Final Sermon as Family Pastor at Bergen Church

Did you know that today is Christ the King Sunday? It is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time before Advent on the Christian Calendar. It was instituted in 1925 because of the increasing denial of Christ as king and the rise of secularism throughout much of Europe. At the time, many Christians began to doubt Christ’s authority and existence, as well as the Church’s power to continue Christ’s authority.

Although it was instituted by the Catholic Church, it is worth pondering as we prepare for the Advent season. Do we still hold up Jesus Christ as our King? Or have we succummed to the popular belief that we are autonomous beings, able to choose our own fate and eternal destiny?

There is a prayer that accomanies this Sunday, and I’d like to say it now before I continue. King of kings and glorious Lord, you are above all. You rule, and the whole universe is your kingdom. Have the supremacy in all things and draw more and more to the freedom of your reign. Be first in my life, now and always. Amen.

This is a continuation of last weeks message. I’ll do a brief recap and then I want to read from 1 Corinthians chapter 1.
The majority of last week’s message was the letter I wrote to you as a congregation, announcing my resignation. There are copies of it still available at the back.

I said last week that the strength of the church must not depend on the human leaders. The gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearts and minds of each person is the strength of the church. I want to emphisize this today and add to it. My goal is for you to know, without a doubt, what I believe is most critical to living a life of faith and holiness.

Follow along in your Bible as I read from 1 Cor. 1:10-31.

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”

Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.

Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.
God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.” (1 Co 1:10–31)

I am preaching from this passage, with a particular message in mind, because this has been the core of all my preaching and how I tried to live as a pastor. It is how I desire to live my entire life.

This is a message about our identity as people of the cross. What does that mean? How does it change us? These are questions I will seek to answer.

I love a good question. I will have some more in a bit. A good question can open our minds up to thinking in ways we may not have previously thought. Maybe you will have some questions after this message. I would love to hear them and talk about them with you.

In this passage, Paul is concerned about the health of the Corinthian church. He was concerned that they keep to the core of what will keep them healthy and strong as a congregation.

He mentioned unity. There will always be differences in how people relate to the gospel and how it affects them. But the local church must be unified in order to demonstrate the power of the Spirit of God. This means moving forward together, not because everyone does everything the same way or with the same passion. But because the vision and the purpose of the people is the same.

Paul also mentioned that the word of the cross is power and wisdom. This means that we do not compromise the importance and centrality of the cross just because it seems irrelevant to today’s audience. We do not create relevant strategies to attract people to church and at the same time ignore the offensive nature of our saviour being crucified.

Christ crucified is our mantra, our banner, our calling card. When people come to church, they come to a people who have been bought through the gruesome death of God’s Son. We wave that banner with pride, boasting in it as our only hope!
That leads me to the final point in this passage, which I will spend the rest of the message on. Paul said in verse 31, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

What is it that you boast about? What makes you proud? How do you value life, or from what do you get your value? What sort of things give you satisfaction, or make you excited in life?

I don’t want to tell you that you need to somehow sadistically reject all things in life that are enjoyable, yet unspiritual. I want you to be able to stand up in times of trouble, uncertainty, persecution, and be completely confident in who you are and what is important in life.

There is one thing that will remain. Some of you are further on in life and know this better than any of us. When death comes knocking at your door, there is only one thing that will give you confidence to answer that door. Jesus Christ crucified means that you are happy to answer that door.

This changes everything! It means we can quit trying to make something of ourselves. Whatever ambitions we have in life are held up to the light of Jesus Christ crucified. And we are forced to ask, of what value is this? It doesn’t mean we throw it away. It means that if it is taken from us, we are not devastated!

Hold up your life to the cross of Jesus Christ, and ask yourself, what could you possibly have that compares to the value of that cross?

As a congregation, hold up this church, the building, the programs, the budget. Hold it up to the cross, and ask, of what value is it unless it produces in you a deeper love and appreciation for Jesus Christ crucified.

Beware of boasting in what is only here to be but a vessel of God’s grace through the cross. The vessel is not our boast. Jesus Christ is our boast. It is good and fun and worth our efforts to do the best we can when we gather to worship God.

But all this could be taken away, and God would still be pleased with us, because we are recipients of his grace, not by our methods of worship, but by the work of Jesus Christ in giving us purification of sins and adoption into his family.

When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, he told them to observe the Sabbath. He did this not so that they would become his nation, but because they were his nation.

I am challenging you today, treasure the cross of Jesus Christ not because that is the way to become God’s children. Do it because you are God’s children, and it is Christ crucified that made you his children.

All throughout the history of God’s people, there have been prophets who have commanded them: never forget! And I am here, urging you, never forget the cross!

When you lie down at night, thank God for the cross. When you wake up, remember the cross. When you eat, remind one another about the cross. When you work, when you play, when you rest and when you gather together, remember the cross!

Immerse yourself in this profound concentration of what it means to be a Christian: Christ Crucified! Ponder it, study it, discuss it, pray and ask God to give you a greater vision for what it means. You will not reach the end of knowing and experiencing the depths of Christ Crucified.

And as you enter further, deeper, more saturated in the experience of Christ crucified, you will find no reason to boast except in knowing Christ crucified.

I say all this knowing that some of you will find this unattractive. Jesus said it himself that people will be offended by this message. But if this is my last time preaching here, I can do nothing except present to you the very essence of the Christian faith.

If this is offensive to you, I pray God’s Spirit would soften your heart. Do not allow the wisdom of this world to cloud your judgement. Trust in the truth of Scripture and allow your world to be turned upside down.

It will result in radical generosity and extravagant risk-taking. It will cause you to give your heart away to those in need, knowing that they may never be able to return the love and care you have given. It will mean deep sorrow but also incomparable joy.

If you have chosen to follow Jesus and trust in Him, this is the life you are called to live. I will close with this passage from 2 Corinthians 4. I encourage you to memorize it, as it will be a constant reminder of who we are and what is most important in life:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Closing prayer:

Show us your beauty. Reveal to us the eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison. May we develop an appetite for that which is eternal: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. All things will pass away, but these things will remain. Keep Bergen Church unified in their love for your Son, and in their love for one another, and in their love for their neighbours. Keep them strong by your Spirit, make them steadfast under trial and temptation. Empower them to teach the little children your ways, telling one another stories of your goodness and faithfulness through the generations. Bless them, Father, with all your spiritual blessings through Jesus. Amen.

Benediction:

You may have learned that I do not allow a Sunday to pass when I am preaching without saying a prayer of benediction, a prayer of blessing, at the end. This is not a practice reserved just for the end of a worship service. Take this blessing into your homes and workplaces.

This blessing we are about to read was given to God through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, the priests of Israel. It is found in Numbers 6:24–26. We, as fellow heirs with Christ Jesus, have become priests, and so we bless one another with this priestly blessing.

May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.

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