Puddletown, Milborne and Dewlish
Sunday 13th August 2017
What are your feet like? How beautiful are they? Have you looked at them recently? Do you like them or have you better parts of your physique?
I have to say I’ve never fancied being a chiropodist, in spite of the important work that they do. I don’t particularly like my feet, my toes are short and stubby, I struggle to find shoes wide enough to be comfortable and I really have no idea how people manage to stand and walk on the tiny pin points that are stiletto heels, much as I’d like to be able to add to my height.
How good it is then to hear that in God’s eyes the feet of those who proclaim good news are always beautiful!
Paul is quoting from a passage in Isaiah, which foretells the return of God’s people from exile, but which also looks forward to the time when heaven and earth will be fully renewed and Christ comes again.
It’s not the feet which make the messenger beautiful, but the message itself.
How often, I wonder, have you wanted to kiss or hug the person who has brought you good news – perhaps not their feet - but you get the idea. When the news is good the messenger becomes beautiful too.
Today’s passage comes from a section of the letter where Paul is mainly concerned for his own people, the Jews, who have not responded in the main to the Gospel. He uses material from their Scriptures, from Isaiah as we’ve seen, and from Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy contains a long speech of Moses to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land.
Remember that Moses himself never actually made it over the threshold.
Chapters 28 and 29 look to Israel’s future. If they keep God’s commands, they will do well and will be subject to many blessings, but, if not, trouble will befall them, curse after curse, and they will be rooted out of their land.
This will happen, Moses foretells, because they will wander away from God, but even then all is not lost, and Deuteronomy chapter 30 offers a more positive future for those who, though exiled, then turn back to God.
If they turn back to God, Deuteronomy 30 says, and I quote: “the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings . . . when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law . . . Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. . . .
“It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’
“Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”
Ooh – haven’t we read that something like that already today – yes, Paul has taken those promises and shown how the commandment to follow is right with them, not far away in heaven or the abyss, but right there with them, fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
All they need to do is believe that Jesus was raised and confess that he is Lord.
He takes a long time to say this, but he does it this way to show them how this is not something new but a reinterpretation of their own Scriptures. God hasn’t abandoned his special people or changed his mind about them; it’s just that they haven’t understood. And it’s right near to them, right here.
He’s almost telling them to go back to basics and they’ll find that God is keeping to the original plan, and that he had always had an option for those who are not Jews to have a place in his kingdom.
But if they are going to become part of the salvation plan, they need to hear about Jesus.
And you know what it’s exactly the same today? If people are going to believe in Jesus, they need to hear about him. “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?”
We bemoan our shrinking congregations in our 21st century churches. But not all churches are shrinking. Let’s think about the message we give to those in our communities.
What message do the people outside hear from us?
How shall they hear, if we never tell them? Surely that’s the Vicar’s job?
I don’t often give you visual images, but here’s one for today.
Look at this picture. (Explain how news spreads out)
If the news is really good, then people will want to hear it.
Just think how stories can spread.
A recent example from my own life was perhaps not really good news but a story that certainly got around because people wanted to share it.
Some of you will know that I had a recent – shall we call it a grave incident? At my last burial (here) in Milborne, I led the coffin and the mourners out to the graveside and as I went round to stand at the head of the grave I ended up falling in.
Well – let me tell you how that news travelled. It’s been round Milborne and certainly too the pub in Puddletown. People were stopping me in the street to ask me if I was OK and to tell me they heard about my mishap. Amusing news travels fast. For more than a week, people who hadn’t been at the service, people who didn’t even live in the same village, needed to stop and ask me about it.
Now just think if the Good News of the Gospel was shared in such a way that we were all happy to gossip about it. It would spread like wildfire.
I think sometimes we forget the Gospel is Good News. We spread the message that we need more money, that our congregations are ageing and decreasing, that we are putting on this event or that event, that our buildings need repairing, that we need more volunteers to do this or that, and so on.
But that’s not the message Jesus or Paul asks us to spread.
What do we need for salvation? Paul says it’s as easy as confessing Jesus is Lord and believing that God raised him from the dead.
Now obviously if we’re going to catch people’s attention with that news, we do need to put it in some kind of package that will be attractive, and in our day and age that is quite difficult because there’s a lot of competition from people and organisations with lots of money and glitz and glamour.
But, you know what at heart people are the same everywhere and what they really want to know is that they are loved, that they are important, that someone cares about them.
And surely that, if anything, is what we’re really about – the best news we have to share is that God loves us all – surely that’s much better news than needing cakes for a cake stall or money for our roof.
Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying the work that you do for the roof or the cake-stall is unimportant – but the challenge is to make sure that those things don’t in themselves become our medium and our message.
Paul says how will they know the good news if no one tells them? That’s as true today as in the first century. How will people know what we really have to offer, what God really has to offer, if we never tell them. There ain’t no one else to do that but us.
You will probably have heard me refer to the prayer of Teresa of Avila before – the one that goes something like this: Christ has no body now on earth but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
God has chosen us to do his work, and that means, much as we may not like it, that we need to tell people about the good news as well as try and live it out.
How beautiful are your feet?