The Crazy Things People Do For Love

Preached at St. Mary’s, Chesterton
14th June 2015: 2nd Sunday after Trinity
2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34

Not my words, Lord, but yours. Send your Holy Spirit that we may hear the words I speak not as a human word, but as your word addressed to us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Love will make people do crazy things. A few years ago Cosmopolitan asked men to name some of the crazy things they had done in order to impress a woman. The list included taking a woman to IKEA so she could buy tea lights, donning lycra and joining her yoga class, or simply giving her the remote control for the TV. Yet the craziest thing, this survey said, that men would do to woo a woman was to become a vegetarian or date a vegetarian (which, in many ways amounts to the same thing).

Love will oftentimes lead us to do things, which, at any other time, would seem completely and utterly ludicrous. A couple of years ago, my wife and I watched a French film called Hor de Prix (or its English title, Priceless). (I must confess, it was her choice; but in hindsight I thoroughly enjoyed it!) The basic plot is that through a set of unlikely circumstances, a wealthy gold-digger named Irene, mistakenly woos Jean, the softly spoken, mild-mannered bartender at a classy hotel, believing him to be a well-heeled guest, only for him to fall head-over-heels in love with her.

As Jean pursues Irene, she takes him for everything he’s got (which isn’t that much). She insists on eating at the most expensive restaurants, buying the finest designer clothes, and staying in the most exclusive hotels. Desperate to keep pursuing Irene, Jean makes a series of increasingly frenetic phone calls to his banker telling him to empty his savings, withdraw his pension, sell his shares, and put everything into his account in order to fuel her every wish and whim. Finally, when he’s reduced to his last Euro, he gives it to Irene in exchange for just ten seconds more of her company.

As a viewer watching it, when you’re not laughing, you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “No! Don’t do it! She’s not worth it! Stop throwing your money away!” Watching him throw good money after bad is like watching a train wreck in slow motion. And all the while, you can’t help asking yourself, “What on earth would possess him to do that? He must be mad! Can’t he see that she’s using him?” Surely, only love could compel someone to do something so stupid. Only love.

Which leads us to the words of the apostle Paul that we heard earlier, explaining the motivation for his ministry—a ministry, let me remind you, for which he says later in this letter (2 Cor. 11:24-27) he received the forty lashes minus one on five separate occasions; a ministry for which he was beaten with rods three times, stoned once, and shipwrecked three times; a ministry for which he was constantly on the move and constantly in danger; a ministry for which he endured countless sleepless nights, hunger and exposure.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15)

Why did Paul do what he did? Why did he turn his back on the security of his very successful life in Judaism to become the public face of a group despised by Jews and Gentiles alike? Why did he suffer all the hardships that he describes for the sake of the gospel? Because Christ’s love compelled him. It was as simple, and as difficult, as that. Having begun to know and to experience the love of Christ for us, expressed by his death on our behalf, Paul concluded that he was left with no real option but to give everything in return.

Those who knew him, might well have been tempted to cry out, as I did watching Jean, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t throw away your life following a crucified Lord! It won’t end well!” But he did it anyway. Why? Because Christ’s love compelled him. Paul says in Philippians 3:8 that for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord, he counted everything as loss. Nothing could ever compare. In order to gain Christ, he gave up everything. Everything. All his hope, all his trust, all his security in life was staked on Jesus. If this was a poker game, you’d say he had gone all-in.

Why would Paul, why would any of us, renounce those things we think give us confidence and safety for a life of uncertainty and vulnerability? Only if Christ’s love compels us. The Greek word Paul uses here (συνέχω) is so wonderfully illustrative. It means to hold together, constrain or compress; to surround, hem in, encircle or besiege; to control, seize, guard or hold prisoner; to afflict, consume, urge or impel. In short, what Paul means to say is that he has been gripped so strongly by the love of Christ that he simply cannot escape it exerting its influence over him. Christ’s love surrounds him on every side. It holds him prisoner. It afflicts him like a disease.

How was Paul so absorbed by Christ’s love? Because he was “convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” Paul was confronted by the man on the cross and could come to no other conclusion that He who died there, died there for us all—in our place, as our representative, bearing our sin before God. In Him, God had said a clear-cut and categorical “No!” to our self-centred living, while saying a loud and loving “Yes!” to us. Paul saw that Jesus died and was raised for our sake; so that in Him we might live the life us humans were made to live, the life Jesus embodies—life in the presence of God, life as the children of God, life in the glory of God.

It is the conviction of Christ’s love for all, supremely revealed in His death on the cross, which compels us to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to living for Christ. A few weeks ago there was a story in the press about a 29-year-old woman called Theodora Hawksley, who is part of an increasing number of women (particularly young women) entering life in a religious order. Asked how she ended up in the convent, she explained: “It wasn’t a decision that I made so much as one that was made in me that I discovered. It’s like any other relationship,” she said, “in that you suddenly realise you’ve rearranged your life around someone else, that you’ve encountered this life-shaping love.”

Why would an attractive, intelligent 29-year-old woman with her whole life ahead of her give it all up to become a nun? Because Christ’s love compelled her. Having been met by Christ’s great love for her, that love became the controlling influence over her life. And it wasn’t a burden; it was a joy. She wasn’t focussed on what she was giving up. She was focussed on what she had found in Christ—a love stronger than death.

But we don’t have to be nuns to live ‘all-in’ for Jesus. We do that in our everyday lives—as husbands, wives, parents, grandparents, friends, workers etc.—simply by letting Christ’s love be the controlling influence in our lives. In whatever it is we’re doing and in whatever role we find ourselves, we let Christ’s love set our agenda: transforming our thinking, shaping our speaking, empowering our efforts. For when Christ’s love compels us, we will offer a compelling testimony to Christ’s love for all.

So then, what is the controlling influence in your life? What is pulling the strings? Are you committed to living for Him who for your sake died and was raised? Are you convinced that He died you, and have you accepted and agreed to His representation? Are you compelled by His love, knowing that it was His love that drove Him to the cross that you might share His risen life? Do you know, have you experienced for yourself, what it means to be compelled by Christ’s love?

In a few moments’ time, the Lord will invite us to His Table. He’ll offer us bread, and say: “Take, eat; this is my body—the body you broke, but which I freely gave for you.” He’ll offer us a cup, and say: “Drink from it, all of you; this is my blood—the blood you shed, but which I freely poured out for you.” So as you come with empty hands, look at those signs of bread and wine that speak of His sacrifice, and see what crazy things God will do for love.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Eucharist

Come, all you sinners, come,
The table is prepared,
Draw near with faith to God and see
Our fellowship repaired:
The feast is ready now,
All things in Christ are done;
The Lamb of God is slain for you:
A taste of heav’n begun.

To this your table, Lord,
We don’t presume to come
Unless you call, worthy are we
Of not the smallest crumb;
Except by grace alone,
Your love compels us in;
Our hands unclean, our hearts unfit,
We stand outside in sin.

See how great is His love,
This broken bread declares,
And wine outpoured shows plain to all
How much He for us cares;
Here is His broken flesh,
Here is His crimson blood:
He bids us eat and take the cup
To feast upon our God.

Christ is the Bread of Life,
Our hungers all He sates,
And we, made one with Him, shall be
The bread the world awaits:
For we shall broken be,
And given out to all:
For we, the Body of our Lord,
Shall still on sinners call.

Christ is the world’s True Vine,
Of life He is the cup;
And we, with thankful hearts may know
In Him, on God we sup:
O fill us to the brim,
That we whom You have filled
Be instruments of love by which
The Kingdom here You build.

So we will be made new,
Cleansed of our nat’ral yeast
Through Christ, the paschal sacrifice,
By Christ, Himself the Priest:
On Him by faith we feed,
His Body here we see:
We keep the feast of freedom won,
For Host and Meal is He.

Tune: Diademata

A Song for the Spirit

Come, O come, Creator Spirit,
You who hovered as a dove,
Brooding over the formless deep,
Warming unborn Earth with love;
Move once more in power o’er us,
Speed the Word upon your wing;
Let us hear that Word addressing
Us, to make a brand new thing.

Come, O come, inspiring Spirit,
You who set the bush ablaze,
Burning fierce, yet unconsuming,
Drawing the lost shepherd’s gaze;
From the fire a voice proclaiming:
“I have heard My people’s cry;
I AM with you in your speaking,
I, the words, you will supply.”

Come, O come, You fiery Spirit,
You who set the Mount alight;
From its height, Your Voice commanding
Ransomed folk of Your delight;
Speak again, and let us tremble
At the sound of love divine;
Standing small with awe before You,
To Your Word, our hearts incline.

Come, O come, life-breathing Spirit,
You who hosts from bones can raise;
Speak Your Word of life among us,
Form a people for Your praise!
Let us look at all around us
Hopeful of your quick’ning pow’r;
Mighty wind, come rushing through us,
And in love, this world devour!

Come, O come, conceiving Spirit
You who fell in Galilee,
Virgin’s womb with God-head swelling,
Worker of the mystery!
Fall on us, Your pow’r come o’er us,
Plant in us the life of God;
Christ in us, the hope of glory:
Let us bear His love abroad.

Come, O come, empow’ring Spirit,
You who named Jesus the Son;
You who Christ, our King, anointed
To declare the battle won;
Send on us the self-same Spirit,
Spirit of adoption cry:
“Abba! Father!” in our praying,
Tell us our identity.

Come, O come, victorious Spirit,
You who raised Christ from the dead;
Give us life, both now and ever
Till we at the last are wed;
Fill us, guide us, change us, lead us,
Fruit of hallowed beauty grow:
Love, joy, peace and patient kindness,
Bounty, truth, meek self-control.

Come, O come, explosive Spirit,
You who filled the Upper Room;
Blowing as a storm from heaven
Swirling with a flaming plume;
Fall on us, O tongues of fire,
We await Your Pow’r on high;
Give us words of newfound boldness,
Speak from this new Sinai!

Come, O come, revealing Spirit,
You who points us to the Son;
Draw us deeper in communion
With the God-head, now begun;
Pierce the clouds that hide Your presence,
Hidden sin, give grace to show;
Strike this heart of hardened granite,
Let the living waters flow!

Come, O come, mysterious Spirit,
You who blow where’er You will;
Be pleased to dwell within Your Church,
Conveying Christ to sinners still;
Birth us in baptismal waters,
Meet us in the bread and wine,
Call us in the Word proclaimed
To the fellowship divine!

Tune: Blaenwern

Christ is Lord, Get With The Programme!

In light of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, these seven words are the essence of the gospel, the foundation of all faithful Christian kerygma. In this strange in-between time, after Ascension and before Pentecost, we know that Christ is Lord, for He has been raised from the dead and is seated at God’s right hand as the One in whom God’s omnipotence is wholly invested; however, we await the promised Holy Spirit to clothe us with power from on high so that we might proclaim this reality and call those who don’t yet know or haven’t yet heard to get with the programme.

That such a bold, brash and abrasive message should be considered Good News may come as a surprise to many. After all, to put it like that doesn’t make it obvious why it’s Good News for us, does it? It’s not an attractive sales pitch. No, the fact is we’d expect (and much prefer) someone to tell us the twelve reasons Jesus can make my life better. And yet, the Ascension doesn’t allow us to make such a fundamentally self-centred presentation of the gospel. Of course the gospel is Good News for us, but it is Good News precisely because it reveals a salvation that is fundamentally Godward, realised in God ultimately getting what God wants.

Look at the proclamation of the apostles after Pentecost. Their concern isn’t with apologetics; but with clearly setting before people the nature of reality as it has been disclosed at Easter: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36) The basis of our talk about Christ isn’t, therefore, concerned primarily with His usefulness for us; but rather, it is a simple statement of fact: like it or not, Jesus Christ is Lord, and whether we acknowledge it or not, we now live in light of that divinely constituted reality.

Will Willimon, in his refreshingly blunt but deliberate manner, summarises the content of our announcement thus: “God has won a great victory. The bloody, crucified Lamb rules. Join up, or else stay stupidly out of step.” The premise of our preaching isn’t that Easter is good for us, though it is. Instead, the premise of our preaching is that Easter is a fact and therefore we need to sit up and pay attention. The God-man we thought we’d killed off on Good Friday is alive. The Word we thought we’d silenced at the Cross won’t be shut up. The poor, itinerant Jewish Rabbi from the backwaters of Galilee whom we crucified is Lord.

And yet, that is exactly why this message is Good News. Christ, the crucified God—He is Lord. He is Lord, who assumes human flesh on our behalf. He is Lord, who came down from heaven for us and for our salvation. He is Lord, who bore the judgement of God in our stead and rose that we might participate in His risen life. This Christ is Lord. That’s why it’s Good News. So, what are you waiting for? Get with the programme!

A Hymn For Easter Day

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
All you hosts of saints, reply:
He is risen! Alleluia!
Living now, no more to die.
Death is swallowed up in vict’ry,
Beaten is the final en’my:
Jesus Christ shall rule on high!

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
This our hope against the foe;
Christ is Victor! Love has conquered!
Let the earth His kingdom show.
O Death, we see your empty hand,
On this ground we shall take our stand:
Christ is Lord! And let all know!

Tune: W Zlobie Lezy

One Thing

One thing I ask, and this I seek with all my heart:
That I may dwell within Your house, O Lord,
That I may stay within its walls forever,
And there Your praise shall be my only word;
For I have seen Your beauty and Your majesty
Revealed to all in breath-taking display:
How Your dear Son, in fullness of humanity,
Humbled Himself, to die for me that day.

One thing I need, on Him henceforth to stay my eyes,
And on His cross, to ever fix my gaze;
To hang on Him, who hanged for me so freely,
O, I could stare in wonder all my days!
Behold, I’ve seen the glory of the Lord, and live:
Those five rich wounds, which speak of liberty!
No eye has seen, no mind has known the sorrow,
Or beauty like a thief upon a tree.

One thing I know, and it is all I need to know:
The power and wisdom of my God to save;
And this by what to human eyes is foolishness:
The sinless God, His life for sinners gave.
I can but guess what love it was possessed Him
To trade His throne in glory for a cross;
But this I trust, and of it I’m persuaded:
To know such Love, I gladly count all loss.

One thing I lack, and daily shall I seek it:
The love that empties all it has to give;
I want to know and share in Jesus’ sufferings,
And so somehow, begin His life to live;
Give me that love, so inexpressibly divine;
Give me that love, so my self-love may cease;
Give me that love, He showed for me on Calvary:
I gave Him death, He gives me life and peace.

Tune: Londonderry Air

There Must Be More

Preached at Holy Trinity, Claygate
15th March 2015: LttF Mission Week
John 10:1-10

All this week, we’ve been thinking about what it means to live life to the full. And you might be sitting there thinking to yourselves, “I know about life to the full, I live in Claygate! I have a large comfortable house with five bedrooms, three bathrooms and two kitchens (just to keep up with Ed Miliband). I have two German cars on the driveway, and a triple garage to keep them in.” And yet, at some point or other, I bet we can probably all remember saying, “There must be more to life than this.” Instinctively, I think we know that there’s more to life than most of us have yet experienced, even in Claygate. And there is. We just don’t know where to find it. That is, until we meet Jesus.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Starbucks say their mission is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Now that’s a pretty remarkable claim for a cup of ground coffee beans and hot water in a green paper cup. But Jesus’s claim goes far beyond that. Jesus’s says His mission is no less than to give us life in all its glorious fullness. A prominent Christian in the second century explained it saying that in Jesus, God became what we are in order to make us what He is. In other words, the whole point of Jesus’s coming among us—His life, His teachings, His death and His resurrection—was to give us life, His life, life to the full.

It’s an incredible assertion, and one which we all need to decide what we’re going to do with. And so, this morning, I just want to draw out three things from Jesus’s words about the life He offers:

  1. The life Jesus offers is the only life that can truly satisfy;
  2. The life Jesus offers is life in relationship with Him;
  3. The life Jesus offers is a life that looks like His own.
  1. The life Jesus offers is the only life that can truly satisfy

Jesus warns us in no uncertain terms: there are thieves out there. There are all kinds of things which seem to promise abundant life, but which ultimately leave us disappointed. Growing up, through school and even into university, I poured all my energies into achieving academic success. I sought to gain a sense of identity and self-worth through being top of the class. Generally speaking, I was pretty good at it. But that so-called ‘success’ left me feeling empty. Getting straight ‘A’s may sound great, but it didn’t truly satisfy. Instead, I measured my value by the last grade I received and I lived in the constant fear of failure.

There’s a wonderful scene in the film Cool Runnings, when Derice (the sprinter turned bobsled driver) is sitting in his hotel room asking his coach Irv Blitzer why he cheated when he was racing. He says: “It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?” “No,” says Derice, “I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.” And very candidly, Irv replies, “Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”

If God made us for Himself, then nothing but God can satisfy us. Not good grades. Not money. Not power. Not sex. Not anything. Only Him. Those other things aren’t bad in themselves, but when we make them the thing in our lives, they simply can’t bear the weight we put on them. Instead of giving us life, they rob us of life. Many times, in fact, achieving those goals only will disappoint us more because we afterwards we realise that they could never actually give us what were after, and hoped they would. Eventually, they end up destroying us. We want life to the full; but we look for it in all the wrong places.

  1. The life Jesus offers is life in relationship with Him

The life we’re looking for is a life that comes from knowing Jesus. Later on in John’s Gospel Jesus says, “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Until we know Jesus, we might be breathing; but we don’t have the life God made us for. And if Jesus says that He came to give us life, then the implication is that without Him we’re dead. Think about it. Do you usually give someone something that they already have? No, of course you don’t. Jesus didn’t come to make good people slightly better; He came to make dead people alive. Jesus came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He came to give us the life we were made for, but have never yet lived.

Life to the full is not something we can get for ourselves. It’s a gift. If we could go out and get it for ourselves, we’d have no need of Jesus, or the life He offers. But we can’t. That’s the point. And so we must open ourselves to receive with empty hands the gift that Jesus gives us (just as we will around this table in a moment). And it stands to reason that if life to the full is something only Jesus can give, then life to the full means life lived with Jesus. It means entrusting ourselves to Him as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for sheep like, and as our Gateway into God through whom we go in and out and find rich pasture. Such a life is marked by knowing God and having an intimate relationship with Him, enabled by what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and overflowing with a deep sense of gratitude.

  1. The life Jesus offers is a life that looks like His own

If you want to know what life to the full looks like, it looks like Jesus. Jesus’s offer to us is to make us as alive as He is, alive to God and brimming with all the life and energy of God. Jesus doesn’t just want to give us a pulse; He wants to synchronise our hearts with the rhythm of God’s own. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we’re told that no one has ever seen God, but Jesus, who is close to the Father’s heart, has made Him known (John 1:18). It’s the image of a child held on the parent’s chest. Jesus, John says, listens in to what makes God tick like no one else. Their hearts beat in perfect unison.

And yet, John says, “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Through the gift of His Spirit, Jesus offers to give us the kind of life He has; to make us children in God’s family. Jesus didn’t come merely to shock us into life with the defibrillator, but to fit us with a kind of pacemaker through His Spirit. The gift of God in Jesus is the opportunity to recover our identity as the beloved children of a loving Heavenly Father, whose hearts, like Jesus’s own may beat in time with His—in harmony with His love, His mercy, His justice, His beauty and His truth.

Betty knew about that. So did Jim. When Betty moved into a nursing home in her 80s, she saw the lifelessness of the place, especially around mealtimes, and made it her mission to inject life and joy into her conversations. Similarly, Jim was a retired vicar. He was very active in his day, but again moved into a nursing home and was increasingly frail. Yet when I visited, he insisted on being kept up to date with events in the church because while he couldn’t help physically or even attend as regularly as he wanted to, he knew he could pray. Both Betty and Jim knew God and they knew they had a God-given calling in Jesus to live like Jesus in the world. But do we?

Many  will, I’m sure, have been coming to church for years. But perhaps all this time you’ve never actually accepted that offer to know God for yourself, and to be drawn into the life of Jesus. Maybe you’re unsure whether you have or not. If that’s you, please can I encourage you to say ‘Yes’ to Jesus’s offer. Jesus came so that we might have life to the full. Do we have it? If we don’t it’s not because Jesus isn’t offering it. It’s because we haven’t yet opened our hands to receive it.

As long as we think we’re already alive, we’ll never commit to embarking on the arduous uncertainties involved in following Jesus. But, once we realise that there really isn’t any life worth the name apart from Jesus, we’ll grab hold of Him with both hands and not let Him go until He gives us that life through His Spirit and we make it fully our own. So let me ask you this very simple question: are you yet alive? Jesus came to give us life. Have you got it? Have you got Him? “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.