Christians can make a difference. New identity makes a difference. Genesis 17: 1-7, 15-16. Psalm 22: 24-32. Romans 4: 13-25. Mark 8: 31-38 The focus of our service last week was baptism. The readings were about baptism and we had two baptisms at St Marks. John assured us that it was happenstance that the readings and baptism were scheduled for the same day but we know that God moves in mysterious ways so I would not be so sure of that. In baptism we take on a new identity and enter a new way of life as one of Christ's disciples. This week we need to consider what it means to have a new identity in Christ and to live according to that identity. In Mark's gospel we heard that Jesus said that anyone who wanted to follow him needed to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (v34), all of which sounds vaguely unpleasant to members of today's self-centred society who do not also know the joy and fulfilment that comes with being a follower. So the question posed for those of us who call ourselves Christians and are charged with making new disciples is how can we get past that initial blockage so that it is possible to talk about Jesus. There are a number of things that first need to be agreed and one is the definition of “cross”. To many people that denotes pain and suffering and for Jesus and some Christians is does mean that but for the majority of us it might just mean something that we absolutely must do. However, even that has connotations of trouble as in the saying “it's my cross and I must bear it”. Taking up the cross does not need to mean that, it can instead mean something that is done willingly and in the spirit suggested by the prophet Micah who wrote in Chapter 6: 8 He has told you O mortal what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. If that is what taking up the cross means it's not difficult or unpleasant. For Jesus to achieve his purpose in coming to earth to redeem us from the consequences of sin he had to take up a cross and die on it but it was something that he could have chosen to not do, hence his strong rebuke of Peter in Mark 8 “Get thee behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” Similarly, for those of us who are Christians and are charged with making new disciples it is something we agree to do in so far as we are able so we should expect to act in different ways as our abilities and circumstances dictate. The next thing to realise is that talking “at” non Christians is no good and will achieve nothing positive. The best way to teach people about Jesus is by setting an example in our own lives so that at the very least we will improve the lives of others and hopefully lay the foundations for more to become disciples. To do this we have to be identified as Christians and not just kindly social workers and so the question for each of us to consider at this time is do our lives clearly indicate that we are Christians? Do we set an example that others would be interested is learning more about and hopefully want to share or are we indistinguishable from the general population? That is sometimes a very hard question to answer because it can be difficult to assess whether the impression that we hope to give is the one actually being received. We will have to trust in God that as we read the bible, pray and try to live our lives according to his rule to love our neighbours we are actually doing so. We can be assured that if we are not he will find a way to let us know. Another difficulty that we face in trying to help others come to Jesus as his disciples is that we may not know where to start. What, if anything do they know about God. In the past many people received a biblical education in school so they at least had a background knowledge but that is not true today. If we surveyed a typical group of 100 Australians would we be surprised by their level of knowledge or level of ignorance. I have actually been surprised by both. The series of sermons that we are giving this lent are based on the Lenten bible study written by Bishop Bill Ray which is entitled “Christians can make a difference” which is a comforting title because it's a positive “can” not a rather scary and possibly negative “should” or “must” but it doesn't really tell us how to make a difference. And that's because the “how” for each individual will be different. God will put us in different situations at different times and we will need to react as circumstances dictate. However, there are some basic underlying principles for us all to follow. The first is the relationship between God and humans that we subscribe to. For the ancient Jews it was articulated in the form of the ten commandments which are divided into two sections. The first four explain our duty to God and the remaining six our duties to other people. These were reworked by Jesus as the Two Great Commandments which simply tell us to love and honour God and love our neighbours which really should not be difficult. However, some people do find it scary to relate to others who may express negative views and may be at a loss when it comes to blank indifference. We therefore need to trust that God will provide us with support when we need it. In the notes that accompany the bible study Bishop Ray made the following observation “While there are people who question the existence of God, it is my experience what people question is not the existence of God but the nature of God. Some concerns focus around God's reliability and why God does or does not act in a particular way.” I am sure that there are many Christians who are concerned that they have been asked to help make disciples of others but do not feel confident to do so, they need to trust in God and today's readings from the old and new testaments should provide comfort and confidence. In the reading from Genesis God promised an elderly Abraham and his equally elderly and barren wife that they would become the parents of a new nation. If we had read on to verse 17 we would have read that Abraham “fell on his face laughing”. He had so little faith that God could do what he promised but as we know, he did. Our second reading from Romans built on the need for faith in God's word as Paul wrote that God's promise was fulfilled not through the law but the “righteousness of faith” which takes us back to the quote from Micah. We need to walk humbly with God. Before I conclude my comments I need to go back to the work of Bishop Ray and remind everyone that he prepared it as a bible study not a sermon and like all good bible studies it ends with a number of questions for discussion. I do not plan to indulge in a discussion now but ask you to consider the following few questions after the service, I will ask you four of the original nine. 1 For Abraham and Sarah to obey God they had to listen to God. How well do you listen to God? What if God offers you a challenge outside your comfort zone, what is your response? 2 The Micah text exhorts us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. What do each of these three actions mean to you – do justice – love kindness – walk humbly with God? 3 In what ways is the church facing change if it is to remain relevant? (My suggestion is that you may want to share your thoughts with others over coffee.) 4 How hard is it to “fight” the standards of the world? Please take a minute to think about these questions before we move on with our service.