FROM THE DESK OF WILL SPOKES, SENIOR PASTOR
Words For Reflection:
It was that through [Jesus’] total consecration to the Father in his passion there should be created a community which would continue that which he came from the Father to be and to do—namely to embody and to announce the presence of the reign of God. And the authenticating marks of that body, when it is true to its nature and calling, will be that it shares the passion of Jesus. The Church is not authorized to represent the reign of God, his justice and his peace, in any other way than that in which Jesus represented it, namely by being partners with him in challenging the powers of evil and bearing in its own life the cost of the challenge. – Leslie Newbigin
For next Sunday:
Sermon Text: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Holy, Holy, Holy - Adoration
The Heavens Declare Thy Glory - Adoration
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling - Grace
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy - Response
All Things Bright and Beautiful - Communion
Doxology - Old 100th
The Bible Project:
As a way to help you grasp the over-arching story of the Bible, I am going to include each week a link to one of The Bible Project videos that summarizes in a few minutes one book of the Bible.
This week check out the summary of 1 Corinthians.
If you are looking for help to read the Bible in a more regular way, you may findthis approach and this app helpful.
In some branches of the Christian Church tomorrow marks what some call "AshWednesday" as the beginning of the season of "Lent" leading up to Easter Sunday. If you are looking for something to help you think about the death and resurrection of Jesus over the next several weeks here are two helpful resources.
A Journey Through Lent
Bread & Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
Singing To God (Psalm 95:1-5)
Be Thou My Vision
Be Thou my vision,
O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me,
save that Thou art
Thou my best thought,
by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping,
Thy presence my light.
Bowing Before God (Psalm 95:6-7b)
Prayer of Confession
Father in heaven, we need to be forgiven. We have tried to work off our guilt and shame; to pile up good deeds that outweigh our bad deeds. We have tried to change through our own efforts. When this doesn’t work, we turn to denial and distraction, leaving some of us arrogant and the rest of us anxious and depressed. Forgive us for thinking we could save ourselves rather than resting in the merits of Jesus Christ. Forgive us for our pride. Forgive us and heal us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Words of Grace
22 Thus says the Lord God: 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 …[A]nd you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
Ezekiel 36:22, 25-28
Hearing From God (Psalm 95:7c-11)
Sermon Text - James 1:18-27
18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
1. The both/and of Gospel Ministry (v. 22; Mt. 10:1,5a, 7-8a)
2. The possibility of Gospel Ministry (v. 18, 23-25)
3. The character of Gospel Ministry (v. 26-27)
This week was our last week looking at our new vision: RMC exists to pursue renewal and healing for all the people and places of Birmingham through Gospel ministry in word and deed. In previous weeks we looked at what we mean by the word "pursue" followed by "renewal and healing," "people and places" and finally this week "word and deed." A good vision answers key questions, which is what we've tried to do. Our vision answers, "Why are we here?" "Who are we called to serve?" and "How will we go about our ministry?"
The answer to the "how" question can succinctly be answered in two words: word and deed. There are two errors we must avoid for our ministry to be truly Gospel Ministry. The first we might call the conservative error. The conservative error emphasizes "word" ministry, usually described as evangelism to the neglect of "deed" ministry, usually described as mercy ministry. The liberal or progressive error emphasizes "deed" ministry to the neglect of "word" ministry. Put another way, one error emphasizes love for God but neglects love for neighbor. The other error emphasizes love for neighbor and neglects love for God.
As we turn to James 1:18-27 we aren't left with an either/or option. James and, as we will see, Jesus only give us a both/and option for gospel ministry. Verse 22 reads, "be doers of the word, and not hearers only." The basic premise of true gospel ministry is an intimate link between word and deed. Where does that link come from? To answer that question we need to look to Jesus and how he went about his ministry. In Matthew 10 Jesus calls his 12 disciples and gives them authority to go out and do what he has been doing: healing people, casting out demons, cleansing lepers, etc. and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. The important point for us to notice is proclaiming the good news explains their deeds and theirs deeds provide the context for proclaiming the good news. Taken together, word and deed communicate their is a new reality and it is the presence of Jesus himself! The kingdom of God has come near in him. Therefore, our words and our deeds together proclaim and make tangible the good news God has for the world, or as James puts it "the righteousness of God" (v. 20). In context this phrase refers to that which is just in God's eyes.
How is this kind of ministry possible? James says, "be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (v. 19)." What are we supposed to be quick to hear? The word of truth (v. 18), the perfect law (v. 25), the law of liberty (v. 25). In other words, it is the life-giving, fruit-bearing word of God that alone can create this kind of ministry. And yet, James is aware we are prone to anger, to forget, to self-deception. The antidote is gazing intently into God's word (v. 25). It's important to note that James doesn't assume we have what we need to do the life of faith. And so he points us to God's revelation, his word which brings us to The Word, the Lord Jesus. Why do we need this word? Because it is this word that brings us into fellowship with Jesus and sets us free from anger, wickedness, filthiness, self-deception, forgetfulness, destructive tongues, and worthless religion.
What does this kind of ministry look like? It has two basic ingredients: personal holiness and social responsibility. James focuses personal holiness on the tongue. Why? Because out of the heart the mouth speaks (Mt. 12:34; see also James 3). In other words, our words are the best indicator of our holiness, our likeness to Christ. James focuses social responsibility on care for the vulnerable. James isn't giving an exhaustive list of what pleases God, but specific, concrete examples of a life shaped by the law of liberty. These are the two basic ingredients of true gospel ministry fueled by words and deeds of the Kingdom.
So what? Why does this matter? It matters because it is the only way to participate in the life of Jesus as our Good Shepherd and King. Gospel ministry in word and deed is practically what it means to take up our cross and follow after Jesus. It is how Jesus works out the new reality of the Kingdom in and through his people for the good of the world!
Sermon Reflection Questions
- What stood out to you from these verses?
- Which kind of ministry do you tend toward: word or deed?
- Why do you think the both/and of Gospel ministry is so challenging?
- How does the ministry of Jesus hold the two together and enable us to pursue the same?
Confession of Faith: The New City Catechism, 2017
Q. 6. How can we glorify God?
A. We glorify God by enjoying him, loving him, trusting him, and by obeying his will, commands, and law.
You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.