Monday, January 16, 2017

The Gospel, the (Orthodox) Church, and Missions - Preached

Put on Christ 
A sermon preached this past Sunday at an Orthodox Church in Nairobi

Dr. William Arthur, Presbyterian Missionary in Thogoto, Kenya

Colossians 3:4-11
4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.  5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly:  fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  7These are the ways you also once followed when you were living that life.  8But now you must get rid of all such things - anger wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.  9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.  11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

The New Testament has many ways of saying the same thing.  You will know the real thing, the real Christian from the counterfeit one, says Jesus, by their fruits.  ‘Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus,’ says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘you will know them by their fruits.’ (Matthew 7:16-20)

Roman Catholic Missionary Nun

The Apostle Paul is making the same point in our Epistle reading from Colossians 3.  There is something different about a person who is a Christian; or I should say, someone who is a real Christian.  There are many people who claim to be Christians, who claim to belong to this or that church, who claim to have been baptised or born again, who may even claim to belong to God’s special chosen people, the Orthodox Church, or to God’s special chosen ethnic group, who may even attend services more than just at Nativity and Pascha, who may even adorn the temple with large gifts.  But I think that you know it is possible to be all of these things and still be far from the Kingdom of God.  And that is because God has never been impressed (in the same way that we are) with outward marks of identity and grandiose religious gestures.  God is most concerned about what’s going on in your heart, and in mine.  

Unknown Missionary, People and Location

Christianity - the Gospel - is meant to resolve the much deeper, much more fundamental problem that each one of us is facing today.  The experience of everybody here this morning is characterised by brokenness.  All of us have left a trail of broken relationships and wounded people in our wakes.  And our relationships with God are broken, too.  Broken by our disregard of God’s love and God’s call, broken by our insistence on living on our terms rather than God’s,  broken by our pathological refusal to see God for who He is and to respond in worship and commitment and love.  But this is only one aspect of our problem. Because, you see, most of us also have character issues.  We know the good we should be doing, but too often we choose a different way.  Christ is our target, Christ is our goal, but we are missing the mark, and not by a little.  Our choices reveal our heart.  And the fruit we bear makes known the tree.

Missions Map with Pictures of Missionary Exploits and Details of Mission Needs

Our brokenness and our corruption would be enough to undo anyone, but on top of all that we all have a serious death problem  Paul calls death the final enemy.  And that is because death destroys everything it touches - our health, our lives, our relationships, our future, our hopes.  Even our bodies are destroyed by the overwhelming power of death.  Death will claim each one of us and we will be seen no more.

Missionary plane taking off from grass airstrip.

I think it is safe to say that most people are not aware of, or refuse to acknowledge, or simply will not open their eyes and see just how desperate our situation is.  We think that things will go on for us as they have in the past, and that our past will not catch up with us, and that the game of life is about self-fulfilment and getting what we want out of it, even if it is at the expense of other people.  We lull ourselves to spiritual sleep by thinking things are not as bad as they are.  And so we never hear the Gospel.  We never comprehend Christ.  We never see His cross.  We never fathom the empty tomb.  We never bow our necks and fall to our knees before His Lordship.  Instead we carry on with the ways that we have chosen, ways that lead us further and further from the love and mercy of God.  We choose to run from reality, to run from God until it is too late.  We spend our lives grasping for what we think we wanted.  Only to discover that a life without God at the centre is actually a very good definition of hell.

More intrepid missionary nuns

But I think that we here this morning are in a position to hear the good news of the Gospel.  Christ has come precisely because our relationships are broken.  Christ has come precisely because we are far from God and don’t know the way back home.  Christ has come precisely because we have squandered God’s image and what God has given us by our sin.  Christ has come precisely because we are doomed to die and to endure all of the destruction and separation that death entails.  You and I are desperately in need of a Saviour.  And Jesus has come to save us.  Jesus has come to reconcile us with God the Trinity and with one another.  Jesus has come to cleanse us from our wrong choices and to save us from our sin. Jesus has come to rescue us from the power of death and to raise us from the dead on the Last Day to be like Him in His Kingdom.  This is what is happening in the heart and in the life of a real Christian.  This is what a real Christian experiences.  And in response to this salvation that comes to us through the love and power of the Holy Trinity, our hearts are touched and transformed.  Our lives change.  Our lives bear good fruit.  Or as the Apostle Paul says, we put off the old life, the old way of living, the old way of thinking, the old way of being.  And instead we put on the New Man: we put on Christ. 

Collection box

When we respond to God’s grace, when we say ‘Yes!’ to Jesus, when we put on Christ, our lives change in so many ways.  We exchange our worldly perspective and begin to see ourselves and the people and the world around us as Christ sees.  We begin to prefer the good, the right, the beautiful, the just, the chaste and the lovely, instead of all the satanic counterfeits that flood our screens and contaminate our hearts.  We begin to want to pray. to want to spend time with God, to want to read His Word, to want to stand before the icons of His sanctuary and worship.  And we begin to understand that our life and our time and our possessions all belong to the Lord and not to us.  And as we have received so much, we see that the right response to God’s generosity, in fact the only response is for us to give back to God.  And so we begin to want to give, to give of our time, to give our wealth, to give our possessions.  Why else do you think God has given you all of these things, to pile up and stash away good for no one until you die?  No!  You are God’s steward and your things and your time are actually His, to be used as He directs.  You are God’s unique means by which He wants to bring His blessing to people and needs that only you can touch.

Missionary teacher

But to conclude, I want to draw your attention to one transformation in particular that Christ works in every heart that says ‘Yes’ to His gospel call.  This pearl of great value that we gladly sell everything to possess, this treasure of good news, of reconciliation, of salvation, of hope - we begin to look around and we notice that there are people right here around us who are still living in darkness, who have no idea that the light has come.  How will they ever know unless you tell them with your words, and show them by your compassion?  They suffer from the same spiritual sickness unto death that afflicted you.  And just as the Lord Jesus has reached out His hand to you and is in the process of saving you, so His hand is extended in love to them.  But it is not the priest’s responsibility to bring this good news to our family and neighbours.  This is not the bishop’s responsibility.  God calls us to let our lights so shine before the people around us, that they see our lives and good works and give glory to God.  God uses us to draw people to himself.  

Another collection box for missionaries

Now lift your eyes to the ends of the world for a moment and you will see not just individuals, but whole communities, and tribes, and nations who are without Christ and without hope in this world right now.  Again, how will these people come to hear about Jesus, how will they ever respond to a Gospel that they have never heard?  That’s why some of us feel so compelled by the love of God that we go to these places as missionaries. That’s why those Christians who are called by God to do other ministries back home will nevertheless also be compelled by the love of God to pray for  these missionaries and for the Churches they are establishing.  And that’s why those Christians and Churches back home will be compelled by the love of God to enable by their financial support these missionary ministries to take place.  Without the help of Christians here at home we missionaries could not do what God has called us to do.

So as we finish, as you respond to the Gospel call to put off the old man and to put on Christ instead, ask God to also give you His heart for the lost men and women and children in the lands beyond this great city and state and nation.  I know we missionaries in Kenya are really struggling and desperately need individuals and Churches who will come alongside us and be our partners in this great work we have, to establish the Church in the heart of Africa and train its leaders to take the work on from here.  Our work is not the only work that needs financial and prayer partners, so I ask you, pray to God and ask Him how He wants you to get involved, how He wants you to use your time, how He wants you to use your money and resources.  The Lord Jesus says that when we ask, it will be given to us; when we seek God we will find Him, when we knock, the door shall be opened (Luke 11:9).   Are you wasting your life for things that that will blow away with the dust in the end, or are you making your life count for the Kingdom of God, the one thing that will last forever? What kind of tree will you be?  What kind of fruit will you bear?

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