Monday, January 15, 2018

The Call (and the tingling)”

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1–10 (11–20), Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18, 1 Corinthians 6:12–20, John 1:43–51
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, January 14 2018

I think it is a reasonable assumption to make that we have come to church with some vague purpose in mind. Maybe it"s a good habit we have got ourselves into on Sundays. Maybe this place is somewhere special to us because it contains much of our history and hopes. Maybe we are searching, or maybe we are thankful for what we have found.

Whilst we are all here for differing reasons there should be a sense with us all that the religious aspect of life is something that is worth developing and nurturing.

Yet, in spite of all our good intentions, we may not be expecting much this morning. Though involved in a spiritual journey, we would probably be more than a little surprised if we were to encounter God in some undeniable and powerful way that threw our expected life"s course into jeopardy.

The Call. The Call of God. That's what I want us to think about. Our bible passages today spoke about God calling Samuel and about Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael to be His disciples. In both instances we are given the distinct impression that those God called were not expecting to encounter God in the way that they did. Nor did they expect that encountering God would turn their lives upside down.

In both accounts, to use the Old Testament words, "
The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread". Although the light of God"s revelation had not completely gone out, it was burning pretty dim. There were reasons for that. In Samuel's day it was due to disobedience and sin. At the time that Jesus came, it was because God was about to do a new thing… establish a new covenant and a new relationship with humankind through God"s only begotten Son.

There are reasons why our lights burn dim. There is sin in our lives. There is throughout society a disrespect and disregard for the things of God. This is not a holy nation and we are not a holy people. We worship around the throne of many different idols. The idolatry of materialism and consumerism. The idolatry that suggests that we are the center of our own self constructed universes. The idolatry of half truths and divided commitments.

For many of us, we say prayer is important, but when we don"t see the expected answers, we start to doubt. We say God's Word is important to us, but in the daily routine, it can be hard to find room for personal bible study or reflection. We live in a nation that suggests religion and politics and education and so many other things should be kept in separate containers, having different standards to govern them; "one rule for you, one rule for me.”

No wonder that we sometimes feel, to apply Samue's words to ourselves, that "The word of the Lord is rare in
these days." No wonder that, as we come to the house of the Lord, our expectations do not soar on eagles wings.

Young Samuel is in the house of God, at a time when visions and messages of God were at a premium. Then one night, a voice, heard clearly by Samuel, is calling his name. So unexpected is this experience, that Samuel has to run to Eli the priest to work out what is going on. Thankfully, Eli has the spiritual maturity to discern what is happening. "
Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." (1 Samuel 3:9).

Then, and I just love the way this translation puts it, when God addresses Samuel and Samuel decides to listen... "
The LORD said to Samuel, "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle." I've often read about spiritual experiences that are described as a "quickening "or a "moment of deep insight" or a "soul refreshing" - but have you ever heard such moments described as "A tingling"?

I think that "a tingling" was what Philip and Nathanael and all the other disciples felt when they knew Jesus was calling them to be on His team. When Nathanael heard about Jesus, at first there was no tingling. He was positively despondent. So rare were messages from the Lord that his only reaction to Phillip, who told him that he had seen the Messiah, was, "Oh. Yeah. Right. Like anything good is going to come from a town like Nazareth!"

But then, when he encounters Jesus, and Jesus smacks him a few words that hit right between the ears... Nathanael is tingling. "
Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"

Many times in Scripture - God moves and the result is - a tingling - a goose-bump encounter. Jesus had that sort of effect on people. On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came, there was a tingling spreading through all Jerusalem. Ask me to define a tingling? It's when God moves, in the power of God"s Spirit, to bring home in our hearts a purpose that Jesus is calling us to.

The Call, the tingling - it"s important to recognize that this is an act of grace, an action of God. It's not something we can manufacture or fake. It's not just another religious experience. It is something profound and shaking that changes us. In a general way God, is calling us all. The tingling is an indication that God is calling us to a specific purpose.

There's a wonderful story about jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald (in
“Sid Collins, The Life and Times of Ella Fitzgerald”.) It was amateur night at the Harlem Opera House (now the Apollo Theatre) in New York.

A skinny sixteen-year-old girl timidly walks onto the stage. The M.C. bellows, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, our next contestant is Miss Ella Fitzgerald, who is going to dance for us...Hold it, hold it. Now what's your problem, honey?...Correction, folks. Miss Fitzgerald's changed her mind. She's not gonna dance; she's gonna sing!" Ella Fitzgerald gave three encores and won first prize. Initially, though, she had truly intended to dance.

There it is. An example of a tingling - a call - a moment of realization that we have a specific task to do. A sense that you just have to take a particular course of action at a particular time or else the tingling will go away. A sense of direction that is - well - especially for that moment.

Some of you have had "tinglings" at conferences, in certain times of worship, when going through particular problems. You've just known that God was calling your name and God was going to get you through and in the end, that if you didn't treasure that moment it would be lost for ever.

Some of you have felt that tingling at moments of commitment. When you walked down an aisle at a revival. When you knelt in prayer in some private moment and turned your life over to Jesus. When you were baptized or confirmed or commissioned or accepted some new insight or some new opportunity that opened up right before your eyes.

There is of course another side to this call, this tingling. God calls for a purpose. Where there is a call, there is also a cost. Put yourself in Samuel's shoes. Imagine, you get a direct message from God. Wow! You are excited. This is something new. These sort of things don't happen every day. At least not to you or anybody you know.

Then the reality of what you are called to do, dawns on you. You are asked to go to - one who is older and wiser than you - the same holy one who has helped you discern the voice of God - and come to him, not with a message of blessing - but a message of judgment and rebuke.

Like the disciples and Samuel we live in a gray and ambiguous world – not unlike like that of Israel at the time of Eli. In fact we would be crazy to respond to such impulses were it not for one thing.

The call comes from God. And those God calls, God also equips and empowers for service. The call is God's initiative. It is not something we conjure up in ourselves, but something outside of us that we respond to. The call is something that helps us realize who we are and what we can do and where we should be focusing our time and energy.

For most of us that call is not going to come in the midst of a restless night. For most of us it will be the voice of a person of flesh and blood that gives the words. It will be a situation or circumstance that we feel we just have to respond to or do something about, because it has got us tingling. It will be some bible verse or something else that we have heard or seen that moves us to make a response.

Often times we may not even have recognized that it was a call. It will only be further down the road, when we look back, that we see... well, this happened and that happened.. and though I couldn't see it at the time…the hand of God was at work... and I am so glad that I responded.

The Call. It's an essential part of Reformed theology. We believe that we are all here for a reason. That God calls us to particular tasks and duties in the world and the church. That the things that come our way are not random acts of chance, but that there is a purpose and a meaning, even though that purpose and meaning may be shadowed in mystery.

Our response to these things should surely be that of Samuel. "
Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (Samuel 3:10).

Are we listening? Are we tingling? Are we ready for those tasks God is calling us to? Are we prepared to see it through - whatever it may cost - for we know that we walk with God, in the will of God, responding to the call of God?
Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
I pray for all of us, that as we learn to discern God's purpose for our life, we will also discover the faith that carries us through. To God"s name be the glory.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Advent 4 Magnify the Lord

Readings: Psalm 89, 2 Samuel 7:1-11, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:46-55
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, December 24 2017

At the heart of the Christmas story is the expectation of the birth of a very special child. Of course, every parent and grandparent knows, every child born into their family is a very special child.

But not every child has their birth greeted by angels, shepherds and travelers from the East bringing gifts of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh. The Christmas child, our Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate born in Bethlehem’s manger is… if you like… beyond special.

Scripture tells us that Mary, the mother of Jesus will be counted as blessed for generations to come. What I find intriguing about Mary, is that she who bore the most special child ever, claimed to be nobody special. Mary is crystal clear that if glory were to be placed anywhere or given to anybody, then glory must be given to God.

Her great song of praise, known as the ‘Magnificat’, begins by proclaiming, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant.

The Message Bible transliterates those verses. “I'm bursting with God-news; I'm dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened— I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!” To put it another way; “Look at me! I’m nobody. Yet unbelievably God is doing something wonderful in my ordinary life. Better put on your dancing shoes, God is much greater than we believe!”

To our human way of thinking somebody destined to be a King should be born in noble circumstances. To a throne. To richness. To the proud and significant. Yet the Son of God is born to young girl, struggling to make ends meet, in the middle of nowhere. The angel comes to one who realized that she was an extremely unlikely candidate for God’s favor and can hardly fathom what is taking place.

There is a sense of “Can you believe it?” attached to the wonder in her words. ‘He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

This hymn of praise is about a lot more than just Mary and the child she bore. It is a song that is phrased and springs from the rich imagery of the Old Testament. It calls upon the listener to remember the glorious past in such a way as it becomes a present reality. To magnify in our minds the notion that the God who has done wonders in the past has wonders still to do in the future.

We easily forget that between the closing prophecies of the Old Testament and the beginnings of the gospel story many years rolled by. The nation was not what it used to be. God seemed conspicuous by His absence rather than by His Presence. So we are given these reminders that God hadn’t left the building or given up on His people. Verse 50 “His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation

The eternal nature of the great promises of covenant and blessings given to the Fathers of the faith are recalled. “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, according to the promise He made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to His descendants forever." Mary is aware that what is happening to her has a significance for the whole people, not just for herself and her circle of friends and family.

This call to “Magnify the Lord with me” is not just about, “Hey… guess what I’m having a baby” but is telling us that our conception of God has become too small and too limited. Remember what God can do! Remember how God has worked! And as you remember… get ready… because God is about to do something you wouldn’t believe!

What an awesome text this is to be focusing on Christmas Eve. I can’t speak for you but I’m prone to forget. I forget that when God shows up God usually works through the common place and the ordinary to do extraordinary things. I forget that in God’s economy the little things often turn out to be the big things and that the most important thing is showing love through the next thing we do.

I lose sight of the fact that God wants to fulfill Gods purposes through an army of ordinary people. I forget that it’s not about what I can do, but about what the Holy Spirit of God can work through me when in humility I admit I am powerless and weak and lost. I forget that God is still God every day that God creates.

So I invite you this day to hear Mary’s song. "My soul magnifies the Lord”. To magnify something means you take something small and you make it bigger. I ask you to pray that God will take our small smoldering simmering attempts at being faithful and make them grow into something that changes other peoples’ lives.

I pray that God may use the limited expectations we attach to a Christmas holiday and turn them into a true experience of celebrating the glory and majesty of the real message of Christmas – that God is still in the business of redeeming and saving and renewing and creating.

Rejoice in God.
Rejoice in God.
Rejoice in God!

God looks with favor upon our life. God sees our life as fertile ground for His promises to be fulfilled. And it’s not about us. If it were all about us then it would never happen. We are not that significant. But when God breathes life into our daily routines, when God takes our daily lot and it becomes the work of building His Kingdom, then our lives have a significance that is beyond anything we dare imagine.

As we will sing later today...

Joy to the world, the Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing


We have lit candles for Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We have gathered together to praise God in Advent anticipation. It's Christmas Eve! We have gathered together this morning. We will light candles and sing carols this evening. We have an opportunity and meet around a table laid with bread and wine at midnight.

It’s still not enough. It’s still just a taster. Magnify it. It’s not about what we’re doing, it’s about what God has done, is doing and will do throughout the whole of creation, heaven and nature now and forever. And rejoice because it is the through the faithfulness of ordinary lives that the colors are added to the bigger picture.

Mary declares:"My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” Mary's song was the prelude. Today we rejoice that the promises were fulfilled, the Christ will come, His love will change everything.

The challenge is... how will we be changed? How will Christ be birthed in our hearts and lives in ways that declare to all people the reason for the season? How will our everyday ordinariness be transformed by the glory of the Christmas story?

Will it be a little thing? Or will we allow the message of His coming to be birthed in our hearts so we cannot help but allow God's love to bubble up and overflow. Will we respond to Mary's invitation... “Come and magnify the Lord with me!”

Know that into the darkness of our world a Savior will come. Know that through His life and love God will demonstrate that whatever life may bring, God will travel with us, through the joy and through the darkness. That's huge. We are not alone. God is with us. Glory to God. Amen!

AMEN!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D


Monday, December 11, 2017

Advent 2 Make a Straight Path

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15, Mark 1:1-8
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, December 10 2017

I like the way Mark begins his gospel. Mark 1:1 ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ It raises the question as we read his words, “Well, how do we get started?" If we want to follow Jesus Christ, where can we begin?” And immediately Mark launches into a statement from one of Israel’s greatest prophets, the prophet Isaiah, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'

In other words, “If you really want to pursue this path, if you really want to take on board and experience some gospel good news, than you are going to have to be serious about straightening your life out.” And to hammer that point home Mark introduces us to one of the most seriously radical characters of the New Testament, the no compromise, get your life straight before it's too late, locust and wild honey eating, leather belted, camel hair clothed, John the Baptist.

When John the Baptist preaches, he isn’t about to invite you to consider joining a discussion group or ask you throw a few dollars in the plate following a minute for mission, he wants to throw you in the river. He is going to put his hand on your neck, push you down under the water and pull you up again looking undignified and possibly gasping for breath if you weren’t ready for the dunking.

Whilst John is doing all this he is proclaiming and preaching; "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Now John was a person who had a powerful a charisma that enabled him to be taken seriously. For him to say “One is coming after me is more powerful than I,” surely that should make folk sit up and take notice! Again, the one who is to come won’t baptize in water but will baptize in Holy Spirit. This is taking things to a whole new level.

I guess because we know the rest of the story, the impact of this first chapter is a little lost on us. We know how Jesus came to be baptized by John and that whole account of the dove and the voice from heaven declaring “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.

We know from Matthew and Luke about the strange circumstances surrounding the birth of both John and Jesus. We know how another John in a great theological gospel tells us “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.” All of that is to come. All of that is what in this season of Advent we are preparing ourselves to celebrate. The coming of Christ. The ‘Christ-Mass.’ The Christ event. The Incarnation.

But today I invite us to draw back, to back up to Marks' first chapter. To try and see what there is in these first few verses that can help us truly prepare for what we know by hindsight is to come. What can help us to be embraced by the good news as we travel together through the Advent season? And we need look no further than Isaiah’s words. ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'

The advantage of a straight path is that it gets you where you want to go in the shortest possible time. If you grew up as a schoolchild in the British Isles one of the things you learned about very early in geography class, was the historic network of Roman Roads that spanned out like a spiders web from London. As far as gradients and mountains allowed the ancient Romans built their roads in perfectly straight lines. It was upon these roads that the Roman Centurions marched, the chariots were hauled and communications kept flowing.

That network of roads, the ability to get from A to B in the shortest possible time, was nothing short of a revolution that reshaped the way a whole nation moved and traveled. Previously ancient paths would follow rivers and valleys and weave from dwelling to dwelling. The whole idea of connecting a place some 250 miles away with another place by a straight as possible line hadn’t been considered.

The Romans not only had the ingenuity to come up with the plan, but among the conquered masses found the work force to make it happen. Slavery proved to provide an extremely efficient means of achieving otherwise insurmountable tasks. So a network of roads was built in Roman times across the British Isles that have proved to be the pattern of communications ever since. What is remarkable about some of the roads the Romans built is that 2250 plus years later some are still in existence. Obsolescence was not a word they had in their vocabulary.

How where they built? Construction began by digging a ditch with plough and spades as far down as the firmest ground they could find. Into this ditch was placed layers of rock and stone. On top and around this were dumped further layers of rubble, gravel and small stones, the actual materials depending upon what was available in the area. The most important architectural feature was the use of layers.

When it came to within an inch or two of the surface these layers were covered with gravel and trampled down, a process called ‘pavimentare’ from where we get the English word ‘pavement’. Finally concrete was poured and paving stones laid, some of which would be shaped for drainage, so the elements would not destroy what had been so carefully laid down.

At the beginning of Marks gospel John the Baptist challenges the would be follower of Jesus Christ to get ready, to be prepared and make the paths straight. To do so we need to attempt a number of things. We need a plan to get straight. John would call that repentance. We need to dig down deep and build on something solid. Having found something solid we then need to build layers upon that strong foundation.

Repentance isn’t just saying sorry. Repentance is showing genuine remorse for a failure that we have been responsible for and then making plans to see that it doesn’t happen again. Repentance was a turn around moment, that John symbolized by putting people down in the waters as a public sign they wanted to wash away the old and begin again.

To get our lives straight with God, we have to make plans. We have to make choices. We have to decide how the process of repentance is going to work for us. What do we need to cut out? What do we need to avoid? What changes in direction do we need to take? Like the architect planning a Roman Road the terrain of our lives has to be surveyed. Like the repentant soul going down to the river to pray, this evaluation has to be intensely personal and a response to a call of God we feel on our life.

Let’s say we’ve reached that point. We want to change, but we don’t know how. Then we need to start digging. Digging through the false ideology, the consumerism, the hedonism, the feel-good-ism, the shallow messages and quick fixes that our culture constantly bombards us with, dig deep, dig down, until we hit the solid rock foundation of the love of Jesus Christ. Until we build our lives on the rock of His love we are the foolish person who builds on the sand. Until we find our security in His grace, we remain insecure. We need a solid foundation and God in Christ is offering us that foundation upon which to build.

Then come the layers. How do we build on the foundation? We are fortunate. We have a whole collection of 66 instructional manuals collected together in a manual we call the Bible. Among its pages we will find many suggested layers. The layer of prayer. The layer of worship. The layer of service. The layer of study. The layer of stewardship. The layer of thanksgiving. Layers of hope, joy, perseverance, peace, and truth.

Be aware this is not a process we can do alone. God has provided a personal instructor and enabler known as the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit’s strength, not our own that will get us straightened out. God has provided a whole construction crew He calls the Church to stand alongside us and work with us. We can’t do it alone.

Keep building these layers. Keep trampling them down. You can even set in place some permanent stones… think of those as moments of commitment. That milestone you reached. That habit that was broken. That relationship that was formed. That new realization you had of just how much your life mattered to God. The moment of baptism or confirmation. That open door of opportunity. That sacred moment of deeper commitment that has stayed with you.

And of course there has to be concrete. To make it smooth. To fill in the gaps. To hold it all together. The concrete that is made of the exact same material as the foundation, namely the binding, unifying, concrete reality of Jesus love.

Making a straight path isn’t easy. But because Christ came and died and God raised Him from the dead, it is possible. It will be a lifelong journey and therefore it is important that we take time out along the way for nurture and fellowship.

Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.' counsels the incomparable John the Baptizer. Today let us recommit ourselves to building our lives on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ that His Holy Spirit may change us and renew us, that in our lives we may witness a new ‘Beginning of the Good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ AMEN.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Advent 1 Restore us, O God!

Readings: Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Cor. 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37, Psalm 80:1-6,17-18
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church , MD, December 3 2017

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Earlier in our service we lit a candle for hope. We also earlier heard verse 3 from Psalm 80 that pleaded with God “Restore us O God; let Your face shine, that we may be saved

Hope can be a hard commodity to catch hold of when everything seems to be going wrong. You went along to the doctors thinking it was nothing serious, and they found something nasty. The company is downsizing and you have no seniority. A family member has gone off the rails and the implications are going to be tough to handle. How do we get through such times?

During the reign of King Josiah, (640-609 BC) Judea was ravaged by their Assyrian neighbors. Whole families were destroyed, livelihoods taken away and only a remnant survived in Jerusalem to tell the tale through their tears. They were in a hopeless situation. Their enemies mocked them. They felt abandoned by an angry God punishing them for their unfaithfulness.

Do you ever feel that way when things start going wrong? God is angry? That the bad things that happen to you are a punishment for something you’ve done? Be assured by this Psalm, you are not the first to feel that way; the whole Judean nation felt that God was mad at them.

The sobering truth was that they had been unfaithful. God told them what would happen if they carried on down that road and it had happened just like the prophets of doom had said. Likewise, there are times in our lives when the things that befall us are nobodies fault but our own. We are willful. We reject good advice. We go our own way.

The question then is if there is any hope for trapped, abandoned, foolish, people like us? When things go bad what can we do? That’s where this Psalm is coming from. And here is the advice we are offered.
  • Firstly, Remember. We remind ourselves, not of what we have done or of what has been done to us, but remind ourselves who God is and what God can do.
  • Secondly, Reach Out. We call on God to help us. We turn our tears to prayers.
  • Thirdly, Rest. We rest… in the sense of waiting. Waiting, not in the manner of one about to be ushered into the dentist’s surgery, but in quiet anticipation that in God’s time, redemption will come.
Remember

When things in our lives turn from hope to hopelessness it is good to remember that we are not God. As we say in our Ash Wednesday service “From dust we have come and to dust we shall return.” Life comes with no guarantee. We will mess up. We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God. We are not immune from the bad things that befall the rest of creation. Chaos and decay are all around and it’s a miracle we make it through even a single day on this planet unscathed. You messed up bad enough to make God angry? Join the club! Life’s not fair? Go figure! That’s the way it’s always been.

Yet in the midst of that remembering our own mortality the Psalmist bids us to remember the immortality and character of God. Psalm 80 begins with beautiful imagery. God is ‘The Shepherd of Israel’ who ‘led Joseph like a flock’. God is the One enthroned above the angels, resplendent in light, powerful, mighty, and awesome!

Remember what God can do and has done. Troubles in the present always seem to obscure the bigger picture. When you are under a cloud you don’t see or feel the sunshine. But the sun is still shining. Like Jimmy Buffet says, “Its’ five o clock somewhere!’ Don’t allow circumstances that are currently dragging you down to define your destiny.

Israel had known God as the Shepherd that had led them through times when all had seemed lost. As they recall that fact, and remember that God was still in the shepherding business, a glimmer of hope starts to appear. If God could do it then, and God hasn’t changed, then… maybe… God really can help us now!

It is at that point of realization the Psalmist prays; “Restore us O God; let Your face shine, that we may be saved.” Already we are guided towards the second thing we need to do to if we are to journey from hopelessness to hope, we need to;

Reach Out

Oh Lord’ cries the Psalmist, “How long will you be angry with Your peoples prayers?” Notice from these words the brutal honesty of the Psalmist. Whilst in his heart he knows God can bring redemption, he also knows how bad they had messed up. God had to be angry. Their God was a just God. Yet, the psalmist reasons, God was still the Shepherd. Shepherds didn’t stay angry for ever. So the Psalmist just throws the prayer out there!

I have something to say that may be a revelation to Presbyterians like us, with our liturgy and well structured prayers and beautiful anthems and stained glass glories. The revelation? It’s O.K. to tell God how you really feel. In fact, the words and phrases you use may be grammatically correct and poetically perfect but if they don’t reflect what is in your heart, God will be listening to your heart and not hearing your words. The only prayers that God hears are the real ones.

So if today you are at one of those crossroads where you really don’t know what to pray then, follow the Psalmists lead, just throw it out there! If there are things that you really want to tell God, but are afraid to say what you are really thinking, then its time to come clean. God’s heard it all before so don’t think that when we come with our probing questions that God will be knocked from the throne.

If it helps to yell then yell. If the prayer comes through bitter tears then it comes through bitter tears. If it is made through gritted teeth then pray through gritted teeth. If you are to ashamed to admit what’s going on then tell God you are to ashamed to admit what’s going on… and take it from there. And by the way… God does know what’s been going on. That all-seeing, all knowing thing… kind of big-brother-ish, but God’s always been that way! So if you need help, ask for help. If you have messed up, own up. If you are fed up, then give it up. Time and time again that’s what the Psalmists do!

Remember who God is and what God can do.
Reach out to God with what’s really on your mind.
Thirdly; Rest.

Rest

Rest… in the sense of waiting. Wait, not in the manner of one about to be ushered into the dentist’s surgery, but in quiet anticipation that in God’s time, redemption will come. Advent is a time of waiting. Waiting for the Savior to come. We light a candle of hope. We don’t hope for things we already have, we hope for things that are yet to be.

Advent hope is not hope without purpose, it is hope focused on promise. It is hope focused on the promises of God, that God will redeem, that God will intervene, that God will come into the midst of our hurts and concerns and will help us through.

The book of Hebrews 4:9 tells us ‘There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.’ (NKJ) The ‘rest’ there being spoken of is not talking about ‘couch time’ or ‘lazing round in a hammock on a sunny afternoon,’ but rest in terms of a place where a persons heart and emotions can be settled because they know God will take care of things, in God’s way and in God’s time.

This was the rest the Psalmist was seeking. The people had messed up. They were receiving the due penalty for their wrongdoing. But a new day would come. They were forgiven. God’s love would once more shine upon them. God was still God and they were still God’s people.

“Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass.....it's about learning to dance in the rain!” So as we begin the journey to Christmas, as the weather reminds us it’s winter and there are bills on the side waiting to be paid. As there are concerns we carry and things we don’t want to face… take time to put on your dancing shoes! God still loves us! Jesus still died for us! God still sends His Holy Spirit to comfort us!
  • Remember: Remember who God is and what God can do
  • Reach Out: With prayers, with tears, with honesty and integrity come before God aware of your need and the ability of God’s Holy Spirit to touch your life
  • Rest: Give time for God to act in your situation. Be quietly confident in God’s Word that comes through Scripture and through others peoples words and actions as they respond to God’s promptings. Trust that God will act in God’s time and rest confident in such assurances.
And to the One the Psalmist describes as ‘The shepherd of Israel, who led Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned above the cherubim’ (Psalm 80:1), the One who sent His Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior and sends His Holy Spirit to be our comforter and guide, be all honor, praise and glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D

Monday, November 27, 2017

Christ The King

 
Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46
Preached on Christ the King Sunday, November 26th 2017

Today in the church calendar is the last Sunday of the Liturgical year known as "Christ the King" or "Reign of Christ" Sunday. One of the readings suggested for today was Matthew 25:31-46, the passage where Jesus speaks of the Son of Man separating sheep from goats, as a King bringing righteous judgment upon all nations. It is that image of "Christ the King" I would like to explore with you this morning.

Coming as I originally do from the British Isles, where they still have a monarchy, you'd think that maybe I had an advantage in understanding this text. However the role of the royal family in Great Britain in no way reflects the image of Christ as King in our passage. Any notion of "The Divine right of Kings" has long since passed into memory and the Queen and her family occupy a role that has more to do with promoting a charitable spirit and celebrating state occasions than wielding political power.

Now that I"m living in America where July 4th is celebrated as the day that the tyranny of King George was overthrown, I realize that the notion of "Christ as King" needs re-interpreting. The whole idea of power and authority being invested in some despotic force out there, answerable to nobody and far from benevolent, makes the whole idea of Kingship difficult.

Yet I wonder if it were any easier for those who first heard these words. I say that because Matthews gospel, from where our scripture was taken, begins by painting a picture for us of a King called Herod who is little more than a puppet in the hands of Rome.

And as such he is consumed by fear for his position, so consumed that when visitors arrive from the East asking questions about a new born King, Herod is driven to embark upon a course of infant genocide, just in case some rival to his precarious position were to arise. Not exactly a flattering portrait of Kingship!

For a positive image those who first heard these words would need to reflect on their history, and in particular the figure of King David, who led the nation through a period of great prosperity and advance, and under whom they had never had it so good. The image of David as the Shepherd King, chosen and anointed by God was a powerful one for a people who were beaten down under the rule of a far away Caesar.

The image of David was associated with passages full of promise like Ezekial 34:22-24, where God declares; “I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.”

In our passage from Matthew the separation of the sheep and goats brings in an unexpected and radical view of the King. Judgment is made upon the basis of compassion and service. The Kings family are revealed not to be the wealthy and privileged but the unfortunate, the sick and imprisoned, the stranger, the hurting and the needy. “Truly I tell you," says the King, "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Jesus takes things further. He pictures the role of the Son of Man as not being just as Shepherd/King, but as being the Servant/King. My mind wanders to that encounter in the upper room, where He who reigned over the disciples takes a bowl, wraps a towel around Himself and proceeds to wash their feet. John 13:14-15 “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

What can we glean from this scriptural picture of "Christ as King" to help us live our lives today? Let me suggest three things I gained from this passage. Hope, Motivation and Encouragement.

Firstly, Considering Christ as King can bring Hope.

The notion that there will come a time when all will be right with the world, when those who currently are making life intolerable for others will be called to account, the hope of both future justice and future reward shines a ray of light in times of darkness. This life is not the end of the story. The story ends with Christ enthroned as King.

Christ's coming has not been the arrival of a now lost and lamented hero, but death and resurrection have unleashed a sequence of events that will lead to His enthronement. The lectionary reading from the epistle to the Ephesians seeks to capture this hope. Ephesians 1:20-21 “God put this power to work in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come."

The picture of Christ as the Victor occurs time and time again throughout the New Testament. To commit to Christ is to align oneself with the winning side, even though it is a victory in anticipation rather than one that is fully realized. But as in peoples lives we glimpse daily miracles of grace, we understand this hope is not an illusion, but a reality that sneaks upon us and takes us by surprise.

Christian singer/songwriter/peacemaker David Lamont speaks about hopes for peace with the thought that "God is not only mysterious, God is also mischievous." He reflects that God has a habit of shattering the traditional viewpoints and stereotypes that we try and label the Divine with. A shepherd who is really a King? A servant who reigns? An all powerful slave? Such are images that make mischief of our understanding of power and position. Christ as King can be for us an image of hope.

Secondly, the image of Christ as King can be a powerful motivator.

In a world that continues to play the game of the "one who has the most toys wins" the picture of Christ as the Servant/King invites us to invest in what really matters. This whole passage about “In as much as you did it for the least of these who are my brothers and sisters" suggests to me that we are at our best when we seek to lift up those who are at their worst.

When we celebrate our blessings, by being a blessing to others, when we invest our time in those who others have little time for, we are imitating the example of the Shepherd King. The Good Shepherd who allowed 99 well capable ones to look after themselves in order that one who was lost and abandoned could be rescued.

God's Kingdom takes all our notions and turns them inside out and upside down. Blessed are the peacemakers, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, Blessed are those who mourn? The little things become the big things. The unexpected becomes the defining moment. The improbable becomes the possible.

And in the end it all boils down to a couple of principles that are easily remembered but so seldom truly lived. "Love God" and "Love your neighbor." Right there is the Servant/Kings manifesto. That"s the line He draws in the sand that separates sheep and goats, good sheep from bad sheep.

Christ's Kingship is expressed through a Kingdom that is plainly not of this world, does not respect the false values and motivations that this world counts important and stands at times in radical opposition to ideals we thought were the important ones!

Seeing Christ as a King… a King who is everything we don"t expect a King to be… is to me a powerful motivator to try and be like a child of that King and rejoice in such a radical heritage.

Thirdly, the image of Christ as King can be a tremendous encouragement.

There's a lovely chant that comes from the monastic community in France known as Taizė. “Jesus, Remember me, when you come into Your Kingdom.” Usually the song is sung acapella and repeated numerous times... almost creating a wave of sound as people interject their own harmonies and nuances. The power in such repeated chants is that as you allow yourself to become absorbed in them, God is able to take you all sorts of places.

The words "Remember me when you come into Your Kingdom" were the last request of a penitent criminal. Those words received a response. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” With all this talk of sheep and goats and casting out into the darkness and “in as much as you failed to do this unto them, you failed me,” we do well to recall that the dominant note sounded through the life of Jesus was not that of judgment but of grace.

That grace is there for all who seek it. Even dieing criminals. The only excluded ones are those who choose to put aside the invitation to feast at the Kingdoms heavenly banquet. There is hymn in our hymnbooks that puts it this way, reflecting on the 23rd Psalm;

The King of Love, My Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever”

CHRIST THE KING!
THE KING OF LOVE!
THE SHEPHERD KING!
THE SERVANT KING!

Worship is such a privilege! The King has invited us to His banqueting house and His banner over us is love. I pray that our reflections upon Jesus, the Servant King, may lead us to places of hope, motivation and encouragement.
  • Hope that one day all things will be well.
  • Motivation to pursue a servant lifestyle that reflects the love of a Shepherd King
  • And encouragement from the Holy Spirit that as Jesus Christ is the King of love our labor in Him shall never be in vain.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thessalonian Songs 4. Blessed Assurance

Readings: Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 19, Matthew 25:14-30, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church on November 19 2017

A hymn written back in 1873 by Fanny Crosby… “Blessed Assurance”… remains a favorite to many people. It focuses on the themes of God’s salvation and the response that as Christians we should make to God’s Grace. Such themes complement our reading from 1 Thessalonians 5, a passage that gives Paul’s closing remarks of encouragement to the Thessalonican church.

The hymn’s first verse reads; “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,
O what a foretaste of Glory Divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood”

Our scripture passage began with Paul talking of “Glory Divine”, or rather “The Day of The Lord”. Whilst Paul insists that such a day would one day be here, he mixes illustrations in such a way as to leave us guessing as to when such a time could be. On the one hand it would come like a thief in the night. On the other hand it would also be like the onset of labor pains to a pregnant woman. Let’s explore those images.

Thieves in the night can come at any time. However - your likelihood of being the victim of a thief in the night- depends a lot on where you live and how well prepared you are. For instance, if it’s the middle of winter and you live in a one-horse town somewhere in North Dakota, the chances of a thief arriving are minimal. If however you are in an inner city ghetto known for a high crime rate, then the chances are you will have locks, chains and security devices set to warn you of the event.

The image of a pregnant woman is equally ambiguous. Usually pregnant women have a due date when they expect their labor pains to begin, before which we’d say the baby was early, after which we’d say the baby was late. By the time that due date comes around it is fairly obvious by the bulge in mothers womb that the child will be arriving any day now. Labor pains may begin at any moment during that time of being very pregnant. You can hardly describe the event is entirely unexpected. The signs are all there that something is going to happen!

Paul’s concern is not to give the Thessalonians a suggested date for the second coming, but rather to ensure them that there will come a ‘Day of the Lord’ when all things will be well and the Kingdom will be established upon earth. As to dates and times, they really didn’t need that information any more than we do. What we need to know is that God is in control and that one-day, be it today or a billion years from now, God has the final word. Such is one of the “Blessed Assurances” Paul offers to us.

It was an assurance that the Thessalonican church needed to hear because they were a persecuted people. Paul and Silas had to escape from the city under cover of darkness. Some, like Jason, a leader of that earliest church, had been bought before the courts under the charge of harboring enemies of the state.

So Paul writes to encourage them, “On the last day, on the ‘Day of the Lord’, those who stand against you now will stand no longer. Hold onto the faith that you have, because, although it doesn’t look that way right now, ultimately the victory will be yours.” In a similar way Fanny Crosby’s hymn uses phrases such as “Visions of rapture”, Angels descending” and “Watching and Waiting and looking above” to interpret the faith that was her story and her song.

Paul then moves on to consider how the coming of this event in the future should influence the lives we live from day to day. The primary image that he employs is to identify the people of God as being “children of light and children of the day” (v5). To reinforce that picture he uses opposing images, and speaks of people who were “of the night and of the darkness”.

Thessalonica, one assumes, was, like many larger towns today, the sort of place where some would spend their nighttime hours in what one older commentary describes as ‘the over-indulgence of carnal pursuits’. Paul speaks of how ‘those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night” (v7). So he exhorts the Thessalonians, “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (v6).

Back in the days of prohibition, preachers like Billy Sunday spoke much of abstaining from the ‘demon drink,’ and would give this passage a very literal interpretation. Alcohol addiction, like any addiction, is a terrible thing, the sort of thing that Christ died to set people free from.

It is in that framework… the framework of the Grace of God…the framework of Christ dieing to save us on the Cross of Calvary… that Paul seeks to be understood. He knows that we know the difference between living a life that is out of control, self-indulgent and destructive and a life that is self-controlled, compassionate and productive.

The wrong way to live... Paul compares to a drunken sleep. The second way, the better way, the (to use Paul’s words) the sober way, is to live a life enlightened to the dangers that are out there and being ready to defend yourself against them. It is an encouragement to know that on the last day, “The Day of the Lord” all will be well, but that doesn’t mean life can just drift along without there being any problems or struggles.

Even if you are a soldier on the winning side you are not going to last long if you go out and fight the enemy without wearing any armor. The Thessalonians had a battle to fight. A battle for survival. Paul tells them to equip themselves with two defensive items “to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

The source for these items was in Jesus Christ, through the work He had accomplished on the Cross and through His resurrection presence; known to them through the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus had died for them, they had hope. Because Christ was raised from the dead, they could live every day with the assurance of God’s presence. Because God had a purpose and plan for their lives, a plan that they should not suffer God’s wrath, but enjoy God’s salvation, then the way they lived their life should reflect the faith that held them sure. No part of their existence—present, future, or eternal—was seen as untouched by the saving work of Christ.

The outcome of their “Blessed Assurance” was a security that set them free to live their lives for others. They did not simply "rest assured"; they "acted assuredly" by providing others with the kind of encouragement that blessed their lives.

Fanny Crosby’s hymn speaks of being an “Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood”. She had the assurance that Christ had died for her and that she was destined therefore to live a life of purpose that would culminate in the blessings of a glorious eternity in Christ’s nearer presence. Such is the security God would have each of us know in our lives. ‘Blessed Assurance’ – “This is my story, This is my Song”. Let me tell you a little more about the lady who wrote those words.

Fanny Crosby was born on March 24th, 1820, in a one-story cottage in South East, New York. Her father, John, died before her first birthday. At six weeks old, she caught a slight cold in her eyes. The family physician was away. Another country doctor was called in to treat her. He prescribed hot mustard poultices to be applied to her eyes, which destroyed her sight completely. It was later learned that the man was not qualified to practice medicine.

At five years old, her mother took her to consult the best eye specialist in the country. Neighbors and friends pooled money together in order to send her. The diagnosis? "Poor child, I am afraid you will never see again." Such experiences of loss and human mistakes had the possibility of making her attitude to life bitter and resentful. Remarkably she considered her loss of sight as a great blessing, one time explaining to her mother, “If I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind...for when I die, the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Savior.”

Moving to Ridgefield, Connecticut, she came under her Grandmothers influence and set about memorizing as much of the bible as she was able. At 15 she returned to New York to attend a school for the blind, where despite discouragement from her teachers, she developed her poetic skills.

At 23 the school, in which she was now a teacher, sought to receive financial support from Congress. Fanny decided to write a poem in celebration of the work of Congress. It worked, and not only did the school receive support, but she herself became a friend to many of the most influential people of the day, including the presidents.

Time does not permit to recount her whole life story. By the time of her death in her nineties she had witnessed over 8,000 of her poems set to music and over 100,000 copies of her songs printed. Some suggest that she was the greatest hymn writer in the history of the Christian Church. Not bad for a blind girl from a single parent family in New York!

All of which brings us back to Paul’s message to the Thessalonians. They hadn’t had an easy start to their life as a church. They faced much that was discouraging. But they fixed their hope on Jesus Christ. Their ‘Blessed Assurance’ was that the love of God was greater than the forces that opposed them.

This knowledge of God’s love kept them vigilant and on their guard. They looked to the return of Christ as a solution to their problems, yet did not allow that hope of His return to prevent them from reaching out in practical ways to the world around them. On the contrary it was the presence of God, that they were already experiencing in their midst, that kept moving them forward in faith.

Of Fanny Crosby’s hymns, they knew not a thing. Yet I can’t help thinking that they would identify with the words of this third verse: -

Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

So what of us and what of our lives?
What will be our story and our song?

May God’s Grace touch our lives in such a real way that we allow the love of Christ to encourage us and lead us through the many different circumstances that come our way, through the easy times and the hard times, with the knowledge that one day… all will be well.

We may never have a life quite as productive as Fanny Crosby’s, or a church quite as famous as that of the Thessalonians, but under the touch of Jesus Christ our lives truly can be blessed with divine significance. The blessed assurance of God’s love is available to us all. It shouts to us from the Cross of Calvary and blazes forth from the empty tomb. May God help us to respond in fruitful ways to the many blessings Christ sends our way. May faithfulness become our story and commitment become our song. AMEN.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Thessalonian Songs 3. Thou Art Worthy

Readings: Joshua 3:7-17, Psalm 43, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, John 3:16.
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church on November 5 2017

What’s it worth? A question we ask about numerous things. We ask it about material things. In the T.V. program ‘Antiques Roadshow’ people bring their articles to the experts because they want to know, “Is this worth something; has it some value or is it just a piece of junk?” We’re asked to serve on some committee or invest our time in some activity and if we are sensible we will ask, “Is this worth my time? Do I have something I can offer? Is it worth the effort?”

We contemplate some new health kick “Will this diet work?” “Will giving up this and that or taking on a new exercise regime give us the results we are looking for?” What’s it worth to us to get in shape or alter our body weight or do this or do that?

Then there is the question of our faith. What of our beliefs? What is our religion to us? What is our church to us? How much does it matter? How much of us in invested in our relationship with God?

What of God? Let me pose the question in a peculiar way. How much is God worth? Is God a commodity that we can put a price on? Is time for God something we can choose to invest in or dismiss? What is God to us?

To Paul, God was worth investing his whole life in. The gospel inspired him and his fellow missionaries to go to extraordinary lengths that the message may be believed. The very question “What is God worth?” would be a no brainer to Paul.

Put a value on God? A price tag on the gospel? That idea would be incredulous, maybe even offensive, to Paul. His whole life was built upon the notion that what he had discovered through the Holy Spirit, the life of the resurrected Jesus Christ which was in him and around him and working through him was a priceless treasure! Paul’s heart response to God was quite simply, “Thou art Worthy O Lord”.

So it was in this morning’s lesson that he explained to the Thessalonians that when he came to them it was with the aim of preaching a gospel that had no price tag attached. This idea of worth – he doesn’t here apply to God – but turns it around.

1Thessalonians 2:11-12 “You know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” He exhorts them, he encourages them, and he charges them “Lead a Life worthy of God.

In other words - Respond to the love and light that God has cast in your way – in a manner that is appropriate – that fits in with who God is and what God has done – that goes along with the amount that God feels that your life is worth.

Ever considered that one? How much your life is worth to God? What value is there upon your head from God’s perspective? This morning we are gathering around the Lord’s table. Every time we do this we visually recall one of the best known scriptures in the New Testament, the words of John 3:16 ‘God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have everlasting life’.

If ever we doubt our worth to God, it is worth considering the simple truths that John 3:16 contains. For it was in the light of God’s commitment to us in Jesus Christ that Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to be faithful to God. Let us briefly think about the words Paul writes to the Thessalonians, in the light of John 3:16.

God so loved the world… Whose world? Our world! The one that we drift through day after day after day. Our family, our friends, our people, our situations, our problems, whatever it is that makes up our world, God so loved our world. When Paul went to the Thessalonians he didn’t stand far off, he sought to enter their world and understand their problems. He writes to them; ‘For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children.’ He loved them because he was convinced that God loved them. He gave himself to their care because… well let us continue with our verse, God so loved the world …

That He gave His only begotten Son… Paul gave himself to them because he knew God had given Jesus Christ to live and die for them. Paul believed that this was the ultimate offering God could make. In Jesus Christ the gospel… the good news of God… had been revealed and had shown that God was willing to do the unthinkable to win the hearts of those who were alienated from God’s love.

In Jesus Christ God broke every barrier down that prevented people from feeling they could have no fellowship with the Divine. Sins were forgiven. Deliverance proclaimed. Forgiveness embodied. Reconciliation attained. Through Jesus Christ the doorway to God’s presence was flung wide open and we are invited to enter into fellowship with the God ‘Who (according to verse 12) calls you into His kingdom and glory.”

But how do we enter into and experience the love of God? Only through faith. Only through placing our trust and hope, not in what we can do, but in what God has done in giving His Son to die for us. Our verse continues God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…

So that everyone who believes in Him… ‘Believe in Him.’ What does that mean? Believe He was a historical figure? Believe that He existed? Believe that He died? Believe that He rose again? No. That’s not belief – that’s assent – that’s just saying ‘Well. O.K. that’s what happened.” When Paul spoke about belief he was talking about an activity that revolutionized the way you live your life.

Believing in Jesus meant believing something about the purpose and nature of what happened on the Cross that touched you so deeply that you lived free and forgiven. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus meant that something had changed about the way the world is – something wonderful - that you can be part of - a something that is more powerful than death and decay and destruction. Our verse continues ‘so that everyone who believes in Him…

Should Not Perish.. Perish? What do we know about perishing? Look at what they did to Jesus! They accused Him falsely. They lied about Him. They spat upon Him. They beat Him and tortured Him. They forced Him to carry His cross through the insulting, unseemly, crowds that lined the street. They took His hands and feet and nailed them to the Cross. They pierced His side with a spear.

They left Him to die, as though He were an animal that had been hit by a truck and was left on of the road, of little consequence to those who sped by. Jesus Christ perished. This is the heart of the gospel. That's perishing. He perished that we might not perish.

As a young person I remember we used to have an evangelist come to speak at our meetings. I’ve never forgotten his name ‘Peter Partington’. The reason I’ve never forgotten his name was because on all his correspondence he used to write ‘Pastor Peter Partington Preaching Perfect Peace to Perishing People.”

What does it mean to be perishing? Existing only to die. Living a life that has no future other than extinction. Having no hope for tomorrow. Just getting by. Just coping as best as you can with whatever life throws at you but never really knowing the peace that comes through faith that beyond it all is God trying to break into our everyday lives with little surprises of joy and grace and love.

At the end of our short passage from Thessalonians Paul rejoices at the way the church there had received the gospel. He praises them in verse 13 “You accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

The message is pictured not as something static, but something that is life sustaining and active in their midst. So the ultimate purpose of John 3:16 God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish…
But have everlasting life… That we might not begin our days, live our days, or end our days far from God but live every day in the presence and with the blessing of God. Life today. Life now. Life Tomorrow. Life with God. And when this little slice of life is all burnt out and over, a life that continues with God.

Everlasting life is about the quality of life we experience. Life where eternity breaks in like the rays of the sun through a dark cloud. God didn’t send Jesus so that we can all live miserable lives today and only find redemption tomorrow in heaven. Jesus came that we may experience life, truth and freedom and joy in the now. The resurrection makes no sense until it is experienced in the present tense.

So Paul exhorts ... so Paul encourages… so Paul charges... “Live a life worthy of God” ... a life worthy of the God who loved our world with such great depth that Christ died for us whilst we were yet sinners.

This wasn’t just philosophy, or theology or any-ology. It was about the power of God transforming the way they lived. It was about realizing that they had lives deeply valued by God. The Cross confronts us with the value Jesus placed upon our lives. If we allow that gospel message to change us, truly we cannot remain the same.

It brings us to our knees. God cares more about us than we care about each other. The only enemies in the Kingdom of God are those He calls us to pray for. The only barriers to fellowship are the ones we put up through harboring resentments or not counting others as better than ourselves.

We are called to do unto others as we would like them to do unto us, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to embrace others as God has embraced others, to see strangers as those God wants to bless… and so work for wholeness, to feed the hungry, heal the broken-hearted and proclaim release to the captives.

Let us then consider Paul’s challenge. He encourages us to live a life of worship to God, a life whose inner song is “Thou Art Worthy Oh Lord! He writes:

"I exhort you, I encourage you, I charge you;
Live a life worthy of God."

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit may we seek to live such a life, instructed by His Word, empowered through our worship and realized through our daily service.

To God’s name be the glory. Truly, as we will sing in our closing hymn; ‘To God be the glory, Great things He has done”. AMEN.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.