Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sermon for Sunday 28th January 2024 at 9.00am

As much as a sermon on Revelation, dragons, stars being swept away and the eating of a male son is fascinating, today we are going to look at the Deuteronomy and Mark passages – but I hope a good series on Revelation could be enjoyed by us all one day!

Well, the OT reading in Deuteronomy is talking of God raising up a special prophet, with God’s own words in his mouth, speaking all that God commands. Obviously, this person would have immense authority, and would be a tremendous teacher. And that brings me to the key message today: grasp the authority that we, the church, have; for this world needs guidance. Be confident in the authority given to us!

Now it’s worth noting here what we mean by ‘prophet’. We tend to think of fortune-tellers, people who can look into the future and tell you mysteries! But 90% of the time, all God’s prophets do is tell people the terms of the agreement they signed with God.

God said to his people: You shall represent me on earth. So I want you to live good lives, with compassion and justice as markers of being my people. Follow these laws. If you don’t, you are not being my people, you are disrespecting me, and so I will punish you. If you obey, I will bless you, and look after you.

So most of the time all the prophets did was point out those terms of the contract. If you don’t hold to your side of the agreement with God, then expect trouble, because they are the terms of the agreement!

So basically this special prophet in Deuteronomy is mainly going to remind people of their commitments and duties as God’s people, and show them how to live rightly.

Fast forward to Galilee, 2000 years ago, and we have Jesus bursting onto the scene. He enters the synagogue and teaches, and they are all bowled over, because Jesus teaches with authority. So what does this mean?

We believe that many of the scribes and teachers of the law at that time were basically telling the people listening what other teachers had said and debated. It would be like me saying:

  • Originally, Jesus said “love your neighbour”. But what did he really mean?
  • Now, the great teacher Daphne Green thinks that Jesus meant all people when he says neighbour
  • But the teacher Glen said we should only love the person living in our house next door.
  • Meanwhile, the teacher Humberto said we should love our neighbours and their pets…

So the actual person preaching and teaching in the synagogue was basically just giving bits of previous teachers, giving no authority of his own. Jesus, on the other hand, quotes no other rabbi or teacher; Jesus just tells them exactly what the text means, and bases that entirely on his own understanding and vision.

And to cap it all, the demons know exactly what is going on, and Jesus tells them – without invoking any other power or authority, but in his own name – to be gone and to leave people. Exorcists always invoked the name of a more superior spiritual power when facing evil, but Jesus simply commands them under his own authority.

And it’s fascinating how Mark tell us that people were focused not on the miracles, but on the teaching. How many of us would choose to hear someone teaching instead of someone doing miracles?!

But what kind of teaching is this? Well, the ancients wanted to know wisdom – they understood that death was everywhere, and how fragile life was, and they wanted to know how to live wisely, how to live rightly with God. And so we have in the Bible much of that teaching – the 10 commandments for example. And Jesus simply took much of that law and expanded it, refocusing not on literal obedience but on the heart motives behind it.

How on earth has the church gotten into such a mess today? We have the authority of Jesus to use in our teaching, and yet sometimes you read about bishops in different places saying the most ridiculous things!  How has the church abandoned its authority to teach and guide society?!

Let us take just three commandments from the original 10 as an example:

  1. Observe a Sabbath day of rest. Oh no, said many states in the West, not us! And so we now have no day in the week on which everyone can have a rest; no day when families and friends can be guaranteed time together. No day when a nation can go for walks or watch the same events, building a common identity. And we see the fruits: division and breakdown as people live in their own camps. Growing worker stress and burnout, and of course an ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor. We know whom Sunday work-hours really favour…the bosses!
    1. We can tell society that people need rest, that a day for everyone to relax is actually a good thing for mental health and social cohesion! It’s great that Switzerland is largely still holding on to a Sabbath day!
  2. And then there is Thou Shalt Not Murder. Surely this is safe? Yet we see pressure from conception to old-age for more death. I have seen statistics showing more and more pressure in Portugal and some other states that legalised Euthanasia to expand these programmes, with more and more people in society using arguments like “they are old, they don’t serve an economic value anymore”! And disabled people are feeling more and more pressure to “remove themselves” from being “burdens”.
    1. We need to speak out – life is precious and instead of killing off people, we need to work on palliative care. Profit must not come before life!
  3. And then there is “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”. The desire here is for committed relationships offering safety to raise children; yet we see more and more children born into situations where the man can leave at any moment without consequences; where sexually transmitted diseases are spreading; where birthrates are plummeting because of selfish desires not to commit; where pornography addictions are destroying the younger generations.
    1. We have to stand up and confidently say that, just because people are sinners and broken, the institution of marriage is not! That all the statistics say a good stable marriage is the best way to raise children, even if it feels crazy on the inside!

All these problems – abusive sex, addictions, no commitment, corporate greed, growing callousness at the value of life: these are the world we live in, and it is a world that desperately needs authoritative teaching, matched to love.

Now of course the church has done badly in the past, preaching morals and condemning those who fail, but just because people are sinners and fallible, it does not make the message wrong. Now as a church we tend to “love” everyone in the “dark” without giving them a light! True love involves hard conversations and showing people truth as well as compassion.

So let us grasp the fact that Jesus gave us authority to teach and let us offer guidance, confident in our message and in our saviour, who desires that we lead people as prophets to them, as lights in the dark. Let us offer guidance in humility but confident that we have the answer – a life in which we say “repent, submit to Jesus, and live according to the light that he gives”.

This world desperately needs us to stand confidently and show them the way.