Sermon for 23 August 2009
As we listen for the Word of God,
let us pray:
we have tasted, and you are good;
we have seen and touched you,
and your word feeds us for eternal life.
Keep us close to you,
trusting your promises,
for you are the Holy One of God,
and we can go to no other.
John 6. 56-69
- firstly, the Lord is in our midst
- secondly, we are a community with the Lord in its midst
I want to ask today how we go about discerning that. When we try to discern something as a body of Christ, we are trying prayerfully, together, to seek whether God is leading us a certain way.
I’ve said that I believe the Spirit is leading us to meet with the table in the midst, and the seating around it. I’ve talked about removing the platform as part of that vision.
Some people have heard me as saying that no matter what, I’ll get my way. Friends, that’s not what I’m saying. When someone has a vision, it needs to be tested and discerned by the body. Prayer needs to go into it. We need to appreciate the theological reasons why God may be calling us this way. But in the end, the body of Christ discerns the way forward.
There have been a few knee-jerk reactions. They are inevitable, but they are not discerning. Knee-jerk reactions need to be set aside so that we can prayerfully discern what God is indeed saying.
Discernment requires us to ask one sincere question: Could it be that this is God’s will for us now? If it is, then and only then we ask questions of cost. It means that we say with an open mind, What does God want?—and only then ask, How will we do this?
I’ve said I am not happy with a compromise. I wrestled with what to say about that, if anything. Let me say it more fully: compromise is never the first step in a time of discernment. We could compromise, but only because we discern that God’s will for us leads us in that way.
Let me put it this way. This is about three things:
1. discernment as a body of Christ
2. discernment as a body of Christ
3. discernment as a body of Christ
Just like buying a house!
With that in mind, let’s talk about discernment in general. Let’s look at how our Ephesians reading might help us to have the right spirit to discern together.
Paul is using the picture of a soldier on active service here. Of course, when Paul has the picture of a soldier in his mind, it’s not about a member of the Australian armed forces. It’s a Roman soldier of the first century, complete with breastplate, shield, helmet and sword.
If you’re in the army, you don’t wear your own clothes whilst on duty. You wear the clothes you’ve been given, not your own stuff.
It’s the same with us. When we are on active service for the Lord Jesus Christ, we wear what he has given us to wear. Then and only then, we’re equipped to serve.
So let’s look at wearing the armour of God to help us know how to discern a way forward.
‘Put on the breastplate of righteousness,’ Paul says. A breastplate was what you wore to protect yourself against attack. Remember, though, you’re a soldier on active service. So, it’s not your breastplate. It’s not your righteousness. We don’t put on the breastplate of self-righteousness. We don’t put on a breastplate that says I know I’m right plastered all over it. Our breastplate says this: One alone is right—not me, but Jesus Christ.
It says I am resting in him, and looking to him to lead us into the right ways. And if we’re all resting in him, and looking to him for guidance, we’ll move in the right direction.
In the same way, the belt we put on is the belt of truth. It’s not the belt of my opinions; it’s not the belt of self-assertion. It’s not the belt of speaking so loudly and insistently that people feel intimidated. We can hurt one another very easily by being more concerned about giving out our opinion and not listening. I suspect many of us are prone to error here, and I include myself.
Putting on the belt of truth isn’t about being right, and it’s definitely not about winning arguments. It’s about putting on the Truth—Jesus Christ. Jesus said, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free… I am the truth…’ Putting on the belt of truth is hearing what Jesus the Truth is saying to us, and then doing it. We can’t claim to know the truth unless we also do it.
Put on the helmet of salvation, Paul says. Guess what—it’s not our helmet. It’s not the helmet of self-importance; it’s not the helmet of me saving the church.
It is the helmet of humility; it’s the helmet that shows we have salvation, healing, wholeness in Christ. It’s the helmet that reminds us we are not our own—we were bought at a price, the price of Christ’s own blood.
The uniform we are given includes shoes. These shoes are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do… But they aren’t shoes for us to walk all over other people. Neither are they shoes to run away in. They are shoes that can help us to position ourselves to speak words of peace to others. Can we speak peace as we’re discerning what to do about how we gather? I wonder if we can. I hope we can. Because that is what the gospel requires of us.
The shield of faith is another part of our kit. Isn’t it good that the Lord gives us this shield of faith? A shield that equips us to deflect the hurtful things that may be said to or about us. And why do we need this shield? So we can continue to love those who say anything hurtful.
And finally, we’re given the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. It’s not our word we are being equipped with, but God’s word. The sword isn’t for us to make others hear us, but so we can know God’s word. We need to hear God’s word so that we can wield this sword the right way.
In the end, putting on this armour is putting on Jesus Christ. It’s equipping ourselves with his righteousness, his truth, his faithfulness, his salvation, his word, his peace. Then, and only then, we can discern this thing together.
When we wear this armour we are still in a pretty vulnerable place, just as Jesus was in today’s Gospel reading. When many of his disciples walked out on him because they didn’t like what he was saying to them—note, many left him, not just a few—he turned to the ones that remained and said. ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ I can only imagine how he felt. I can imagine the inner sense of disappointment, and anxiety that these others would leave as well.
But Simon Peter said those wonderful words, ‘Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’
Jesus didn’t take up the breastplate of fury and the sword of vengeance. No, Jesus was vulnerable. He put his fate into the hands of this mob of disciples, and allowed them to answer. And his disciples, not knowing what it meant, or where it would lead them, said, Lord, where else could we go? You have pierced our hearts. You have the words of the only life worth living. We will stay, even though we don’t understand you, even though we can’t see what the end will be.
I said before that when we are on active service for the Lord Jesus Christ, we wear what he has given us to wear. Then and only then, we’re equipped to serve—and discern.
We are in a time of discernment. All I ask is that we discern. What’s the next step? Pray every day that the will of God will be made clear—to you, and to us all. Pray, and strive in prayer.
Our battle to discern isn’t a battle against flesh and blood, and it’s certainly not against one another. So we need to clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ and his truth, his righteousness, his faithfulness, his peace. Let’s talk with these things in our hearts, let’s pray in peace, rather than anxiety, fear, anger or the need to win. Then we’ll discern rightly.
And in all things, let’s give thanks.