Sunday Gathering – Jesus Masterclass – Working through the ups and downs
This week we continue our Jesus Masterclass series with Andy speaking on Working through the ups and downs
In this sermon by Andy, the main topic is "Working through the Ups and Downs," with a focus on loving each other deeply as a church community. Andy draws inspiration from the Bible, specifically 1 Peter 4:8, which says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." Here's a summary of the sermon, highlighting the key points:
1. **Belong, Believe, Behave:** Andy discusses the traditional model of church where people were expected to behave a certain way, then believe, and only then belong to the church. He emphasizes that in the modern context, people should belong first, as we are all on a journey of discovering God. Belonging creates a safe place to ask questions and find answers, and it's crucial for creating a loving church community.
2. **Acceptance and Agreement:** The sermon touches on the challenge of loving people even when we don't agree with their lifestyle choices. Andy mentions that Jesus demonstrated grace and truth simultaneously, and as Christians, we are called to do the same. We should learn to accept and love people even if we don't agree with everything they do.
3. **Setting Boundaries:** Andy emphasizes the importance of setting boundaries in relationships. He mentions that boundaries are not about control but about protecting ourselves and others from making impulsive decisions based on emotions. It's essential to set boundaries with love and respect.
4. **Community as a Safe Space:** The sermon highlights the importance of community within the church. Christians are meant to journey together, learning, and growing in faith. The church should be a safe space where individuals can fail, admit their shortcomings, and receive support without fear of judgment.
The sermon concludes by referencing the story of Noah's sons, emphasizing the need to be like Shem and Japheth, who covered their father's nakedness rather than exposing it. This serves as an illustration of how Christians should love and support one another, covering each other's faults with love and understanding.
Overall, the sermon encourages listeners to create a church environment where love, acceptance, and grace prevail, allowing members to work through their ups and downs together as a community of believers.
Before I start, Dennis, mate, I see you peeking through the door back there,
but I just want to say thank you so much for giving us a window into your world
and teaching us what it is to worship God in the face of such challenging circumstances.
It's just very moving, and I think we're all indebted to you for doing that,
so thank you so much.
It's great because this passage or this little verse, in fact, it's going to be,
is really about helping us as men and women as we follow Jesus.
Actually, there are some hard things that we have to face,
and there are hard things that we have to cope,
and we're not exempt from that at all.
And actually, Jesus calls us to be very much wrapped up in those things.
I just wanted to start off by asking a couple of questions.
I don't know, have you ever heard people say things like,
well, church would be okay if it wasn't for the people?
No, have you ever said that?
Right, right, right.
Jesus, I get, but the church, how many times have I heard that through the years,
down through the years?
And it's such a challenge, isn't it?
And yet Jesus loves the church.
Jesus gave his life for the church,
and Jesus one day will return as the bridegroom returning for the bride for his church.
And so there's this kind of weird disconnect, isn't there?
Something's broken somewhere.
But there's these negative statements about the church,
and yet Jesus is so passionate about it.
And so we're going through this Jesus Masterclass stuff,
and it seemed to me that the early talks we did,
we're all about our relationship with him,
all about our relationship with God,
and some of the things to do with tackling that.
And these later talks are much more about our relationship with each other
and how we have to make that work, and how we have to get on.
Because actually Jesus doesn't want us just to be people that walk around saying,
yeah, I follow Jesus.
Yes, I'm a Christian.
Yes, I do this, but Jesus actually calls us in response to him
to then figure out how we get on together,
and how is the church we live together and work stuff out together.
And so there's this, the verse that we've got today,
if I can just see if I can make this work.
There's not going to work.
I am on.
That is working.
That's not working.
Okay, you might have to drive Gail for me.
Thank you very much.
Okay, and this is the verse that we've got today
that's related to this topic about working through the ups and downs.
And it's written by Peter, that disciple of Jesus,
that we'll come back to in a minute,
who made all sorts of interesting choices we read about in the Gospels.
But towards the end of a New Testament, you wrote two letters.
And in this first letter that you wrote in chapter four and verse eight,
we read this phrase.
He says, above all, love each other deeply,
because love covers over a multitude of sins.
That says, I read this.
I thought, well, a modern translation might have a footnote
after love each other deeply and say, above all,
love each other deeply in accordance with your church's safeguarding policy,
because love covers a multitude of sins.
And we laugh, but actually, behind that, there's a bigger issue.
And actually, what does this verse actually mean?
What is this really talking about?
Because if we look at the disciples,
we just think about those early disciples.
I mentioned Peter, right?
If we just think about those early disciples for a moment,
there was Peter, the hot-headed guy,
the guy who would speak first and think later,
the guy who would act first, chop off someone's ear,
and then think later.
And Jesus had to train him out of that, if you like,
and develop him and mature him.
But there's not any Peter.
There's James and John who were told to call the sons of thunder.
Why was that?
Maybe, because they argued a lot,
and they both liked their own voices a lot.
And actually, James and John, we also read with two guys who went to Jesus and said,
can you let us sit next to you in heaven when we get there?
So that was the kind of, these are the people that Jesus picked.
You know, there was Matthew, the tax collector.
Now, it's not just that he's a tax collector.
But he's a tax collector in a nation that has been taken over by the Romans.
And the Romans are exacting taxes out of the Jews
to plow money back into the Roman government
and into their corruption and everything else.
And Matthew is a Jew in that setup,
working for the Romans, going to his fellow countrymen
to get their taxes to give back time.
And yeah, he's in this bunch that Jesus picked.
And then there's Simon the Zealot.
So the Zealots, they're Jews that are like,
well, today we would probably call them terrorists or guerrillas.
They're fighting the Romans on their own soil
and trying to disrupt things all the time.
And now you've got Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot
in this same little house group that Jesus is working with.
Oh, my word.
What were they talking about as they chatted together?
How on earth did that get on?
And the point I just want to make is what a collection of individuals
that Jesus works with.
What a diverse bunch that he worked with over three years,
molding them, not rejecting them, but seeing past their outbursts,
seeing past their misunderstandings, seeing past their bad theology,
to what was in their hearts.
And we might say in the context of this verse that his love
covered over their shortcomings and their mistakes.
What an example of church that is.
Now it's us.
Now we're the diverse mixed up bunch of people
with our obvious shortcomings.
Sorry, but we are.
Jesus sees our hearts.
He sees your heart and he sees my heart.
And he's walking with you and he's walking with me and working with us
as he calls us as his church to follow him.
And as Peter writes these verse, I wonder if he's thinking back to
those three years that he spent with that little group of
all sorts of people that Jesus molded.
And he reflects on how Jesus loved them and didn't judge them all the time
but actually accepted them and trained them and equipped them
and put up with their, like I say, their outbursts and their shortcomings.
So how do we do this?
Anybody got any clue?
What does it look like?
Because today the word love, right?
It's so bland, isn't it?
In fact, it's beyond bland.
It's so diluted.
Nobody really knows what it means anymore, I suspect.
And it's really hard to see as we read a verse like that.
Well, why is Peter driving that?
So as I look at this, I think how do we create a culture
in the church where this is something we're trying to work out?
You know, what do we do?
Especially as we're a church working in the local community
and the lives of what is church and what isn't a very blurred
deliberately, so I love that.
Okay, but it's important.
How do we work this out?
And there's a lot of things that we could look at this morning and you,
as we go through this, you will think of other things and you'll think,
Andy, why don't you talk about that?
Well, I just, you know, fantastic.
There's lots of stuff here.
And I've just pulled out four things that I would briefly like to cover
that help us create a culture in the church where we could attain to
this phrase that Peter says,
above all love each other deeply.
We're not a clue straight away, isn't it, above all?
No matter what else, and we could read the rest of the passage
and see what else he said, but he said,
above all, guys, we're to figure out how we love each other deeply.
Because that love will cover a multitude of sins.
I've got this working.
So the first thing I just want to talk about briefly is this
belong, believe, behave.
This is almost like the unwritten fifth value of MCF,
right, that we haven't done.
And if you're not sure what this means, so time was, you know,
that churches struggle quite often in that to be a part of the church,
you used to have to behave in a certain way.
You had to fit the mold.
You had to follow the rules.
You had to know when to stand up, when to sit down.
You had to behave yourself through the week.
And then maybe in that sort of context, you might then come
to believe in Jesus.
And once you've done those two things, then they would say,
yeah, now you belong to the church.
But when we read the Gospels and we see how Jesus works with those
early disciples that I've just talked about,
we see a completely different model.
We see those guys belong together as a group.
And what we see is Jesus molding them.
And as they belong as a group, they discovered more about who Jesus
was and what he was calling them in their lives.
He flips that on its head, you know, and we're to welcome all people
so that they can belong at any point.
To be a part of what is happening and to be welcome.
Those first disciples, whatever else was going on,
they felt some sense of belonging, even though they didn't get
Jesus straight away, even though they didn't understand it all.
And we should be modeling the same here throughout the week.
All of us are on a journey discovering who God is.
No one's got all the right answers.
Sorry if you think you do, but you don't.
We're all on a journey discovering who God is.
We're all on a journey discovering his robust love for each one of us
and the implications that that has on our lives.
So it doesn't matter whether you're at this end of the spectrum
and you've just got loads of questions.
I don't understand what this church is really all about.
I don't understand who God is, but there's something here,
and I don't know what it is, and I've got loads of questions.
Or you can be right at the other end of the spectrum
and you've been following Jesus for decades
and you read the Bible three times every year
and you're pursuing it with passion and you've been working it all out.
All of us fall within that spectrum somewhere and we're all welcome.
And we've all got to feel a sense of belonging to this place.
And that belonging means this becomes a safe place to ask questions.
A safe place to find out more without being judged.
A place to be accepted. A place to be welcomed where you can belong.
And in that context, men, women and children can encounter God for themselves
and then believe.
And then as we learn more about who God is and the extent of his love for us
and the call that he makes on our own lives,
then our behavior changes as we respond to him.
But the first step on there is to get a sense of belonging.
Well, everyone is welcome here because we're all trying to figure this out
and learn who Jesus is and respond to him and then allow him to change our lives.
Not the other way around.
And that's what happened for those early disciples.
And there's implications as there was for them.
There's implications for us. Nothing is straightforward.
You know, they made mistakes.
They argued. We make mistakes. We argue.
Jesus needed to rebuke them at times. Jesus needs to rebuke us at times.
But they were loved and they were accepted.
And they were free to make mistakes.
And they were in the greatest place to learn about who God truly is
and what he has in store for them.
How great if we could make, you know, your little circle of friends,
your little group, you're a part of the churches.
We touch spaces with the shoulders of the community.
We make it into that type of environment that people are not thrown out for making mistakes
or for not conforming.
So belong, believe, behave.
We can build a church like that.
Then maybe that becomes an environment where we learn to love each other deeply
and that love covers a multitude of sins.
The second thing I just want to talk about is it's slightly different.
It's just the importance of acceptance and agreement.
So the question I got is, can you love people even if you don't agree with their lifestyle choices?
Think about it first before you answer.
Can people belong even if we don't agree with their lifestyle choices?
You see, it's an important question because in Western society today in the culture
in which we live in the UK and elsewhere, this is a challenge.
We frequently read in the media this headlong rush on a number of issues
to drive a wedge and create an us and them scenario.
And you're part of us if you agree with what we're saying.
And if you don't agree with what we're saying, then you're part of them.
And that headlong rush to create those two parties all around us.
In fact, probably nowhere is this more evident at this present time in the media
in how that media portrays LGBTQ plus issues.
We see it prevalently.
You know, that to accept people, you have to agree with their lifestyle choices.
Otherwise, you're clearly not accepting them.
And there seems to be very little option in public coverage that you can disagree with their lifestyle choice
and yet still accept and welcome and love them.
And we read that in the media.
That's all my point is the only point I'm making.
We read that in the media all the time.
And we have to learn how to handle that because Jesus presents a very different approach.
Think about the woman caught in adultery dragged before him and how he showed her grace
and mercy and also truth.
He didn't reject her because of what she'd done that he didn't agree with.
But he showed love and mercy.
Think about the lady, the Sumerian lady at the well.
Exactly the same scenario.
She'd have multiple husbands and the man she was living with wasn't a current husband.
And yet Jesus didn't reject her.
He didn't despise her.
He accepted her and showed her grace and mercy and love.
And yet in doing that also portrayed the truth about her own life
and the challenge that God would present about that.
Think about the parable he told of the good Samaritan.
So annoying, that parable.
He takes somebody that everybody doesn't like and doesn't agree with
and definitely doesn't agree with lifestyle choices and makes them the star of the show.
And so Jesus has this annoying habit of actually showing how to work with people
that you don't agree about their lifestyle choices and some of the things they're doing.
And yet show love and mercy and grace and favor to them.
The challenge for you and me is to be like Jesus.
So we read, this is the grace and truth challenge, right?
So Jesus we read is full of grace and truth.
The problem is you and I aren't.
And we battle with this and we swing to one or other of those two things so very often.
We're either all about the truth and I can tell you exactly what the Bible says
and how you're not matching up to it.
Or we swing all about the grace and we love people come what may
and we forget about what God's Word actually says about stuff.
And trying to hold those two things in tension is so hard.
But guess what? That's what God is calling us to do.
That's the challenge that we've got.
The grace and truth challenge.
Jesus was clear on matters of truth, yet in most cases did not use that to turn people away
but rather he walked with them, was clear with them, not soft,
and demonstrated an ability of grace as he led them forward from where they are.
But acceptance and agreement is an important part, right?
Because as we learn to do that in the church and if we can start to get our heads around
and act like that, then I believe that helps us to get to this verse that Peter's talking about
that we learn what it is to love each other deeply.
First thing I want to talk about is boundaries.
Okay, so just before I do an apology here, so we're really, and I'm really excited about
our granddaughter just in case you never spoke to us about her.
So Graham, where are you?
Graham, is this your first grandchild?
Oh man, you've got such fun coming.
You know, there's nothing better than spoiling a child rot on
than handing them back to their parents.
So one of the things we've done is we've got these little plastic covers
like we've got around here on the sockets, you know, to cover the sockets up.
And we've got those locks that you put on the cupboard doors in the kitchen
so they can't get the knives out and play with those and that kind of thing.
But why do we do that?
Because that's a boundary that we've put in place because we love them
and we don't want them to get harmed by anything like that.
That's what boundaries at the end of the day are all about.
Think about your teenager coming in weekend after weekend
and saying, can I have 50 quid again when they go out, please?
You know, and you don't ask questions.
Oh, that's so wrong.
You know, God asked questions.
Well, what happened last time?
You know, setting boundaries in place is such a key thing.
When our kids were growing up, we didn't allow them to have tellies
in their own bedroom, shock, shock horror.
Because, you know, whenever they watched stuff, we wanted to be around
and then we could pass comment on it appropriately.
Not because we're controlling and terrible parents,
but actually because we love them.
And we want them to learn how to judge between good and bad, right and wrong
and make sensible choices, and that's a key part of it.
You know, nowadays, you know, the modern thing is that as I hear parents,
you know, limiting the amount of time your child can play on a games console
is one of the more current things.
But setting those boundaries in place is so important.
It's as we get into adulthood that it becomes more of a challenge, right?
And setting boundaries between ourselves.
But they are so important to how we learn to love each other deeply.
So when Peter writes that verse about loving each other deeply,
it's not an open statement for us just to gush everybody with hugs
and say they're there and their browns.
Of course you will, you know, agree with them all the time
and give them money to help them all the time
and just do all of those nice, lovely, wolly things
and say that it's not a cart blank statement for us to do that.
And sometimes the most loving word you and I can say, correct, is no.
Is no, you know.
Is Jesus loved and molded those early disciples into men and women of God
who would transform history.
That involved creating and reinforcing boundaries
in their lives about what was right and what was wrong,
what they should cross and what they shouldn't cross.
Chopping ears off for Jesus' name wasn't right.
They needed to learn that, right?
Peter needed to learn that.
Then he needed to learn a load of other things about thinking through
what it means to follow Jesus rather than just reacting all the time.
And the challenge is most of this, most of us find this really difficult
because it so often involves confrontation and we don't like confrontation.
And it involves talking about things that we want to avoid
and not doing that out of anger but doing that in a winsome manner
and that takes some doing.
But that's why we need Jesus to help us.
That's why we need him to help us and the Holy Spirit to help us.
But for me, those boundaries are part of the cost of loving each other deeply.
Boundaries are important because they protect us from getting caught up
with emotions that could lead to an action that we later regret.
Numerous times when I work, I get that email coming in and I think,
how do they do this?
And I type out an email response and then learning rather than to hit send
to put it in the draft folder.
There'll be a time of response afterwards.
And not do that.
And then come back the next day and look at that.
Maybe I was a little bit reactionary doing that and not do that.
Putting those boundaries in place so that it protects not only the other person
but yourself from just simply responding out of emotion and the repercussions
that that can lead to.
The fourth and final thing I just want to suggest to help us create an environment
in the church where we can learn to love each other deeply.
It's about community and that community being a safe space.
We're not meant to worship Jesus in isolation.
No one comprises the church on their own.
No one spiritually matures on their own.
No one undertakes Jesus' mission on their own.
We're meant to and we're called to work with other Christians alongside us.
This takes place in community.
The New Testament writers understood that it was just a taken for them.
That you follow God in community.
Jesus trained those disciples not in isolation, not one-on-one,
but together as a group learning to shave off their rough edges.
So when Peter writes this, it's to the church in community.
It's not to an individual.
We're not meant to follow God in isolation, but together as a community
of different people, at different points on our journey with a different appreciation
of God's Word, not a regimented set of people all believing the same thing
and acting the same way.
I think it was Wimber who said that, you know,
if you want something that's nice and neat and in rows, go to a cemetery.
But the church is meant to be not like a cemetery.
It's meant to be more like a nursery.
There's pooey nappies.
There's people throwing up.
There's the smells.
There's change of clothes.
And we're meant to be more like that.
So it's a community of people working out together.
But more importantly, it's a community that's meant to be a safe space.
Second granddaughter illustration.
When we know Megan is going to come and visit, we go round one of the rooms
and lift everything that's made a glass off the floor and put it on the side.
And then she turned it.
And she's 13 months old now, right?
She's just started to walk, been doing that for about three weeks.
I'm going to say walk.
It's kind of, you know, sort of sort of like, and then all of a sudden it's world.
You want more, unless it collapses.
But it's a safe space for her to do that.
You know, that's an image of the church.
Actually, we're all doing this for Jesus.
We're all trying to figure it out.
And we're all wobbling a bit.
And every so often we collapse.
And then we get up and we try again.
And this is meant to be a safe space where we can fail.
Where we can admit our failings.
And no one laughs at us or points the finger.
And we're not thrown out for not conforming.
We're meant to be a community that is a safe space.
I want to conclude just by flipping to a story right back in the beginning of the Bible
in the ninth chapter of Genesis where this story really, for me,
pictorally represents what Peter is talking about when he's calling us to love each other
deeply because that love covers the multitude of sins.
So this is about Noah, the guy who built the ark.
And this is after the ark incident, apologies if it's too small, but I'll read it.
And this is after the ark incident.
We read this.
Noah, a man of the soil proceeded to plant a vineyard.
When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.
Ham, that's one of his children, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked
and told his two brothers outside.
But Shem and J.F. took a garment and laid it across their shoulders
and they walked him backwards and covered their father's naked body.
Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
You see, too often we can be a bit like Ham.
Too often we can be, have you seen what they've done?
Too often we can see, have you heard about that?
I mean, they're even a good church person.
You know, this guy, Noah, he built the ark and responded to the grace of God
and rescued mankind through the flood.
But too often we're quick to point a finger and quick to tell somebody else
about what they've done.
And too often we're like that.
And God is calling you and me to be more like Shem and J.F. in this story
that we learn to love one another.
Because that love, like the blanket in the story, hides, covers a multitude of sins.
God is asking us here to be a people who learn what it is to cover over each other's sins.
And that comes from loving each other deeply.
We have much to learn.