What must we do to perform the works of God?
The age-old question still asked today: What is it we must do to make God happy with us? What must we do, what work must we carry out, what tasks must we complete, what burdens must we fulfil , what sacrifice does this entail? Tell us – we must know! And the answer …
“Love Me, you and all.” And the age-old response …
“Yes – but how – what must we DO???”
Why is love never enough? Why do we so often strip away simplicity and cloak it with mundane? Why do we look for rules and sin – rather than love and unconditional?
Have you ever been held by a loving mother, father, granddad, or grandma? Has your sister, brother, nephew or niece ever need help? Have you ever laughed uncontrollably in the company of others? Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes and connected at such a deep level you can no longer speak? Have you ever held a small baby and cradled it to sleep – and been unable to resist breathing kisses over the child’s face? Have you watched a sunset or a sunrise in the mutual silence of another? Have you been so full of wonder at the sticky buds on a spring tree you just had to tell someone? Have you ever … and have any of these ever happened to you?
Last night I gave my much heralded “first sermon”. As sermons go it was probably quite unremarkable. Yet it was a cherished, nurtured and much-loved sermon. The result of many connections, surrounded by the love and affection of those near and far, and guided by the God in you and me.
But my strongest memory is not of going way “off script”, nor of NOT speaking half the things I had intended to speak, nor of sitting down (instead of standing) and speaking into the eyes of those there, not even of having our two young grandchildren in my arms at different times throughout the service and sermon … those are strong memories indeed! Nor was it of being prayed over from around the world, nor of seeing a dear sister in Christ in the very small gathering, nor of seeing my own sisters who had travelled to be with me for this service and sermon … those are wondrous memories indeed … these are all wondrous memories!
My fiercest memory is this: saying the words ”This is the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for you”, as I passed a small thimble glass of blood-wine, and looked into the eyes of my wife as she took the thimble of wine-blood from me. Looking into her eyes. Passing her the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. And connecting in this remembrance of all that He was, that He is, that He will forever be (connecting so deeply that my words almost failed). No one had ever mentioned that bit to me. I had never even thought about that bit. That was simply the “ritual, the form, the tradition” that preceded my “sermon”.
“The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the lake saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” John 6:22-29
Love without condition is the language of our Lord. Unconditional love is the work of our Holy Father. And that WILL mean “work” and “action” and “doing”. And that WILL mean choosing, saying yes, saying no. That will mean weariness, compromise and imperfection. It will mean mistakes, it will mean things not turning out as hoped for or expected – but “getting done” anyway (just like this “sermon”). Because fulfilling the act of living requires real “living”. And that can be messy. Usually that is messy.
And last night “what must we do …” was not the sermon, the preparation, the connection, the love, the discussions, the writing at least ten different sermons, the abundance showered over me … it was not even the sermon itself!
It was looking into the eyes of the person I love … seeing God looking back … being embraced in such a deep connection of love my words almost stopped – those words which are so truly beautiful: This is the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for you. It was looking deep into the eyes of each one taking communion and ”being” these words …
“Love Me, you and all.”
And because I was so in tune with the Voice of God (NOT) – I only realised afterwards, after the service, after everyone had gone home, after the fun of family chit-chit later that same evening …
The sermon should have been about THAT (but I never realised). Hearing the Voice of God should have been about THAT (but I never heard Him until afterwards).
And I would have never “got that” had I continued to tell Him: “No not me, Lord!” Had I never (finally) agreed to say “Yes Lord” – and to stand up last night and speak His words. Because He gave me at least ten sermons. And even then the words came out all wrong. And yet …
This morning I am writing this piece in awestruck wonder: “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Has a very simple answer: “Just say yes to whatever He asks.”
(There will soon be a podcast link for last night’s service and sermon. There were so many family unable to be there last night. So much love from so far away connecting last night. Yet no recording or podcast can ever capture the essence of those moments with the thimbles of wine-blood: Do this in remembrance of Me.)
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”