St Barnabas, 14th July, 2013
There is an episode in the original Star Trek series where the crew of the USS Enterprise land on a planet last visited by a Federation starship 100 years ago. To their surprise they arrive in what looks like a full-blown replica of 1920s Chicago. The men are all gangsters, with their sharp suits and fully loaded Tommy guns. The women are their molls, and even the cars are authentic to the era.
Almost as soon as they land Captain Kirk and the rest get caught up in a drive-by shooting, and they end up face to face with the chief gangsters of the town. I won’t spoil the plot and tell you what happens. If you want to view it later, the episode is called “A piece of the action”, first broadcast in 1968.
But what caused the inhabitants of the planet to behave like this? According to Spock, a crew member of the original starship had left behind a book about 1920s Chicago. The aliens had read the book, they imitated what they discovered and they created a whole culture based on life in that era.
About 20 years ago or so, the Christian author Adrian Plass wrote a book called, “An Alien at St Wilfred’s”. Although it’s a little dated now, I think it’s one of his best books, and if you can still get hold of it, it’s a great read. And whenever I read it, I always wonder what would happen if an alien arrived at St Barnabas. What, for example, would he make of our attitude to this special book we call the Bible? Would he see people who claim to follow its teaching but in practice ignore what it says? Would he see people who take in its message once a week or once a month but otherwise rarely read it? Or would he see people who read the book, let it influence their lives and even build a whole culture around it?
Of course the world of Star Trek is fiction – I hope I haven’t upset too many Trekkies by saying that – and so are the books of Adrian Plass. But one thing is a fact, as Jesus makes clear in our gospel reading. One day this Jesus will come again to earth in all His splendour and ask us to give an account of our lives. What will matter on that day is not whether we thought the Christian faith was a good idea, or an interesting set of values. It will not even matter whether in theory we accepted Jesus was who He said He was. What will matter is whether we have believed in Jesus and allowed that faith to make a practical difference in the way we lead our lives.
You see, God has given us this book called the Bible so that we can know Jesus and discover His will for our lives. It’s a wonderful, wonderful gift from a generous Heavenly Father who wants above all else that we turn to Him through faith in Jesus Christ, and act accordingly. And yet so often it lies ignored, neglected, unopened. And then we wonder why it seems so hard to follow Jesus and find out who God really is.
So this morning if you have access to a church Bible, let me encourage you to open it, to turn to our reading from Proverbs this morning on page 638, and consider what it says. Because God has given us these words to show us what does and doesn’t delight Him, and if we are serious about following Jesus, then all of us need to take them to heart:
Let me look particularly at verses 16-19:
16 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
That’s pretty strong stuff, isn’t it? I realise we don’t usually talk about God hating things. We like to think of God as a God of love and acceptance and peace. But if you think about it a little more, if you love something or someone particularly strongly, then you will hate anything or anyone that threatens that love. After you, if you are passionate about one football team, then you probably don’t feel that positively about your local rival. If you love your country, then you will feel strongly about those who seek to attack it. If you love your family, then you will do all you can to protect it from harm.
And why does God hate these things in particular? Because they are the exact opposite of all that Jesus is, and all that He expects us to be.
Jesus never had haughty eyes, that is, He never looked down on anyone. If you read any of the accounts of Jesus’ life you will see He had a heart for the poor, and the broken, a heart for women and for children. He brought good news to those who were suffering, and those who were worn out, and His generous invitation still stands today to all who will listen: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28)
What about a lying tongue? No, the whole point of why Jesus came to earth was to show us the truth about God and about ourselves. He actually called Himself the way, the truth and the life. And what’s so fascinating about the life of Jesus here on earth is the fact no-one could ever overturn His claims. After all, if I started to going round saying I was the truth, I am pretty sure you’d very quickly find something false in my life. Yet Jesus’ claims were backed by His actions every time, and He revealed the truth about God most fully by dying for us on a cross.
And Jesus never had hands that shed innocent blood. The leaders of other great religions did lead armies into battle, and even today some of their followers carry out savage acts in their name. But Jesus never took up arms, never wronged an innocent person, never shed blood. That doesn’t mean Jesus was gentle or mild or ineffective. He could when He chose still storms, drive out demons, feed 5000 people, raise the dead, and he still performs great miracles today. But His works of power are also works of love. He is the good shepherd who knows all of us by name, who cares for us, and never does us harm.
I could go but I hope you’ve got the picture by now. To follow Jesus means to be like Jesus. That’s a very simple point but it’s one we need to take to heart. After all, what is it that other people often say about Christians? That they claim to be perfect, that they don’t practise what they preach, that they are only interested in people like them. I’ve certainly heard that said on more than one occasion, and I guess that’s the case for plenty others here today.
Now it may be that when folk say these types of things, it may be they have misunderstood the Christian faith. It may be they are looking for reasons not to believe. But I believe we also have to be humble enough to accept there may some grain of truth in what they are saying. We don’t always make enough connections between what Jesus teaches us in His word, and the reality of life Monday to Saturday. We don’t always stand up to other Christians who set a bad example and, for example, seem to delight in making trouble and starting arguments. And sometimes it seems as if we just too busy to listen to what Jesus wants, and do what He says.
So we have looked at a reading from the book of Proverbs on page 638 of our church Bibles. The question is: how are we going to respond to it? Well we could say, “I’m sorry, Jesus. From now on I’m going to try really, really hard to be more like you”. But the whole point of the Christian faith is that on our own we cannot change. It’s part of our human nature to fall short of what God expects. And no amount of good deeds or effort on our part is going to alter that simple fact.
So what should our response be? Well, despite what people often think, God doesn’t just give us a set of rules and then punish us every time we break them. No, if we turn to Jesus, He promises that the moment we put our faith in Him He comes and lives in our hearts by His Spirit.
And that means two things. First of all, despite the fact we have all ignored what God wants for our lives, our Heavenly Father accepts and loves us on the basis Jesus died for us. And nothing we do can change that wonderful fact. But secondly, it also means that bit by bit, step by step, Jesus begins to alter us from the inside out. He uses that power I talked about earlier to help us lead lives more pleasing to God and revealing God’s forgiveness every time we mess up.
So, yes, when we read these verses in Proverbs we may well want to say sorry for the times we have had haughty eyes or a lying tongue or done an innocent person wrong. But if we have understood why Jesus died on the cross our response should be, “Lord, I know I cannot change. But thank you you have done what I could not do for myself and died in my place for my sins. I ask you to come by your Holy Spirit and be real in my life. Please change me from the inside, cleanse me from the inside out, and make me more like you”.
And be assured, if you are serious about that prayer, Jesus will answer you. Because this Jesus who never had haughty eyes, never had a lying tongue, never shed innocent blood, loves you and wants more than anything else that He becomes Lord of your life. Not just in word, but also in practical, everyday actions that show others you really do live by this wonderful, wonderful book, the Bible, that you know Jesus for yourself personally.
So without any further ado, let’s be still. Let’s remind ourselves of this passage we have just read. And let’s pray that prayer so that Jesus becomes real in our all hearts, and that when He comes as judge, He will come to us as Saviour and as Lord.