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Sermon For Ordinary 22 - Proper 17 - Year A
Matthew 16:19-31
"By Changing Your Minds"


READING:   Matthew 16:19-31
SERMON:    "By Changing Your Minds"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or22se 332000

   Sources:  Using Google I tried in 2005 to locate the
   St. Augustine quote (first taken from a sermon illustration 
   journal many years ago) but could not find it.  It seems 
   that online at least, ours is the oldest citation of what 
   may be an apocryphal reference?


          It is said that St. Augustine was accosted one day
          on the street by a former mistress some time after
          he had become a Christian.  When he saw her he
          turned and walked the other way.  Surprised, the
          woman called out, "Augustine, it is I".  Augustine
          as he kept going the other way, answered her, "Yes,
          but it is not I."

It is an amusing story - 
         one that come close to making the same point the
          German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer made when he wrote

             "When Christ calls a man to follow him,
              he calls him to die".

When Christ calls a man to follow him, he calls him to die.

Strange words these, yet they are but an echo of what Jesus himself
         said when he told Peter and his disciples,
          "If anyone would come after me he must deny himself and take
          up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his
          life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will
          find it"
          
Augustine died when he decided to follow Jesus.
         His whole life changed, he was no longer the man he had been,
          and Bonhoeffer,
             Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for his criticism of the Nazi
                 Government, a criticism based on his understanding
                    of what Jesus demanded of society and of him,
                        and then he was killed in accordance to a 
                           special order of Hitler,
just a few days before the Second World War ended.

This is what our faith is about - dying,
         dying to self, dying to the old way of living,
          dying for what is right, dying for Jesus,
             just as Jesus died for us.

This may seem a bit morbid, -  but its not really,
         its not because there is good news in dying
          the good news of new life, the good news of resurrection.

Christ does not call us take up our crosses and follow him
         simply so that we might suffer and die
          he does so that we might find the very thing we all lack,
             so that we find the life that God wants us to live.

Most of us resist the idea of dying
         just as Peter resisted it at Caeserea Philippi
          when Jesus told him that he must die.

Our natural view is that death is bad.
         We believe that we must save our lives,
          and that to do so we must protect ourselves,
                 we must strive hard for good health,
                    we must obtain more wealth,
                        more security
                           more protection
so that our lives may continue as long as possible.

Our natural view is that life is more important than anything else.
         Yet Jesus refutes this,
          He suggests that there is something more important,
             and that if we do not grasp that more important thing,
                 that we will die forever,
                    that our souls will be lost,
even if our bodies manage to live on a few more days or years.

What is this more important thing?

Quite simply it is life lived as God wants us to live it,
         it is a complete personal transformation,
          so that we become people who know what God wants
             and who do it,
                 bringing to ourselves and our world as a result
                    the peace and wholeness it was made to have.

Quite simply this more important thing is the kingdom of God,
         the kingdom in which suffering and death no longer occur.

Jesus, by talking about losing one's life,
         by talking about taking up our cross and following him,
          is reminding us that we cannot have the new life,
             we cannot enter the Kingdom of God,
                 until we get our priorities straight,
                    until we die,
or as Paul puts it a few years later,
until we are transformed by the renewal of our minds.
             
I want to suggest to you today 4 ways in which we learn to die,
         4 ways in which we begin the process of taking up our crosses,
          4 ways in which we can begin renewing or changing our minds,
             so we are transformed and thus receive the new life
                 that God wants us to have.

NUMBER ONE: WE MUST SURRENDER TO GOD

When Jesus talks about denying ourselves and taking up our 
         crosses and following him,
          when he talks about losing our lives for him
             he is talking about surrendering, about giving up.

What he wants us to give up,
         what he wants us to surrender,
          is not our heart beat and our breathing.
             It is our way of thinking and acting as if God
                 does not exist or does not matter.

When Jesus rebukes Peter for saying to him -
         "Lord, this shall never happen to you",
          he tells Peter that he is on the side of Satan
             that he is thinking not the things of God,
                 but the things of men,
Peter is, to paraphrase Paul in Romans today,
conforming to the pattern of this world.

It is this conformity to the world that we must give up,
         the way of thinking that tells us that the important things
          are safety and security,
             and the possessions and wealth and power that bring that
                 safety and security.

We must give up the conformity to this world that tells us 
         that we must do it all ourselves, 
          that we must look after ourselves 
             because no one will do it for us.

Jesus calls us to believe in him, to trust him,
         to not worry about what we shall eat
          or what shall we put on,
             but to first seek God's kingdom,
                 and all these things will be given to you as well.

We need no longer be concerned about what the world tells us to
         be concerned about,
          we need no longer seek to save our own lives by the
             the ways that the world has taught us,
instead we need to surrender to God all our concerns,
and do everything that God asks of us.

We need to have faith.

People make the mistake of thinking that faith is what we believe,
         but faith is not what we believe, 
          but WHO we believe and WHO we listen to.
             God is not an abstract concept that we "assent to"
                 like a creed.  
God is a person who wants us to surrender to him,
God is a power that wants us to lose our lives in him,
so that he can give us a new life back.

Marriage is a good example of the kind of surrender that I mean,
         a god example of losing one's life so that one might find it.

You give yourself to your spouse in marriage, and out of that
giving, you gain an entirely new life and a new way of living.

But, my friends, no one can survive in a marriage that is run
         according to the way
          that the world thinks it should be run.
 
No one can survive in a marriage that is based on 
         a 50/50 sharing of things,
          or a measured sharing of feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Marriage, if it is too work out,  is a 100 percent proposition,
everything you have and everything you are you offer to your
spouse.

As soon as you hold back,
         as soon as you count what you have given, or what he or she has
          given, the marriage begins to fail.

As soon as you begin to question what your husband says
         as soon as you begin to refuse to help your wife
          with the tasks because she has not done something
             for you today,
the marriage begins to get shaky.

Marriage is not based on equal sharing,
         it is not based on tit for tat,
          it is based on giving everything you have to your partner
             and trusting them to accept you and love you in return.

Throughout all the scriptures, our relationship to God is described
as a  marriage.  

We are to offer all ourselves to God in trust,
         much as we offer all of ourselves in our marriages.


NUMBER TWO: WE MUST THINK OF OURSELVES WITH SOBER JUDGEMENT - WITH
HUMILITY

No one likes humility much - especially the humility we think that
         God wants us to have.
          The kind of humility that goes around saying how bad we are,
             the kind of humility that says
                 that we are nothing at all.

My friends - that kind of humility is false humility,
         it is the humility of hypocrites,
          it is what the world calls humility,
             not what God means by it.

Bishop Fulton Sheen said this about humility

          "Humility is not self contempt, but the truth about
          ourselves coupled with a reverence for others. 

          A man who is 6 foot 4 is not humble when he says "Oh
          no, really, I am only 4 foot 6", because that is not
          the truth.  Neither is a beautiful person humble
          when she says "I am really ugly".  Such
          protestations against the truth are marks of pride,
          rather than humility.  

          Rather humility in such cases consists of the
          acknowledgement of the truth that we have received
          gifts for which we are praised."

The way of the world that we are called to give up 
         when we surrender to God everything that we are,
          is the way that regards our achievements,
             our good looks,
                 and our worldly possessions,
                    as something that we have earned,
                        something that we deserve.

They are not.

They are gifts -
         gifts perhaps that we have laboured with,
          but gifts all the same.

These gifts come to us from God,
         and God calls us to remember that each person has gifts,
          that each person is special in his eyes,
             and that while we may have many blessing,
                 we no more deserve them than another person deserves
not to have them.

To be humble is simply to remember that what we have is from God,
         that our place is given to us from God,
          and to remember that others have a place with God,
             that Jesus died for them 
                 just as much as he died for us.

The way of the world
         is the way that compares our gifts, our work, and our life to
          the gifts, work, and lives of others.

The way of Jesus that we are called to follow is the
         way that tells us to compare ourselves not to each other,
          but to God.
             And it is to remember that everyone belongs to a family,
                 the family of God,

We can have delight in what God has done for us,
         we can receive compliments, we can celebrate our blessings,
          as long we remember where all our goodness and 
             all our good things come from ,
                 and as long as we remember that 
others deserve as much as we do.

"Humility is not self contempt, but the truth about ourselves
coupled with a reverence for others."


NUMBER THREE: USE WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN YOU AND CARE FOR EACH OTHER

This is pretty straightforward - 
         it follows from the rest of what has been said.

God has blessed each one of us with gifts,
         he has made us part of a family,
          and he has called us to surrender to him and trust him.

God calls us to use our gifts
         to help members of our family grow and prosper,
          and to do so cheerfully and generously.

The way of the world that we are not to conform too
         is the way that takes the gifts that God has given
          and uses them selfishly.

We have a choice to make - we can labour for ourselves 
         we can seek to gain the whole world as so many of us,
             and loose ourselves,
             or we can labour for the world and gain ourselves.

I ask you in this regard to think of the number of people who
         take all their talents, all their gifts, and work
          and work to get a better home, a better car, and
             better opportunities for themselves and their children.

They work so hard that their wife never sees them
         their children must be content with a bare 20 minutes a day,
          and finally one day they come home,
             and all the things that they have really laboured for,
                 have packed up, loaded a moving van,
                    and left.

Paul tells us to share our gifts with each other,
         to remind each other with our teaching of what is important,
          to give money and food to each other so that we can eat,
             to encourage each other so that no one despairs,
                 to forgive each other so that no one feels cursed,
                    to serve each other, so that no one lacks.

Use what God has given you: your prayers,
         your leadership ability,
          your ability to make people comfortable,
             to help your family - be it your wife and children
                 or the neighbours God has given you,
                    rather than taking all the gifts and all the time
God has given you to get more of what you have.

If you do not, you will loose everything.


NUMBER FOUR: LOVE SINCERELY; HATE WHAT IS EVIL AND CLING TO WHAT IS
GOOD: IN OTHER WORDS - STAY CONNECTED

A young woman once asked, "what will happen to me if I pray".  

I do not think she understood the significance of her question,
         but it was the right question.

Power is unleashed when we stay connected to God.  
         
Paul urges us to stay connected with God, with our faith and with
ourselves, when he says in today's reading,
         never lack in zeal
          keep your enthusiasm 
             be joyful in hope
                 patient in affliction
                    and faithful in prayer.

The primary way of staying connected to God is to hate, or avoid, 
    what is bad, and to cling to what is good.

What is bad?  The list is huge:
         lies,
          hypocrisy,
             inequality,
                 injustice,
                    meanness,
                        selfishness,
                           contempt for others,
                               and on and on.

And what is good?  Again the list is huge:
         honesty,
          integrity,
             truthfulness,
                 fairness,
                    justice,
                        kindness,
                           helpfulness,
                               love of neighbours,
                                  and on and on.

Simply put, and simply followed,
         we stay connected with God if we sincerely pray,
          if we earnestly listen to God's word,
             and wholeheartedly do what God asks of us in it.

We are asked to cling to God,
         we are asked to follow the way of Jesus,
          to take up our crosses,
             and change our minds about things,
                 to trust God to look after us,
                    and begin to look after others.

The old number one we are to take care of,
         is not ourselves, but those whom God sends to us.

Love what is good - cling to it, 
         hold on to it so tightly that there is no room left
          for grabbing onto what is bad,
             for clutching at the things that hurt other people
                 or destroy the things that God has made.

Hold onto Jesus,
         listen for him in the word's of others,
          listen to him in the silence of your heart,
             a silence you create for yourself,
                 when you take time to sit,
                    and to put aside all your concerns and worries,
and read and pray and mediate on the gospel message.

The world thinks this is foolishness,
         but the world is lost my friends,
          and people who live in the world,

             people who think the way the world tells them to think,
                 have no direction,
                    no purpose,
                        and no hope.

This is what is meant by losing one's soul.
         It is living as if there is no tomorrow,
          living as if there is no purpose to life.

But there is a purpose, and there is a tomorrow.

We can gain our souls,
         we can find our lives 
          if we are willing to loose them.

We need to change our minds - 
         to have them renewed so that we are transformed - 
          and this will happen
             and it can only happen
when we surrender to God and trust him to care for us,
when we think of ourselves soberly - with humility 
when we use what God has given us for the good of others
and when we stay connected to God,
hating what is bad and clinging to what is good.  AMEN


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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