Prayers and Sermon: 11th June 2017

“God does the impossible”

Genesis 18: 1 – 15 (Sarah)

Psalm 116 (life from death)

Romans 5.1 – 8

Matthew 9.35 – 10.8 (The men Jesus called)

I saw a sign outside an electrical repair shop. It read The impossible we attend to at once; miracles take a little longer. We’ve all seen signs like that and we don’t take them seriously. We don’t take the shop to court, charging them with mislaeding advertising. They are just a joke. That was how Sarah viewed the promise of some angelic visitors that she, well past the menopause and Abraham. something over one hundred years old, would be having a child within the next year. The idea was ludicrous. That was why she laughed. And wouldn’t you, in that situation, have laughed too? But, it happened and, right on cue, Isaac was born. What was impossible in human understanding, God did. A thousand years or so later a man cries out, The danger of death was all around me; the horrors of the grave closed in on me. I was filled with fear and anxiety; I said, I am completely crushed. But a little later the same man says, The Lord saved me from death, he stopped my tears and kept me from defeat. We know nothing about this man; not his name or his predicament. Only that what seemed certain death to him became life and rejoicing. What seemed impossible to him, God did. Fast forward another thousand years and we read that Jesus was born but not in the usual way. and look at what who and what Jesus was. He did some remarkable things. John’s Gospel tells about water turned into wine and about Lazarus being raised from death, and the synoptic goselas record feeding huge crowds of people with minimal resources. But I find much more remarkable what happened to the people Jesus called to be his closest friends and followers. Their names are recorded in more than one place, including in Matthew’s
Gospel in today’s lectionary readings. I invite you to consider them.Peter and Andrew were brothers, and they were fishermen Peter became the leader of the twelve and we hear lots about him. Especially he was the one who first recognised that Jesus was the Messiah, God’s special envoy. Then there were James and John, brothers, whose father we know was called Zebedee. They too were fishermen. They were a bit hot headed, and Jesus gave them a nickname – Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder. They were the two whose mother, Mrs Zebedee, asked Jesus if they could have top places in the Kingdom of Heaven which aroused a bit of resentment in the others.. All those four were fishermen: fishermen were manual workers, not academics. Hard workers with their hands; gruelling work hauling nets, out night and day in all sorts of weather.I met a man in Plymouth once when we were on holiday. He was a fisherman and in the course of conversation I asked him ih had been born in Devonshire. He said, he was, and then quoted a rhyme: Devonshire born and Devonshire bred, Strong in the arm and weak in the head. I don’t think he was weak in the head at all, but apparently that’s what some people think about men from THAT seagoing county. That’s what peoplethought of fishermen on Lake Galilee. But Jesus chose them – and changed them. Then there was Matthew. He was a tax collector, and you know what people thought about taxmen. Nobody likes paying paying taxes, but the Jews more than most, because they thought that paying money to Rome was terrible. And Matthew collected money from Jews to be paid to the Romans, who had conquered their land. That was even worse. Matthew was thought of by everyone as a traitor. Jews lumped tax collectors along with murders and robbers as most to despised. But Jesus chose him. – and changed him Matthew had a brother, too. Most Jews had two names, and Matthew was also called Levi as Mark’s Gospel tells us. And we are told that Levi (Matthew) was the son of Alpheus. And when we come further down the list to another James who is described as the son of Alpheus as well, though we know nothing else about him. So there were three sets of brothers – half the whole lot of disciples. Then there was Simon, who is described as a zealot – that is, a fanatical political activist. The sort of man to heckle at meetings, make protests, wave banners and even take part in what today we call terrorism. And Jesus chose him. Normally Matthew and Simon would have hated each other! But Jesus chose both of them. There was Thomas, who never believed anything unless it could be proved conclusively. He was always asking awkward questions, and if he didn’t know something he asked – which I suppose is generally a good thing, but which after a while can get on your nerves. Though his questions elected some amazing answers which we treasure today. There was Philip, about whom we wouldn’t  now much if it were not for John’s Gospel. He tells us that Philip was actually the first man that Jesus called to follow him. Bartholomew. We are told nothing about him, though he is probably the same person as Nathaniel who is mentioned in John’s Gospel, But as far as the Gospels go he was a nonentity. And Judas Iscariot, who later turned against Jesus. That is the collection of people whom Jesus chose to change the world! What a hopeless lot they appear to be! And what happened to them, what did they do? Jesus gave them instructions – tasks that would have seemed impossible to them: Preach – but they were not trained speakers Heal – but they were not doctors or paramedics Bring the dead to life – but they were not God Cure leprosy – but they were not consultants Cure the mentally ill – but they were not psycotherpists And all those things they did: all those people they became. That’s all history: does God do the impossible today? Does he change people today? I think of the brilliant classicist E V Rieu who was asked by Penguin Books to make a new translation of the four Gospels, and who, in the process, became a Christian and a powerful exponent of Christianity. I think of a big lad called Tom, with little formal education, whose friends were mostly ruffians, whom God called, and who became a minister who exercised a great ministry with lads who hung around the canals in Birmingham. I think of two professors, atheist and agnostic, CE M Joan and C S Lewis. I think of Anders Borg, Julie Burchill, Nicky Gumbell and A N wilson. But they are all people well enough known to ne notable. For every one of those there are hundreds who in the worlds eyes are not notable, and of whom most people have never heard; but whose lives God changed, into people who used every talent to lead others to Christ. . Some of them you know, some I know, probably some brought you to Jesus; many whom none of us know – but they are there telling God’s story. But even that is not enough. It is clear that WE are included in God’s promise. Maybe he has already begun to change us: but the process is never static. God promises to empower and  change us,or go on changing us to be prophets to our generation, priests to their needs and encouragers to the lost. Yes, we in City Church today atr included in the promise. Is God wanting to change you to be people of yet greater service, to be people you never dreamed of being? He may well be: because God is the God of the impossible. I was going to use a hymn of Wesley’s but it isn’t in your book. So I’ll just quote the last verse: Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, And looks to that alone; Laughs at impossibilities And cries, It shall be done. God laughs at impossibilities, and in us, even us, it shall be dome.

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