen

 

COLLECT

 

Loving God, you are the light in the eyes of a believer, and the strength in the legs of the follower. Foster in our lives an integrity of spirit, word and deed. Deliver us from anything that is counterfeit or insipid. Inspire us to see more sharply and to follow more thoroughly, that we may be numbered among those who genuinely live by faith. Through Christ Jesus our role model and our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SERMON: CREED-IBILITY GAP?

 

Luke 6:42-43

 

How can you say to your brother: “Brother, let me take the speck of sawdust out of your eye,” when you yourself have a plank stuck in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For each tree is revealed by the fruit it bears. Figs are not picked from thorn trees, nor are grapes picked from bramble bushes.

 

Luke 6: 46

 

Why do you call me Lord, Lord, yet  do not do the things I tell you.

 

One of the toughest things Jesus asked of his disciples, was to be known by their fruits.

He asked for harmony between what we say we believe and what we do about it.

 

CREDIBILITY GAP?

 

Credibility Gap? Bad news. Always bad news. The rift between what we say we believe and what we do. Credibility gap. A thorn tree pretending to be a fig. A bramble posing as a grape vine.  Perhaps we should call it a creed-ibility gap. Jesus tackles hypocrisy head on.

 

On a big scale it is easy for us to spot the gross creed-ibility gaps in others. For example, clergymen jockeying for a coveted elevation. Or a congregation loudly singing “love divine all loves excelling” while some of its members are involved in an internal fracas. Or the occasion when my wife and I were travelling in Spain, we viewed the glittering gold and bejewelled treasures held behind thick glass in a cathedral, then stepped out into the wintry morning to find malnourished and bedraggled street kids kicking a tin can against the Cathedral walls . Or when a high decibel, moralistic preacher is caught “having it off” with a the wife of the church organist. Or when a motor-mouthed, Christian, ever intent on “witnessing,  is known by her workmates as the laziest person in the office.

 

We notice such big things and rightly feel embarrassed. But how many other, more low key,  bad fruits are there? By their fruits you shall know them. Is there a creed-ibility gap in our lives?.

 

We are, regrettably, to some degree in a ‘no win’ situation.

 

For a Christian, no matter how saintly, there is bound to be a credibility gap. The gap between what we espouse and what we manage to achieve, is likely to be substantial. What our Lord Jesus taught, what his life exemplified, is a target we will often miss. We may sincerely aim at it, but the arrow of our lives will either fall short or fly wide of the mark.

 

Sooner or later, others will notice our sins of omission or commission. Sooner or later, at work, or in recreation, as a neighbour, or at home among our family, each of us will fall short of the mark. Others will note it and we will realise we may have discredited the Lord we serve. Some failure is inevitable.

 

Therefore an active Christian is a prime ‘patsy” on which disgruntled cynics can vent their spite. For a Christian, no matter how saintly, there is bound to be a credibility gap.

 

A CHEAP WAY OUT

 

There is a cheap way out of this: Change your creed, lower your standards, set up an easier target. Then you can never be called a hypocrite. Be agnostic, stand for nothing, declare yourself a thorn bush or a bramble, and others cannot take cheap shots at you.

 

Many adopt what I call “opinion-poll values.”

 

Thse are what the contemporary prophet, Jim Wallis in the USA, might call “wet finger values.” In one of his famous anecdotes, he describes how a group of low-income mothers, many of them single mums, had come to Washington to lobby politicians. With his tongue in his cheek, he advised them how to quickly recognise the politicians among the crowds. They would be the ones who walked around Washington with a wet index finger in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. Politicians become addicted to testing the wind and adjusting their policies and their speeches accordingly.

 

I guess there are forms of wet-fingered Christianity. Religious folk who adjust their message to fit the prevailing moods of a community.

 

There are others who tailor their religion to neatly fit and smooth over their own misshapen lives. Wet fingered semi-believers love to seen attending the kind of easy going church which which is intent on offending none in the community.

 

This is the cheap way out of the dilemma caused by Jesus. Alter the creed. Sugar coat the message. Shift the target until you can easily score or even hit the occasional bull’s eye.

 

AIM HIGH BUT DON’T BE ANXIOUS

 

Where does that leave those of us who refuse to take that cheap option? Do we just plod on, being anxious or discouraged or even sink into spiritual mire or despair?

 

Thank God that is not the only way to go. Our failure to live up to what Christ asks of us may be the source of some embarrassment, but it should not lead to anxiety or despair.

 

In terms of our standing with God; things are not so grim. Our deeds are not the deciding factor. We only have any standing through the saving grace of Christ Jesus. That lord with his  healing cross is our only salvation. We are not justified in the eyes of God by our spiritual and ethical achievements. Only God’s inclusive love lifts us up to stand tall.

 

Of course non-believers will spot our credibility gaps. Of course some of them might poke fun at us, sneering: “And you call yourself a Christian?” That is embarrassing. More than that, it rightly grieves us when something we have done or failed to do, seems to brings the Gospel into disrepute.

 

But how do we react? Do we either lower Christ’s high bar or slip into anxiety and defeatism? Never! The Christ who sets us such a high standard also the one who “eats with taxgatherers and sinners.  Fall a thousand times, and  he is there to lift us up. He gives us a place to stand in the presence of God.

 

For the disciple of Jesus, each day is like being born again. That does not make for lazy Christianity. We try to make each new day one of fruitful love and faithfulness. Perhaps we only hit the bulls eye once or twice each day, but at least we have a sincere shot at the target set by Messiah Jesus.

 

RECAPPING

 

Let me underscore this theme:

 

One of the toughest things Jesus asked of his disciples, was to be known by their fruits.

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For each tree is revealed by the fruit it bears. Figs are not picked from thorn trees, nor are grapes picked from bramble bushes.

 

He asks for congruity between what we say we believe and what we do about it.

 

If that is all there is to Jesus, then we are in trouble. If the hard core of Christianity is a requirement to bear fruits as perfect as those of Jesus, then we are all doomed to failure.

 

But if the crux of our faith combines our sincere, although modest, fruitfulness together with his saving grace for sinners like us, then failure is not such a disastrous word.

            If we are not graduates but students (most of us primary level)in the school of Christ,

                        then we can sincerely try to correct faults without guilty self-flagellation.

            If the church is not a gathering of elite spiritual athletes but a hospital for sick souls,

                        then we will always find hope for tomorrow..

If we are not so much members of an elite dining club but a community of common folk who both run a soup kitchen for the destitute, and eat the same food ourselves, then we move closer to the peace which Christ brings.

 

It is by grace we are saved. Through faith in Christ Jesus.

 

Most of the harsh critics of Christianity just do not get this. Either they can’t or they won’t.  They get stuck on the invalid premise that Christians are those who pretend to be superior beings. Too often we allow them to define us that way. If we permit that, we will either end up bogged in discouragement. or we may slyly adapt our religion to fit our easy grasp.

 

By the grace of God, let us do everything we can to narrow the creed-ibilty gap. Let us expect to produce some grapes and some figs; maybe not enough to feed a city but enough to encourage a few hungry souls around us. We of all people can afford to aim high yet sometimes fall short.

 

 

A PRAYER OF GRATITUDE

 

*This prayer works best with two readers.

 

Blessed be God, who through our Lord Jesus Christ who has showered upon earth’s human family grace upon grace.

 

Blessed be the day when Christ was born, and the hours spent in the  nurture of Mary and Joseph, his survival as a refugee and  his family’s safe return to Nazareth.

 

Blessed the lessons the growing child received in the school of life, from the prayers and Scriptures in the synagogue, the festivals at the temple, the faithfulness of ordinary villagers, and the rural rhythm of seed time and harvest.

 

Blessed the Spirit who descended on him at his baptism in the Jordan, his time spent alone in wilderness, the early halcyon days of his public ministry when people spoke well of him.

 

Blessed his parables, blessed his brief sermons, blessed  his inclusive love, his healing compassion and his stern rebuke of all hypocrisy.

 

Blessed be the hard road he took to Jerusalem, his cleansing of the temple, his courage under arrest and abuse, his dignity in the judgement halls, and his final climb to Golgotha.

 

Blessed that afternoon when he died at the hands of sinners, with supreme grace forgiving his crucifiers, and commending his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father.

 

Blessed be that borrowed grave in which his body lay, blessed the end of sorrow on the third day when amazed women ran from the tomb in fear yet joy.

 

Blessed the holy meals he has continued to share with his followers to this very day. Blessed the grace that gathers us before God as his redeemed sisters and brothers.

 

Blessed be God, who through our Lord Jesus Christ who has showered up upon us blessings without measure.

 

Blessed be God.

Blessed be God.

Blessed be God forever.

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

 

God of all love and pure delight, please be with all those contemporary friends of Jesus, who find their chief delight in producing good fruits.

 

Bless those dear souls who persist in situations where Christian faith is unwelcome; where fruits must struggle in a hostile environment, where soul-mates are few and abuse or persecution can be a daily cross to bear. May they always know your grace and peace.

 

Bless those rugged souls who dare to stand up as prophets in those lands where a few people prosper inordinately while millions exist in poverty and hopeless drudgery. May the witness of your prophets bring forth fruits of repentance, proved by a new passion for justice and mercy.

 

Bless all the common folk who in our community try to love and serve you, day be day, without notable success and maybe with scarce encouragement from family or friends. May they find joy in small victories and contentment in knowing that they give of their best.

 

Bless all your suffering ones, alone or with families, in hospitals or trying to cope at home. May they be given the best medical care that is available, and receive it from carers who have generous souls and gentle hands.

 

Bless all who will suffer or die this day; especially those unfortunate souls who will be all alone. From road accidents or from disease, in anonymous city flats or in the outback wilderness places. May they sense your eternal arms around them, and find peace at the last.

 

Bless all of us gathered here today, and the many dear ones who are attached to us by familial ties or bonds of  friendship. May we all find your light in our moments of confusion,, you mercy in times of shame, your healing when we are sick and afraid, your courage if we are pressured to give in, your gentleness when we are tempted to be too forceful, and your rebuke whenever we try to deceive ourselves with fatuous excuses.

 

Through Jesus Christ, our role model and our liberator from fear, evil, and inertia.

Amen!

 

A BLESSING FOR THE JOURNEY

 

May the love of God surround you in your lying down and your rising up.

May the grace of Christ support you in your going out and your coming in.

May the Holy Spirit enfold you in that blessed fellowship which transcends

            this life and its mortality.

Amen!

Go on your way giving thanks that you will never travel alone.

Amen!