On Wednesday 22 July 2020, Bishop Clifford Classen conducted the midweek divine service at Silvertown congregation.
He was accompanied by District Elder Bernard Scholtz, a small NACTV crew and an organist. This divine service was made available on NACTV, YouTube and was also streamed live on the NACTV Facebook page.
For members who were unable to watch the divine service, please find a detailed summary of the sermon:
Opening Hymn: Glorious things of Thee are spoken”, verses 1 & 4
Bible word: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2
My dear brothers and sisters, today is the day that we worried about yesterday, and some may even have feared it. And look at us; here we are, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to His word. We are comforted to be here in the house of the Lord. Today is also the 118th day of lockdown here in the Republic of South Africa. This time has brought unimaginable suffering, hardship and pain to many. We cannot dismiss or downplay the feelings of those who are unable to be at the bedside of a dying love one or have not been able to hug a bereaved soul or to be with a friend or a family member who has lost their job because of this time that we live in. When we read of children who have to eat wild plants to still their hunger, it is gut-wrenching. On the other side also, we know of Sunday School teachers who long to be in the midst of their Sunday School children to have an interaction with them. We know of people who would love to be close to their parents, but they can’t get to them. This is a tough time for all. On the other hand, also, we think of those who have sacrificed themselves in this time and, we admire them for what they do. In the beginning, it was wonderful, but that euphoria and joy of just staying indoors all day, that euphoria is gone. And yes, when people ask us if we are ok then the response is not exactly upbeat; perhaps it sounds a little bit despondent now. Therefore, we are comforted that we can be in the house of the Lord. We are comforted that we can be at the feet of Jesus and that we can listen to His word. The Lord Jesus has now entered into our home. And for the next few moments, our home is our heaven.
52 days ago, our Chief Apostle served us on Pentecost. And in that divine service, he said that the Holy Spirit cannot change our situation. But, if we allow it, the Holy Spirit can change us. This time of the coronavirus situation will change, and we shall be able to go back to our congregations again. But, then he posed the question: when we go back to our congregations, do we want to be exactly the way we were? This time, this unique time also gives us a chance to change. And the Chief Apostle implored us, he said: ‘brother and sister, when you return to your congregation, make a decision – be a different person.’ As the Chief Apostle implored us, we want to make that decision and to stick with that decision.
This brings us to our Bible word for tonight. In chapters 12-15, the Apostle Paul writes to the congregation in Rome when they entered into a new period of faith in Jesus Christ – the era of the Holy Spirit must be evident in their behaviour. He instructs them according to our word “not to be conformed to the world”, but rather that they are transformed, that they are renewed in their mind. This is radical change. Change is required of the congregation in Rome. Life does not come with a remote. If we want to change we have to get up and do it ourselves. And even though we know that we have to change in life and that we need to change, it is difficult. At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus, interestingly asked this man who had been paralysed for a long time: “do you want to be changed?” And, before Jesus could offer this man a lifelong change, He wanted to know if this was really what the man wanted, or did the man feel so comfortable that he wanted to carry on with this life of begging and depending on the charity of others. In other words, are you prepared to change?
Another example is that of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. And, Jesus lovingly answered him and said to him: “one thing you lack, go your way and sell whatever you have, and give to the poor and treasure is laid up for you in heaven. Come, take up your cross and follow Me.” This is not what this young man wanted to hear because he had many possessions – he kept the commandments, but he could not change.
So let’s face it, dear brothers and sisters, change is difficult. Change is uncomfortable. Change makes us feel awkward and exposed. But this time, this difficult time we live in has caused some changes for us. For example, our family members have now become our closest friends. We have changed our attitude, our behaviour and our relationship with them. We have discovered that amongst us lives some exceptional people; those who are frontline workers and the essential workers – often not the most highly-paid people – but they make a difference in our lives and we never noticed them before. What happened? We changed our attitudes towards them. In the beginning, it was difficult to wear a face mask, but we notice now that people consider it as a fashionable accessory. A change has occurred. Someone even said, “I have made some changes in my life, so, if you haven’t heard from me, then you are one of those changes.” There are many other changes, but let us leave it as those examples. There were also things we were expected to abstain from during this period of lockdown, but those habits are a lot more problematic to change. The bottom line is: we can change. But, have we really transformed? Is our change permanent? Or will we simply fall back into our former ways?
Again, we come back to Apostle Paul and the congregation in Rome. In Romans 3:23, the Apostle Paul writes to them: “for we all have sinned; we all come short of the glory of God.” This brings about an acknowledgement that how we say things, how we see things, how we do things all begins with who we are. We are not good people who sometimes sin. We are sinful people who try to do good. And we, as the people of God, as those who are followers of Jesus Christ, we are engaged in a lifelong struggle to transform our old nature into the new nature of Christ. And this lifelong fight is not just about changing our behaviour or our actions; it is more about changing who we are. We, therefore, need to acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a saviour. If only change could be as simple as a, b and c. But, when we can acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a saviour, then we are on our way. And that saviour is Jesus Christ. If we believe in Jesus Christ, if we accept His teachings and allow it to guide our lives, then brothers and sisters, we can change. The change is good for us. So, we must acknowledge if we want to change, we must acknowledge our shortcomings. We must acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a saviour. And acknowledging when it’s good is not the end, it’s but a step along this road towards change. Sometimes, people say that they welcome change, but then comes the ‘but’ – ‘I have no willpower; I am waiting for the right time to change.’ Some even say they are waiting for others to change. Some even expect for a miracle to make them change. Again, I come back to Jesus Christ. One day He was confronted by a man whose son was gravely ill. And He said to the Lord: ‘If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ And Jesus then assured this man and said to him: “All things are possible to him who believes.” And you know dear brothers and sisters, this man gave Jesus a stunning answer, he said: ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.’ Thereafter, Jesus healed the sick boy. What does this teach us? Apart from acknowledging our weaknesses and that we need Jesus Christ, we must also believe that Jesus has the power to change us. And when we believe in that power He has to change us it will be reflected in our actions, deeds and the way in which we see things in life. Our belief in Jesus Christ becomes visible through that which we do. And how beautiful will it be when the last trumpet sounds and we will not be resistant to change, but we shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Our change that we make is not just an outward or superficial one – it’s not a temporary one – but we want the change to be permanent. We go back to the divine service conducted by our Chief Apostle on Pentecost; we want to remain with our decision. This means that we must commit to it. And when we commit to it, it means that our change comes from our inner man – it’s not just an outward change. When we commit to our change, we are fuelled by the power of the Holy Spirit – this gives us the power to overcome our old nature and grow in the new nature of Jesus Christ – we become what we believe; we become what we commit to; we become the change we aspire to, we become a personality of faith. We do not go back to what we were – our change has changed into a becoming. This is a transformation – this is what the Apostle Paul referred to when we do not go back; when we have changed from the inside of our inner being and it becomes visible in our deeds, speech and actions.
To summarize our divine service: transformation starts with acknowledging that we are sinners, acknowledging that we have shortcomings and that we need a saviour. Secondly, believing in the power of Jesus Christ and the changing of our life in accordance with the belief in Jesus Christ. And thirdly, it is committing ourselves to that change through the power of the Holy Spirit. Acknowledging; Believing; Committing – ABC. This is the ABC of our transformation and thus transformed, we are then enabled to live in accordance and in oneness with the good, the acceptable and perfect will of God. Amen.
Thoughts from Bishop Clifford Classen