As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Be part of God’s Family, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 14 February, 2016. The Reading was Romans 10:8b-13.
Beard, Mates, Family
You may notice something is a little bit different about me today. That something appears to be missing. Now, it’s not just because I was tired of Davey pulling at my beard, or that I wanted to look even younger. No, the reason that the beard came off is much more meaningful to me.
I’ve got a few really close mates. We’ve been mates since high school, when we all went to the same church. We’ve been through our ups and downs together, and through it all, we look out for each other. One of my mates, Christian, or CJ as he’s more commonly known, recently had a lump removed which was making him sick. The biopsy results came back, and he has commenced a treatment of preventative chemotherapy – which, if you’re have to have Chemo, is probably the best type to have. Now one thing that defines CJ is his facial hair. He always has some facial hair. Sometimes it’s a goatee, sometimes is a rough and wild bushman’s beard. The only time he’s ever bare is November 1st, when he shaves it all off to grow a moustache for Movember. So now, because of this treatment, he’s had to shave his beard off.
It really got to me that he’s going through this all the way over in Perth, and I can’t be there to support him. So as a sign of solidarity to him, I chose to shave off my beard. And knowing how much I struggle to grow a beard, I thinking he’ll probably get his facial hair back before I get mine.
CJ’s not my blood relation, but he is family to me. I’ve chosen to care about him in the same way that I care about my blood family, and anything I would do to support my family, I would do for him, and any of my mates.
We all have different families, and we want to look after them
We all have different families that we care about, don’t we? We’ve got our blood family, those that we grew up with, those who raised us, those who we raised. Depending on your family, that could be just your brothers and sisters, Mothers and Fathers, Sons and Daughters, or it might include Aunties, Uncles, Grand Parents, Nieces, Nephews, Cousins, Second Cousins, Third cousins twice removed. They’re all family, and in some way you don’t have a choice about them.
But then we have our mates. Our friends. That could be those who we went to school with, and have never left, or those that we went to work with, or those friends that we just seem to be hanging around with every day. I know for Liesl, she’s got family friends – friends of her mum that are just like Aunties to her. And in some way, we choose who those friends are.
And we have our church family – we choose to be a part of this corps, and as such we choose who our family is.
And you might have other families that you are a part of. It could be the local fishing club, or bowls or football or other sporting club, or a craft group, or cooking group, or anything. Again, you choose to be part of that group, and as such, you choose who your family is.
God says that anyone can choose to be part of his family
When we look at what it takes to be part of God’s family, you’d think it would be this huge, difficult thing. Like, there’s this huge application form, and if you pass all of that, then you’re in for a probation, then if you pass probation, then you’re in as a junior member, and if you are a good member and pay your dues, and fulfill a certain number of sermons listened to, then you’re finally accepted as a full member of God’s family.
And that’s kind of what the Jews used to think. The Jewish way of thinking thought that if you obeyed the law of Moses, then you would be part of God’s family. In Leviticus 18:5, we read “The person who does these things will live by them” – that is, by observing the law, they would gain life. But they were so strict about it – only by observing the law completely could this life be gained. There was no room for mistakes – one slip, and you’re out. It’s a standard of living that is, ultimately, unattainable – everyone will fail at one point or another.
But Paul tells us that because of Jesus’ action on the cross, anyone who chooses to be part of God’s family is part of God’s family. If you say that Jesus is Lord, and completely believe that he was raised from the dead, you’re in.
That’s the awesome part. It’s so easy. No big complicated task list to tick off. No levels of membership. If you say that Jesus is Lord, and you truly believe it in your heart, then you are part of God’s family. All you need to do is choose to do so.
And because anyone can do it, there’s no distinction between anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just said it, or you said it seventy years ago – we’re all one in the family of God. It doesn’t matter where you were when you said it, we’re all one in the family of God. It doesn’t matter what you were doing when you said it, we’re all one in the family of God. That’s what Paul is saying here – when he says that “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek” – it’s something he’s said before. Earlier in Romans, he says that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, in relation to our sin. All of our sin is the same. Here, Paul says that there’s no difference in relation to our salvation – if we can choose to believe, we all can choose believe.
If you choose to be part of God’s family, you need to do God’s will
Now of course, being part of a family, any family comes with some obligations. Part of being part of your blood family might have come with obligations such as looking after your parents when they got old, looking after your children when they were sick, looking after your sister, even when she really annoyed you, those sorts of things. And similarly, we have a sense of obligation with our mates, with the groups we’re a part of, and so on.
In the same way, we have some obligations as being part of the family of God. When we look at what our theme of the Self Denial appeal this year, we hear this passage from Matthew’s Gospel:
46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “ Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Whoever does the will of my Father is part of my family. Who ever shares the love of God with everyone they meet is part of God’s family. Whoever feeds the hungry, gives a drink to the thirsty, welcomes the stranger, clothes the naked, cares for the sick, visits the imprisoned, protects the vulnerable, whoever it is that does the will of God is part of the family of God.
So, if you believe in God, and you declare that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in his resurrection, then you choose to be part of God’s family. As part of that choice, just as you want to love and care for your family, you need to love and care for God’s family.
We can look after our wider church family by giving generously
We have an opportunity to look after and care for God’s family. Through our Self Denial appeal, we have the opportunity to help out many in God’s family that we may not be able to help by ourselves. Over the next few weeks, we’ll hear about Nigel, a blind man from Jamaica who has been helped by generous Christians doing the will of God. You’ll hear how Thein Thein from Myanmar was welcomed as a stranger and made to feel part of a community. You’ll hear about Dr Nicolai Caraman who has been helping the sick in Moldova for fifteen years. And we’ll hear about Aruna, from India, who was saved from being imprisoned by prostitution through the work of The Salvation Army. We may not experience many of those things here in Rochester, but through giving to the Self Denial Appeal, we can help others to be part of God’s family.
But it doesn’t stop there. Our sense of obligation to family doesn’t go away just by throwing money at it. We need to spend time with God, every day, and see how God can use us. To help us do the will of God. Opening ourselves up to help show God’s love to everyone that we meet. Because when we open ourselves up to doing the will of God, we help to bring about God’s kingdom. A kingdom that has no end and whose glory knows now bounds.
God says that anyone can be a part of his family. If you want to be a part of God’s family, then I invite you to come forward for prayer this morning. It might be the first time, or maybe you’re coming back, but feel free to come forward and pray. Maybe you’re realising that God is calling you to help do the will of God, through showing God’s love in the community, or maybe through being intentional and sacrificial about your giving through our Self-Denial appeal. You’re welcome to come and to have some prayer to strengthen and encourage you in your journey. Or maybe there’s something else that you need prayer for? Part of being part of God’s family is that we care for you – so if there’s something that you need prayer for today, please come forward so that we can pray for you. As we sing, this space is available for all to come and seek out God’s will in their lives.