‘Hold Your Nerve’ – a new year’s day sermon

1st January 2023

(Mk 5:35-43)

Today’s Scripture reading is quite deliberate on my part.

I’d like us to think about it as the preface to our 2023 Key Verse (Mk. 1:17).

Every human being is called by the living God to follow Jesus Christ.

We’ll explore what that looks like throughout January.

But for now as we enter another year, 2023, we do so in prayerful expectation.

Prayerful, because that’s the foundation of the Christian life.

Expectation because God is the living God of all time and eternity.

But our culture is driving in the opposite way to its Christian foundations.

Talking of driving in the opposite direction:

As she was watching the news, and elderly lady calls her husband who is driving home.  ‘Dear, please be careful on the road today! I just heard on the radio that there is a driver going the wrong way down the motorway.’  Her husband replies, ‘Oh it’s not just one.  There are hundreds of the idiots!”

And yet within the memory of the majority of people here today;

We know that something has fundamentally shifted in the world.

There is a sinister hatred of the Church at most levels of society.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a woman was arrested in Birmingham, UK, for, wait for it, “praying in her head”!!

It wasn’t long ago that we could say to people, (v.36)
“Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

And within a Christian context that would be sufficient for salvation or comfort, etc.

But to say this in our days of deep institutional suspicion;

Profound splintering of political, cultural and ideological ideas;

And an almost uniform denial of Judeo-Christian ethics and values;

We now find our culture responding as per verse 40… “They laughed at him.”

The mood has shifted.  

Another word for mood, is what the Bible calls ‘The Spirit of the Age’.

We are in the Age where our fundamental witness in the world must run wide and deep.

One would have to be wilfully blind not to notice these changes.

The book, ‘Live Not By Lies‘ by Rod Dreyer helps us to see what is going on with a “soft totalitarianism” into Western society.

But how do we live out our lives and respond?

How do we remain faithful, vibrant and authentic?

Most of us have redemption anxiety for many members of our families.

Many of us have loved ones who have, in line with the culture, dispensed with Christianity.

We may even encourage them to “Come to church” or “Repent and believe” etc

And we get all the responses from indifference to out-right rejection: They laugh.

But what if we loved them into Life?

What if we understood our place in culture and all that;

And instead carried on doing what Christians do:  Follow Jesus.

So from v.36 “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

To v.40 and “They laughed at him.”

We now follow the story to where Jesus is taking them.

In v.42 we read:  “Immediately the [formerly dead] girl stood up and walked around.”

There is something for Christians to demonstrate.

We are called to go beyond “just believe” – which is often a way to avoid thinking about things.

“Oh don’t worry about that, just believe it.”  

Too often the church is guilty of fostering a ‘Do not question things’ culture.

As though Christian faith requires a kind of intellectual lobotomy.

Sometimes, as you’ve all read in the papers and seen on the news;

Christianity is often held up to ridicule, v.40, “They laugh at us” – publically, demonically.

I remember watching a comedian who made a religious joke.

It was a comment related to why church attendance is declining;

And why the majority of people in the UK no longer identify as “Christian”!

He said, “Too right, because we’ve grown [the hell] up!”

And he got a hysterical response from the audience.

It was one of those moments:  If you don’t laugh you’ll be singled out.

But it was really like watching seals clap for their fish supper.

Or the playground where you do anything to fit in.

It was just so dumb.

To say that “we’ve all grown up” is an utter infantile, ignorant statement 

about something he knows nothing about.

I wonder how many people wept as they clapped; wept inward tears of regret at their own infidelity.

Over 3000 years of accumulated wisdom and insight, dismissed in a second.

Verse 40, “And they laughed at him.”  And reasonably so:  The girl was dead!

And in our context, to many people, the Church looks dead.

The reality is very different.

People in our culture are dispensing with Christianity because of sin.

And sin is very attractive. Have you noticed?  Sin seduces. It woos us. And often wins us.

We don’t want to know God because that requires a moral courage on another level.

We are also persuaded by the lives of them so-called Christians: What’s so different eh?

So as we begin another year, resolve again to “follow Christ”.

Resolve in prayer to deepen your own prophetic imagination.

Resolve to understand the ‘Culture of Despair’ we now live in…

(And your kids and grandkids will know more about this than we do)!

Resolve to live with the truth that if they laughed at Jesus, they will laugh at us.

But the laughter is only the window dressing of Satan’s smile: Lipstick on a pig.

We’ve got to hold our nerve, see through it for the sinful veneer it is, and ‘Hold our Nerve’.

And go to where the dead in spirit are, and say, “In Jesus’ Name, I say to you, get up!”

Even if there is laughter still filling the air.

In this way, we wipe Satan’s smile of his ugly face, and we see Jesus reigning as King.

In this way, when the dead are raised, the laughter becomes one of divine joy and praise.

As Psalm 30:11-12 says

“You turned my mourning into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”


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