Archive for June, 2013
One of the many problems that the Christian has to deal with is that of diverse opinions among the various faith groups whether they be Muslim, Jewish or Christian, to name but three.
People who follow any faith cannot and do not know it all; the problems arise when they think they do.
People are easily swayed by convincing talkers, especially if we think that they know more than we do.
I like to watch quiz shows on the television and one of my favourites is the Eggheads, where a resident panel of proven quizzers is pitted against a panel of challengers who could be from any walk of life, some are regular quizzers, while others may have never quizzed together before.
In the first 4 rounds one player from each side is pitted against the other on a particular subject and the winner of each of these duels is entitled to compete in the final round, which is of general knowledge.
If there is more than one player on a team in the final round then they are allowed to confer with each other.
What often happens in this final round is that the players will come up with different answers to a question and so they then have to decide which answer to give.
Sometimes they choose the right answer, while at other times the person who has the right answer is overruled.
This can happen when the person with the right answer is not sure of their ground and so they do not stick to their guns; or when the person with the wrong answer is adamant that their answer is right.
Unfortunately exactly the same situation happens with religions, and when it does it can lead to vitriolic arguments and in extreme cases to violence.
So what we have to do is to figure out a way of getting to the truth.
In our Old Testament reading we heard of the way elijah was able to deal with the situation.
Ahab was the King of Israel and he had married Jezebel, a princess of Sidon, who was a Baal worshipper. She was a stronger character and converted him to her less demanding religion.
Why Ahab called the people to this showdown on Mount Carmel I don’t know, but there was only one prophet of the Lord left, Elijah, speaking out against the 450 prophets of Baal, so Ahab probably wanted rid of the one dissenter once and for all.
The 450 were called on first to make their offering to Baal who they called upon to accept their offering. But after crying out to this false God from morning to evening nothing happened.
When it was Elijah’s turn he called upon the God of Israel and his offering was consumed by fire and the people realised that they had been led astray.
Unfortunately we will probably not be able to use such dramatic methods to find and to demonstrate the truth; however there are less dramatic ways that we can employ.
These range from prayer, to discussion and study, but even then we might find that we cannot reach a consensus so will have to agree to differ.
And it is the agreeing to differ that can bring peace between conflicting beliefs.
As you know there are 3 readings that the lectionary offer each week and this week the 2nd one, which we did not hear this morning, was from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
In this he is admonishing the Christians of Galatia, which was a Roman province in the middle of modern day Turkey, for turning away from the true gospel and introducing rights contrary to those which Paul had taught them.
They had been told by some of the Jewish Christians that to become true followers of Christ they had to follow the practises of the Jews such as circumcision and dietary restrictions, in other words they had to become Jews.
Why they were told this we can only speculate on. It could be that the hard line Jewish Christians who were putting forward these views were motivated by a love of their Jewish heritage.
Or it could be that they were trying to integrate Judaism and Christianity, or even that they had a jealous desire to destroy Paul’s authority.
But whatever it was these Galatian Christians, who were mainly of Greek extraction, were in a quandary and many of them had strayed from the simple message that Paul had originally given to them.
He pointed out that a person is saved by Grace, through faith. Salvation is a gift from God and not a reward for certain deeds.
Jesus Christ has made this gift available to all people, both Jew and Gentile, it is one of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith so we must beware of people who say we need more than a simple faith in Christ to be saved.
When people set up additional requirements for salvation they dilute our belief in the power of Christ’s death on the cross.
There are many different Church organisations and many different ways of expressing our love and worship of God.
When Christine and I are in Scotland we usually worship in a Church of Scotland church on the North coast at Canisbay. The style of worship is very different from our worship here, but it is in no way less valid nor is the worship offered in the Baptist, Methodist or Roman Catholic Church, many many more.
However, if a Church starts to stipulate that you must carry out this or that ritual we should always bear in mind that these rules are only requirements to be a member of that particular organisation and not a requirement to be a Christian.
In my opinion anything which helps us to worship is a good thing, if you find kneeling helpful when praying then kneel; if you find incense helpful then sometimes you might want to attend a service where it is wafted.
But beware of thinking that worshippers who use these aids have a better chance of receiving salvation than those who do not.
It is Christ who offers salvation; we cannot earn it by worshipping in a certain way or carrying out certain rituals.
Christ died on the cross and in doing so took our sins upon his shoulders. This is his gift to us. Nothing we can do or say will alter that.
But we do have the choice to accept or reject the gift. It is our belief in him that means we accept it, not the way we chose to worship him.
In our gospel reading this morning we heard about the Roman Centurion who was obviously sympathetic to the Jewish faith.
Most Jews hated the Romans, but he had helped them, even going to the length of building them a synagogue, so when he asked the elders to intercede with Jesus on his behalf they did so.
But it was not his good works which had commended him to Jesus, it was his faith.
So this is the message I take from today’s readings: that we must not substitute our belief in religious practices for our belief in God.
There will always be people who will try to impose their particular brand of religion on others and the twisting of the truth is always more difficult to spot than an all out lie.
But the truth is that God is love. He loves us and wants us to love him; whatever we can do to nurture that love is good while anything that separates us from God will only cause hurt and anguish.
Jesus Christ came down to Earth to seal the bond between man and God, that seal is love, a simple love which is open to everyone. All we have to do is to believe in him and our worship, however simple or complicated will be acceptable to him.