Monday, July 23, 2018

Sermon preached at St Augustine's Villiersdorp

I had the honour of celebrating the Eucharist at St Augustine's Villiersdorp this past is a copy of the sermon I preached.

2 Samuel 7:1-14a    Psalm 89:20-37    Ephesians 2:11-22    Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Building God’s House

I love reading the Old Testament…because it helps me understand the New Testament so much better! So much of understanding the New Testament is dependent on our understanding the Old Testament.

Take our reading for this Sunday as an example. Here the great king David announced his intention to build a house for God to the prophet Nathan. The prophet thought it was a good idea and gave the king the thumbs up. But that night, the Lord revealed to Nathan that this was not to be…in fact, rather than have the king build God a house, God was going to build the king a house…an eternal dynasty of kings! And one of these kings would build God a house…

Now, of course, we all know that it was the great king Solomon who built a house for God…a Temple so marvellous that people came from all around just to look at it.

But, like with so much of the Old Testament, there is something greater here than what first meets the eye. God had an even greater kingdom in mind…a spiritual kingdom that would encompass the globe in its entirety, whose King would be His very own Son. A Son who would also be a descendent of David.

We see the same double application in our Psalm for today, Psalm 89. At first glance it seems clear that the psalmist was talking about king David…which, of course, he was…but once we know the bigger fulfilment of this prophetic word, we realise that the “first-born Son” destined to be the “mightiest king on earth” would be greater than David.

The genealogy in Matthew testifies to the fact that the royal line of David ended with Jesus…after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, all the genealogical records of the Jews were destroyed. Since then, no one can claim to be a descendent of David with any degree of certainty. So Matthew presented Jesus as the fulfilment of the covenant promises God made with David. His is the kingdom that will continue before God for all time…His royal throne is the one that is secure for ever…and He is the Son who would build and, indeed, is building the house of God…but unlike Solomon and the ecclesiastical and political leaders of His time, Jesus is building this house with living stones.

And to this day Jesus is still building this house…but He is using us, His Body, His Church, to build it. So, in a sense, Jesus is building the house of God by working with and in and through the living blocks of the house.

Now, we see the beginnings of this house in the Gospels. While the ecclesiastical elite of the day were to be found in the synagogues and in the Temple, Jesus was found walking in the fields, on the lake shore, in the market places, in the towns and villages…you would find Him wherever the people were. You see, the synagogues and the Temple had entrance restrictions…no lepers, no prostitutes, no tax collectors, no sick folks, no sinners, no foreigners (especially not Samaritans!)…but the house Jesus was building was to be open to all.

And the reason for this is quite simple…this house was built on compassion…mercy, grace, love, forgiveness…

When Jesus looked at people, He did not first look to see if they measured up to His standard…in fact He knew that no one measured up to His standard! What Jesus saw when He looked at people were sheep in desperate need of a shepherd.

You see, Jesus came to break down dividing walls…the walls of hostility…walls that kept people out of the house of God…walls that created two exclusive subsets out of the one human family: insiders and outsiders.

In fact, the house that Jesus is building is one that exists for those outside. The Church is the only organisation in the world that exists for those who are not members.

As far as Jesus is concerned there are no such things as divisions in His house…no Jew nor Gentile, no male nor female, no slave nor free…there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.

Is it not tragic then that we, who claim to be followers of Jesus, are all too inclined to do the exact opposite…to create divisions, to build walls, to keep outsiders out and insiders in, to feed fear, distrust, prejudice, and general hostility that separates individuals, communities, and even nations. Rather than imitating the one who came to bring peace and unity between us and God and between other people and us, we imitate the ones who oppose Him and His kingdom. The self righteous, the proud, the arrogant…those who esteem others less than themselves…those who – to use Pam’s story of the village divided by a river – break and smash bridges rather than build them.  

Sometimes these divisions are serious and quite obvious. Divisions based on ethnicity, or on language, or on socio-economic differences. But more often than not, these divisions are more subtle…

The great apologist, Lesslie Newbigin once said that spiritual renewal will only happen when “local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument and foretaste of God's redeeming grace for the whole life of society." Think about that for a while…chew on that for a moment. (REPEAT).

If we want spiritual renewal in our church…our community…our village…our country…we really need to stop engaging in navel gazing. Why are we here? Why do we exist as a church? How are we like the one we call Lord and Saviour?

Our Lord’s final command to His followers was rather simple.

Be a community that creates followers of Me. Tell other people about Me. Live your life in such a way so that those who don’t know Me will see Me in you.

We call this command the Great Commission. Wherever you go in the world, make disciples of every people group, make them part of My house, train them so that they will obediently live out the Christian life, and never lose sight of the fact that I am right there to help you do this.

Most believers know these verses found in all four Gospels and in the opening chapter of the book of Acts. Some have even memorised them. Others have discussed them in committees and sub-committees and sub-sub-committees…and have pondered on what it might look like should we ever actually do what Jesus commanded us to do. We love to talk about evangelism…we love to talk about making disciples…and we love to find the many reasons why we are not able to engage in either one of those activities…

Think on this: If I said to my sons when they were little, “Go clean your room”…I did not expect them to return after a while and say, “Dad, we memorised what you said to us. You said, “Go clean your room.” We can even say it in Greek and in Hebrew. And we have also invited a group of our friends around so that we can discuss what it would look like if we actually did clean our room.” (Thanks Francis Chan!)

No! They wouldn’t do that because they knew better than that. They knew that they ought to do what they had been told to do. So why is it so different then when Jesus tells us to do something?

Jesus said, if we truly love Him, we would obey His commands. Why do we call Him Lord if we do not do what He tells us to do? Why do we say we follow Him when in actual fact we do not walk as He walked…we do not imitate Him…we do not follow His example?

Dearest beloved brethren, why are we here? Why are we here in Villiersdorp? Do we, as a church of Jesus Christ, exist only for ourselves? Are these gorgeous stone walls here to keep others out? Or are we perhaps here to bring them in? Now there’s a novel thought…are we here to break down the very obvious divisions here in Villiersdorp? Are we here to make a dent in the wall of blatant polarisation?

Are we here to build God’s house or our own? May the Lord grant us the wisdom and the humility to answer that question honestly.

Johannes van der Bijl © 2018-07-17

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