A sermon given at St Budock Church on 13th Sept 2003
A service of the renewal of wedding vows by two good friends N&M
in which I was asked to present the "Good News".
Today is an opportunity to celebrate 20 years of faithfulness by N&M.
For promises made and promises kept.
Today these promises are renewed as a public witness.
You may have read the quote from Ecc. on the front of the service sheet
about a cord that is not quickly broken becuase it has 3 stands, not just 2.
God has made promises to us; and he will not break them,
indeed he cannot break them.
What does he say?
If you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will find him. Deut 429
During these years N&M have sought the Lord - and they have found him.
Those of you who have known them longer than I
will have seen the transformation.
Jesus Christ with N&M have proved to be a 3 stranded rope -
A rope that will not be broken.
Today is all about promises and faithfulness.
So let us consider what the Lord has promised to all men.
In the scriptures he often describes us as being sheep,
and he as the Shepherd.
Some may be offended with being likened to sheep!
for they aren't reckoned as being the most intelligent of animals!
Many men think they can manage without a Shepherd.
But what happens when the grass runs out?
Who will shear their thick woolly coats in Summer?
Who will clip their feet, or give them medicine for liver fluke?
Who will assist them at lambing time?
Who will protect them against hungry foxes?
Any sheep without a shepherd is lost! He is doomed.
Why do so many think they can live a fulfilled and good life without God?
Some even think they can die without God?
Some risk leaving it to the end. George left it until the very last week!
He was only just in time to receive God's eternal mercy and forgiveness.
It is a bold man who can stand confident before the judgement throne
without Jesus as his Advocate.
And may I say, he is a most foolish man.
Such arrogance must surely be misplaced.
But honestly, do you know the truth about your life now
and about your eternal destiny?
Can anyone dare to say they have never sinned?
Can anyone claim to have lived a perfect life by God's standards?
Hear again the love song from God, given to us by the prophet Isaiah.
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit ... He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
Sadly, no day goes by when any of us can say, "I have not sinned."
Now Jesus Christ said in John 8 that "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin."
And elsewhere that the soul that sins shall surely die.
The Jews replied to Jesus,
"We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone."
We British have the exact equivalent of that.
It is sung every year with great gusto on the last night of the Proms.
"Britannia rules the waves, Britains never, never, never shall be slaves."
What ridiculous arrogance!
No mere man could ever rule the waves.
The Son of God says that all of us are already slaves; slaves to sin.
Do we think we know better than God?!
And it wasn't true for the Jews of that day either.
They had been slaves in Egypt, slaves in Babylon and were virtually slaves
of the Romans on the day they made such a silly claim.
Jesus told them, and he tells us now, "The truth will set you free."
The big question is; what truth are we willing to hear?
1st Truth is this:
God says that I am a slave to sin.
New year resolutions inevitably fail to make me good.
I cannot change my nature which wants to do what God says is wrong.
Too much alcohol may look good but causes many rows and headaches.
Sex today is more often lust
rather than a beautiful expression of love and union.
It is not only governments that lie and spin and try to create a good image.
Men delight to deny that God is the amazing Designer and Creator.
They ridicule the fact that God judged the world in the days of Noah,
that he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah - with good reason.
Worst of all most men see God as being irrelevant and old-fashioned;
they reject him.
So it is not surprising that when God looks for righteousness
he only sees distress.
He sees all men as slaves to sin. Crying, disillusioned, angry, and at war.
But refusing to call upon Jesus Christ; the only one who can set us free.
God says that the consequences of sin is death.
Not physical death, but the death of all relationship with God.
A death that breaks the whole purpose of Creation.
God's desire is to love men and women and be loved by them.
Didn't you catch something of that in his love song that we just read?
Did you hear God's disappointment?
His cry, "What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?"
Are there not moments when we are lonely for God?
Times when everything has gone wrong and we cry inside?
Times when we know we are guilty but we cannot forgive ourselves?
Or in the dark night of our despairing souls
when we yearn for even a single drop of encouragement?
"O God, if you are there, please help me!"
Why is it too much for some of you to admit that you need God?
Do you think that religion is only for weak women and pensioners?!
Will you admit that every one of us need God's forgiveness
for ignoring and insulting him?
When all I can do is cry, "Help!" "God have mercy upon me,"
has God done anything to bridge the great divide;
to annul this death, this separation from him?
Again it is the prophet Isaiah who reveals the truth to us.
He tells us of the whole purpose of why Jesus came to earth.
He reveals what the Saviour would have to do for us.
In Isaiah 53 it is written: He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering ... surely he took our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... he was pierced for our transgressions ... the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all ... he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.
No wonder he says, What more could have been done for my vineyard?
Today we are often reticent to think that all crime deserves a punishment.
But this is God's verdict, his truth. Sin must be punished.
Jesus, who knew we could not pay the death penalty for our sin,
came and paid it for us.
He hung on the Cross in agony and died just for me - just for you.
Isn't that amazing? He didn't deserve to be crucified.
Even Pilate, the Roman Governor said that he had done nothing wrong.
When I could not pay, Love paid the price in full.
What more could have been done for my vineyard?
Why do so many reject God's offer, his rescue plan?
Isn't it fantastic how much the Saviour was willing to give
for our forgiveness?
Why is it so difficult to admit my slavery to sin?
To acknowledge the consequence - that God seems miles away?
I plead with you to see what Christ has done for us on the Cross;
The Good Shepherd who said, I lay down my life for the sheep.
It is the revelation of this truth that will set us free.
This is the promise of God that Jesus Christ, the Son of God kept.
His promise is guaranteed.
Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Or is slavery such fun that it surpasses real freedom and total forgiveness?
As the psalmist says, He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Not only is Jesus our Redeemer, but he is also our Advocate.
In God's court of Justice, after the charges are read,
and the evidence is heard;
finally the verdict is given - Guilty!
It is then that believers hear their mighty Advocate say,
"Yes, it is true the prisoner is guilty; and he admits his guilt.
But I have borne his punishment in full.
Justice has been done.
And it has been seen to have been done."
For it was completed 2000 years ago, on a Cross just outside Jerusalem.
The prisoner is therefore set free!!
As Charles Wesley wrote,
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth and followed thee.
What more could God have done us?
Has God begun to open your heart to this truth?
Do not let anyone, or anything, take it away.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart.
For What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world
and loses his own soul?
As Jesus said,
I am the good shepherd ... the sheep listen to his voice.
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out ...
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me
has eternal life and will not be condemned;
he has crossed over from death to life.
I beg you, hear these words of Jesus, listen to him, follow him.
He will always keep his word.
He always fulfills what he has promised.
See this truth - there is nothing more he could have done for us.
What a generous, faithful and compassionate Saviour!
We bow together before you, the Lord Almighty.
You, who created all of heaven and earth.
You, who remain for ever the King of the Universe and Redeemer of men.
We are relieved and glad that you hold the present and future
in your hands.
Hands that are so reliable and steadfast.
All that is unknown to us is so clear to you.
In this, your world, your plans will be fulfilled and your purpose achieved.
Nothing and no one can thwart you, such is your power and majesty.
Lord, we confess our foolishness, forgetfulness, our selfishness and greed,
our wilful pride and all that offends you. Lord, please forgive us.
Cover us with your mercy and peace and extend them over us.
For we recall the truth that the Lord has laid on Jesus the sin of us all.
O Lord we express our gratitude for your forgiveness, your faithfulness.
For we deserve none of your consistent grace.
On this special day we give thanks for Noel and Marvyn -
for the changes you have made,
for their example of your handiwork,
for their continuing earnest for you.
May their future together be fruitful and righteous,
and so bring pleasure to your heart, O God.
And now we thank you Lord, for your Word,
the Scriptures that have proved true and accurate
from the dawn of time.
Our plea is for the Counsellor, whom you promised,
that he may come to make known what is hidden
and to lighten our darkness,
may he answer our desire to hear
and fulfill our willingness to obey.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Advocate. Amen.
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone - who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground his body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave he rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!