So often we look at other people and see them to be superior to ourselves. That can undermine us and leave us feeling that God can’t work through us. God has always worked through ordinary people, even ordinary people who make big mistakes.
The following sermon, preached at the 2pm service was drawn from Psalm 89:1-2, 20-26, Acts 13:13-25, John 13:16-20.
I wonder if any of you follow the WordLive online Bible study from Scripture Union. This week it is looking at the life of some of the kings in the Old Testament. They varied a great deal in their quality and sadly many of them preferred the gods of the nations around them to the God of Abraham, Moses and their other ancestors. One of the items on offer in WordLive is a vox pop on the topic of idols. People were asked to explain what they are and came up with various suggestions: someone to look up to, who is admired or able to do something we would like to be able to do, footballers, pop star, possessions, job, car, things we worship, something we would give up other things for.
If our idol is another person we hold them in high esteem, seeing them as far more talented, intelligent, hard working, lucky than we are. In comparing ourselves to our idol we tend to become very much aware that we don’t match up to their standard. I remember a friend of mine, when I had only known her for a short time, saying how intimidated she felt in the presence of clever people. She is a nurse and good at her job, she keeps her training up to date and takes her responsibilities seriously, but when she looks at someone who has a university degree she suddenly can see no value in herself at all. We are good friends now but I think for a long time she felt inferior to me because of my qualifications. Meanwhile, I look at other people and think how clever they are and how poor my skills are in comparison with theirs. It’s always possible to compare ourselves unfavourably with others.
It isn’t just in the realm of skill or intelligence that we compare ourselves. We may also compare ourselves in the area of holiness. We look at other people who are doing great things for God, we hear them pray, we listen to them talking, preaching or teaching, we notice them globe trotting to address important conferences while we head off to the supermarket to get the sugar we forgot (we can’t even get that simple thing right) and we think we are rubbish compared to them. We can’t imagine that they ever do anything wrong and even if they did it would be something insignificant which they would confess straight away and they would be back to perfection as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile we get things wrong all the time, we can sometimes be reluctant to confess our sins and even if we do, we don’t feel forgiven. Why would God forgive us the horrible things we have done which must be much worse than those done by other people?
One of the people who was most admired in the history of the Jews was King David. In today’s passage from Acts,we read what Paul said about David as he preached in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia. Paul says that God testified that David was a man after his own heart who would do all his wishes. We know that David fought Goliath and won and that he did great things for God but David also did something very wrong. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah, killed in order to be able to take her as his wife. Adultery and murder. David confessed his sin to God later and asked to be forgiven. God could have revised his opinion of David as a result of the sin but he didn’t. He stayed with his plan to give David an unending kingdom by having Jesus the Messiah be born of the House of David. In the psalm we are told that God’s steadfast love will be with David.
If we are Christians, we have been chosen by Jesus and we will not be rejected by him because we do wrong things. In the gospel, Jesus refers to Judas who of course betrays him. Even Judas would not have been rejected if he had chosen to ask for forgiveness. Judas was not the only one who got things wrong of course. Peter messed up on a regular basis, trying to divert Jesus from his path to Jerusalem, sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane, denying Jesus three times. The disciples all ran away when Jesus was arrested. They argued about who was the greatest just after Jesus had taught them about being the least, they sat stubbornly at the last supper and didn’t move to sort out the matter of dirty feet but left it to Jesus to do. Thomas didn’t believe the truth of the resurrection and had to have special proof but Jesus graciously gave it to him. Jesus could have changed his plans and chosen a different bunch of people as disciples but he didn’t.
God has always used people despite their weaknesses. Noah was the one man God chose to save from the flood because of his upright life but he got drunk and lay naked in his tent. Abraham tried to do God’s job for him by having a child with Hagar instead of waiting patiently. Moses told God he couldn’t speak well so couldn’t do as he had been told to do when asked to rescue God’s people from Egypt, Jeremiah said he was too young to speak for God, Jonah headed in the opposite direction when God called him. God doesn’t choose the high profile people of the day either. David was the youngest son of Jesse. No one imagined he would be the one to be anointed king. Amos was just a farmer and yet God called him to be a prophet. The disciples were mostly fishermen, ordinary working people.
So let’s come back to ourselves. We’re in good company if we think we are always doing wrong things and don’t match up to the standard. David, a man after God’s own heart, got there before us. If we think we are insignificant and not someone God would choose for anything, think again. David was a shepherd boy but he became Israel’s greatest king. Despite our weaknesses and failures and insignificance Jesus says that anyone who receives us receives him and in receiving him they also receive God. We are messengers, sent ones, apostles whether we feel capable or deserving of that role or not. Through us people can meet Jesus – through our words, through our actions, through the way we deal with our mistakes, through our acknowledgement that Jesus is important to us, the most important thing to us.
It’s quite a scary thought that we take Jesus wherever we go and through us he can be shared with others. Paul said in the second letter to the Corinthians: ‘For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.’
Thanks be to God.