A Good Home for Your Heart

By Nnorom Azuonye

Sermon preached at Wesley Hall Methodist Church on 7th August, 2016 is based on Luke 12:32-40.

 “For your heart will always be where your riches are.” (34).

Nnorom Azzuonye

Nnorom Azuonye

In ‘Blue Streak’ – a 1999 remake of the British Film, “The Big Job”, funny man Martin Lawrence plays the part of Miles Logan – a jewel thief who participates in a $17 million diamond robbery. His partner in crime turns on him and the police surround him, forcing him to hide the diamond in a ductwork within a building under construction. He is then apprehended and sent to jail for two years. The thought of recovering the diamond made it easier for him to serve out his jail term. But in a funny turn of events, when he goes back to the site to retrieve his diamond, he finds that the building has been completed and is now the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department. He stops at nothing, including inventing a police officer with whose identity he embeds himself in the force and works tirelessly until he recovers his diamond.

If any of us has any riches stored anywhere, that’s where our heart will be. The two questions we must ask are:

  1. How much control do we have over the place we have stored our treasures?
  2. How do we know we will live to retrieve the treasures?

Staying with the story of Miles Logan for the purposes of illustration, he hid the diamond in the ductwork of a building that did not belong to him, and when he came out of prison and wanted to retrieve it, the building had become a Police station. We also know what happens in prisons across the world, many inmates are killed in prison. Logan could easily have been killed and all that would have been for nothing.

It is not only jewel thieves that store treasures in places that don’t belong to them. Anyone of us here who has money to spare probably has that money deposited in a bank as savings or investments, right? Do you own the banks or building societies? If they fail, as many banks have failed in the past, only a proportion of your money is actually protected.

Or let us think about pensions.  Pensions. A great idea! I can’t fault the idea. A small amount of money is taken out of your salary every month and put into this pot so that when you retire, perhaps after having worked for thirty to forty-five years, you will have something to live your twilight years on.

Now the problem is that there are some who will not live until the retirement age and will not enjoy that privilege of pensions in their old age.

But worse, if you ask me, are those people who lose their pensions because somebody squanders it. We very much recall the story of Robert Maxwell and his misappropriation of the Mirror Group pensions fund and in the news at the moment is billionaire Philip Green who hates to be compared with Robert Maxwell, but is said to have pinched the BHS pension fund, thereby devastating several people who have not just lost their jobs but most of their pension as well.

If only we all stored our treasures in heaven.

Treasures in heaven

In today’s bible passage, our Lord Jesus Christ urges us to:

…save your riches in heaven, where they will never decrease, because no thief can get to them, and no moth can destroy them. (33)

The concept of storing riches in heaven does not sit well with many people. The argument is that we live on earth, not in heaven, we make our fortune on earth, it therefore stands within reason that we would invest our money here on earth – in property, in savings, in cars, in pension funds and so on. This argument suffers because it assumes a literal dimension just because the preceding words in verse 33 of Luke 12 are:

“Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor. Provide for yourselves purses that don’t wear out…” (33)

This is all about Christian charity and non-dependence on earthly belongings. My interpretation of this is that Jesus wants us to view our belongings differently, to see them as commonwealth of humankind.

  • First of all to not make these belongings our gods, thinking that they define us and offer us security. We must be aware they can disappear just as they came.
  • Also, we must be willing if required of us to let go of these belongings to help the needy or to save lives.

Can we in all honesty feel comfortable living in million pound mansions, eating the best foods and driving the best cars when our fellow human beings cannot eat and do not have roofs over their heads?

We store our treasures in heaven when we seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and our primary investments are serving our God and in making the lives of our neighbours better. In this way, if our souls are required of us today, we should be happy to come into glory with Christ instead of worrying about the unspent millions in the bank or who will end up enjoy the property we leave behind.

Vigilance

There is a popular saying that we come into this world empty-handed and will leave it empty-handed. This is why Jesus urges us to be vigilant. Because none of us has any control over our lives and cannot decide how long to live (except, of course, people who can no longer bear this life and choose to end their own lives).

“Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit, like servants who are waiting for their master to come back from a wedding feast. When he comes and knocks, they will open the door for him at once. How happy are those servants whose master finds them awake and ready when he returns! I tell you, he will take off his coat, have them sit down, and will wait on them. How happy they are if he finds them ready, even if he should come at midnight or even later! And you can be sure that if the owner of a house knew the time when the thief would come, he would not let the thief break into his house. And you, too, must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.” (35-40)

What I like about this passage is that it speaks to us at various levels and we can apply the message to our lives in the way it works best. Key message is being prepared for anything life throws at us. I will divide this into two areas:

  1. Be prepared for life here on earth. Study, learn new and transferable skills, do your best to be and stay healthy, so that if an opportunity suddenly presents itself for you to go higher in life, you will not be found wanting.
  2. Be prepared for heaven. We must try to be rapture-ready. Study the word of God, stay spiritually healthy. If the trumpet sounds today, would the Lord say to you, ‘come into my Kingdom’ or is he going to say to you, ‘I am sorry, I do not know you.’?

Make it your mission to be kingdom-fit. Ask yourself every day, ‘Am I kingdom-fit?’ You are the only one who can tell yourself the truth. Bear in mind that “the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.”

Is it not good news that it is in your hands to build a good home for your heart?

Every time you give alms to help the poor,
Every time you pray for the sick
Every time you comfort the bereaved
Every time you bag clothes you will never wear again and give them to people who cannot afford to buy clothes
Every time you share your lunch with somebody who has no food
My brothers and sisters, you deposit a fortune into your vault in heaven.

May God give us the grace
to develop the spirit of Christian charity,
to free ourselves from slavery to earthly wealth
and to hunger for the righteousness of God
for in this way we shall be truly provided for
on earth and in heaven. Amen.

©2016 Nnorom Azuonye

Trust your Faith

Sermon by Nnorom Azuonye | Welling Methodist Church 24th July, 2016

We read two passages today; Hosea 1:2-10 which introduces us to the family of Hosea and Luke 11:1-13 on the Lord’s prayer and God’s faithfulness to grant what we ask. With the words from these passages in mind, I would like us to discuss; (a) our faith in God and how this defines our relationship with him and (b) the consequences on our lives.

In Hebrews 11:1 we find a Biblical definition of faith:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NRSV)

For Christians today, this would be the hope of being with our Lord in Glory eternally in God’s kingdom and the complete belief that God is really up there, though we can’t see him, and that the heavenly place that Christ has gone to prepare for us exists.

The truth is that if we don’t believe that Jesus is Lord and that he rose from the dead, having paid for our sins, and has gone to prepare a place for us so that where he is, there we shall be also, then we are wasting our time.

We must also believe completely that God is looking after us, taking care of things in our lives in the ways that are best for us. He might not do this the way we want, but he is God, he knows what is best for us.

Naturally as human beings, there will be times things just keep going wrong and we find ourselves asking if he is really there. Those times when we have that question rising in our hearts is when we must be most vigilant and more prayerful because those are the times we are likely to fall into temptation and descend into sin.

Recently, I asked a family member to read at one of my services, and he said he would gladly do so if the passage was not from the Old Testament. So, I asked him why not the Old Testament and he said it was because the Old Testament always portrayed God as angry and vindictive.

Sin annoys God, and when we sin and sin and not repent from our sins, it goes without saying that he will be angry and will show his anger. To have a little understanding of this, think of your relationship with your child or your relationship with your father. Do you enjoy the constant disobedience of your child, or does your father feel honoured by your disobedience?

In our Hosea passage today, God instructed him to marry from a house of whoredom and have children of whoredom. Because Israel had become like a house of whoredom because of their disobedience and unfaithfulness to God.

I wondered why God would ask that of Hosea. I also wondered, if Hosea’s wife, though from a whorehouse was faithful in the marriage, why would their children be deemed children of whoredom? The more I thought about this I began to understand the thinking behind God’s instruction. If any of us married a prostitute or maybe not even a prostitute but somebody known to be promiscuous, would we ever have peace of mind?

Do you know, I take the Southeastern train to work every day and there has hardly been any day those trains have not been delayed. If my wife did not have total trust in me, with the sheer number of times I get home late, we would be fighting on a daily basis.

A man who marries a known promiscuous woman would be uncomfortable and will even not believe his children are his children until he has had a DNA test.

This is the way God felt about the house of Israel. For a people he had done just so much for, faithfulness was just not in their nature.

This verse stands out for me in the Hosea passage:

Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” (Hosea 1:10. NRSV)

Let us reflect on that verse for a moment. These are words that define full and complete restoration of a people. The unfaithfulness of the people of Israel and just how many times they forsook God is mind-numbing. There are so many instances through the Bible that God turned his face away from them in shame. But when they realised their error, and sought forgiveness, our just and faithful God always forgave and restored them. It is the same with us all. We are human and we sin, and we are separated from God, but by the special sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, we can all have redemption and can be fully restored by God also.

And we should, like God, also learn to forgive those who sin against us.

In our second reading from the gospel of Luke 11:1-13, we heard Jesus teach his disciples how to pray. We say this prayer almost every day not just because it was given to us by Jesus Christ himself, but because it is the perfect prayer that incorporates the love of God and our neighbour.

  • In this prayer, there is adoration; recognising God for who he is. “Hallowed be your name / thy kingdom come / thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

  • There is supplication: “Give us this day, our daily bread”. May I say that our daily bread is not just food, but everything else we need from day to day to live well – housing, health, friendship, love. / …and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

The aspect of this passage that I would like to anchor this message is that if we trust the faith we have in God, it will work for us. Because we have faith in God to be there for us always, and not just when things are perfect, but moreso when things are bad and challenging our faith. The Lord says in Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God!”

Jesus says to us in Luke 11: 9-10 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Friend, let us remember this and take it with us as we renew our faith in Christ Jesus, and when trials come our way as they must, let us remember the charge we have in Mark 5:36 – “Do not fear, only believe.”

Trust your faith in God,
know that you have the greatest ally;
you have the highest power on your side
who or what can succeed against you?

Walk with your head high,
looking up to Jesus,
crush your problems in life one after the other
with the heel of your foot.

And for those times that doubts will rage with storms of despair, I leave you the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”

May the word of God bear fruit in our lives through the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

©2016 Nnorom Azuonye

Give children the gift of love

By Nnorom Azuonye

ss_nchchildren0804[2] 

On this Action for Children Sunday 2016 my preferred lectionary passage for today’s reflection is Luke 10:25-37 – the parable of the good Samaritan.

I believe this is an apt passage at this time in the world; a time that ethnic and racial intolerance has reached new heights creating more destitute children than ever before.

Countless children are being orphaned or wounded in troubled spots across the world, trafficked across international borders or being made to work long hours without pay in some parts of the world or turned into killers, forced to work as child soldiers.

There are also many children who are neglected or endangered as the problem of alcohol and drug-dependent parents becomes endemic.

         Who will love our children?

         Who will protect our children?

Our Lord Jesus Christ summed up the commandments into a simple narrative: ‘Love your God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

When a teacher of the law asked Jesus that question we almost always ask ourselves, “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus told him this parable:

“There was once a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when robbers attacked him, stripped him, and beat him up, leaving him half dead.

 

It so happened that a priest was going down that road; but when he saw the man, he walked on by on the other side.

 

In the same way a Levite also came there, went over and looked at the man, and then walked on by on the other side.

 

But a Samaritan who was traveling that way came upon the man, and when he saw him, his heart was filled with pity.

 

He went over to him, poured oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them; then he put the man on his own animal and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.

 

The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Take care of him,’ he told the innkeeper, ‘and when I come back this way, I will pay you whatever else you spend on him.’”

 

And Jesus concluded, “In your opinion, which one of these three acted like a neighbour toward the man attacked by the robbers?”

 

The teacher of the Law answered, “The one who was kind to him.”

 

Jesus replied, “You go, then, and do the same.”

 

         (Luke 10:30-37 Good News Translation)

 

Let us reflect on this story of the good Samaritan as we celebrate the work of Action for Children.

 

About Action for Children

Action for Children is the children’s charity of the Methodist Church founded in 1869 by Revd Thomas Bowman Stephenson in response to the poverty and danger faced by vulnerable and destitute children and young people living rough on the streets of London.

Reverend Stephenson was one the people that did not walk by children who had become victims of abuse or suffering under child labour. Like the man attacked by robbers in the parable told by Jesus, many people did not raise a finger to help these vulnerable children, but Revd Stephenson did, and according to the website of the charity, Fred and George were the first children taken away from a workhouse by the Methodist minister for rehabilitation. The website also lists some key milestones of the charity over the years including these:

         In 1908 the charity became known as the National Children’s Home (NCH)

         In 1926 NCH became the first charity in the UK to create an adoption agency which helped place children who might otherwise have lived deprived lives in homes where they were safe and loved.

         1935 NCH became the first charity in the world to open a Childcare Training College.

         Ten years later in 1945, it became the first charity to help the UK government set standards in childcare policy.

         In the 1990s it introduced innovative family support system to keep children safe at home and out of care.

Now known as Action for Children, the charity runs well over 500 projects helping shape and improve the lives of young people affected by poverty, disability and abuse.

Conclusion

An enduring vision such as Action for Children makes me proud to be a Methodist and inspires me to ask the question; what more can I give?

In today’s world, an organised charity or movement like Action for Children is wonderful and we must support this in any way we can. However we must also be sure that we do not neglect or abuse our own children. If we observe that our neighbour is having a hard time with his or her child, let us not be afraid to ask if there is anything we can do to help.

The other thing we must do is to teach our children to love their neighbours unconditionally. We must make sure they do not bully other children in school or after-school clubs and if they find that any of their friends is bullied or hurt, they can offer support as much as they can.

If our children pick up the habit of being helpful as young people they will grow with that attitude and this will be reflected in the way they treat people when they become adults helping create a healthier, more peaceful world in which love not hate thrives.

So, together now, let us reaffirm the Action for Children Covenant.

 The Action for Children Covenant
(to be said together)

Every child has the right to live, to be safe and to be loved. Every young person has the right to be housed, to have enough money to live in dignity and to have enough support for the future. Every young person has the right to justice, to realise their potential and to be given the space to become independent. In an often cruel and imperfect world, we uphold the work of Action for Children with children and young people in danger, in need and at risk. We support the growth of this work and the pursuit of all these rights for the young, the discounted and the vulnerable. We make this covenant with Action for Children for the sake of all God’s children. Amen

Notes: This message was shared by Nnorom Azuonye | nnorom@nnoromazuonye.com at the Pantiles Methodist Church on Sunday July 10, 2016. Sources of information used in the sermon are  The Methodist Church in Britain and  Action for Children