Sermon by Paul Magnall 17th September 2017

Notes from the Sermon by Paul Magnall – 17th September 2017 – Creationtide 3

Readings:
Philippians 3:15-21
Matthew 18:21-35

For years I have been asking myself the question “How then should we live?” This is a question that has been attributed to Francis Schaeffer and he wrote a book with that title.

Maybe I am very fortunate that I have the relative comfort, space and prosperity that I can take time to ask this question. If I was worrying about where my next meal or drink was coming from or where I was going to shelter then I might not have the luxury to be able to consider this question.

Our situation, our surroundings, the politics of what is happening around us really affects how we answer questions such as this. When I was a young Christian we were experiencing the fear generated by the Cold War. Russia and China in the East and we in the West were armed to the teeth with conventional and nuclear weapons (we still are!) and each feared the other. Some Christians around me believed we were living in the “End Times”, at any moment Jesus could reappear or that those who believed would be “raptured”, caught up into Heaven to be with Jesus while all hell was let loose on Earth.

In fact there are people today who think similarly, that any minute God is going to wrap things up.

If you live in times like that and with beliefs like that and you ask the question “How then should I live?” you will get some interesting answers.

One answer is to live apart, to separate oneself and one’s community from the world, to form a group of like-minded people who see the world as doomed, as spoilt and beyond redemption. All you have to do is remain pure and wait for the celestial bus to come and pick you up to take you to heaven.

Another view, similar to this is to want to get the rest of the world ready to catch the bus as well. Evangelism becomes a major focus, you must try and get as many people saved as possible from this doomed world.

Or you may consider that you have your bus pass to heaven, when it comes you can catch the bus but in the meantime, as long as you don’t do anything majorly wrong you can just get on with living, anything you do get wrong you will be forgiven for anyway.

So what did Paul think? What was his situation, his surroundings, what were the politics happening around him?

He was living at a time where the Roman Empire was seen as being against God, against Christ – or maybe it was the other way round? Pax Romana – the Roman Peace that lasted for about 200 years was not peace as we understand it. It was peace at the end of a sword. Roman rule kept people in their place. You did as you were told. Pax Christus, the Peace of Christ, a peace based on love and sharing and caring, this peace challenged the Roman peace so much that Christians were seen as subversives who should be arrested, even killed. Paul spoke out about this peace that comes from the Christ as something that totally challenged the Peace that came from the Emperor. Instead of seeing himself as a citizen of Rome and all the benefits that came from that he saw himself as a citizen of heaven.

Possession of Roman citizenship was greatly desired. A Roman citizen enjoyed many benefits including:

  • You were safe from the death penalty
  •  You had the right to vote
  •  You had the right to make contracts
  •  You had the right to contract a legal marriage

(Of course these applied to men! Women’s rights were more limited)

But you also had responsibilities – you were taxed, you had to complete a term of military service, you were expected to contribute to the Roman society but as a citizen you could move up through the ranks.

There were a complex set of rules as to how you became a citizen. If both your parents were citizens then you inherited citizenship. If your mother was a citizen but your father wasn’t then you were OK!

Slaves who were freed could became citizens and you could be given citizenship as a reward for service to the state.

So when Paul writes to the Philippians and tells them that “our citizenship is in heaven” he is challenging the Pax Romana, he is saying that he looks to Jesus Christ not to Caesar as the one who brings peace, who brings life. Paul was saying that Romans had got it wrong! It wasn’t the divine Caesar who had the power to give life but the divine Messiah.

So how does that help me with the question “How then shall we live?”

Well let’s go back a chapter in Philippians and to last week’s message about generosity. Paul called us to love one another, to be humble, to look to the interests of each other. He called us in our relationships with each other to have the same mind set as Jesus. And what was that? It was not to consider himself equal with God but to take on the nature of a servant, to give up everything, to empty himself of everything. We are called to be generous, to give ourselves.

Here, Paul paints a picture of a community where people didn’t compete to be in charge of others, to be richer or more important. Here is a community of people who care and love for each other. A huge contrast to the Roman Empire that he saw around him.

But why does Paul call us to love in this way?

Sometimes I find it difficult to believe that God loves me. I know what I am like and I am surprised that after more than 34 years Catherine still loves me! I can believe that God loves everyone here – but does he love you more or less than me? The Bible tells us that God loves every single one of us – equally. But not just every single one of us, He also loves the world that He created, the world that He saw as very good, the world that sustains all life, the world that He sent His Son to die for.

If God loves everyone and all of His creation, this incredibly beautiful and intricate universe that has brought forth such incredible life, then why is it so hard for me to believe that He loves me. And why is it so hard for me to answer the question “How then shall we live?”

His love has made us citizens of heaven. That gift has given us the benefits of new life, of knowing His love for us, of the power of God working to grow in us the fruits of the Spirit, of love, joy, peace, kindness, etc. We can experience the transforming power, the healing that comes from being in a loving and supporting community.

But there are responsibilities as citizens. Unlike the Romans who competed for privilege and wealth and power, we are called to compete in caring for each other and sharing with each other. To bear one another’s burdens. To welcome the weak, the sick, the lame, the refugee and the asylum seeker, the person who is different from us. Why? Because God loves them all equally, just as much as us. And we are to forgive each other as He has forgiven us.

And we should also be responsible for our home, our planet. God saw that it was very good, and we have screwed it up.

God created the world as an intricate life support system and we are intent on wrecking it. The result is that the people and the creatures that God loves are suffering, are dying, and we are threatening our own survival through our greed, our lack of awareness, our stubbornness and lack of care.

“For all creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed”!

So “how then shall we live?” I think we should choose to live as citizens of Heaven remembering that we are citizens because God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us, our citizenship has been paid for in full. As citizens we have benefits but we have responsibilities. We are called to love, to be a community of love, and to transform the world with God’s love. So let’s look at how we live, let us examine those things that we do that that lead to injustice and poverty for others, that destroy the environment of ourselves and other living things, and let us find ways of bringing new life, of transformation, of regeneration, of healing to all around us.

For in Christ we know that this is possible.

 

Amen.

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