Trinity 9 Revds Lindsay and Elaine will celebrate Holy Communion in their homes on behalf of the parish.

Collect: Almighty God, who sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church: open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings:   Romans 10: 5 – 15;  Matthew 14: 22 – 33

Anthony’s sermon

Telling our God Stories Well (Rom10:5-15 and Mt14:22-33)

I hope to place a video of this sermon on https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCe12hMEWhmgH8HF_OL4iQyA

Later this week sees the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII – VJ Day as we call it – Victory in Japan.  And I suspect that our national celebrations are going to be quite muted, as they were in May when we didn’t quite celebrate VE Day.

Back in May I was talking to my dad about VE Day because in 1945 he was there at Buckingham Palace in all those crowds.  My granddad had taken him there and sat him on his shoulders.  I asked him where in the crowd he was. I was hoping perhaps to pick him out in one of the photographs. But he reminded me that he was only three and he couldn’t remember more than just being there.

Well why do I mention that? Well the first reading we read today, from Paul’s letter to the Romans, speaks of messengers of good news: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  Here Paul is quoting from the prophet Isaiah.  And Isaiah is in turn talking about the messengers who brought news from the battlefield that a battle had been won or maybe that the war had been won; how those messages of victory had been received.  That even their feet seemed beautiful when they came in, such was the good news they brought with them.  These days we might imagine the wireless operator or the radio operator who told people back in London or Washington or Moscow that Japan had finally surrendered and WWII was over.

Paul says that the way people receive this kind of news is much the same as the way in which they might receive the good news we proclaim about Jesus. So today we are going to be thinking about how we might tell what we call our “God Stories” – those little nuggets from our lives that tell others how important God is to us and the difference that He has made – and why sometimes those God Stories are not received by people as good news because of how we tell them; looking at the passage for hints to help us do this better.

I am writing this from the seat in our study where I spend most of my time during these lockdown days.  I have been a homeworker during the lockdown and for the last three or four months this has been my office.  A lot of my work involves video conferencing and I get quite a lot of remarks about the bookcase behind me.  “Have you really read all of those books?  What are they all about?” and I tell them they are mostly books on theology that I use for my talks and in my day-to-day encounter with God, and that I have indeed read most of them.  And why do I mention this? It’s because books can easily get in the way. 

The message that Paul proclaims in this passage is that the good news we are proclaiming is remarkably simple: “if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”.

Just two things: believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.  Yet we make it at times oh so complicated!  The material in all these books is fantastic, but we must not lose sight of the fact that God’s good news to us is really simple – just these two things are needed to make an eternal difference.  

Now I don’t want to give the impression that all this learning and knowledge isn’t important. But its importance depends on the point you have reached with God; where your relationship is.  God has immeasurable depth, and the deeper we encounter Him, the deeper yet and the more beautiful we find Him to be.  And these books can often be useful to us as we walk that journey of discovery, growth and knowledge with Him.  But they are not needed to start the journey.

We can all start to get to know Him and discover that He is God and it doesn’t matter what sort of person we are, or what capabilities we have.  The message that if we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead and then confess him as our Lord, is a tremendous leveller!  Paul says that it’s the same message for Jews and Gentiles alike. In a modern context we might say it doesn’t matter what our intellect is like, whether we are naturally loving and kind, are good people, whether we are attractive, whether we go to church, what disabilities we suffer, what life happens to have thrown at us …  All these things are all irrelevant to the message that Paul gives.

All we need to be able to do to tell our God Stories well is to speak about our own experiences.  We mustn’t make them too complicated and we mustn’t be scared to tell them just because we know that there is more depth behind what God has revealed. It’s not the bookcase that’s important but the person sitting in front of it.

There is one aspect of this depth that is important though: because it speaks of a way of living that draws us into an increasingly intimate relationship with God as our heavenly father.  It doesn’t matter which one of the two aspects you choose to start because God can work with either. But if we decide to make Jesus Lord of one part of our lives, my experience is that this causes our belief to grow deeper.  And when my belief grows deeper I’m able to make Jesus Lord of other parts of my life too. And so we have a virtuous circle: make Jesus Lord and grow deeper in belief; grow deeper in belief and we can make Jesus Lord in new areas of our lives.

And in this way our relationship with God grows ever deeper – and it’s a depth we’ll never plumb fully.

In the context of our telling our God Stories well, the message that we will proclaim to people is far broader than the words that come from our mouths.  Psychologists tell us that only a very small proportion of our communication is verbal and the same is true when we’re telling our God Stories: what do our lives say to other people about the extent to which we have made Jesus Lord? What do they say about the inner, unseen relationship that we enjoy with God?  When people look at us will they see Jesus as Lord of our money?  Of our time? Our politics? Our passions and energy?  Who’s the real boss of our lives?

And will they see love: the love that God channels through us and out into the world?  And do we emanate a sense of peace?  If not, we shouldn’t be discouraged because that virtuous circle is the solution to our problems and we just need to be brave enough to jump in.  Because then God can work his “holy magic” within us.

But we should be under no illusions. The non-verbal messages that we give out are powerful and will be read by people as revealing the true extent of our faith.

This turned out to be true for me some years ago when I was a student.  A friend and I used to talk regularly about theological matters, about why I was a Christian and he was an atheist. I thought we were discussing theology and belief, but years later when he became a Christian and told me that those conversations had been important it turned out that what I thought had been important were nothing of the sort.  What had actually been important was the contentment that I had with life; the certainty that even in my scientific education, I saw Jesus as Lord of Science.  Somehow, despite myself, God was shining through me. And it was the non-verbal, unspoken part of my God Story that God was able to use.

So our God Stories are much more than words and we need to make Jesus Lord of all parts of our lives.

Another a piece of the jigsaw that I want to draw out to us is a different focus on those two fundamental statements: “if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”.  If you are at all my like me, your eyes will be drawn to the far end of these two statements – that Jesus is Lord and believing that he was raised from the dead.  Whereas probably our focus ought to be on the other ends of those two sentences: the need to confess and the need to believe in our hearts.

Confess is a strong word. It’s more than just speaking or saying something. Think about when you own up to a misdemeanour. I think you can only confess if you assume a position of humility or vulnerability. It’s a deep way of speaking.  And belief in your heart?  This is not just about facts remembered or having an inkling of something being true.  This is about believing wholeheartedly; to the very core of our being.

Both are relationship words.  Both speak of how we are shaped by God from the inside, out. Think for a minute about politicians and whether we believe what they say or not. I could give examples from modern times but you might miss my message by being annoyed at what I cause you to recall.  So instead let’s go back to WWII and think about Winston Churchill:  why was it that people believed what Churchill said when they did not believe so many others, and he ended up with such a good reputation when so many politicians do not?  The phrase we sometimes use is that he was a “conviction politician”; he spoke from the heart, sometimes off-script, about what he believed, deeply so.

And that needs to be true of us too. We of course need to be careful about what we say, especially in sensitive areas, sometimes be politically correct. But despite this we need to speak from the heart because our God Stories need to be stories about the inner relationship we enjoy with God.  And if we make our stories too theoretical or too intellectual, or they only tell half the truth, they won’t carry the power of the message of how that relationship shapes us.

Our stories will only be convincing if we can talk about the difference that the relationship that we enjoy with God makes practically in our lives.

Well that’s quite a bit of theory about what our God Stories might look like. So I think a practical example would help and to do that I’d like us to imagine what sort of God Story Peter might have told from that night when Jesus walked on the water.  So let’s imagine that it’s years later and Peter is telling someone about that night: 

“So there we were rowing across the lake and as you know I’ve seen some mighty storms there down the years and this one was really starting to concern me.  It was beginning to look “a bit like a blower” and just as I was getting worried for me and for the lads, whether we should turn back, Jesus appears!

“Bold as you like! Just walking across the lake! Walking!  Well I thought I’d seen it all: all those miracles, all those healings; earlier that day when he’d fed thousands of people with just a few loaves and fishes, but walking on water?  That just about took the biscuit!

“Well I don’t know what possessed me but I called out and asked him if I could have a go as well. And when I stepped out, well … I was walking too!  Me? Simon son of Jonah! Walking on water!

“But then … big mistake! I looked down!  I think I might‘ve sworn at that point as I began to sink, but he grabbed me. And yes, he took the Mickey out of me, telling me I had no faith, but I was back walking on water soon enough.

“and that’s how it always is with him. Yes I’ve had my sticky moments but whenever I’ve trusted Jesus, whenever I’ve made him my Lord, whenever I’ve taken God’s side of things (and that’s sometimes meant risking my life), God has always saved me. Every single time! And I’ve grown to know that Jesus is my Lord and believe deep down that God will always save me.

Now our own God Stories are not likely to be as dramatic and exciting as Peter’s.  We won’t have seen miracles of the like that he saw.  But there will be times in our lives when God has acted and we are His witnesses. There will be times when what got us through was believing in Him. When knowing or declaring that Jesus is our Lord was the answer to our problems.

And if we can do that with our God Stories, include those two bits: speak of the belief in our hearts and confess that Jesus is Lord of our lives, we won’t go too far wrong with our God Stories.

So in telling our God Stories to people we are proclaiming victory. We are proclaiming a victory that isn’t complicated, so we should keep our God Stories simple and not be scared to tell them; we should not be overawed by the fact that there is more depth beneath us than we need to talk about at first.

It’s a victory for all people and for all parts of our lives so in telling our God stories we need to let that victory shine out from us, showing Jesus as Lord to people in all aspects of our lives, remember that these things are far more powerful than our words can ever be.

And it’s a victory won deep in our hearts through an intimate relationship. So when we tell people how God Stories; when we tell people about those times when God was The Difference that got us through, we need to show something in the story of how it was the belief in our hearts and our confession of Jesus as Lord that shone. Because these are the hooks that God can then start using as His ingredients to spark growth in the lives of other people.

So what might our own God Stories be like?  They should be stories of victory – of battles won told in a way that’s received by people as good news, something beautiful, something lovely, something compelling.

They should be stories that compel people to do what my granddad did – to run to the palace!

So let’s listen to those words once again: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  Amen.

Prayers

Prayers taken from Roots 9th August 2020

God of the earth and the waves, we praise you that you more than meet all our needs. You call us out from our security to experience your adventures and blessings. You don’t want us to be like a becalmed ship, or stuck in the harbour. You want us out in deep water – and you’ll be with us. We praise you, Lord. Amen.

Lord God, we come before you to pray for all those people for whom taking risks is a way of life.

We pray for our emergency services – paramedics, the police, the fire service, lifeboat crews – all who face difficult situations as they seek to help to protect us and make our world a safer and more peaceful place.

We pray for people who work in troubled places – the armed forces in war zones, those bringing humanitarian aid into areas of natural disaster, those seeking to bring or maintain peace, and many more.

We pray for people who take risks in your name, Lord Jesus – those who take your word where it is most needed – and for people who grapple with faith and doubt.

Take time now to pray for people you know who need God’s touch in their lives.

Now bring your own needs to God.

Thank you loving God that you know each one of us and that you hear and answer our prayers. Amen.

The Lord’s prayer 

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Peter only knew life as a fisherman. But he got out of the boat and followed you, Lord. Help us to hear your voice, get out of our boats and follow you. In the week ahead, may the world and its problems decrease as you increase in our lives. Keep us focused on your way, looking ahead and trusting you. Amen.

Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you, now and always. Amen.

Extra: Youtube   Cathy Burton Oceans  (with lyrics) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIgktBipLkI