Clive played the following video/song at the end of his sermon. You can find the full transcript of his talk below the video link.
There is One God and One mediator between God and all people – Christ Jesus
Very briefly, the opening chapters of 1 Timothy are dealing with 2 things. The overemphasis of the Jewish law and the need for people to pray recognising that we have One mediator – Christ Jesus.
I once heard a joke about a man walking OVER a bridge when he noticed someone about to jump. So, he went up to him and gently said, “Don’t do it!” The person about to jump replied, “Nobody loves me. Why not” The man said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?” He said, “Yes, I was a Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “So am I! What denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” So is mine. Are you Conservative Baptist or Liberal Baptist?” He said, “I was a Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Is that Pre-millennial or post-millennial Conservative Baptist? He said neither, ‘We are Amillennial.” In that case you might as well jump, Bye.
Sadly, although I wasn’t standing on a bridge about to jump – I had a similar conversation with another Christian who told me that I couldn’t be a follower of Jesus because I was baptised the wrong way – according to him.
The problem with scripture is our interpretation of scripture – not scripture itself. One reason that it’s so important to read all of scripture is that we need to get the big picture of what’s being painted if we are to interpret scripture in the way that God intended. It’s clear that Jesus was often exasperated at the way in which scripture had been interpreted by the Pharisees and he explained to the people what God really meant. He was not afraid to challenge the status quo. The Pharisees laid burdens upon people that God never intended them to carry.
Unfortunately laying unnecessary burdens on people did not stop with the Pharisees. Every denomination in history has decided what dogmas their congregation must adhere to in order to be accepted into their inner circle.
Some groups may look freer than others but from the Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans to the house churches and community churches they all have rules to which to the congregation must abide if they are to be accepted. Of course, there are individuals and some congregations who break free of these constraints – but it’s risky to stand out from the crowd and possibly be ostracised.
In Northern Ireland children to this day invariably go to either Protestant or Catholic schools depending upon which church they ascribe to. And it doesn’t stop with the Christian world. An Indian priest came to know Christ in the house where I lived in Leeds who then received death threats from his family who ostracised him. When I was in Saudi Arabia outreach to Muslims was so secret that no-one was allowed to know who was involved or who became Christians, because of death threats.
It’s all about power and control – and in a far less dramatic way, but very insidious, many churches throughout history have controlled their congregation by overemphasising that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and that includes Roman Catholic to Protestant Evangelicals. Some groups have explicit teaching that we need to reach certain standards of personal conduct before we belong – sometimes it’s more subtle but the message is clear.
When Bernie and I got married in a Catholic church I wasn’t allowed to take communion and we were the reason for the gathering! I was so hurt. Amazingly the Catholic relatives had all accepted this Protestant Brit but the Roman Catholic Church sees me as being outside the one True church. And the local priest is the gateway to forgiveness through the sacraments.
Many years ago, a long serving member of our congregation openly criticised a teenage boy about the way he was dressed when he came to church. He simply stopped coming – I guess he didn’t feel accepted for who he was. That older person, who was supposedly ‘a pillar of our Church’, had a dress code that was more important than loving a teenager!
Jesus chose 12 men without any preconditions except to ‘follow him’. No demand to conform to any rules – just follow.
Ephesians 4 tells us that we are given apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists pastors for the building up of the Body – it’s no mistake that priests are not mentioned. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the High Priest, our One and only Mediator, and Peter tells us tells us that WE are a royal priesthood. A parish priest once told me that he was afraid of the risk of allowing more freedom in the services in case it got out of control.
For various reasons, some of which can sound so sensible, people like to have control and power over others. I recall a female MP talking about sexual harassment in the House of Commons and she said that it wasn’t about sex – it was all about power. And when that power results in abuse of others, those people think that they can get away with it because of their position. Our paternalistic society has allowed or even sanctioned male control over females. Shame on us men. In Galatians 3 Paul makes it abundantly clear that we are all equal and we should be desiring our loved ones to find liberty within marriage – to explore the creative gifts that lie within.
The Body of Christ MUST be different!
Sometimes ‘control’ can appear to have good motives – such as liking things to be orderly – which is a good objective, but how do we go about that without placing heavy burdens on others?
Often people in leadership don’t like the risk of ‘letting go of control’. In my own business I have learnt to have a very light hand on staff to whom I delegate responsibility. In the early days they are likely to make mistakes which, with my experience, I probably would not have made if I had kept a tighter rein on things – and it then costs me time and money to rectify matters – but how else do we learn? How did I learn if not by making mistakes? And the flip side to empowering others is that people bring a creativity to the business that I could not have imagined myself. We reap 30/60/100 fold when people are free to express the creative image of God that is within each and every one of us. We need to release people, regardless of whether they are followers of Christ, for they are all God’s children created in His image – He is their One and only Mediator as well. I am passionate about bringing liberty into peoples lives – to set people free from captivity.
Jesus announced his ministry when he quoted Isaiah 61:1 – he came to proclaim liberty to the captives and release prisoners from darkness. Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’.
So what is the key to liberty. As always we come back to the most vital understanding in scripture – that is ‘God loves you and me’. He is not out to get you. You are the one that he searched for when he left the 99 behind – as we sang earlier. All scripture must be interpreted through that lens. Some of you still interpret life, let alone scripture, through the lens of guilt and shame. Take those glasses off – it’s not easy but it’s possible with the help of God and friends.
I may get some minor detail wrong about this story but I recall Chris Carr telling us of the story of when Steve Chalke was interviewed and was asked about his interpretation of the tenth commandment ‘Thou shalt not covert’ Steve replied that he didn’t know that verse, whereupon the interviewer became frustrated and replied that he obviously did know it. Steve then said that he now remembered the verse but didn’t recognise it because of the emphasis that the interviewer put on it. He said Oh yes, I know the verse, but I had always read it as a promise of that coming to fullness as we followed God, rather than a stick to beat you with. It sounded so different when you read it out.
Christ Jesus came to show you the way back to God by being in Him – a branch of the Vine.
When Paul refers to Christ Jesus, he is referring to the man Jesus who in his resurrection is the person of Christ – the One who is from the beginning who was there at Creation with the Father and the Spirit. He is the Word. Christ is not Jesus’s family name as my name is Weir. The followers of Jesus never grasped that he was the Christ until after the resurrection. As John later wrote in the gospel – ‘The Word became human and made his home among us.’ God accommodated himself in the form of a male human being who lived, died and then rose again as the Christ who was from the beginning. Jesus Christ is a portrait of God continuing to reveal Himself in the world, where humanity has never been separated from Him – except by its own negative choice. The Creators presence is all around us and in everyone we meet since everyone is created in His image. If we truly understood this then there would never have been slavery or oppression of any kind.
So what does it mean to be ‘in Christ’. If we are to take the letters of John seriously then he says that we are ‘in Christ and we do not sin’. Some of you may say to yourself that this statement of John’s sounds ridiculous, and the reason for your reaction is that you have substituted the word ‘sin’ for ‘wrongdoing’ in your mind. We will forever have wrong thoughts and do things that fall below our own standards, let alone live up to the life of Jesus, but John is not talking about our wrongdoing.
Many years ago, a Latin scholar explained to me that the passage, ‘Be Holy as God is Holy’ does not mean be ‘perfect’ or without fault but a better translation would be ‘be complete’ as God is complete. When we are in Christ, we are complete. Jesus Christ is the sacrifice that atones for our sins AND the sins of the whole creation – that means that He has made us one with God. Now don’t rush over that statement – He has made us One with God.
There is no condemnation for those who follow Jesus Christ. We are hidden in him. He came to set us free. Do not let the things of life bind you and constrain you in guilt and shame.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty – in fact I would go so far as to say that wherever you find a controlling environment which seeks to make you conform to the party line then the environment is rooted in darkness – whether that is a controlling partner or legalistic organisations, which would seek to place heavy burdens upon you and generate guilty feelings, suggesting that you are not worthy – not good enough. And, just to be clear, I am not referring to loving teaching which sets boundaries for people who do not have the capacity to make decisions for themselves, such as children or vulnerable adults.
The Father never draws us by placing guilty feelings on us but rather leaves the 99 sheep to find the one who is lost.
He finds us and places us in his arms and tells us we are loved. All this ‘miserable sinner’ stuff that many churches dole out is a form of control. It keeps you in your place, bowed down and needing the forgiveness given out by the priest in the form of sacraments. Jesus came to set you free, to live life more abundantly – to get a true picture of the Father who has never stopped loving you. You are the only one who can put distance between you and God and even that is imaginary because he is always there beside you with arms stretched out to you and me.
Jesus, Paul and John all make it abundantly clear that there is only one fundamental rule in life – love God and love one another and that includes loving yourself. But how do we walk free to love ourselves if we are forever thinking, I am a miserable sinner. Will I make it to next Sunday when I can be forgiven again?
And if you cannot love yourself then how can you possibly love others – indeed how do you love God. Of course, you can work hard at it but it’s exhausting – I did it for years – trying to do the right things – but it was exhausting because I thought that the bottom line was that God was going to get me. In my mind he had a big stick and when I tripped up he would punish me. Oh, the freedom to realise that he loves me and wants me to find freedom – that springs from the image of God within us. Jesus has come to release you from darkness. He is the Christ and in him you are forgiven, you are free from condemnation, free from sin, hidden in Christ, free to receive the love of God which enables you to love yourself, love one another and love God. Oh what joy!!!
If you wish to change the lens in your glasses today I am going to ask you to raise your hand or stand whilst we all close our eyes for a few moments.
If you did raise a hand then I would suggest that you ask a close friend to pray for you and mark this moment. It’s important.