As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Called to be Holy, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 15 June, 2014. The Reading was Matthew 28:16-20.
Have you ever felt that you were too small to really make a difference? Thinking, “this town is too big for me to make a difference” or “how can I make a difference in this world that is so large” or “why would anyone listen to me?”
One of my best friends is absolutely incredible. She’s lived an incredible life – which is another talk in itself – and has been through all sorts of things in that time as well. In 2009, Daena committed to completing one random act of kindness each day, until her 25th birthday. She opened it up so that others could submit their acts of kindness as well, in the hope of getting 1000 acts of kindness by her birthday. Since then, she’s committed to completing a random act of kindness every day, and has done so – apart from a recent 3 month hiatus due to significant family issues – up until this date. On her blog, she says that she is “just an ordinary person looking to make a difference to the world, one small act of kindness at a time.”
I’m reminded of a story from the bible, where 5000 men, with women and children on top of that, were gathered, listening to Jesus teaching. With the crowd being hungry, Jesus poses the question to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip answered saying that “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Then Andrew pipes up, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves, and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”
Called to be holy
Today is Trinity Sunday, and while an important day in the life of the Church, it’s one that generally gets missed by many ministers because, in reality, the trinity is a bit hard to explain. The idea of one God in three persons is difficult to explain. All the metaphors we come up with – such as ice, water and steam, or a mars bar – without the caramel it’s a milky way, without the nougat it’s just a caramello, and without the chocolate it’s just a mess – all come short in describing the trinity as it is three separate persons, but they all exist as one, undivided in essence and co-equal in power and glory.
But while the idea of the trinity is difficult to explain, its meaning for us is clear. The trinity, our one God in three is the combination of the holiness of each member of the trinity. Ambrose of Milan, the fourth century bishop of Milan said “So, then, the Father is Holy, the Son is Holy, and the Spirit is holy, but they are not three Holies; for there is one Holy God, one Lord. For the true holiness is one, as the true Godhead is one, as that true holiness belonging to the Divine Nature is one.”
And just as the Lord is holy, so we are called to be holy. In the first letter of Peter, he writes “instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You hall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15). This is worked out in some detail by Paul in his letter to the Philippians:
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.
Now this passage basically calls us to the kind of holiness that we see in each person of the Trinity. Because of the “encouragement in Christ, the consolation from love and sharing in the spirit” we are to have the same mind, same love, be in full accord, be humble, looking to the interests of others, just as Christ did. Similarly, as we have the “same mind as Christ” we are to humble ourselves as he did, not regarding equality with God something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being obedient [to the father] even unto death.
This is holiness – to grow closer and closer to God each day, so that we ourselves are made more and more like God every day.
We can be holy in our every day lives
The passage we heard today has a few different ways of being translated. While there sounds like there are two commands, Go, and Make disciples, the word which we translate as Go actually has a different meaning. There is some Greek grammar which means that we translate it the way we do, but if you were to take the word itself, it would translate, roughly, as “as you are going”. One way that I’ve heard this passage paraphrased is “make disciples as you are going about your daily business.”
This idea of making disciples as you go about your daily business may not be grammatically correct, but it certainly holds some sway in the way that I see evangelism in today’s society. Gone are the days of big rally’s, of open airs and handing out tracts in the street. These days, the way that we see the most evangelism is through relationships. It’s through interacting with people in our mundane, boring, everyday lives, and being different from the other mundane, boring, everyday people that we come into contact with. When we live our lives with the holiness that God calls us to, people see the difference in us, and ask questions as to where they can get some of that. It opens up conversations and opportunities to welcome people into the body of Christ.
The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory has, for some years now, had four mission intentions. Can anyone name them?
- Transforming Lives
- Caring for People
- Making Disciples
- Reforming Society
We’re currently going through the preparation for our Corps Review, and we have to answer questions based on how we’re meeting the four mission intentions. Most programs are able to meet the first three, but often struggle with the last one – Reforming Society. They get into the thoughts that I shared at the beginning – how can I make a difference to society when my program is so small? The reality is though that we all have the possibility to reform society. Through becoming more and more like God, that informs our actions and choices. We can choose to do things, buy things, and act in a way that does affect not only the small part of society which we are around, but also can go towards reforming society world-wide.
The great modern philosopher, G.T. Grey once said, “Some believe that it is only Great Power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I’ve found. I found it is the small things. Every day deeds by ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay.” And in that great theological film, Evan Almighty, when God asks Evan “How do we change the world?” he replies, “One single act of random kindness at a time.” And finally, one of my most influential Christian leaders, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
When we choose to be kind to those around us, instead of harsh, we reform our society. When we stand up for someone who has no voice, we reform our society. When we choose Fair trade tea or coffee, or chocolate, we reform our society. When we give what we have to help someone else – through our own actions or through an aid agency, we reform society. When we take a stand and say no, we will not allow our politicians to demonise the vulnerable, the homeless, the poor, the refugees, we reform society. When we refuse to use harsh language, and instead use our words to build up and not tear down, we reform society.
Go and Transform society
So go, reform the society that is around you. How do we do that? By becoming more and more like God. By reading scriptures, and praying, and hearing his word. By living in the way that Christ wants us to live. And by using the gifts, the services and the activities that the Holy Spirit has activated in us. And through living in the holiness of the trinity, we will transform our world.