From romance to reality

Malachi 3:1-5; Ps 24:7-10; Heb 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

First a deep breath, as we pack away thoughts and emotions emanating from the joys and wonder of Christmas, the Epiphany, and all with which we wrap those festivals,
we face that the “real world” awaits our attention. My neighbour has brought her caravan home from the beach, my other neighbour’s family are packing to head home to the big smoke, or careers across the waters of the western Pacific. Many are concluding their last blast in the recalcitrant sun of this summer, closing up the bach, bringing home the boat,
the recreational toys, and the stories of fish caught, and waves ridden, and water-skis mounted, tracks walked, bargains hunted and scored, and Odyssey-like road trips.
Now we take a deep breath and look to the road ahead into the rest of 2017, into whatever it is that God is calling us in our own expanding world of mission. The office computer, the farm tractor, the classroom all call with their varying demands. What do we take with us into this emerging journey, this perpetual pilgrimage?

holiday-traffic

Coming from the stable to the Temple meant a change in their pilgrimage for Mary, Joseph and their special baby boy. As Joseph and Mary proudly carried their precious little boy into the place of worship, their hearts would have realised that this was a turning in their pilgrimage in God’s surprising call. If they didn’t realise the change that was coming, they soon would as two encounters affirmed that this was no ordinary child, with an extraordinary purpose in God.
A man called Simeon, was lead by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple and God would show him the beginning of His work, in a person, the Messiah – did he know to look for a baby?simeon-and-jesus I guess so. So he went, and he waited – and when he saw the little family enter the Temple he knew, “This is it. This is what God sent me to see and had me waiting for.” Here is salvation, the promise of deliverance, in the person of this month old child – not just for Israel, but for all peoples. People will live in newness of life, in the abundant life, all the promises of prophecy are coming to fruition in this vulnerable and needy baby. Ah, but wait – there’s more, but it’s not going to come easy for His parents to hear.
This child will be a dividing point for those who encounter Him – some will rise, some will stumble, some will try to stop Him – actively, mischievously. The chambers of secrets in our minds will opened for view by this One – things they’d rather keep under wraps will be exposed – brought into the light. So of course people will oppose Him, governments will oppose Him – and those who follow Him.

This is reality. The charm and good feelings of Christmas evaporate so fast – joining the ruck at Boxing Day sales should convince us of that! They don’t really like the Baby in the manger, the just like the excuses for the Saturnalia and holiday. They don’t really like that inconvenient, itinerant preacher, that worker of miracles – and yet He is our salvation and He is their salvation. And who can tell them that – who can show them that? At this point a lot of people would be tempted to point at Brendan – the clergy, the specialist. But that’s not what we see even in this story. Simeon – old and waiting to leave this world for the next prophesying; and Anna an aged frequent visitor to the Temple – worshipping God, fasting and praying. Simeon tells the young mother the wonder of her son’s destiny, and Anna tells anyone who’ll listen. And back in the Christmas story, the first evangelists are the shepherds – they tell everyone they come across.
We have a tremendous story to tell – our own story. A God-purposed and Spirit-filled life, by the grace of God – a surprise, a gift (one we’re to share). The founding story is even more compelling – more startling. God comes among us – why? To kick us in the collective butt for being so stupid? No! To save us – for now, for those in our now, and for an unimaginable future. We’re now heading through Lent towards Easter – God is calling us to take our faith seriously, to face reality, and to walk through it in grace-fired faith, with the express purpose of being the blessing God always intended His kids should be.loudly-proclaiming

Food For the Journey.5.Offering ourselves

hand-reaching-bw
Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8

John has just completed his degree and the question that naturally arises is what next? Does he join an event company, a theatre, or an advertising or publicity organisation? Does he go on to post-grad studies? Or does he ditch it all for the sake of some other vision? Like his desire to develop the musical ideas that are crowding his soul…or pursuing a different passion to offer care to refugees from the horrors of North Korea? To pursue any one of those means letting the others go, even though he may have worked hard and successfully to achieve them. Whatever it is we know that it will be a serious expression of his appreciation of what the grace of God in Christ is calling on him to do – it will be consistent with who Jesus is developing him into, where faith requires he will go, and go single-mindedly. The determination of faith can sometimes look like stubbornness.
Mary’s Focus was to honour the Lord in whatever way gave expression to her faith-journey with Him. She was the one whose pleasure was to sit at Jesus’ feet lost in deep and heart-touching conversation.
It occurs to me that this flask of perfume with which she anoints Jesus was the same that would have been used to anoint Lazarus – or possibly being kept for the next funeral, to anoint the dead. But Mary wanted to give expression to the giveness of her life to Jesus. Isn’t it a lovely thing to see someone wanting to anoint the Lord instead of trying so hard to gain it for themselves (or for some teacher or worship-leader)?
The fragrance of such an act of devotion filled the house, changed the atmosphere – we could say it set the tone for the evening. Just as it does when, as God’s people, we lift up worship from devoted and loved hearts…when worship becomes a priority for us as we gather. Whether it be the context of every week worship (in whatever form), a great gathering of people lead by a skilled worship leader and worship band, or just an individual bending their head in private quietly loving and praising God for all HIs kindness in Christ.
Of course such an act of demonstrative love and devotion (as Mary’s) is to some an embarrassment. They see it as excessive and needlessly extravagant, as did Judas who sought to have Mary reproved for her “foolishness”. They often protest nearly as disingenuously as Judas, that it somehow distracts form the harder realities of faith, or should be expended in concern for the lost, the poor, the whales, the climate. Jesus replies that these come when they come and should become an offering of the incense of faithful and surrendered praise to God.
Singing in the Messiah the first time (felt like being perched on the edge of heaven) – matched by experience at the second Vineyard conference – tears rolling down my face, heart full of the Holy Spirit’s unerring touch.
There are purposes behind our worship that we may not have fully intended as we began that act of worship. Sometimes we may not even consciously aware of them. We may have been part of creating an environment in which people can release their tensions and uncertainties to open themselves to the whispering and loving, healing voice of God. Just as Mary’s act was interpreted by Jesus as having to do with His impending death, our own acts of worship may have an impact on the work of the Kingdom of God that surprises and blesses.

So let go of past inhibitors Paul knows that in the face of Christ, and in the pursuit of loving, worshipping and serving Him, much that we have claimed to value, loses it’s sheen and it’s trophy-like glory (which is our glory rather than God’s). What Paul is letting go is not horrible, polluting, disfiguring sin – instead what he declares to be rubbish to him now is the illusion of achievement and status. He is humbly glad to surrender all that commends him for the sake of reaching intimacy with Him to whom belongs all glory – from whom flows all good and all blessing, to whom belongs all honour. Paul wants to know Christ both in His glorious resurrected power and in His selfless, life-transforming sufferings. When we lose we suffer, even if it is to our long term or eternal benefit, so when we albeit willingly lose reputation, status, personal honour for the sake of a destiny of lasting, and unfading worth we still suffer for it.
And here’s the rub – it never finishes this sacrifice, this leaving behind the shiny, second best – this quest for a closer and more intimate relationship with the Lord who loves first is never over until we stand face-to-face with Him who gave Himself for us and constantly calls us to Himself. Whose home is our heart’s true home, even if we struggle to believe and accept that. And what it does cost? Nothing and everything. That is you can’t earn it or buy it, this relationship is a gift, this is destiny is grace – but it will ultimately cost everything you have and are – and that’s okay because your gain will exceed anything you could ever have imagined or hoped for.

 

What are you holding onto that inhibits your selfless giveness in worship?
Negative or positive?

How readily do you find yourself entering into a worship situation (whether at home or in the company of His people)?

What is your attitude to demonstrative and extravagant acts of worship? Have you ever thanked God for such a person – wondered what has happened for them int heir relationship with God?

Has the criticism or perceived criticism of others (especially gate-keepers) ever dampened your enthusiasm, or misdirected your acts of worship?

Give yourself time this week (daily if you can) to focus on the gracious work of God in Christ, saving and selecting you? …to remember and dwell on the character, attributes and acts of God?

Food For the Journey.4.Mothering Sunday

1 Samuel 1.20-28; Colossians 3.12-17; John 19.25-27

Mothering what? It was very confusing for a young cub scout; they said this was Mothering Sunday, but not Mothers’ Day. It wasn’t about our mums, it was about the church being our mother – though we still had to take a sprig of rosemary home to our mums. And I thought if it was about the church that “mothered” me then why was I at St George’s in Frankton, Hamilton, and not at First Church around the corner, where I was definitely nurtured in the faith as a child. But because I wanted to be a good Cub I went along with it anyway. Wasn’t church as I knew it: sit-stand-kneel – when? how? And now look, here I am; sitting, standing, saying the responses. So this Sunday we do acknowledge the role our mothers and grandmothers played in our development, and the nurturing role the church played in shaping us; and of course we give thanks for those who so shaped us. For this bride of Christ, this precious life sharing, life communing, life shaping organism of which we find ourselves a part – whatever shape or variety it takes.
Giving them up Hannah’s story is one that is delightful; joy tinged with courage and the pain of surrender of one’s dearest to the purposes of God and of His community. Imagine giving up your treasured little 4 or 5 year old to some old guy who runs a religious organisation. (Weaning happened much later then than is the custom these days.) But Hannah was thankful for God’s improbable answer to her impassioned plea, and saw that this special child had a place in God’s plan that required her surrender.
This was Mary’s burden too, and likely her joy; but at the Cross what horrendous pain what massive questions must have assailed her now. Throughout those last three years she must have risen on waves of pride as her son taught and ministered with such wonderful effect in people’s lives, but also she must have felt those waves ran her close the rocks of despair as people lied about him and tried to trap him – while people gossiped about him and sought to assassinate his character. And yet here she is given to the care of a loved friend.
A community of nurture is an important role for the church. This community is the agency of the Holy Spirit for our growth, nurture and the development of our ministries and roles in both church and society. In that many have served the Lord and have served us with the gift of their time and their talents, their Spirit-endowed gifts – awakening and refining ours. Educating us in the faith and in the ways of God, those who comprise the living body that is the church brought us to where we now stand. As surely as we want to give thanks for the nurture of the Church, we also want to honour those whose loving service and kindly mentoring have been as Christ to us.
It’s not just those who have taught us, or lead various groups in which we have been given life to share, but also those who have quietly and faithfully, for their love of God, served unnoticed and never thanked. Those who cleaned the church or polished the furniture or the altar furniture; those who made sure there was enough money in the bank to enable us to function as a frontier for Christ’s mission in our place and time.
Being held together However to achieve any of this we have to have shown to the community around us, that we have something quite wonderful and distinctive. An environment filled with the Presence and power of Christ, an atmosphere that is sufficed with the gratitude of people who know that something quite undeserved has done for them that has secured for them an eternal destiny that is out of this world – beyond dreams or imagination. The costly love of God in Christ sets a tone of which values like compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are characteristic. Where because God loved us even while we were still His enemies, we find ourselves willingly putting up with annoying quirks of behaviour, forgiving slip ups and even deliberate offences. We create, nurture and perpetuate an environment in which love is the cardinal virtue, the great communal distinctive. We seek ways in which we encourage one another – we find the good to praise – we speak words that only put hope in people’s hearts. Everything, everything is about giving thanks and praise to God for what He did for us in Christ, and offered through Jesus who has help the door of heaven’s throne room wide open for us.
Mother church not only gives life, but encourages and praises generous Godly virtues and behaviour.

So…

Who deserves your thanks today for their sharing of life that never ceases, never diminishes?
Who needs your encouragement today?
What in the wonderful liberating work of the Christ and His Cross deserves your praise?
Who can you bring it to even in the coming week?
What is your gift? What is your role in this nurturing, witnessing body of life eternal?

Food for the Journey.2.Being Transformed

Genesis 15.15.1-12,17-18; Philippians 3.17-4.1; Luke 9.28-36

This flag debate has raised the question of our identity. Who are we? What defines us? What makes us the nation we are? Come to that what makes you the person you are? Where you belong in the world, you role, you sum of attributes and experiences? What matters most about you? Our natural Kiwi reticence makes us want to be just a decent enough person, like anyone else. Neither scum nor prince.
And yet there is more to us, there is a life that’s somewhat remarkable, connections that are frankly heavenly; and so many are hardly aware of the reality into which they have been brought by the grace of God.
Peter, James and John are confronted with this, barely perceiving what’s really going on in this mountaintop experience of theirs. They’ve gone up this hill (think Tutamoe rather than Taranaki), and Jesus’ appearance is dramatically changed right before their eyes. Suddenly glorious, heavenly, shining in beauty. Their walk up the hill has tired them, but sleep is no longer possible now. Not has Jesus changed, but he has unexpected company in the Lawgiver and The Prophet. Apparently talking about the new exodus that will liberate us from eh slavery of sin.
It’s like God is reminding them that this is no ordinary Rabbi they’ve been following, not just some brilliant miracle-worker. In a way the disciples get it and in a another way they don’t. They get that Jesus is heavenly, glorious and stands alongside the great figures of Hebrew faith, and they want to build shrines to commemorate this – somewhere they can bring others to tell them what they saw. They want to institutionalise this experience – hold it at arms length – domesticate it.
Suddenly a cloud descends – a frightening sign of God’s veiled presence and out of it God addresses them and their misunderstanding. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” Not an experience to boast about, to build a shrine to, or build an institution around. This is an encounter with the Son of God, the Messiah, the Chosen Deliverer – he’s to be taken very seriously. Though the disciples found no way to talk about this to others for now, it will have filled their minds and hearts with life changing wonder. And maybe the question: what have we to do with heaven, with this heavenly being who looks so ordinary?
Paul tells us that because of the Cross of Christ, we are indeed different, with an almost unimaginable significance. We are citizens of heaven, we belong to the glorious and ascended Jesus, to the realm from which comes our salvation, our hope, our meaning. We are not limited by the things with which we usually identify ourselves: family, culture, history, education and occupation; faults and attributes; quirks and habits; triumphs and disappointments. If that’s our focus we become the sad creatures that Paul reflects on in this letter to the Christians in Philippi whose ultimate end is their destruction, because when offered the resources of heaven they chose to be distracted by the immediate and earth-bound.
However we have an identity that is forever, organically linked to the King of the heavenly realms which means more than just a decent average Kiwi person.
It means God is always with you ands listens to you and notes the things that are important to you and the things are upsetting you. But it also means you have amazing resources with which to help and minister to others – heaven’s life-changing, transformative resources. When you come, in Jesus’s name, to lovingly help or pray with someone you come with His authority and His blessing, you can come with some expectancy that He both hears and responds to your dependance on Him.
Abraham simply believed that God had all that he needed, even when everything looked hopeless, and thus chose to act on what he believed rather than what he feared. He didn’t just believe some promise, he chose to believe the One who made the promise.
All this promise, these limitless resources, this encouragement to believe in a transcendent Lord, calls to the ultimate act of righteousness. That is to act upon what we say we believe, to what we know at heart is possible in the love and grace of God in Christ. The transfigured Christ descended the mountain and lead His disciples onto the world of ordinary people with ordinary needs, but showed them to meet those needs with extraordinary grace and power. What happened on the mountain was to inspire and dare Jesus’ followers in every age to do astonishing things for His sake and the sake of His kingdom.

Food For the Journey.1.even Jesus was tempted

Luke 4.1-13; Romans 10.8-13

Temptation is sneaky; I’ve never been tempted to throw myself off the bridge over the river, drown my self in the surf at Bayly’s Beach, or even to grab a gun and go and shoot the leaders of any congregation I’ve served. Temptation is about things we like. So I’d be tempted to eat way too much ice cream or chocolate, but not to eat banana skins and cow pats. Sexual temptation confronts many of us as does the temptation to do really dumb things that are against the law – like I’ve looked at the long straights near here and wondered fast I could our car to go. Often a severe temptation for many sober Christians – but could get you into trouble you can’t control.

Even Jesus was tempted – and not only that once we all read about here.

Notice how it happened in the environment to which He’d been lead – by the Holy Spirit at that. Hot on the heels of the spiritual high of being baptised, and called “my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased”.

Note where temptation came from. Many will tell you it comes from within us, that our souls are playing with the idea of rebellion, but the Gospel tells us it came from outside – from the Devil – the Enemy, Opponent, Destroyer. It was a triple attempt to spoil Jesus’ ministry right at the beginning. The temptation was NOT a sign of any internal or moral weakness in Jesus. The temptation was in effect to look away from God’s plan and take the easy spectacular route.

Jesus knew the temptations for what they were; but note that each victory was followed by another assault from the Enemy. Jesus didn’t think of these temptations as even remote possibilities – that was not His call.

Jesus repelled each temptation with the Word of God and His own obedience to that Word. You could say His obedient word of testimony defeated the Enemy’s concerted attempts.

Repeating the earlier point, each temptation was to do or reach for something inherently good – bread (He was hungry); power and reputation (then He could achieve whatever He wanted); a Divine sign (that He was special and that nothing could harm Him). It was all for the wrong reason, at the wrong pace, focussed on what Jesus might personally have. It was a programme for a shortcut to what God would do soon enough anyway – claiming something immediate that would fizzle away, whereas God’s purpose final and lasting.

Many in ministry or leadership fall victim to temptation took for themselves that which was only for God to give (if it was in His plan). Often it’s something they had no right reaching for, but thought they sere worth it because they were somehow more special than you or me. But know this, to play with that idea in our heads is to have already surrendered and made ourselves available to the Enemy’s tricks.

God gives us whatever He knows will enable and empower whatever it is He has called to do – His gifts are always plentiful and appropriate and they change us more into His image than anything we might want for ourselves.

In answer to this problem, what Paul writes in His letter to the Romans is about how we stay where we belong with God and become resistant to the while of the Tempter.

Here this carefully:

“if you confess with your lips…and believe in your heart…you will be saved”

Yes but confess what? Believe what?

1. That Jesus is Lord not you, not the preacher or Pastor, not that habit or addiction that you’ve been struggling with, nor the advertisers that tell you that you’re worth it or deserve it, nor the social pressure that says everyone else is doing it, and certainly not that sneaky, slippery character that comes along and tries get you to please yourself. He’s the Enemy, the Opposer, the Destroyer – right? Confess this! Make this your “point of difference”, your team banner.

2. That God raised Him from the dead He is alive! That means He’s present! That means He’s really powerful! And given that He’s been raised to save us and bring us to eternal life – He is motivated by an immense love for us (even at our grubbiest).
Hold that in an impenetrable place in your heart. Not even death can defeat or resist His purpose for your life.

We face temptation (and the Tempter) with faith in Christ, in the God who loves us with an everlasting and unshakeable love. The Tempter is NOT more powerful than the Lord, and hear this carefully he is definitely not more powerful that Lord within. You may know the promise, that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. Greater than anything that is in the world.

So when confronted with what we know within us, is not for us, and because of the Word of God, when we’re drawn to something or someone that will stand between us and God, we need to confess verbally and audibly so that we can hear ourselves say it, that Jesus is in this, as in all things, still our Lord. That Jesus is more powerful than anything and that He alone can save us…and…He will.

If you were drowning, you’re not going to be saved by a well-meaning friend who can’t swim, nor by some self-help programme, nor by the one who pushed you in there in the first place – only the one equipped to save can do it.

Know this and know it clearly; when you’re struggling with temptation, the Lord who defeated death and the power of anything to permanently harm you, won’t beat you up, or make you feel stupid, because you were tempted, or even because you’re finding it hard to resist. He will rescue, clean, love, feed and strengthen you with the inner dwelling presence of His Holy Spirit.

So don’t despair,
don’t give in
don’t give up
instead call out to God with whatever little bit of faith you can muster and He will deliver you, and bless you.

Remember This . 2 . EVERYONE MATTERS…

included

Genesis 12.1-3; Acts 10.1-16; Matthew 18.1-5
I was included and I was amazed. I thought I was on the edge, just a part of the backdrop to a scene in which the great and the good would and should occupy centre-stage. But the lead singer said loud and strong into the mic, “That guy with the afro is Pete our road-manager – actually he’s our peace-keeper – stops us from fighting when we should be working together. Give Pete a hand!”             
Huh! Didn’t see that coming, but it felt good. These were very clever musicians and they actually wanted me hanging around.
And you know the warm feeling of being included, or remembered warmly by people you loved – perhaps it suggests that we have a gift to give someone else. The gift of inclusion, of unqualified acceptance – that looks past culture, social position, appearance, even disregarding a prickly personality.
If you’re enjoying the glow of being a part of something good – is it okay to keep it to yourself? Isn’t that something you ought to be sharing with outsiders, with “fringe dwellers”, with the socially insecure? Precisely because you’ve been included and accepted and welcomed – in Christ and His astonishing, embracing grace.
A community of blessing is what God had created through the medium of the covenant,(such as that He made with Abraham – …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.) This sign of favour was to be a means of including all the nations.
And we see that appearing again in a vision to Peter – understand, he wasn’t being shown a new dispensation from the dietary laws, this was about the peoples of the earth for whom Jesus had died every bit as much as He had died for the people of Israel.
In the stories of the first covenant and of the gospel (the new covenant) and of the new community of God (the church) God was blessing people precisely so they would something with which to bless people previously considered outside or beyond His favour.
For Peter this new Spirit-Filled and enabled circle of favoured ones was suddenly being expanded beyond his wildest dreams. As the Acts story unfolds it is clear that God intends to bring the once pagan Romans into this circle of favour – that they were loved as much, and as much a community in His grip as the Jerusalem community of the apostles and their converts.
Even the unseemly and embarrassing belonged close to Jesus as He ministered on the earth – sure they had issues in their lives to deal with, but so did the group closest to Him. That even extended to small children climbing all over Him, perhaps asking the childish questions that must seemed such a waste of time to His immediate followers. They were specifically not to be excluded – they were instead pointed to as a model for saving faith. How’s that for inclusive, for saying to children that they matter to God?
A community of invitation isn’t about only opening the doors of the church for some people but for anyone who wants to come in and even for people we couldn’t imagine coming in. But listen if Jesus is our model, as He should be, then it’s not just about waiting, even the prodigal father rushed out to greet his tentative wandering son, and the King sent his servants out among the outcasts with invitations to the feast.
So doesn’t that suggest that if we really mean that everyone matters that we should find out who God is sending us to bring “home”?
And doesn’t it mean that if children, even at their most annoying, matter to God, then maybe other people we don’t take seriously, are of equal significance to the Divine Lover and worthy of being found and included?
However, I suspect we still need to learn the lesson about who matters and who doesn’t right here at home – at Forrest Hill Presbyterian. Even with the best will in the world, we will find this side of the apocalypse, that we harbour a measure of prejudice about people in our church, and while it may not have anything to do with culture or ethnicity, it may have everything to do with past history, with embarrassing opinions or habits, or even social standing.
Even the most egalitarian have their blind spots. We need continually to re-learn what love means, and what according significance to another means.
Everyone matters so we are constrained to treat people well, to include them, to work with them as equally loved by their Creator and their Saviour, as inhabited by the same Spirit.
So we look for ways to broaden our experience of those loved by God – I would argue that we do this in order to experience more of what God is really like (since we are the image of God). There are to be no barriers caused by culture or ethnicity. Nor are there to be any barriers to be caused by age or stage in life, or even from what they had done, or been, prior to becoming of the Kingdom of God.
There are not to be barriers even if our theologies are different in the peripheries of belief.
In the process, and finally, we become willing and hospitable bearers of the Good News to any and all with whom the Lord confronts in our role as the local mission frontier station.
Ready for the adventure yet?

Remember This.1. If We Don’t Do it…

1. If we don’t do it…     Isaiah 58.4-10; Ephesians 2.1-10; Matthew 25.14-30                               (Encouragement from the exit door)

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You’re qualified, now put it to work ought to be words spoken at every graduation ceremony. Even if you’re heading for post-grad study, at some point you have to make practical sense of all that knowledge (and, we hope, wisdom) you’ve accumulated. It does happen sometimes that a person graduates in a particular area and then realises that it wasn’t their calling – but it behooves them to find what they are called to and pursue that with all their creativity and energy.

So it is with this astonishing life for which the love of God has qualified us; and for the surprising endowments we call the gifts of the Spirit. As you will have heard me say last week our gifts (and talents) mean nothing until they’re put out there to bless and serve others. What God has qualified us for is a very big hint as to what He intends to happen with the miracle and wonder of your life and our lives. We each have a distinctive calling (as part of the work of a greater whole), but if we don’t do it, if don’t risk, or even try it, no-one else is going to and so it remains undone. The sadness of an unfulfilled dream, an ignored or deferred calling is truly tragic. If we don’t do it…who will, who can?
Isaiah’s manifesto for those who would draw pride from their fasting is a demanding agenda of social, missional interaction with those around them, especially those in need. We often give so much focus to what we do in church, or during a service – you might call it our religious performance – that we lose sight of the reason God has gathered us together into one place. He even told us not to turn away from that practice. The purpose of our Sunday worship is to give praise to God in all His persons, and in doing so to remind ourselves of who He is and who we are, but it is also about refreshing us and restoring us for the following week of the ministry and mission to which each of us has a calling. Even if we are highly qualified to lead what happens on Sunday morning that isn’t the end of the story – it has an ongoing purpose well beyond the walls of the church, our call is still outwards. Our task sounds like the manifesto of a particularly feisty political party, and yet this is a God-given task we can’t shrug. [Matthew’s record of the parable of the sheep and the goats is a terrifying reinforcement of that in Jesus’ own words – so we ignore them at our peril.] The message is simple, “it’s you, the chosen people, that I’ve called to set the world free of oppression”. Hence the Civil Rights campaign in the US was spear-headed by prominent and courageous Christian leaders.
God has fashioned you in the work of His saving grace to make you more than a shining example of His tremendous love. According to Paul, writing to the Ephesians, we are the previously unqualified beneficiaries of God’s life transforming grace, releasing us from the burden of our own disabling sin and rebellion. But we are saved to an astonishing purpose (good works) that has been envisioned and set in place from the very beginning. This goes back beyond our existence to the very founding of God’s wonderful plan for us and all humankind. So you are put together in a way that has a particular work of God in view – that’s what constitutes your calling. For this, as we saw perviously, God has generously enabled you with gifts carried by His Spirit straight from the throne room of heaven.
No talent or gift is so small that you can safely bury it, thinking that no-one will miss it, or miss you. So long as you behave yourself – that’s enough right? What could God possibly ask for than for you to be good? Trouble is, as every parent knows, goodness is entirely based in and measured by obedience. Being good is a thing we do – and yet how many times have you been lead to believe that being good was about NOT doing things, rather doing specific things? So for Jesus, the piety of the least gifted one (one talent servant) was irrelevant to the purpose of his favour and giftedness. There was an expectation of some gain, some exercise of faith, some effort, from even a small gift like his. It is too easy to underestimate the significance of our talent or gift if we relate it to the talent of others, and yet in God’s economy, faithfulness in small ways is a matter of huge significance; both for the gifted one and for those they helped, and for the Kingdom of God. So if you don’t put your talent to work, you are the poorer, as is those for whom you were sent, as is the Kingdom, no matter your gift’s apparent significance or lack of it,
It doesn’t matter how well you do it, so long as you do it for His sake and in an attitude of loving service, what matters is that you do – do it that is! Give yourself a break, and give what you can’t keep. Be a blessing. Look for ways to serve, to help, to lead, to change the world in even small ways. If you don’t know what to do ask…tell someone in leadership that you’d like to get involved and with what gift or talent you believe you have from God.
You will change, our church will change, and ultimately the world will change.