Has anyone here ever sculpted anything? Started off with a block of something and made it into something else? You may have heard of the quote falsely attributed to Michelangelo, who apparently said about his statue of David, that he started with a block of marble, and just chipped away anything that didn’t look like David. It’s that simple! You just chip away anything that doesn’t look the way that you wanted it to look.
You may remember a while ago, Liesl got me to bring in something that I had made –
Pretty powerful isn’t it? I want you to say with me right now, “I am God’s original masterpiece.”
Say it to the person next to you – “You are God’s original masterpiece.”
Now put your name in there – “<Ben> is God’s original masterpiece.”
Do you believe it? Because you know, it’s true. What Tommy was saying through the video is true, we come up with all these excuses in our lives. We put up all these barriers. We hold onto things that we shouldn’t. We explain away sins in our lives, only so that we can keep doing what feels nice at the time. And what is sin? Sin is anything in our lives that prevents us from looking like God. Not like God made us. Like God. And it should be our goal as Christians to become more and more like God.
But sometimes, that can be really tough. Sometimes, in our attempts to be more and more like God, we come up against things that really hurt. Things that make it hard for us to live out what God is asking us to do.
In the reading we heard today, we heard of a time that Jesus went through exactly that. Jesus had been in ministry for a little bit at this point, and news of what he had done had spread far and wide. He had healed the sick, silenced and cast out demons, stilled the storm, taught great teaching to all who would listen, even restored a girl to life who was thought to be dead. After all of this, he comes to his hometown in Nazareth. He goes and teaches at the synagogue, and what do they say?
“Who does this guy think he is? That’s Jesus, the guy who helped build Fred’s place, with his dad Joseph. His mum’s Mary and his brothers and sisters are here. He never had this knowledge and power when he was here with us! Does he think that he’s better than us?”
Sometimes, when we’re faced with those that have known us for a long time, those from our home town, those who we grew up with, when we change, when we allow God to shape us into more of what he is, as opposed to what we are, we can get people taking offense at us. It’s interesting to note what Jesus did in response to their criticism – <slide 4> the NRSV reads “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Jesus, son of the Almighty God, could do no deed of power in that place, because of their unbelief.
Who is it that knows us best? Who would it be, that if they criticised you because of the amazing things that God is doing in your life, that it would mean that you could do nothing in that place?
Could it, perhaps, be yourself? Are you sometimes holding onto criticism of yourself, knowing where you have come from, knowing what you’ve got in your life, that you refuse to let God do powerful things in your life?
Sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to see the things that we have going for us in our very own lives. Jesus’ disciples could very much be forgiven for doubting themselves before they headed out on ministry. His disciples were an odd collection of guys – we had some fishermen, a tax collector, Bartholomew is thought to have been a scholar, and Simon the Zealot was someone with bitter hatred against the Romans. Yet through all of them with what they had, Jesus sends them out to go and do ministry, wherever they were lead. They weren’t to take anything with them – no staff, no bread, bag or money – just what they had themselves. They had to rely on what God had given them. And with just that, they were able to go out, to proclaim that all should repent, to cast out demons, and heal the sick.
When the disciples accepted what they had, what God had given them, they were able to go out and do incredible things. And we read in verse 30 that they came back and told Jesus of all the incredible things that they had done. This hodgepodge group of guys, who had never done anything incredible in their lives before, were suddenly doing these amazing things. And despite of that, they still ran into troubles. I wonder whether any of them were sent to their home towns, and had a similar experience to Jesus. We hear of Jesus’ instructions of what to do if the house wouldn’t accept them and their teaching – to shake the dust off their feet. He knew that they would face opposition, face people that wouldn’t listen to them. So he says, “You know what guys – if they won’t listen to you, don’t let it get you down. Move on to the next place that will listen to you.”
We can be like the disciples. Sometimes we might feel like a bit of hodgepodge group, but God is able to use each of us, with the abilities and talents that he has given us, to do amazing things. All we need to do is to let him. We need to let go of the barriers in our own lives that stop us from heading out. We need to let go of the barriers that other people try to place before us. Whether that is a sin that we’ve placed in our life, whether it’s some comment that someone else has told you some time or another, whatever it is, hand it over to God, and allow him to use you as you need.
When we accept God into our lives, it’s only the first step in our journey. God continues to transform us, to chip away at those things that are not of God, and to transform us into looking more and more like him. As he does that, he releases us to go and share about the amazing things he is doing in our lives, so that he can come and do amazing things in their lives.
We’re going to sing, and this song might be new to many of you, but it’s a wonderful new hymn that speaks of the heart of the army. The first verse speaks of our hope, that God’s glory would fill the earth, and that us, as his army, need to be bolder, to fight with love, using the crosses that we bear – that is, the struggles that we have born, where we have succeeded through Christ – as the weapons, our tools, what we can use to speak into people’s lives.
It goes on to speak of our uniform being holiness and mercy, justice clothed with grace and truth. Whether you’re a soldier of The Salvation Army or not, this uniform – holiness, mercy, justice, grace, and truth – is what we, as Christians, need to put on every day. It allows us to be fearless in our speech, blameless in our service, holding fast to Christ in all of our actions.
Finally, it speaks of dry bones, calloused minds. This pulls up imagery from Ezekiel 37, where God breathed life into the valley of dry bones. You know, sometimes, we can get tired from the fight. We’ve been going out there, day after day, trying to live as Christ calls us, and we get tired. Sometimes, we do things the same way we’ve always done them, not realising that Christ and the world have moved on. This song asks for us to search the spirit’s calling to us, giving us faith for new dreams, hope as we wait, and love as we continue to serve.
As we sing this, you’re invited to come up and spend some time in prayer. Maybe there is some sin in your life that you are holding onto. Maybe there’s something that you need to ask God to come into your life and chip away, to reform you so that you look more and more like God. Maybe you need some help in getting over the barriers – barriers that you have put up, or barriers that others have put up – that is stopping you from spreading the glory of God. Maybe you need to ask God to show you what your skills are, so that you can use them to spread his message. Maybe you need to have God show you where you need to go, with what you have, and to trust him in that. Maybe you have been out there, working daily in the mission field, and you need to come back to Christ, to share the stories of what has been happening, and give thanks back to him. Or maybe, after a long time, you’re tired, and you need to come to God and find rest, to rejuvenate, and to have the spirit fill your dreams again, give you new visions, and enable you to keep going onward to the conquest.
As we sing, the mercy seat and holiness table are open for all who wish to come and pray. Maybe you want to bring someone with you to pray with. This time is yours, to sing, to pray, to seek out what God is showing you, through his Holy Spirit.