2 Corinthians 6: 1, 2
"As we work together, we urge you not to accept the grace of God in vain . . . . See, now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation!"
And it gives me great pleasure that recently when I brought my wife Anne here she came not as a stranger but as part of the family because of her sister-in-law Margaret Forrester's memorable ministry among us here.
And I think of other things. Of scraping chocolate Lamingtons off the then uncarpeted floor of the Faichney Room at about one o'clock in the morning after a Youth Group Lamington Drive. Of building sand castles to resist the tide at a Family Camp at Inverloch. Of driving with Frances and Andre Top to Sydney for the inauguration of the Uniting Church in 1977. Of Toorak Encounter in 1976, when, with friends from the other Toorak Churches, we rang every doorbell in the 3142 postal district. I think of the support we received from this congregation when for seven years we lived in Ireland, and worked for reconciliation at the Irish School of Ecumenics. I think of the excitement of watching the new organ take shape; and of how it has been played to the glory of God ever since. I think of the volume of praise and prayer which goes up from this place. For all that I thank God.
This is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. There are certainly some difficulties about the story as we have it. In chapter 16 David is already on the staff of King Saul, and is his battle-hardened armour-bearer. But in chapter 17 he is back to being a boy, and has to explain to Saul how, as a shepherd, he has been able to fight successfully with lions and bears. However, the main thrust of the story is clear - and it isnt just a glorification of David as a great hero. Its really about the power of God - power which has been challenged by this giant Philistine. Goliath has invited the Israelites to choose a champion to meet him in single combat, with the fate of the whole people depending on the outcome of that one to one fight.
Goliaths equipment is described in some detail - bronze helmet, chain mail, and a massive spear. And King Saul does his best to equip David for the task, with his own "state of the art" helmet, coat of mail and sword. But its far too clumsy and heavy for David. All he wants is his sling: he knows hes a good shot. But Davids real armament isnt his sling. He goes in the strength of God. "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel". And what David says and does is an act of witness, "that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel; and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear, for the battle is the Lords". David is not saying, "This will be a victory for appropriate technology". He is saying, "The just and holy God is with us, and we are with God. So why should we be afraid?" Davids resources go beyond technology.
Jesus had been teaching the crowd - teaching them from a boat moored just off the shore. Now its evening, and he makes a decision: "Lets go across to the other side". And what was on the other side? It was Gentile territory, the land of the Gerasenes. He wasnt saying, "Let's go over and have a rest" No: he was proposing a missionary venture, in hostile, non-Jewish territory. And what preparation does he make for it? None at all! Even though its the evening, even though he has nothing with him except the clothes he stands up in - Mark says deliberately "just as he was" - without picking up food or equipment or warm clothes, or even going ashore. Jesus is on a missionary expedition, on a cross-cultural venture- But he sets off without fear, fully convinced that he is on Gods mission, and so he can lie down in the stern of the boat and go off sleep. Its Gods mission and he and his companions are in Gods hands. No technology apart from a wooden boat! Jesus is the mission. Wherever he is, mission takes place.
And then the storm. The boat begins to fill, and the disciples are scared stiff, afraid they will be drowned. Theyre angry too - angry with this leader who seems to have forgotten all about them. So they waken him. We dont know how he did it, but the disciples - and the Church - were convinced that Jesus quelled the storm. His words in the Greek are very blunt, "Shut up! Get muzzled!" And suddenly there was a great calm And to his friends he said, "Why were you afraid? Havent you learnt to trust me yet?" And now they really were scared: "What kind of person is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him". The big question is no longer "Is the boat going to sink?", but, "How can we make sure that we stay close to this person Jesus?" They are caught up, with Jesus, in Gods mission to the world
The point that emerges so strongly from both the stories is this: however important the medium may be, the message is far more important. And the message is a personal one its about a person: for David it was about the God of Israel; for the disciples its about Jesus. The most important thing for a Christian - and for the Christian Church - is not the technology: its Christ: its about being "in Christ". In those words we read from 2 Corinthians 5, "If anyone is in Christ then a new creation happens, and the world becomes new".
And I wouldnt so much want to speak of following Jesus as of living in Jesus. We are the people of Christ. For 125 years the Gospel has been preached in this building, Sunday by Sunday. Are we really living in Christ? In the words of our text in 2 Corinthians 6 Paul says to the Corinthians, "I want to make sure that the grace you received has not gone missing, has not been in vain. Because that grace means salvation, wholeness of life. And it needs to be experienced now: Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." . . . . . . But "grace" isnt something material, separate, like life-giving water, or health-giving medicine, or even shock-giving electric power. No. "Grace" is our relationship with Christ, our gracious, loving, forgiving Friend. Grace is Christ himself At the end of the service when the minister pronounces the Benediction, and prays for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with the people, he means, "May you know Jesus and live in him, and be enveloped in his love."
When we come to Church, we do not come just to meet each other, pleasant as that is. We do not come simply to pray for all those who need God's help - important as that is. We do not come simply to increase our commitment to justice, peace, unity and mission vital as those all are. We come to meet with Christ, to hear him speaking to us, to feel his power - the power of his Spirit: to rejoice in his love; to know his forgiveness; and to respond to his love in our praise, to the glory of God. Why do we come to Church? We come to meet with Christ; and through him to give our lives to God in praise and service. Everything else is secondary to that. And while technology may provide us with the context for this encounter, it can never provide us with the content. The content is Christ.
And to Christs name be glory.