Sunday 26th April

In His Steps – Obedience

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21

This week we have the second in the series for Sunday mornings entitled “In his steps”. This is inspired by a book of the same name by Charles M Sheldon, a Pastor in Kansas USA. This novel was written in 1896 and it explores what would happen in a small town if everyone asked the question “what would Jesus do” before making any decisions. The book is one of the best sellers of all time, has been made into films and started the “WWJD” wrist bands etc still worn today.

We don’t have a manual telling us what Jesus would do in any given situation, it would have been huge, so Jesus came to set an example for us all to follow. In this series we are looking at a number of characteristics shown by Jesus while he was here on earth. Hopefully we will learn more about him in the process and be able to know more of what he wants for our lives.

This week we will be looking at Obedience….

Prayer

Lord we come before you today as a group of your people, physically separated from each other, but drawn together by your love to share and to learn from you. We acknowledge our doubts and fears, we confess our sin and self-centredness, but we lift our eyes to you, the one who loves us, knows us and gave himself for us. Help us to hear your voice through the bible passages and accompanying thoughts and, by your Spirit, challenge us, comfort us and help us to grow more like Jesus in whose steps we seek to follow.

Amen

The Start

In Luke 2:41-52 we read of Jesus, as a child of twelve going to Jerusalem for the Festival of Passover and on the face of it, by staying behind without his parent’s knowledge might look like an act of disobedience. There seems to be something of a normal family experience here, how many of us who are parents have suddenly realised our child is not with us?!

In Luke 2:51, we read that he was obedient to his parents.

Do we see here that as a child of twelve, Jesus accepts the authority of his parents, yet he has an understanding that there is a bigger picture, a different spiritual perspective relating to God’s Kingdom.

Song: Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

I don’t know about you, but often when I think about obedience, it conjures a picture of the taking away of freedom, being controlled by sets of rules and rigid parameters within which one has to think and act. This has been demonstrated in countries over the years where authoritarian dictatorships define every aspect of life taking away freedom to choose.

Our experience through the current situation with Covid-19 has demonstrated that there are times, even in a country such as ours with high levels of individual freedom, when it is necessary to be obedient. We are all now abundantly familiar with……………………..

And as a nation, perhaps surprisingly, most people have recognised the bigger picture and have been obedient to the directive, despite the immense loss of freedom to go about our lives and do, more or less, as we please.

So, what would Jesus do……………..

Read: John 14:15-31

Often the focus is on dis-obedience but in this passage, Jesus is speaking to his disciples in anticipation of his death, giving the promise of the Holy Spirit. He links together obedience to love but there is also the sense that the promised Advocate comes through obedience, which is as a result of trust in God the Father.

  • Obedience is embedded in love
  • To be obedient there is a requirement for trust

Obedience is embedded in love

In John 14:15 it says ‘if you love me, keep my commandments’. We have to be careful here, words that say ‘if you love me, you would…………….’ can be a preface to the exercising of coercive control, often experienced in abusive and manipulative relationships, so we need to dig a bit deeper. Behind this statement of Jesus, are the commands he references, John 14:23 ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching’. An understanding of what Jesus’ teaching is therefore fundamental.

In Mark 12:28-34 Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment and vs 29-31 sum it up:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

The root word for love here is from the Greek word Agape. Agape love is unconcerned with the self and concerned with the greatest good of another. Agape isn’t born just out of emotions, feelings, familiarity, or attraction, but from the will and as a choice. Agape requires faithfulness, commitment, and sacrifice without expecting anything in return.

We have experienced the love of God, Romans 5:8 ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Unconcerned with self, Jesus went to the cross to die for us, he chose to go to the cross, showing love through obedience.

If we love God, we keep his commands, if we keep his commands, we love others as God has loved us.

‘Show me how to love like you have loved me’

Song: Hosanna

To be obedient there is a requirement for trust

How do we get to the point of trusting someone or in something? Often it is a process, we get to know that person and as the relationship grows, trust develops. We perhaps witness and observe, we learn from experiences of others and at some point, we arrive at the place where we can say ‘I trust this person’. Sometimes this might involve an acknowledgement that the person has a greater knowledge and perhaps, at least in some areas, is a higher authority and we make a choice that we will trust that person, even if it is against our instinct and nature.

In our experience with God, the more we learn of him, the more we observe him working in others and in ourselves, our trust can grow. Ultimately, the recognition and acceptance of God as the higher authority can feed into decisions we make every day in every circumstance, we can either obey God and trust Him in the good and bad circumstances, or we can rely on ourselves. The act of trusting Him is a simple and recurring act of obedience, even in the most minor decisions of life.

Disobedience is not always wrapped in a sinful-looking package. Yes, it is sinful to disobey God because it hurts the heart of the one who has a plan for our lives. It damages our fellowship with Him and leads to feelings of guilt and shame. But far too often when we hear the word disobedience, we think of something that is clearly wrong. However, we disobey God when we refuse to do what He has gifted, trained and called us to do. Our refusal to be open to His plan can bring misery and regret. On our own, we do not have significant insight into the future. All we can do is make choices based on what may or may not take place. When all is said and done, only one person has absolute knowledge, and that is the Lord. And He has promised to provide the guidance we need:

Proverbs 3:5-8

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
    and nourishment to your bones.

In John 14:26-27 it says  ‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’

Last week Charles said: ‘The lockdown arising from Covid-19 is forcing us as Christians to re-imagine Church. We all know that Church is not the building, but, in the absence of real, flesh-and-blood, warm human contact, we are reminded that Fellowship is richer than we might yet have experienced.

Many of us are longing for when we might be able to meet together again. I daresay, it will not be the same as it used to be when we do!’

Does the thought that church will not be the same as it used to be fill us with fear and uncertainty? Are things ever going to be ‘normal’ again? Are we at the beginning of something new, something different? Is God about to do something new in his church and are we open to whatever this might be?

When Jesus made the promise of the Holy Spirit to the disciples in this passage, they would have had little idea of what was going to happen to Jesus. They undoubtedly would have been troubled and afraid as events unfolded, but I’m sure at some point, they would have remembered these words and promise of Jesus: John 14:21 ‘Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.’

Song: I’m gonna trust in God

Conclusion

To follow in his steps of obedience we should:

  • Recognise the authority of those who are placed in such positions (the government, chief medical officer, chief scientific advisor perhaps?) but understand that there is a bigger picture, a different spiritual perspective relating to God’s Kingdom.
  • Obedience is embedded in love which is unconcerned with the self and concerned with the greatest good of another.
  • To be obedient there is a requirement for trust which is a conscious decision to look to the Father and to be assured that whatever is ahead, it is in hands.

Song: Faithful one, so unchanging

Prayer

Lord, we thank you for all that you teach us through your word. Help us in this coming week to be the people you have called us to be, to be obedient, to love our neighbour as ourselves and to trust in you for the future, whatever it holds.

Amen

A reminder of the suggestion of an ongoing piece of artwork to remind you of what we are studying, perhaps footsteps with the key verses in for each week.

The key verse this week is Luke 2:51