Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Portland Methodist Circuit Covenant Service Sermon: Stay Disciplined! Stay Open! Stay Connected!

Chris Briggs and a rather feeble attempt
at pretending to be a boxer
Here are the notes from the sermon at the Portland Methodist Circuit Covenant Service held on 10th January 2016 at Easton Methodist Church, Portland, Dorset.

The sermon is based on the following readings
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 15:1-10

Each section of the sermon relates to one of these three readings.

We started though with me making an appearance dressed as a boxer, entering with my “training” team to the sound of the Rocky Theme Music and introduced as “Chrissss Briggggggggsssss – Spiritual Lightweight of the World”.  You can listen on line at Portland Methodist Circuit Sermon Library under the date 20160110, but here is much of the text.

Stay Disciplined  1 Corinthians 9:24-27
So Chris Briggs – spiritual lightweight of the World! Portland does of course have a Boxing Club.  Maybe I’ll nip along next week and ask whether they can fit me up with a match?  That’s ludicrous of course.  In addition to being a coward, I am also very averse to physical violence – especially if directed at me.  If I wanted to box then I would have to do more than put on a costume and jump around a bit.  The thought of Rocky Briggs probably doesn’t even begin to ring true.  If I want to be a Boxing Champion I had better learn to box, train on a regular basis, hone my strengths, find ways to deal with my weaknesses and aim high.

This is true of so many areas of life.  You can’t hope to get very far in anything unless one develops one’s abilities, skills, resilience…..  Could it be though that we do not easily learn this lesson in the Christian life, in our spiritual walk?

Do we pick up our discipleship here and drop it there?
Do we think that we can be close to God and draw on the resources of God; that we can grow in holiness; that we can be effective in the world as salt and light just when we feel like it?

If you wanted to grow and become better and have an impact you wouldn’t do that in other areas of life.

I swim on a regular basis.  If I have a gap though it becomes harder to start again, to go the distance, to break through the boredom barrier or pain barrier or whatever.

If you are a runner you can’t suddenly pick it up and do it.
I used to run regularly – longer distances.  Then I didn’t  - then I did – then I didn’t.  A couple of years ago I went to take part in the Dumble Bimble around Portland.  I thought “It’s not far. I’ll run rather than walk.  I ought to train first though.”  Well, I had been walking back and forth to Weymouth so my stamina wasn’t bad, but I realised I needed to train.  So I did.  The night before I went for a run.  I ran out of my door, down Wakeham, got to the bottom and then nearly killed myself trying to get back up.  In the end I walked the Dumble Bimble while my wife Nicola ran some of it!

Discipline is essential to growth and development in virtually every area of life, whether physical and practical or more theoretical.

Oh dear!  It gets worse!
Paul knows this (1 Corinthians 9:26-27) “I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave”.  He is not talking of beating oneself literally as some monks and others of old have done.  He is talking about training and discipline.  Paul knows that discipline is part of the Christian life – that discipleship is linked with discipline.  Discipline and disciple share the same root word. The concept is that we surrender ourselves to something or someone, similar to an athlete surrendering his will to a coach.  Our coach is Jesus.

As we renew our covenant with God so we cannot escape discipline – in the basics – in worship, in Bible, in prayer, in community, in putting faith into action.  Not when we feel like it, but when we don’t feel like it too.

Stay open  Jeremiah 31:31-34
The reading from Jeremiah shows us that God is to do something new.  God has given the Law to help us know the way to live, but it is difficult for us.  We break rules too easily.  Our tendency to sin means that rules are not enough to keep us close to God.
God reveals that he will bring a new Covenant promise for his people.  The promise is that God’s ways, will, heart, is to be buried in the heart and mind of the believer.  In other words he plants himself within.
”I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.”

Romans 12:2 says something similar, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

What is this talking about?  It is talking about relationship rather than rules; relationship rather than ritual; relationship rather than religion.

Note this is about individuals having their heart touched by God – remade from the inside you might say, but also a people.  I will be their God and they shall be my people.  Which is why doing this together today is so important.

As we are invited to renew our Covenant with God today – the important thing is that God says he wants to be in relationship with us – a relationship of love.  He invites us to respond by saying we want to be in a relationship of love with him.  It is out of this that all else flows, our works, our service.  But again the way we stay close is a way of discipline.  That might sound odd but it’s not.  We need to work at relationships not just rely on how we feel.  That is so with marriages.  I suggest one reason so many marriages break up is because once people don’t feel in love they tend to distance themselves, but love is not dependent on feelings – it is also an act of will.  We are not always lovable but that doesn’t stop God loving us.  God is always lovable but sometimes our feelings are not that loving.  So when we don’t feel close to God the answer is not to drift off and do our own thing but be disciplined in our devotion – making time for God and making sure we focus on him and seek to stay in his will.

How can we be open in our own individual lives?
How can we be open as God’s people here on Portland?

Which brings us to the other point.

Stay connected (to Jesus and each other)  John 15:1-10
We will share communion as part of this service.   In Methodist parlance we will share the juice of the grape (non-alcoholic) and remember the blood of Christ.  We won’t see the actual grapes that have been used for the red grape juice.  But if we did have them here then we know that once grapes are off the vine then they will eventually begin to go off.  “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.”  Not only that, but the grapes won’t happen in the first place if they are not connected to the vine.  “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

This is not rocket science – it is viticulture!!  It’s not complicated.  Be separate from the source of growth and nutrition and you shrivel and die.

So are we blossoming, growing, bearing fruit as Christians?  Or are we shrivelling?  Not a bad question to reflect on as we hear the Gospel reading from John and think about our relationship with Jesus.

Are we shrivelling? Have we shrivelled?
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Stay connected.

That means all those things that are basic again and which I mentioned a few moments ago when I said  “As we renew our covenant with God so we cannot escape discipline – in the basics – in worship, in Bible, in prayer, in community, in putting faith into action.”

And so we come full circle.
It is in the discipline of these things that we can encounter God and grow.
It is openness to these things that enable us to find that God wants to make his home within us, in a real relationship something so much deeper than religion or rules.
It is through these things, and in other ways that we stay connected and bear fruit.

And as we prepare to acknowledge God’s Covenant with us we are invited to respond to the challenge to
Stay Disciplined.
Stay Open.
Stay Connected.

The Methodist Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.