Friday, December 19, 2008

B, Christmas Day - Titus 3:4-7 "Your Kingdom Comes"

Your kingdom come. God's kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us. Amen.

God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life on earth now and in heaven for ever.

Christmas is all about God’s kingdom coming! But unlike the hullabaloo from advertisers over the last couple of months, it seems as though God could have advertised his kingdom’s coming just a little bit better. In all the gifts one will get, does the gift of Jesus Christ even register on your wish list, let alone make it to the top of the list as number one gift this Christmas? Do you meditate on God’s kingdom coming or on the coming of many Christmas presents?

On the surface the lacklustre advertising of God’s coming kingdom might not seem to be right. After all, John the Baptist was sent before to broadcast Christ’s coming. And “Hark!” didn’t the herald angel sing — Glory to the newborn king — before the shepherds at Bethlehem? Also, what about the wise men rolling into Jerusalem, parading before Herod and the Sanhedrin; looking for the King of Israel, advertised by the biggest star the heavens had ever held?

However, as extraordinary as these events are, they were all suppressed in some way. In the temple, Archangel Gabriel told Zechariah he was to have a son to prepare the way of the Lord and bring many back to Christ. But on hearing the news Zechariah lost his voice! And then when John began his ministry, his appearance would have left something to be desired, as he came eating locusts dressed in camel’s hair calling for repentance. Not much of an advert!

Then the shepherds didn’t help the cause either! They saw the host of heavenly angels proclaim glory to Christ, and they did go and report the event. But they were smelly characters! They probably hadn’t bathed for a long time and would have smelt more like sheep than people. Besides, they were ritually unclean, and like Zechariah couldn’t proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom in the temple!

And the wise men, magi, astrologers, star gazing their way to the Christ-child! They went home a different way not telling Jerusalem having been warned to do so in a dream.

It seems that just as Christ is buried under the wrappings off cheap Chinese Christmas claptrap, God allowed the Christ-child to be hidden under the accidents and muck of the day when Jesus Christ first came into the world at Bethlehem.

It all seems just a little bit weak and substandard for the entry of a kingdom as holy and almighty as God’s. Added to this, Jesus had what seemed to be misfit parents; he was conceived out of wedlock, enough to raise the eyebrows of even the most compassionate person! There he was hidden out back of a highway house of sinners in a manger. That’s no way to advertise and announce the coming of God’s kingdom!

But God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask that it may come also to us. And it did, it does, and it continues to do so, even though it rarely — if ever — appears on our Christmas present wish list.

In fact our meditation on just about everything other than God and his gift reveals that, it’s not the coming of our Father’s kingdom that’s weak, but in its seemingly weak appearance, it reveals our hidden weaknesses and failure to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Where we revel in the things that seem to come with authority and power, the kingdom of God seems to be anything but coming by the authority of God’s right hand and the power of his almighty arm. The herald angels have been drowned out by the harking of Harvey Norman and Super Amart’s 48 month interest free Christmas sales. The question has to be asked of ourselves: How am I contributing to the “cover-up” of the true Christmas gift?

God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word and live a godly life on earth now and in heaven for ever.

God’s kingdom comes hidden in weakness, and as it does it reveals our weakness. The weakness of the manger and all the events that surrounded it herald our weakness. But it’s because of our weakness that Christmas came and Christ continues to come.

Our entry into the kingdom often fails to appear as a dazzling gift. But when God takes us in our weakness and gives us faith to see his gift, all the other Christmas gifts suddenly seem gaudy and trite compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saint Paul tells Titus what this gift is:

But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

Hark! Our weakness and the seemingly poorly advertised advent of our new born King, is taken to the cross, where the gift of grace is unfolded for all, and the apparent weakness of God in the death of his Son, reveals the almighty arm and powerful right hand of God. Christ was lifted up, advertising to all our sin, and declaring to the devil and his entourage of evil that he is doomed to eternal death.

In the weakness of human flesh the Kingdom of God came at Bethlehem! It comes to us in our sinfulness as the gift of kindness, love, and mercy. The kingdom comes to you and Jesus justifies you by his grace; the grace veiled in the weakness of the manger, the curse of the cross, and in his resurrection into all righteousness.

And so as we hack our way through wads of wrapping paper this year, God calls us not to be led into temptation by our weakness. He calls us to see the gift of grace, and in it see the kingdom of heaven hidden in the manger and the cross. And in our hope of being heirs of the kingdom, we pray… that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory. Amen.

So we pray: Our Holy Father in heaven; your kingdom comes; therefore, lead us not into temptation; but forgive us and feed us on the bread of your Word born at Bethlehem; for the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever, Amen.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

B, Advent 2 - 2 Peter 3:8-15a "A Conscience Lock"

The day looks to be taking forever. And the length of the day appears to be inversely proportional to the hardships we face in it. That is — the worse the events one must endure to get to the end of the day, the longer it takes for the day to unfold and happen.

When the day gets harder to endure, there is also a decline in most of us too. The pressure makes the temperature gauge rise, and we begin to boil. It doesn’t take much for us to blow our tops. Hardships burden us so our patience is depleted and we become more and more intolerant to the events happening around us.

Extreme weather can add pressure to our days; stinking hot summers and bitterly cold winters can both weigh heavy on our patience. Various pain, limited only by the imagination, can make one feel as though the day seems to take a thousand years. Guilt from doing something wrong also gives the impression of slowing the day as we ponder, “If only I hadn’t done that!” In fact, anything that causes hardship has a lengthening effect on time so a day feels like it takes a thousand years to happen.

Saint Peter encourages those under pressure from impatient scoffers and those hell-bent on doing evil who have forgotten God’s Word, saying:

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

If we compare the eternal almighty majesty of our Heavenly Father next to our pettiness and weaknesses which constantly test God’s patience, it’s not surprising that a day examining us seems like an eternity, let alone a thousand years.

God is so powerful he can examine all things big and small, complex and simple, microcosms and macrocosms. And he can do it in the blink of an eye. If it were possible to reach the edge of eternity, God would have already been there for an eternity.

Inside eternity he has knowledge of every single thing he has created, every star, every planet, every rock, every tree, the internal structure of every atom and molecule, every creature that walks the earth, flies over it, and swims in its waters.

And he knows everything about every person. What would take a thousand years to learn about yourself, God knows in a day. In fact, he knew your every impulse, thought, and action in the eternal moment before a blink of his eye.

This is absolutely amazing since we don’t even know ourselves or the pulses that run through our minds in a matter of seconds. Do you ever wonder how you ended up thinking about someone or an event from the past when you first were thinking of something completely different? Have you then gone back and tried to list the chain of events from your subconscious that led your thoughts from one to the other? It’s hard enough to remember a chain of events just happened in your mind let alone from further back in the past.

Can any of us remember everything about our past anyway? God knows every microscopic detail about our past, and even our future! None of us have an intimate knowledge of our medical and physiological makeup, nor do we really want to know! But God knows every sinew, every drop of blood, and every pulse of your brain. Yet he hasn’t even taken a surgeons knife to you to look in side.

We don’t have an intimate knowledge of our internal bodies in a physical sense. Furthermore, how much do we really know about each other in a social sense? Our understanding of our interaction with other people is so limited; yet it’s so complex, but God has full view of it all.

He sees all things we do, both good and bad. He sees the things we should have done. He sees all of our sins that occur as a result of our sinful condition, the ones we know, feeling guilty and ashamed about, and the sins we seek to justify. He also see the sins we overlook; the sins we don’t even know we commit. And it’s not just you he knows, it’s every impulse, thought, desire, and deed of every person who has lived, is living, and will ever live.

Now for us to know all this about our mortal selves would take a thousand years, let alone knowing anyone else around us. But it’s comforting to know God is patient with us and doesn’t do to us what our condition deserves. Although he is infinitely intimate with our whole person, God’s patience endures in the hope we will not eternally perish.

But having been made his children in baptism, receiving the life-giving condition of Christ in our mortal frames, have you ever wondered why God doesn’t place in us a stop guard so we no longer falter from the sinful condition still in us. Perhaps it would have been good if God had placed a conscience lock in us as he gives us new life in Christ!

A conscience lock would kick in and disable our physical bodies when we seek to harm our brother or sister in any way. A conscience lock would flash illegal error in the brain when our thoughts became devious. A conscience lock would silence us when our words waver from what is good and wholesome. The conscience lock would also work the other way and make us conscious of things around us. It would wake us to the needs of others, and we would never need an alarm clock to make it to church on time.

However, this is not the way God works. It’s not the way Christ worked when God sent him to be born in Bethlehem. Jesus was no robot. He was as human as you and me; and capable of the same sin as you and me. If Jesus was a robot sent from God, how much would he be able to relate to our human condition? But he struggled with the same things as you and me, yet he remained faithful to God and didn’t succumb to the sinful human nature as we do.

We like Jesus are not robots. So there is no lock on our consciences, although Christ is living in us. Jesus allowed himself to be handed over to death as result of our sin and he gave us life. Jesus rescues us and chose to take us to our Heavenly Father through his sacrifice. And now that we are with him, he calls us to stand with him, remain with him, and abide with him in heavenly peace.

Our sinful nature, the old Adam, still remains although we have now been given the new nature of the New Adam, Jesus Christ. But just like Christ God desires faith rather than robotics. Yet God is still patient with us, his people, his church!

God has done the work of salvation and brought us to it. He is faithful and in his work of salvation grants us faith through the work of the Holy Spirit. He is patient with us, willing us to see ourselves for who we are, to be conscious of our consciences, and trust what he has done for us.

Having been given this trusting faith, God desires you to remain with him and seek repentance, because he doesn’t want any person to perish. God is patient, but God will fulfil all of his promises. In these last days God desires you to understand his patience, to rest in his forgiveness, and to know of his almighty power as his comes forgiving you in his word, before the last day when he promises to put all things right.

Finally hear God’s word from Saint Peter…

But the day of the lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since every thing will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation. (2 Peter 3:10-15a)


Friday, November 28, 2008

B, Advent 1 - 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Psalm 80:17-19, Isaiah 64:5-9 "Pots & Moulds"

It’s an ugly mess. It has no form; it’s a great big pile of brown goo. It’s sticky and damp; good for nothing it seems. It’s dirty; perhaps to some it’s even a bit smelly; and if you get it on yourself it can stain. But someone is looking for exactly this; a useless formless piece to be formed into something that is good and pleasing to the eye.

This someone takes the goo and plonks it on the table. The table begins to spin and his hands descend on the formlessness to mould it into something pleasing to the eye; a thing pleasing to the one who turns the tables on something so seemingly useless.

Clay can be troublesome stuff. It can cause heartache for anyone who comes across it. When it’s dry it’s like rock and jars the arms of those who try to break it. But when it’s wet, it’s so sticky, it seems to latch onto anything that touches it and it won’t let go. Anyone who wants to use it has their work cut out for them; such is clay in its natural environment.

However, to the potter clay has a use; a very good use. He knows just what to do to work the goo into something exquisite. The stickiness is worked with wet hands so the clay moves and grows into something good. Its stickiness actually is a quality that keeps the pot adhering to itself. And when it’s put in the kiln and baked the clay is returned to a state that is rock hard to keep its form so it can be used to hold things; perhaps even water.

But clay being what it is can still be trouble. As the potter caringly tries to mould it the clay can collapse and become misshaped. It has to be returned to the lump in which it was originally found and the potter starts again. When the clay becomes a pot, its hardness also makes it brittle and if the pot is not treated right it can shatter into a myriad of pieces. Even if it gets a fine crack, the owner takes to it with a rod reducing it to pieces of potsherd.

When we consider that God is in fact the potter and we are the clay and the pots that he moulds to hold his holy presence we are encouraged to examine ourselves and see the imperfections that cause us and our Heavenly Potter trouble. Isaiah did exactly that when he lamented over his people Israel.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:5-9)

Perhaps you have noticed the imperfections and cracks in the shell of your being. You worry that you’re in danger of being dashed to pieces and thrown on the scrapheap of life. Maybe like Isaiah you see the reality of your hidden human nature — the content of your fragile fatal life — and tremble because you know God sees the sin within.

So hiding the sin is fruitless; it still oozes out the cracks. And even your most honourable and worthy acts can’t exist without containing just a hint of self centeredness. So you know in the depth and core of your being you can do nothing righteous in God’s all-seeing sight. We look in the pot knowing we were moulded and formed to hold something so much better than the pot of filthy rags we have become.

Like the Psalmist we are reduced to see the reality of who we are before God Almighty as we plead…

Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:19)

The fact of the matter is this: we need to be saved. Without intervention and restoration the potter will return and take to the pots with an iron rod and dash us into pieces of potsherd.

Knowing this the Potter sets to work at the wheel yet again and moulds another pot to contain the core of his being. Just as in the days of old when Solomon used clay moulds to cast precious metals for the temple, Almighty God cast Christ Jesus, his holy and precious Son, into the same fragile clay shell as you and me. And in this mould was veiled the depth and breadth of God’s complete holiness and generosity.

This is very good news for us full of cracks and imperfections who know we need restoration so God will look on us favourably. Our prayer should be the same as that of the Psalmist who also sees he cannot save himself…

Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. (Psalm 80:17-18)

So God sent his Son; he cast Christ as one of us. The Son of Man at his right hand, the one on whom God’s hand of blessing rested, was sent and born a baby, a fragile clay pot, capable of the same failures as you and me. Yet he did not crack under the pressure that show us for who we are. He stood the test of time, a fragile pot holding the holiness of God, more precious than any silver or gold.

But then the Potter took his rod of wrath. The rod we know we deserve and having his Son raised up, let him be smashed to pieces. The pot was broken, the mortal mould and holy contents was made to die. Christ was cast; then Christ was crucified! God’s hand fell on Christ so the prayer of the Psalmist, together with your prayer, is answered. You are restored! We are revived! God’s face shines on us and we can call on the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. We can confess our sins; our brokenness to God. And even more, God wants us to see ourselves and seek him in confession, so he can forgive the guilt of our sins.

Jesus was poured out like water, he was dried out like potsherd, he was cast as Christ but then he was cast out, the outcast. On the night before he was betrayed and crucified on the cross he said…

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

And so God’s pot was broken like bread and the cup was lifted up for the forgiveness of your sins. God has wet his hands in baptism to mould your mortal clay so you carry what was poured out of the cup of his Son for your salvation. You now contain the life blood of Christ himself in you, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So as we hear from Paul from the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians, grace and peace has come to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That God can be thanked for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. You can trust that in him you have been enriched in every way.

Therefore, know, you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. Also know as you struggle with your fragility, only Christ who continually sends the Holy Spirit through his written word will keep you strong to the end, so you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. He won’t let you down, but he will allow you to be poured out and broken so Christ might flow onto others. But after it is done those who trust his faithfulness will be raised like Christ, to be with Christ, restored and revived, in all the holiness and peace of eternal life, forevermore Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A, Last Sunday of the Church Year - Ezekiel 34:11-16 "Sheep Need a Shepherd"

The picture of a grazier feeding grain to sheep from the back of a Land Cruiser has become a dim picture in the minds of most Queenslanders in the past ten years or so. In fact most kids would not have ever seen or experienced an economy riding on the backs of sheep, unless they live on one of the few properties that still graze sheep. When driving around the Tara-Meandarra area one will notice there aren’t many sheep left. Thousands of sheep grazing in paddocks, a common sight in the 70’s and early 80’s, are not there anymore. The pictures of the caring grazier feeding his sheep grain on drought stricken properties are gone, and, so too, the pictures of sheep grazing on green grassy paddocks are just memories of the past.

So as Australia moves away from being a country dependant on an economy driven by wool and mutton, the picture painted in the texts today of a shepherd caring for his sheep two-thousand years ago in the Middle East gets just a little bit dimmer on the horizon. If we look at what a shepherd does and see the sheep for what they are, these texts can give us a very good picture of what God does for us, how he does it, and who we are. We can put aside the far-fetched picture painted by the movie ‘Babe’, where sheep, a little pig, dogs and a duck seem to be as intelligent as, or even more intelligent than, the old man who farms them.

Anyone who has ever had to work with sheep will know that they are not the brightest animals to ever walk the earth. Left to their own devices they will get into trouble. Some say they are thick or stupid. Sheep easily sulk, flopping down, refusing to be brought back to the herd when they have gone astray. These animals need boundaries and protection. Their wool which once made them so valuable is also the very thing that can harbour their death, if it gets wet and fly blown. When sheep are chased through a gate, if you can get them to the gate, one will jump then the next and the next and so on. Maybe you have heard asked, ‘If someone jumped off a cliff would you?’¬– well a sheep probably would! Graziers have to spend much time and money building and mending fences, to hold the sheep in, and, in some areas, to keep wild dogs out. He might spend a great deal on vehicles, sheepdogs, and pasture improvements to guard and protect these dumb animals. These animals need to be shepherded; the Australian grazier uses these means to do this task of shepherding.

So sheep need pasture or land on which to graze. They need protection from disease and attack from wild animals, and they need someone to watch over them. Farmers have paddocks to protect and keep the sheep together, but when these paddocks run out of feed, the sheep can’t find a new one, and rarely do they find their way back to the paddock if they get out. When their protector approaches them to catch and care for them, they become scared and struggle to get free or go into sulk mode and flop down as if they would give up their life in an instant.

The picture of a shepherd in the Middle East is not really that much different. There are no fences, the shepherd travels with his sheep; he in a sense is the fence for his sheep. He finds the right pastures for them, if he left them to their own devices others would steal them, wild animals would eat them, or they would wander off and get lost from the flock. He calls his sheep with his word and uses his rod to protect, and his staff to save them. Whereas motor bikes, dogs, and Land Cruisers are the identifying sounds and instruments of an Australian shepherd or grazier.

But the fact is without a shepherd, of some sort, sheep are not going to survive. In their temporary existence away from their shepherd or the things put in place to shepherd them, their quality of life will be next to nothing. We are God’s sheep, and he is our shepherd. Are we thick, dumb, or stupid like sheep? Well no, we are not! But our actions are similar to that of a sheep’s because of sin. So we too, need a Shepherd.

The pastures in which God originally placed us, was the lushest garden ever. The Garden of Eden was a paradise of infinite gifts to us from God, with one boundary, and that was not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But like sheep left to their own device, the grass seemed greener on the other side of the fence, outside the boundary, and humanity shepherded themselves into death and separation from God and his garden of gifts, by crossing that boundary. They turned their backs away from the Shepherd and his green pastures, to the fruit which has made us all rotten to the core. Now there is no way that you or I, can get back into the garden that is eternal life, or paradise, no matter how much we try to look like good sheep outside the fence.

So what does God have to say about weak stray sheep outside the fence of paradise and eternal life? He says: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

God has placed a hole back in the fence, so we can enter back into paradise. But guilty as we are, we flee further from God, seeking to be fed outside the fence. The opening he gave us only exposes the boundaries we ignored and crossed. Such is the Law of God which shows us how we sin; the Ten Commandments expose our desire to turn away from God, his will, and the bountiful gifts he wants us to have in our lives. God gives us an entrance back in, but the same craving which led us to break the boundaries and be thrown out of the Garden in the first place, only causes us to run further away.

So to bring us back to his garden of paradise, the Shepherd, in an act of brilliance, sent his Son to shepherd us. He came to make us content to dwell in his garden, or his paddock of perfection, and to heal us and cleanse us of our stricken state. We once again have value as his sheep because he came to seek us and lead us home to our Father’s property, named, Heaven. The Shepherd came to us not as the Shepherd but as a sheep; he came as the Lamb of God. Just as the economy of our country once rode on the sheep’s back, God put his household in order by placing the burden of obedience on Christ’s back. Jesus came as a sheep to heal our waywardness, protect and cleanse us from evil, and to carry us home on his back.

Jesus bore the punishment for our corruption of paradise and subsequent expulsion; he makes us acceptable and gives us access back into the Father’s presence. The Shepherd gave up his position as Shepherd and came as the humble Lamb who bears your sin and mine. And now having been raised, the Lamb of God leads his flock back into God’s eternal paddock of paradise. The economy of God’s church is carried on the back of the Lamb of God. The head servant, Jesus Christ, shepherds us back into God’s presence where he causes us to live forever on his green pastures of paradise.

You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:31).

[So] come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care (Psalm 95:6-7a). Amen.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A, Pentecost 27 Proper 28 - Judges 4:1-24 "The Queen Bee"

Joshua led the people of Israel out of the Sinai wilderness across the Jordan into the land of Milk and Honey. He finished what God had commanded Moses to do and led the Israelites into Canaan.

However, once the land was conquered and Joshua sent the tribes off to possess the land, Joshua died and he was not replaced. So there was no single leader to direct the twelve tribes in the ways of the Lord as they went about their business in the land they had acquired.

It was during this time that God raised up judges. These judges didn’t hand down sentences in the way a judge might today. They were called by God to put right what had gone wrong. Therefore, these judges were more like a sheriff from a wild-west town, who was given authority to right wrongs between individuals for the sake of the community.

Just like a wild-west society lawlessness was also at a premium in the days of Israel’s inhabitation as God’s people became an authority to themselves. A phrase in the Book of Judges is repeated over and over again, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” The authority of God, which had earlier come from God in his word, spoken by Moses and Joshua, was now being forgotten.

Why was God’s Word, and his statutes, being forgotten? It was basically a failure of vocation! People were no longer doing what they were supposed to be doing. The roles in society needed for orderliness were crumbling. Those stationed in positions of authority were avoiding their responsibilities and those called to remain under the authority of others were not doing so.

God had commanded the Israelites to teach, speak, bear, and live all his decrees and statutes before their children. His command was that they made his word alive by speaking it to the following generations, but this wasn’t happening. Therefore, people were deliberately sinning against God’s law, and there were also those who sinned in ignorance because they had not been taught.

In this time God raised up judges. However, one he raised up was a judge different from all others. God raised up a woman to sheriff the community of Israel, and her name was Deborah. This is peculiar and it shows just how bad things had become. Disobedience of vocational responsibilities had become so great God had to work outside the box to bring orderliness back to Israel.

We do well to hear the whole story, and as we listen take note of Deborah and Jael, the other woman in the story, and see how they act in relation to the men around them.

1 After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD. 2 So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the LORD for help.

4 Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”

8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” 9 “Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honour will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, 10 where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera gathered together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men. 15 At Barak’s advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left.

17 Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him.

19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.

20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.

22 Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.

23 On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him. (Judges 4:1-24)

Notice it is Deborah who was taking court under the palm tree. This woman was settling the disputes of the Israelites. One has to wonder, where were the elders and the leading men of the villages? It was custom for the men to sit at the town gates and take court, to settle matters people had with each other.

But it is Deborah who was bringing order when it should have been the leading tribesmen. In fact, Deborah is the Hebrew name for a bee, and comes from a word which means to subdue, command, speak, or arrange. And so we can see the orderliness of a bee hive and see how the bees work as one under the queen bee for the benefit of the hive. Similarly God used Deborah to bring order once again to the hive in the land of honey, the land of Canaan.

Where it might be normal for the commanding bee to be a queen, it is not customary for a woman to lead in Israel. So what might seem to us today as a sign of equality and political correctness is, in fact, a marker that something was completely out of wack with the orderly society of Israel, as God had originally intended for them in the land of milk and honey!

The evil done in the sight of the Lord, had reached a new depth. The dominion and subduing was left to Deborah while those entrusted with God’s leadership — within individual families, groups of families, and the twelve tribes — did evil in the eyes of the Lord, appearing more as drones in the hive than leaders leading the nation out of sin.

Deborah was the wife to Lappidoth, and his name means wormwood, with connotations of being cursed or poisonous. Not surprisingly due to the evil of the Israelites, they had become cursed and poisonous to God. So God called Deborah to lead Israel, and she called Barak to go in the name of the Lord and take on Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army.

The Israelites in their evil brought continual oppression on themselves as Jabin reigned down terror on them, but Jabin was no slouch. His name gives testimony to this, as Jabin means to be cunning, to be a perceiver, and one who is intelligent. He must have thought, “If a woman was leading the Israelite, then there has to be problems on the home front!”

Added to this was Barak’s whimpish response when Deborah commanded him to rally men to fight. He wouldn’t go unless Deborah went. Barak wasn’t even bold enough to fulfil his vocation of leading God’s army into battle, even though the attack had been commanded by God. The ways of the Lord had surely been forgotten as they placed their fear in a force other than God. Therefore, Deborah promised Barak, on behalf of God that Sisera would be handed over to a woman and honour would not fall to him.

God clearly worked through Deborah, Jabin’s army was defeated and slain. Jabin’s general, Sisera, fled to the home of Heber the Kentite. Heber welcomed him and Sisera commands Heber’s wife, Jael, to hide him. He tells her to stand at the door and lie for him, telling Sisera’s pursuers that he is not there.

Ironically we’ve heard how Deborah took the place of men in court, which was usually done at the gate of the town, and now another woman is called to stand at the entrance of her home protecting a man cowering from his enemy. But Jael whose name means to do good, or ascend (like that of a wild goat up a mountain), rises to the occasion and kills Sisera as he hides. Just as Deborah had forecast, the honour went to a woman, when Sisera was handed over to Jael.

At this time of rebellion, God restored stability through Deborah. The queen bee had ordered the hive, and it remained that way for another forty years.

We do well to reflect and meditate on this piece of Israel’s history in these days as God is forgotten more and more, as fathers fail to foster the faith in their families, as family authority is undermined time and time again. Isn’t it time men in our society stood up once again in the vocations into which God has called them? That women be encouraged to take hold of the extraordinary vocations God has created for them! That men and woman be subject to one and other out of reverence to Jesus Christ, while fulfilling the necessary and critical functions that benefit our whole society!

Shouldn’t we once again encourage those in authority to be students of God’s word, so we might fulfil our vocations to teach, speak, bear, and live the word of God, in our homes, in our communities, and in our country?

Even greater than the statutes and laws of Deborah’s time is the greater gift of the Gospel we bear today.

Surely our vocation as Christians is to teach, speak, bear, and live the daily forgiveness that comes to us from Jesus’ death on the cross. If we as pastors and parents don’t teach, speak, bear, and live Christ crucified for the forgiveness of our sins, who will?

Let every one of us stand under the authority God places over us, so he can put us right. So we might be judged right in his sight! And in doing so may he use us in his kingdom, to work through us, to teach and lead others to where true forgiveness and eternal peace can be found. Amen.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A, Pentecost 26 Proper 27 - Matthew 25:1-13 "Rest Ready"

What are you waiting for? Waiting is one of the hardest things to do. Waiting for something to finish; waiting for it to start. Waiting for Christmas; waiting for work to finish, waiting for the weekend. Waiting for first love; fiancées waiting for their wedding day. Waiting for morning, for sickness to end, waiting for it all to be over. Waiting to become pregnant, waiting nine months to see who your child is, and kids always waiting for mum or dad so they can get going! What are you waiting for?

Ten girls were waiting. They were bridesmaids, they were virgins. As their excitement built while they waited it took its toll and they fell asleep. There was no way they could maintain this enthusiasm without exhaustion setting in.

These ten girls had come to honour the bride and groom at the wedding breakfast. Perhaps to entertain and dance for them and their guests! And accompanying them were their torches; poles with rag bound to one end and soaked in olive oil. These torches would burn for about fifteen minutes before going out, and the girls would then have to trim off the burnt rage before re-soaking in olive oil and relighting the torches once again. They knew they needed to be ready with more oil as they waited for the groom to arrive.

We know that five of these girls were not prepared as they waited. As the night wore on their excitement turned to slumber, so when the bridegroom arrived and they were called into service, a startling jolt raised them from sleep as they dashed to soak their torches to be ready.

The ill-equipped girls’ actions were inexcusable. Their lack of preparedness showed them to be quite naïve. One wonders what they must have been thinking; this was an important occasion. They were quite disrespectful if they thought the event would be over in fifteen minutes. They demonstrated they hadn’t thought about what was going to happen, nor did they think about what they needed. Their insolence revealed their immaturity and ignorance and when the groom finally arrived they had no one else to blame but themselves. Whatever was going on within their hearts and minds, they grossly misread the importance of the event and their negligence caused them to be excluded at the end.

However, the ten girls waiting for the bridegroom is a parable. It’s a story Jesus told to illustrate what’s going to happen when he returns at the end for the resurrection and judgement of all people. This parable of the five prepared and the five unprepared girls is about you, me, and all people as we dwell here in the times before Jesus returns.

It’s a sobering thought for us all. We’re in the last days and Christ’s return could happen at any moment. The seriousness of our situation also confronts us as we ask ourselves: What am I waiting for? Am I prepared? How should I prepare myself? And which of the five girls am I in this parable?

If we are quick to judge ourselves by what we do, we need to do so with caution. The ten girls essentially all did the same thing. They all had their torches and they all fell asleep. They were the same, their appearances didn’t negate them from entry into the wedding banquet, but rather it was their unpreparedness. Five of the girls were resting ready, and five were resting on their own laurels, waiting in naïve ignorance.

So what should we do? Should we give up working, sit on top of a hill and wait for the rapture? No! I guarantee that like the bridesmaids our enthusiasm would quickly wear off and we would end up of use to nobody, not even ourselves. After all, all ten girls were sleeping —not watching out for the groom to arrive — yet five were still taken into the banquet.

Therefore, thinking the act of sitting in wait for Christ’s return will earn us the reward of eternal life is just plain wrong. Rather, patiently waiting, resting ready, being prepared everyday, is much more beneficial than being completely unprepared when it comes.

So the question is this: How do I become prepared so when Christ returns he might take me into the wedding breakfast of eternal glory forever?

Imagine the ten girls standing around waiting for the groom to arrive looking each other up and down. After all they all look the same, they all act the same, and they all fall asleep as they wait. But as they wait those with reserves of oil would have continued to wait patiently while those without spare oil would have been secretly convincing themselves, thinking, “We’re alright we’ll get in, we’ve got plenty of time yet!” Or perhaps they thought, “If he lets the others in, he’ll let us in too!” And when the bridegroom comes and they get caught out, even still they thought their efforts would get them in the door, “She’ll be right, we’ll talk our way in!” But as we know it’s not to be as they come to work their ways at they door the bridegroom replies, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you!

Therefore, what should surely grieve all Christians is when we hear of others who call themselves Christian, yet do not think it necessary to go to church! They rest on their own laurels thinking they have done enough to be welcomed by the bridegroom at the end of the age. Or they’re too ashamed to come and receive the essentials to cleanse and prepare them for the bridegroom.

But even more dreadful are those who think going to church is some kind of justifying work that earns them the right of entry. However, in all the time they spend working their glory, churching themselves, they never stop long enough to obediently receive the one thing that prepares them for eternity. As a Christian and a minister of Jesus Christ, it distresses me to see brothers and sisters too busy to really hear and receive the message of Christ!

The one thing we all need is forgiveness, this is what prepares us. It is essential for our preparation for the bridegroom’s return. Forgiveness cleanses us of all our sins before God the Father. Forgiveness gives us peace with God the Father. And forgiveness from God gives us the victory Christ won on the cross. Forgiveness is the good oil, you need his forgiveness! This good oil makes you holy; be anointed with the Anointed One, the Messiah, God’s Son. To be prepared, rest ready having heard and believed the good oil of forgiveness given for you!

However, this good oil is not cheap. For God to forgive us our sins against him, it cost Jesus his life! Although we can forgive each other we can’t give God’s forgiveness to each other, nor can we produce it ourselves, it comes from God himself, through his Son, Jesus Christ. And this good oil makes us candles of Christ burning with the Holy Spirit until Christ returns. We get the good oil through the essential things Jesus gives us so we might bear the forgiveness of sins.

These essentials are the forgiveness of sins given in Baptism, and the burning of the Holy Spirit in us making us yearn, to return time and time again, to be forgiven by God himself through the words of absolution spoken by the pastor. This forgiveness also comes when we take the bread and drink the wine, which is the good oil of Christ’s body and blood. And through the preaching and hearing of God’s Word where the Holy Spirit is given, we are fed the good oil so we might rest ready, alive in Christ. Just like the five girls prepared with reserves of oil for when the bridegroom made his surprise return!

So we return to the first question: What are you waiting for? Perhaps a better question is this: What are you waiting with? Jesus calls us to be ready — to keep watch — yet all the girls fell asleep. So we have the peculiar occurrence that five of the girls slept but in fact were keeping watch, or were being kept in their watch as they rested in Christ. But the other five slept and were not ready. In fact they were sleeping in the slumber that leads to eternal death.

To keep watch is keeping watch over ourselves, to remain vigilant, resting in Christ and remaining immersed in the means he gives us, supplying us with the good oil of his grace.

Therefore, encourage one and other to return and receive the forgiveness and the refining fires of the Holy Spirit that God so dearly desires all to have. Allow the continual cleansing and preparation of yourselves with the good oil of God’s grace. Rest ready in Christ; trim your torches!

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire… Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Amen. (1 Thessalonians 5:19,21-24)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A, All Saints - 1 John 2:28 - 3:3 "We are All Saints"

If I was to inform you that you had ten minutes left to live, what would be important to you? If you were going to die in ten minutes what would go through your mind? How would the things you have done in the past and the things you are doing now impact the way you might react to this shock news?

On hearing of your imminent death would the ‘church things’ you have been doing bring you comfort or distress, would they reassure you and give you peace, or would they cause you to doubt or even resent God?

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 2:28 – 3:3 NRSV)

Here John encourages us to abide, remain, or stand, in Jesus; to hold onto him, his Word, and the promise he makes to us in his Word. The only way we will have confidence and not be put to shame when he is revealed is to abide in him, hold up as truth what he gives to us as truth, and hang onto the things he puts in place for us now, so we might be with him forever. We know when we have been doing these righteous things we can boldly say we are children of God; brothers and sisters of Christ our Saviour.

If you found you had ten minutes to live, would you trust in the things Jesus has done for you, or would you guilt yourself over the things you think you should have done?

Today we celebrate All Saints day. We remember those who have gone before us and are now continually celebrating around the throne of God together with the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. God calls us to see that we too are a part of that company. We have been rescued and although Christ has not been revealed to us, face to face, and we still live and struggle in the reality of this world, we are called to see our reality is also unseen and that we too are gathered around Christ as a result of abide in him through the means he has given us.

This is why John says to us, ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’ If you found you were to die in ten minutes, God calls you to trust in what he has given you and who he has made you to be, not what you might do in the minutes remaining.

In fact we do already know just who Jesus is! Jesus reveals himself to us in his Word, he continually sends the Holy Spirit to direct us and open our eyes to him when we hear the Word. So through faith we know of his hidden presence with us in this world; our view into the unseen realm is the Word of God.

But there are many who do not know Jesus or his Word. They live by sight and not by faith. They don’t know God’s Word thinking they don’t need to hear, read or study it, and subsequently don’t see the hidden reality of Jesus. So they neither abide in him, trust him, nor do they know him, the Holy Spirit, or our Heavenly Father.

Instead of trusting Jesus, when death approaches, some think they might be able to broker a deal might with God, saying, “If you save me God, I’ll do whatever you want, I’ll be a good person for the rest of my life.” Maybe you too have been tempted to trust in yourself and try this kind of approach?

But we know an even greater deal has already been signed and sealed by God. If you trust in Jesus Christ, if you abide in him, if you receive him through the Word of God, then he, the Word made flesh saves you for free. Just say you did find out you were going to die in ten minutes. God calls you to trust in this free salvation, which cost God the Son his life on the cross.

Christ is hidden by the curtain of eternity and we have access through the Word of God to see Christ behind that curtain and trust that we are God’s Children. The same can be said of us too; Christ is hidden in you so when Jesus returns you will finally see who you are with your very own eyes.

The Word of God will be needed no longer because everyone will see him in his glory. Faith and hope will be no longer required because the object of your faith and hope, Jesus Christ, will stand in front of us and wipe away all your tears and your sinful nature – which is the cause of all our tears. And having the veil of your sinful nature wiped away and removed once and for all, you will we see your true self.

We will see exactly who we are in Christ, having abided in his Word and trusted in his means of salvation, through the work of the Holy Spirit. This will be the final result of our entering eternal life at baptism through Christ’s promise in his Word. When Jesus is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

But while we are here we live in two worlds; the seen world, and the invisible world only seen through faith. As we wait on God the Father to take us home, we place our hope in his Son, Jesus Christ, and the things he gives us in his church. And these things let us look through the curtain of eternity as Christ comes to us in his Word and in the bread and wine.

Take a glimpse at yourself through the glasses of God’s Word. See that in you — lives Christ; see the holiness of God hidden behind the veil of sinful flesh. And as we come here into this place each time, see through the curtain of eternity into the timeless realm outside of space. See yourself around the throne of God with all those who have been purified by abiding in the things Jesus calls us to trust.

Just like those saints who are now made holy by the righteousness Jesus gave them, place your hope in these righteous acts too, in which Jesus calls you to abide. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

If you found out you were going to die in ten minutes, trust in the fact you have already died in your baptism and in ten minutes you would pass through the curtain of eternity into life and celebration forever with God and all the saints. Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A, Pentecost 23 Proper 24 - 1 Thessalonians 1:3 "Produced, Prompted, Inspired"

1 Thessalonians 1: 3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The verse we have just heard, directs us to meditate on three things; faith, love, and hope. These three are not uncommon to us from scripture. We hear of them in many places throughout the New Testament. But more on these three in a moment.

There are also another three things in this verse we can examine too; work, labour, and endurance.

Whether one works or not, all know what work is; all know what work they should be doing, whether they have done it or not. Work here in this sense refers to one’s deeds or actions; to ‘do’ something.

Then we hear of labour. We might assume labour is the same as work, and when we labour at something we do work at it. However, labour is more intense than work in the general sense. Mothers, more than likely, have the greatest understanding of labour, as a more intense part of motherhood, over against the regular duties of a mother’s work. So labour here implies that there is hardship and difficulty, requiring commitment and passion, lest the labour not be finished.

The third word is endurance. It too has something to do with work, as does labour. However, with endurance we have the quality of constancy. One might see endurance as something one has to keep at, grinding away bit by bit, until the outcome is realised. Guts and dogged determination, stamina and inner strength are needed for endurance. Patience, fortitude, steadfastness, and perseverance are what endurance is all about.

Saint Paul, on behalf of himself Timothy and Silas, writes to the church in Thessalonica after a hasty retreat from the multicultural trade route town. The new converts are left to face verbal and physical persecution as a result of their newfound faith. There’s concerned for the fledgling church as they work, labour, and endure amongst those who have rejected Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel.

So he writes his first letter to the Thessalonians to encourage them in the troubles they’re facing. We hear his encouragement for their work, labour, and endurance. But specifically for their work produced by faith, their labour prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope. The three fold theme — faith, hope, and love — common in the New Testament is present here, but Paul now couples it with their deeds and lives amongst the transient community of Thessalonica.

In these days we too live in a transient and temporary society. In communities where once everyone knew who was who, there was a consistent stability people could count on. But no more! Our world has gone and got itself a whole lot busier, and we have been caught up in the busyness of it too.

Our society is changing in many ways. We can now find out news from anywhere in the world with only a moment’s notice. People are becoming migratory in search of the almighty dollar. And those who stay put, can’t afford to sit still or they get left behind and buried under a pile of debt.

The church too faces this change and Christians within it face the very real pressures of the transient, live-for-the-moment desires of our age. Once upon a time Christianity was the centre of most communities; you would see the who’s who of the district in a church somewhere. And everyone made the commitment to be in church on Good Friday and Christmas day. But today, friends and family are sadly missed from amongst the ranks. The pews are empty; leaving us behind wondering if we should remain in something that seems like it might die.

The saddest thing though, is not that our society is changing, getting busier, or even becoming more and more heathen. The Thessalonians came through it and so has the Christian church in other ages too. No! The saddest thing is that as a result of these things we allow ourselves to backslide; producing less and less works, labouring in love is lost, and endurance becomes uninspired, bland, and boring.

The saddest thing is we let the godlessness of our age have more power in our lives than our Father in heaven, fearing godlessness more than God, giving it greater and greater power in our hearts and minds. We see numerical decline and lose trust in God who has his plan for his church which he ultimately sustains through thick and thin.

After the collection of the weekly offering we pray for God to receive it for the sake of Jesus Christ. We use various prayers, but usually they give thanks for what God has given us; ourselves, our time, and our possessions. We go on to ask God to accept our offerings as a sign of his goodness and as a symbol of our love.

The offering on the plate is a sign and a symbol, but it’s not the sum total of what we give! And so we can ask ourselves, regardless of how much or how little we might put on the plate, “With what intention do I give?”

The state of our faith, hope, and love are quickly revealed when we match them next to the offering of ourselves, our time, and our possessions.

Does the handling of our possessions speak well of our love; of God or of our neighbour? What does our time management reveal of our daily, hourly, and momentary devotion and glorification of God Almighty? And what type of faith do we radiate to others as a result of the faith we have received from God?

Faith and ourselves, our time and our hope, our love and our possessions; we ask ourselves, “What do they say about my intention towards God?”

Today, in the days of the Thessalonians, even back when the Israelites created the golden calf, and right the way back to Adam and Eve, humanity turns from the one true and living God to idols of one kind or another.

Much work, labour, and endurance has evolved from the hearts and hands of humans to serve these idols we’ve fashioned. But the question is; how do I turn from this habitual sin and idolatry back to the one true and living God, so faith in me produces work pleasing to God, I labour for the love of God prompted by the love of God, and I persevere, inspired with enduring hope of my eternal home, before those who seek heavenly moments in the fleeting pleasures of this world?

We could become better focused on our work, labour, and endurance; but that still would lead us on a path into idolatry. Even if faith, hope, and love within are fed by work, labour, and endurance could we together build something special and great? No! We couldn’t even make something as special or great as a golden calf or a tower of Babel, even if we tried really hard! And we know what God thought of them!

Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians because they didn’t do that. Rather they turned from their idolatry to serve the living and true God, waiting for his Son from heaven. They looked to Jesus Christ and to him alone who chose them through the gospel, convicting them deeply by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God has chosen you and me. Although the deep conviction to work, labour, and love might temp us to focus on these things and turn them into idols, it is the Holy Spirit’s intention with faith, hope, and love, to have us focus on Jesus Christ. And in him we will be productive in faith works, prompted to love, and inspired by hope.

You see faith, hope, and love are ours in Christ Jesus our Lord; we are in Christ because Christ is in us. Faith, hope, and love are in us and can only come from us because they are in Christ and are of Christ as a result of the Holy Spirit.

So let us not even be tempted to run after these other things which might seem good, lest they lead us away from God into the idolatry of ourselves. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and run after him, so that in him, he in us will produce prompt and inspire, faithful good works, labours of love, and enduring hope, to the glory of God — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.