The theme for today’s service is Repentance and Renewal. I guess for some of us that can sound a bit scary. “What’s he going to say?” “Is he going to deliver a judgmental sermon?” “something out of the fire and brimstone draw?” perhaps even someone might be thinking “What right has he got to preach about this?”
Well, you can all relax. What I hope to do is to lead us as a group of believers; brothers and sisters; sons and daughters of God in a journey towards God. At the end, I hope you might even decide that we ought to do this regularly.
As it turned out, I have just enjoyed a recent visit to Berlin. Berlin in an ongoing work of repentance, redemption and renewal if ever there was one. There is still a long way to go in some areas of the city, and in some of the people especially in the east of the city where we stayed. We did have the pleasure though of attending a service at the Berlin International church, which is a clear indication of the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is a church that meets for worship in a cinema. Services are mainly worship and preaching. They don’t own a building but worship in a rented movie cinema screen, in the week they run active home groups. It took them all of a day to sort our daughter out in arranging for her to attend one of the groups – admittedly an ice cream meet in the evening – but the key to this is the activity in the church. People are active in their role as well as wanting to worship on Sundays. The church is growing, people are excited, want to be involved in it’s success and obviously care for one another. It is a real blessing for us that we have found that particular community for Krysia whilst she is in Berlin. I hope that she will be able to become involved and help others in the way she has been helped.
As you will have noticed, the front of the church has been very bare today without a worship group. We have used digital media instead, but I think, I hope you will all agree that live music provides a much more powerful adjunct to worship. Certainly in my experience over the last two years preaching at various sites in the circuit, a live worship group can really bring the songs we sing alive in a way even the best digitally created ones can’t quite manage
When I was first informed that I would be leading a service at GMC without a worship group, I was immediately nudged by God that this would be a really good opportunity, a way of making something positive out of what could have been viewed as a considerable negative for this church. The opportunity is for all of us as a Church to reflect on where we are and where we want to be as a Church.
Jesus’ message at the start of his ministry was clear. “ Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Matt 3.2). He never stopped being passionate about the need for people to change their behavior and to emulate his way. To learn from him the importance of submission of our will to God’s will.
If Jesus was so serious about this, how come we find it all to easy to forget and to see our needs as somehow being more important than following and enabling the mission that God has for this Church – for let us not forget this: God has a mission for this body of believers! The simple truth is that our authority to act comes from God himself. Surely, we therefore need to consider what we say and what we do with great care. Are we helping the mission, or are we hindering the mission? I have come to know many people in this congregation over the last few years, and I don’t think for a moment that anyone here would intentionally stand against God.
And yet, when we become defensive with each other, and are unable to see past hurts and grievances, are we enabling the mission or hindering it?
Brothers and Sisters, nothing is so severe that God will not forgive or fix the problem. We are his children and He loves us. All we have to do is come and confess our sin before him. This is something that I find to be true on a daily basis.
Traditionally Psalm 51 is thought to have been composed by David after his adultery with Bathsheba. I don’t intend to go into unnecessary details, but consider this for a moment. If we love our own needs above those of God, do we not also make ourselves guilty of a form of adultery? The first commandment is to love the lord God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength (Mark 12:30). It doesn’t say there is room for loving ourselves or our own selfish needs at God’s expense.
We are of course, commanded to love ourselves, but note that this is not greater than the love we show to our neighbour. I think, therefore, the message here is that we; our singular and combined egos, are not the Centre of the universe that we sometimes think we are.
The apostle John reminds us that we should not kid ourselves about who we are, or what we are. We can’t call ourselves Christians or think we are saved, and then go about living in a way that is contrary to the way that Jesus taught. To have continued fellowship with Jesus, we need to walk with him on a daily basis. In other words, we need to be disciples. We need to keep following in his footsteps. Even then, John reminds us that even thought we may share fellowship with Jesus, and the light be in us, we still have sin and are in need of forgiveness and grace.
Believe me, I am acutely aware of my own great need.
The message version has straight talking language. “ If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out and out contradict God – make a liar out of him”
As such therefore, I believe it is a good thing as a Church, Brothers and Sisters, fellow children of God, to corporately seek forgiveness in the confidence that our Father will meet us, forgive us of all our sin and purge us from all unrighteousness.
This has been and is what this morning is all about. We pray and long for growth, but we have hurt each other and as a consequence we have hurt God. Before God can lead us in growth, we need to seek forgiveness for our sins before God, and we need to seek forgiveness from, and to actively forgive, each other. If we do this, God will shower his Grace upon us, He will wash us anew and He will remove our hurts from us as far as the east is from the west.
This does not mean that in some rosey stained Disneyesque view of the world we will all get along swimmingly. It does mean however, that as a Church and as individual worshippers we will agree to follow the will of God, we will learn to respect each other as equals in the Kingdom, we will learn to listen to others rather than the voice inside out our own heads, we will learn to turn to the one in whom we can trust explicitly. The one who died on a brutal tree to save us from our sins, to save us from the consequences of our destructive behaviour.
It also means that we will encounter the power of the Holy Spirit in renewal. We will see growth not just in numbers but in activity. Did not the church start with 12 ragamuffin men, whose most recent claim to fame had been mastering with aplomb a disappearing act. We will see a Church giving not just its money, but of its time and effort, our very lives being given so that the will of God be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. We do after all pray for that at least once every week, and we will do so again today.
Join with me today therefore as we seek personal and corporate Repentance, Redemption and Renewal. May the Lord wash us of all iniquity and cleanse us, creating in us a clean heart, a pure spirit and a renewed will to worship him in spirit and in truth.
In Jesus’ Name