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Tomorrow’s Sermon: Reigning From The Cross (A Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King)

Luke 23:33-43

Introduction
You may be wondering why we’ve had a reading about the crucifixion one week
before Advent. Isn’t it the wrong end of the Jesus story? But we read this
today, because the Last Sunday Before Advent is the Feast of Christ the King.

But that may get you wondering, too. Christ the King –
wouldn’t you expect something about the Resurrection for that, when he has
conquered death? Or perhaps the Ascension, when he goes to the Father’s right
hand, where he reigns until every enemy is under his feet? Or maybe we should
go back to the beginning of his public ministry, when he proclaimed,

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:15)

The crucifixion doesn’t look much like the part of the story
from which we should affirm that Christ is King.

Yet it is, because Jesus is subversive. He subverts all the
popular ideas of what God values, not least of kingship. So much so, that one writer suggested we shouldn’t speak
so much about the kingdom of God as the revolution
of God
. In fact, to deny that we see Jesus as King at the Cross is to
join the chorus of scoffing religious leaders, soldiers and the first criminal we
find in the account. All of them taunt him to save himself. None would expect a
king to die like this. He would either fight back, or fall on his sword if the
situation were hopeless. Jesus does neither. Violence and self-preservation are
not on his agenda, let alone violence to maintain self-preservation. There is
something of immediate contemporary relevance here.

For Christians, though, Jesus is the Revolutionary King at
the Cross. And we see his revolutionary kingship in contrast to those three groups
of scoffers: the leaders, the soldiers and the first criminal. In each of them,
we see an aspect of his kingship.

1. The Religious
Leaders

You might naïvely have expected the religious leaders to have compassion for
the Messiah, but no. To them, he wasn’t the Messiah, and so we hear their
scoffing in verse 35:

‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’

To me, it sounds like cynicism. And what is cynicism but
failed idealism? Jesus hadn’t met their ideals, and their response was
vindictive. You only have to think of the way we treat people in the public eye
today when they don’t deliver what we expect of them to see a comparison.
(Although the trouble there, sometimes, is the inflated hopes they promise us
at the outset. We shouldn’t be fooled.)

Where were the disappointed hopes of the religious leaders?
In expecting a Messiah to lead an uprising – and a successful one, at that –
against the occupying forces of Rome. The Messiah would deliver his people, and
deliver them in a specific way. Of course, we know that Jesus did deliver his people
in a very different way, a way that pointed to the fact that ‘all have sinned’
(Romans 3:23), not just our enemies.

I think it boils down to the idea that the religious leaders
wanted to co-opt Jesus for ‘us’ against ‘them’. His duty, in their eyes, was to
fulfil ‘our’ agenda and make life good for ‘us’. It was another failure to see
the rôle of God’s people as being a light to the nations, a city set on a hill.

But Jesus had not come simply to bless his own people and
give them what they wanted. He had come to bless, but he had come to do so in
order that the people of God might be a blessing to others. For Jesus, kingship
is about blessing: not simply blessing his own inner circle, but scandalously
making God’s blessing available to all who will receive it from him.

So, if we are the willing subjects of King Jesus, we have a
challenge here: do we see ourselves as agents for blessing the world, or are we
simply caught up with our own preservation? It was Archbishop
William Temple
who said,

The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of
those who are not its members.[1]

One can’t help thinking of the words of Jesus when he warned
that his fate as Messiah would be suffering, betrayal and death, and when he
told his would-be followers they needed to take up the cross and follow him:

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those
who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
(Mark 8:35)

I have believed for a long time that these words are as
applicable to the church as they are to the individual. It is our calling to
give ourselves away and thus find life. It is particularly our calling to focus
more on blessing others than simply having a good time together. The question
is, how are we exemplifying that blessing beyond our boundaries?

2. The Soldiers
The soldiers stand for the Roman Empire. It’s not difficult to see the
differences between Rome and Jesus. Both promised kingdoms of peace, but the
peace was very different. The peace of the Roman Empire – the pax Romana – was an enforced peace. Do as
we say, and you won’t get hurt. We’ll let you keep a lot of your local customs
and religion, just so long as you don’t stir up trouble, you are loyal to the
emperor and offer a pinch of incense to him in a temple to acknowledge his
divinity. Stay within these boundaries, and you’ll have the protection of Rome.
Stray and we’ll crush you mercilessly.

There have been times when to our shame the Christian Church
has behaved like that. While we are rightly horrified when we hear today of
forced conversions to religions such as Islam in certain countries today, we
have to admit that our past is far from perfect.

But the way of Jesus is not the way of Rome, and it is not
the way of forced conversion. Jesus reigns as King in a far greater way than
the Roman emperor ever did. His reign stretches not merely across the known
world, but across the whole creation. But this reign attracts people by love,
not compelling them by force of violent threats. No wonder, then, that Paul
once said, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Now what does that mean for us? Presumably, we found our way
into Christ’s kingdom via his love. One way or another, slowly or quickly,
quietly or dramatically, what brought us to kneel before him was his revelation
of God’s love, supremely shown at the Cross. And if we found his kingdom
through his love, then it is reasonable to suppose that others will, too.

So it’s a simple matter of showing Christian love in word
and deed to people, underpinned with prayer. That’s why Debbie and I don’t usually
rush back from the school and pre-school run each morning. I’ve mentioned
before that we’ve taken time to build friendships with people who may know no
other Christians than us. It means that we’ve been able to offer support to
someone with a chaotic lifestyle. It means we’ve listened to a bereaved
grandmother. We told her she was in our prayers, and we meant it. We pray that
simple opportunities to express love for people will be a witness. We pray that
the time will come when we shall be able to share about the love that motivates
us.

Put in those terms, it’s not too difficult, is it? All we
need to do is create the time, be available to people, and make sure we back up
our actions with prayer. In this way, any Christian can demonstrate the love
that is at the heart of Christ’s kingdom and prayerfully seek openings to
introduce people to Christ, who reigns in love on the Cross.

3. The Criminals
What a contrast there is between the two criminals hanging on either side of
Jesus. One speaks just like the religious leaders and soldiers:

‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ (Verse 39)

But the other could not be more different. He knows that the
two of them have been rightly convicted in a court of law, unlike Jesus. He then
makes his famous appeal, and Jesus gives his unforgettable reply:

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your
kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in
Paradise.’ (Verses 42-43)

Jesus never disputes the true guilt of the two men crucified
with him. But his reign is not of the ‘hang them and flog them’ variety. As such,
it is further distinguished from both Roman justice and popular sentiment.
Jesus reigns as a merciful king.

Therefore, if we live under the reign of King Jesus who
reigns from the Cross, we shall also be people who are characterised by mercy. We
do not excuse wrongdoing. We do not explain away sin. We face up to the reality
and seriousness of it. But we do so, offering compassion at the same time.

Whenever I think about this, one particular song comes to
mind. Written by Bill
Withers
, a man best known for songs such as ‘Lean On Me’, ‘Ain’t No
Sunshine’, ‘Just The Two Of Us’ and ‘Lovely Day’, is another entitled ‘Grandma’s
Hands’. In the first verse, Grandma is clapping and playing her tambourine in
church every Sunday. In the third verse, she is defending her grandson to his
mother (her daughter) so that she does not punish him harshly for dropping an
apple core. But it is the second verse that I especially remember:

Grandma’s hands
Soothed a local unwed mother
Grandma’s hands
Used to ache sometimes and swell
Grandma’s hands
Used to lift her face and tell her,
“Baby, Grandma understands
That you really love that man
Put yourself in Jesus’ hands”
Grandma’s hands[2]

Unwed mothers were more of a scandal in 1971 when Withers
wrote that song than they are today, but the point stands. Grandma, as a
Christian, encounters someone who is not living by Christian values. It’s that
compassion that we are also called to extend. It is by keeping to our
convictions without being harsh and judgmental, but showing mercy purely on
basis of need, rather than what we might feel someone deserves, that will witness
to the Jesus who opened Paradise to a repentant criminal.

But note also that we do not wait until we see signs of
repentance before we offer compassion. It is by being merciful, even to the
undeserving, that the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to make clear the love of
God in Christ. Many people have heard enough condemnation from Christians. Several
would not darken the doors of a church building, because they would only expect
judgment.

Besides, did we find Christ because we deserved his love?
No, not one of us did. We extend the same mercy to others that Christ offered
to us.

Conclusion
So – in contrast to many religious leaders of his day, Jesus on the Cross
reigns over a kingdom that is not merely for the benefit of its citizens, but
for those who do not recognise it. His is a reign of blessing. In contrast to the reign of the Roman emperor, Christ
crucified reigns not by force and fear but by love. And in contrast to popular notions of justice for criminals
and sinners, the reign of Jesus is characterised by mercy for those who least deserve it.

Therefore, if we worship Christ the King, this will be how
we gladly let the Holy Spirit lead us. Blessing, love and mercy will
characterise our dealings with those yet to know the love of God in Christ. And
furthermore, because Christ’s kingdom is to benefit those yet to acknowledge
his reign, these will trump any residual notions of church as religious club or
holy huddle. Let us be ready to bless, to love and to show mercy.  


[1]
According to Wikipedia, it is hard to pin down the source of this famous
quotation.

[2]
Bill Withers, copyright © 1971 Universal Music Publishing Group. Available on Lean
On Me: The Best Of Bill Withers
.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tomorrow’s Sermon: Reigning From The Cross (A Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King)

Luke 23:33-43

Introduction
You may be wondering why we’ve had a reading about the crucifixion one week
before Advent. Isn’t it the wrong end of the Jesus story? But we read this
today, because the Last Sunday Before Advent is the Feast of Christ the King.

But that may get you wondering, too. Christ the King –
wouldn’t you expect something about the Resurrection for that, when he has
conquered death? Or perhaps the Ascension, when he goes to the Father’s right
hand, where he reigns until every enemy is under his feet? Or maybe we should
go back to the beginning of his public ministry, when he proclaimed,

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:15)

The crucifixion doesn’t look much like the part of the story
from which we should affirm that Christ is King.

Yet it is, because Jesus is subversive. He subverts all the
popular ideas of what God values, not least of kingship. So much so, that one writer suggested we shouldn’t speak
so much about the kingdom of God as the revolution
of God
. In fact, to deny that we see Jesus as King at the Cross is to
join the chorus of scoffing religious leaders, soldiers and the first criminal we
find in the account. All of them taunt him to save himself. None would expect a
king to die like this. He would either fight back, or fall on his sword if the
situation were hopeless. Jesus does neither. Violence and self-preservation are
not on his agenda, let alone violence to maintain self-preservation. There is
something of immediate contemporary relevance here.

For Christians, though, Jesus is the Revolutionary King at
the Cross. And we see his revolutionary kingship in contrast to those three groups
of scoffers: the leaders, the soldiers and the first criminal. In each of them,
we see an aspect of his kingship.

1. The Religious
Leaders

You might naïvely have expected the religious leaders to have compassion for
the Messiah, but no. To them, he wasn’t the Messiah, and so we hear their
scoffing in verse 35:

‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’

To me, it sounds like cynicism. And what is cynicism but
failed idealism? Jesus hadn’t met their ideals, and their response was
vindictive. You only have to think of the way we treat people in the public eye
today when they don’t deliver what we expect of them to see a comparison.
(Although the trouble there, sometimes, is the inflated hopes they promise us
at the outset. We shouldn’t be fooled.)

Where were the disappointed hopes of the religious leaders?
In expecting a Messiah to lead an uprising – and a successful one, at that –
against the occupying forces of Rome. The Messiah would deliver his people, and
deliver them in a specific way. Of course, we know that Jesus did deliver his people
in a very different way, a way that pointed to the fact that ‘all have sinned’
(Romans 3:23), not just our enemies.

I think it boils down to the idea that the religious leaders
wanted to co-opt Jesus for ‘us’ against ‘them’. His duty, in their eyes, was to
fulfil ‘our’ agenda and make life good for ‘us’. It was another failure to see
the rôle of God’s people as being a light to the nations, a city set on a hill.

But Jesus had not come simply to bless his own people and
give them what they wanted. He had come to bless, but he had come to do so in
order that the people of God might be a blessing to others. For Jesus, kingship
is about blessing: not simply blessing his own inner circle, but scandalously
making God’s blessing available to all who will receive it from him.

So, if we are the willing subjects of King Jesus, we have a
challenge here: do we see ourselves as agents for blessing the world, or are we
simply caught up with our own preservation? It was Archbishop
William Temple
who said,

The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of
those who are not its members.[1]

One can’t help thinking of the words of Jesus when he warned
that his fate as Messiah would be suffering, betrayal and death, and when he
told his would-be followers they needed to take up the cross and follow him:

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those
who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
(Mark 8:35)

I have believed for a long time that these words are as
applicable to the church as they are to the individual. It is our calling to
give ourselves away and thus find life. It is particularly our calling to focus
more on blessing others than simply having a good time together. The question
is, how are we exemplifying that blessing beyond our boundaries?

2. The Soldiers
The soldiers stand for the Roman Empire. It’s not difficult to see the
differences between Rome and Jesus. Both promised kingdoms of peace, but the
peace was very different. The peace of the Roman Empire – the pax Romana – was an enforced peace. Do as
we say, and you won’t get hurt. We’ll let you keep a lot of your local customs
and religion, just so long as you don’t stir up trouble, you are loyal to the
emperor and offer a pinch of incense to him in a temple to acknowledge his
divinity. Stay within these boundaries, and you’ll have the protection of Rome.
Stray and we’ll crush you mercilessly.

There have been times when to our shame the Christian Church
has behaved like that. While we are rightly horrified when we hear today of
forced conversions to religions such as Islam in certain countries today, we
have to admit that our past is far from perfect.

But the way of Jesus is not the way of Rome, and it is not
the way of forced conversion. Jesus reigns as King in a far greater way than
the Roman emperor ever did. His reign stretches not merely across the known
world, but across the whole creation. But this reign attracts people by love,
not compelling them by force of violent threats. No wonder, then, that Paul
once said, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Now what does that mean for us? Presumably, we found our way
into Christ’s kingdom via his love. One way or another, slowly or quickly,
quietly or dramatically, what brought us to kneel before him was his revelation
of God’s love, supremely shown at the Cross. And if we found his kingdom
through his love, then it is reasonable to suppose that others will, too.

So it’s a simple matter of showing Christian love in word
and deed to people, underpinned with prayer. That’s why Debbie and I don’t usually
rush back from the school and pre-school run each morning. I’ve mentioned
before that we’ve taken time to build friendships with people who may know no
other Christians than us. It means that we’ve been able to offer support to
someone with a chaotic lifestyle. It means we’ve listened to a bereaved
grandmother. We told her she was in our prayers, and we meant it. We pray that
simple opportunities to express love for people will be a witness. We pray that
the time will come when we shall be able to share about the love that motivates
us.

Put in those terms, it’s not too difficult, is it? All we
need to do is create the time, be available to people, and make sure we back up
our actions with prayer. In this way, any Christian can demonstrate the love
that is at the heart of Christ’s kingdom and prayerfully seek openings to
introduce people to Christ, who reigns in love on the Cross.

3. The Criminals
What a contrast there is between the two criminals hanging on either side of
Jesus. One speaks just like the religious leaders and soldiers:

‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ (Verse 39)

But the other could not be more different. He knows that the
two of them have been rightly convicted in a court of law, unlike Jesus. He then
makes his famous appeal, and Jesus gives his unforgettable reply:

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your
kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in
Paradise.’ (Verses 42-43)

Jesus never disputes the true guilt of the two men crucified
with him. But his reign is not of the ‘hang them and flog them’ variety. As such,
it is further distinguished from both Roman justice and popular sentiment.
Jesus reigns as a merciful king.

Therefore, if we live under the reign of King Jesus who
reigns from the Cross, we shall also be people who are characterised by mercy. We
do not excuse wrongdoing. We do not explain away sin. We face up to the reality
and seriousness of it. But we do so, offering compassion at the same time.

Whenever I think about this, one particular song comes to
mind. Written by Bill
Withers
, a man best known for songs such as ‘Lean On Me’, ‘Ain’t No
Sunshine’, ‘Just The Two Of Us’ and ‘Lovely Day’, is another entitled ‘Grandma’s
Hands’. In the first verse, Grandma is clapping and playing her tambourine in
church every Sunday. In the third verse, she is defending her grandson to his
mother (her daughter) so that she does not punish him harshly for dropping an
apple core. But it is the second verse that I especially remember:

Grandma’s hands
Soothed a local unwed mother
Grandma’s hands
Used to ache sometimes and swell
Grandma’s hands
Used to lift her face and tell her,
“Baby, Grandma understands
That you really love that man
Put yourself in Jesus’ hands”
Grandma’s hands[2]

Unwed mothers were more of a scandal in 1971 when Withers
wrote that song than they are today, but the point stands. Grandma, as a
Christian, encounters someone who is not living by Christian values. It’s that
compassion that we are also called to extend. It is by keeping to our
convictions without being harsh and judgmental, but showing mercy purely on
basis of need, rather than what we might feel someone deserves, that will witness
to the Jesus who opened Paradise to a repentant criminal.

But note also that we do not wait until we see signs of
repentance before we offer compassion. It is by being merciful, even to the
undeserving, that the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to make clear the love of
God in Christ. Many people have heard enough condemnation from Christians. Several
would not darken the doors of a church building, because they would only expect
judgment.

Besides, did we find Christ because we deserved his love?
No, not one of us did. We extend the same mercy to others that Christ offered
to us.

Conclusion
So – in contrast to many religious leaders of his day, Jesus on the Cross
reigns over a kingdom that is not merely for the benefit of its citizens, but
for those who do not recognise it. His is a reign of blessing. In contrast to the reign of the Roman emperor, Christ
crucified reigns not by force and fear but by love. And in contrast to popular notions of justice for criminals
and sinners, the reign of Jesus is characterised by mercy for those who least deserve it.

Therefore, if we worship Christ the King, this will be how
we gladly let the Holy Spirit lead us. Blessing, love and mercy will
characterise our dealings with those yet to know the love of God in Christ. And
furthermore, because Christ’s kingdom is to benefit those yet to acknowledge
his reign, these will trump any residual notions of church as religious club or
holy huddle. Let us be ready to bless, to love and to show mercy.  


[1]
According to Wikipedia, it is hard to pin down the source of this famous
quotation.

[2]
Bill Withers, copyright © 1971 Universal Music Publishing Group. Available on Lean
On Me: The Best Of Bill Withers
.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Tomorrow’s Sermon: Reigning From The Cross (A Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King)

Luke 23:33-43

Introduction
You may be wondering why we’ve had a reading about the crucifixion one week
before Advent. Isn’t it the wrong end of the Jesus story? But we read this
today, because the Last Sunday Before Advent is the Feast of Christ the King.

But that may get you wondering, too. Christ the King –
wouldn’t you expect something about the Resurrection for that, when he has
conquered death? Or perhaps the Ascension, when he goes to the Father’s right
hand, where he reigns until every enemy is under his feet? Or maybe we should
go back to the beginning of his public ministry, when he proclaimed,

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:15)

The crucifixion doesn’t look much like the part of the story
from which we should affirm that Christ is King.

Yet it is, because Jesus is subversive. He subverts all the
popular ideas of what God values, not least of kingship. So much so, that one writer suggested we shouldn’t speak
so much about the kingdom of God as the revolution
of God
. In fact, to deny that we see Jesus as King at the Cross is to
join the chorus of scoffing religious leaders, soldiers and the first criminal we
find in the account. All of them taunt him to save himself. None would expect a
king to die like this. He would either fight back, or fall on his sword if the
situation were hopeless. Jesus does neither. Violence and self-preservation are
not on his agenda, let alone violence to maintain self-preservation. There is
something of immediate contemporary relevance here.

For Christians, though, Jesus is the Revolutionary King at
the Cross. And we see his revolutionary kingship in contrast to those three groups
of scoffers: the leaders, the soldiers and the first criminal. In each of them,
we see an aspect of his kingship.

1. The Religious
Leaders

You might naïvely have expected the religious leaders to have compassion for
the Messiah, but no. To them, he wasn’t the Messiah, and so we hear their
scoffing in verse 35:

‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’

To me, it sounds like cynicism. And what is cynicism but
failed idealism? Jesus hadn’t met their ideals, and their response was
vindictive. You only have to think of the way we treat people in the public eye
today when they don’t deliver what we expect of them to see a comparison.
(Although the trouble there, sometimes, is the inflated hopes they promise us
at the outset. We shouldn’t be fooled.)

Where were the disappointed hopes of the religious leaders?
In expecting a Messiah to lead an uprising – and a successful one, at that –
against the occupying forces of Rome. The Messiah would deliver his people, and
deliver them in a specific way. Of course, we know that Jesus did deliver his people
in a very different way, a way that pointed to the fact that ‘all have sinned’
(Romans 3:23), not just our enemies.

I think it boils down to the idea that the religious leaders
wanted to co-opt Jesus for ‘us’ against ‘them’. His duty, in their eyes, was to
fulfil ‘our’ agenda and make life good for ‘us’. It was another failure to see
the rôle of God’s people as being a light to the nations, a city set on a hill.

But Jesus had not come simply to bless his own people and
give them what they wanted. He had come to bless, but he had come to do so in
order that the people of God might be a blessing to others. For Jesus, kingship
is about blessing: not simply blessing his own inner circle, but scandalously
making God’s blessing available to all who will receive it from him.

So, if we are the willing subjects of King Jesus, we have a
challenge here: do we see ourselves as agents for blessing the world, or are we
simply caught up with our own preservation? It was Archbishop
William Temple
who said,

The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of
those who are not its members.[1]

One can’t help thinking of the words of Jesus when he warned
that his fate as Messiah would be suffering, betrayal and death, and when he
told his would-be followers they needed to take up the cross and follow him:

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those
who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
(Mark 8:35)

I have believed for a long time that these words are as
applicable to the church as they are to the individual. It is our calling to
give ourselves away and thus find life. It is particularly our calling to focus
more on blessing others than simply having a good time together. The question
is, how are we exemplifying that blessing beyond our boundaries?

2. The Soldiers
The soldiers stand for the Roman Empire. It’s not difficult to see the
differences between Rome and Jesus. Both promised kingdoms of peace, but the
peace was very different. The peace of the Roman Empire – the pax Romana – was an enforced peace. Do as
we say, and you won’t get hurt. We’ll let you keep a lot of your local customs
and religion, just so long as you don’t stir up trouble, you are loyal to the
emperor and offer a pinch of incense to him in a temple to acknowledge his
divinity. Stay within these boundaries, and you’ll have the protection of Rome.
Stray and we’ll crush you mercilessly.

There have been times when to our shame the Christian Church
has behaved like that. While we are rightly horrified when we hear today of
forced conversions to religions such as Islam in certain countries today, we
have to admit that our past is far from perfect.

But the way of Jesus is not the way of Rome, and it is not
the way of forced conversion. Jesus reigns as King in a far greater way than
the Roman emperor ever did. His reign stretches not merely across the known
world, but across the whole creation. But this reign attracts people by love,
not compelling them by force of violent threats. No wonder, then, that Paul
once said, ‘the love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Now what does that mean for us? Presumably, we found our way
into Christ’s kingdom via his love. One way or another, slowly or quickly,
quietly or dramatically, what brought us to kneel before him was his revelation
of God’s love, supremely shown at the Cross. And if we found his kingdom
through his love, then it is reasonable to suppose that others will, too.

So it’s a simple matter of showing Christian love in word
and deed to people, underpinned with prayer. That’s why Debbie and I don’t usually
rush back from the school and pre-school run each morning. I’ve mentioned
before that we’ve taken time to build friendships with people who may know no
other Christians than us. It means that we’ve been able to offer support to
someone with a chaotic lifestyle. It means we’ve listened to a bereaved
grandmother. We told her she was in our prayers, and we meant it. We pray that
simple opportunities to express love for people will be a witness. We pray that
the time will come when we shall be able to share about the love that motivates
us.

Put in those terms, it’s not too difficult, is it? All we
need to do is create the time, be available to people, and make sure we back up
our actions with prayer. In this way, any Christian can demonstrate the love
that is at the heart of Christ’s kingdom and prayerfully seek openings to
introduce people to Christ, who reigns in love on the Cross.

3. The Criminals
What a contrast there is between the two criminals hanging on either side of
Jesus. One speaks just like the religious leaders and soldiers:

‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ (Verse 39)

But the other could not be more different. He knows that the
two of them have been rightly convicted in a court of law, unlike Jesus. He then
makes his famous appeal, and Jesus gives his unforgettable reply:

Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your
kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in
Paradise.’ (Verses 42-43)

Jesus never disputes the true guilt of the two men crucified
with him. But his reign is not of the ‘hang them and flog them’ variety. As such,
it is further distinguished from both Roman justice and popular sentiment.
Jesus reigns as a merciful king.

Therefore, if we live under the reign of King Jesus who
reigns from the Cross, we shall also be people who are characterised by mercy. We
do not excuse wrongdoing. We do not explain away sin. We face up to the reality
and seriousness of it. But we do so, offering compassion at the same time.

Whenever I think about this, one particular song comes to
mind. Written by Bill
Withers
, a man best known for songs such as ‘Lean On Me’, ‘Ain’t No
Sunshine’, ‘Just The Two Of Us’ and ‘Lovely Day’, is another entitled ‘Grandma’s
Hands’. In the first verse, Grandma is clapping and playing her tambourine in
church every Sunday. In the third verse, she is defending her grandson to his
mother (her daughter) so that she does not punish him harshly for dropping an
apple core. But it is the second verse that I especially remember:

Grandma’s hands
Soothed a local unwed mother
Grandma’s hands
Used to ache sometimes and swell
Grandma’s hands
Used to lift her face and tell her,
“Baby, Grandma understands
That you really love that man
Put yourself in Jesus’ hands”
Grandma’s hands[2]

Unwed mothers were more of a scandal in 1971 when Withers
wrote that song than they are today, but the point stands. Grandma, as a
Christian, encounters someone who is not living by Christian values. It’s that
compassion that we are also called to extend. It is by keeping to our
convictions without being harsh and judgmental, but showing mercy purely on
basis of need, rather than what we might feel someone deserves, that will witness
to the Jesus who opened Paradise to a repentant criminal.

But note also that we do not wait until we see signs of
repentance before we offer compassion. It is by being merciful, even to the
undeserving, that the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to make clear the love of
God in Christ. Many people have heard enough condemnation from Christians. Several
would not darken the doors of a church building, because they would only expect
judgment.

Besides, did we find Christ because we deserved his love?
No, not one of us did. We extend the same mercy to others that Christ offered
to us.

Conclusion
So – in contrast to many religious leaders of his day, Jesus on the Cross
reigns over a kingdom that is not merely for the benefit of its citizens, but
for those who do not recognise it. His is a reign of blessing. In contrast to the reign of the Roman emperor, Christ
crucified reigns not by force and fear but by love. And in contrast to popular notions of justice for criminals
and sinners, the reign of Jesus is characterised by mercy for those who least deserve it.

Therefore, if we worship Christ the King, this will be how
we gladly let the Holy Spirit lead us. Blessing, love and mercy will
characterise our dealings with those yet to know the love of God in Christ. And
furthermore, because Christ’s kingdom is to benefit those yet to acknowledge
his reign, these will trump any residual notions of church as religious club or
holy huddle. Let us be ready to bless, to love and to show mercy.  


[1]
According to Wikipedia, it is hard to pin down the source of this famous
quotation.

[2]
Bill Withers, copyright © 1971 Universal Music Publishing Group. Available on Lean
On Me: The Best Of Bill Withers
.

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links for 2007-11-19

Attractional And Missional Revisited

I’ve just gone back to a book I started a while ago and then
put aside (heavens knows why – some distraction, probably). It’s ‘Bible
And Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World
’ by my old research
supervisor, Richard
Bauckham
. It is the published version of some lectures he gave about five
years ago. Some of his thinking has important implications for those of us
interested in the whole emerging/missional/Fresh Expressions scene. Here I want
to explore chapter 3 of the book, which is about literal and symbolic
geography.

By way of background, Richard is tackling the problem of
particularity and universality. Christianity makes universal claims, but this
is not popular in a postmodern world that is happier with local, particular
truth. However, he points out that our faith is always one that has made
deliberate moves from the particular to the universal. He cites Abraham, Israel
and of course Jesus as prime biblical examples.

Within chapter 3, he says that geography is both particular
and universal in this sense: he refers to the common labelling of Old Testament
mission being understood in a centripetal manner, and New Testament mission as
centrifugal. That is, in the OT the nations were to be attracted to Israel, and
in the NT, disciples were to go to the nations. He argues that centripetal and
centrifugal mission is present in both OT and NT. The literal geographical ‘centre’
of Jerusalem/Zion/the Temple in the OT becomes a metaphor in the NT for the
church (which is people, not a building) and is also used metaphorically of
himself by Jesus. The centrifugal theme is clear: Jesus is sent, and so is the
Church. But the centripetal motif is present, too. As Israel was a light to the
nations, so Jesus and (in a derivative sense) his church is the light of the
world.

Where does this connect for the emerging church discussion? The
centrifugal nature of mission has been strongly emphasised here: that is what
an incarnational/missional approach to church entails. It has been seen in
contrast to the ‘attractional’ approach that may be summed up with the slogan
from the film ‘Field Of Dreams’: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Attractional
mission has put great store on buildings, programmes and activities, and has
been practised by traditional churches and mega-churches. It has been heavily
criticised by the emerging/missional crowd (including me).

But Richard’s exposition of centripetal mission needs to be
brought into the discussion. There is a way in which we need to be attractive. Nice
buildings, good programmes and a range of activities do not make us the light
of the world, or a city set on a hill. But other things do. Holiness of life
together is light. Missional Christians may not want to be attractional, but we do need to be attractive. When we live missionally/incarnationally in the world,
there needs to be something attractive about our lifestyles. The attractive and
the missional, the centripetal and centrifugal must be held together. We
missional Christians are good at emphasising the need to be ‘in the world’, but
we need also not to be ‘of the world’, and different in a positive way. Perhaps
for those of us in the Methodist tradition, this means a new place for John
Wesley’s emphasis on social holiness.

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Tomorrow’s Sermon: Do Not Be Weary In Doing What Is Right

2
Thessalonians 3:6-13

Introduction
Verse 10 – ‘Anyone unwilling to work should not eat’ – was infamously a
favourite text of Margaret Thatcher’s, at a time when millions of people under
her Government had no chance to eat. And it is not our text for today. Mrs
Thatcher misused it, and I am not about to insinuate that anybody here is lazy.

Our text, instead, is verse 13: ‘Brothers and sisters, do
not be weary in doing what is right.’ But the trouble is, it’s easy to get
weary in doing what is right. So I want to look at some of the positive reasons
for doing good, but beginning each time from the reasons why we get
discouraged.

1. Doing Good is a
Sign of a Redeemed Life

Let’s start with the immediate situation in Thessalonica. Paul writes in this
way, because there are some idle people in the community (verse 6). The word
carries connotations of disorderliness and unruly behaviour. Paul spells it
out, because he had already briefly addressed this problem in 1 Thessalonians
(5:14), but evidently they had not listened. Here we learn in verse 11 that
they are ‘busybodies instead of busy’[1],
or ‘neglecting their own business to mind other people’s’[2].

I think you get a picture of idle gossips. That is something
not unfamiliar to our culture, with the rise of celebrity magazines, and
newspapers that report anything other than news. And it is not unknown in our
churches. Years ago, I heard a minister say he had three ways of getting
information around his church: telephone, telegram and tell Margaret. The means
of communication may have changed, but the attitude sadly has not. Some church
members devote too many energies to passing around unchecked stories about
others, discrediting them in the process. If only they devoted the same energy
to the kingdom of God, our churches might be different.

Gossip, after all, is a contradiction of the apostolic command
to ‘speak the truth in love’. Not only do gossipers give energy to this rather
than the ‘doing good’ of the kingdom, they also suck the life out of the
church. They discourage and demoralise others by their activities. If we are
serious about doing good, we will have no truck with gossip. When someone
starts to tell us a juicy story, we need to challenge them. Do they have
evidence that what they are saying is true, or is it tittle-tattle? Do they
have permission to pass on the information? Does passing the story around
achieve anything for the kingdom of God? There is a serious need in many
churches for repentance from the sin of gossip – and that includes both the
telling of it and the listening to it.

So it is a matter of redemption when a gossip turns from
snide comments that are dressed up as well-meaning concern for somebody’s
welfare. If a person who gossips knows that God has forgiven them in Christ,
then an obvious way of expressing gratitude to God for his love will be to
repudiate gossip and pour energy into doing good in general and edifying people
in particular.

But gossip isn’t the only example in Paul’s letters where ‘doing
good’ is a sign of a redeemed life. In Ephesians 4:28, he says this:

Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and
work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the
needy.

Again, doing good is the fruit of repentance. It does not
earn us salvation, but it does show we have received the grace of God. The Church
sometimes defends herself against criticism with the slogan, ‘Christians aren’t
perfect, they’re just forgiven’, is a half-truth. The problem is with the word ‘just’.
We are forgiven, but we are more than forgiven. The world is right to see
evidence of changed lives in those who profess to be disciples of Jesus.

2. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in Justice

But there are other ways in which we get discouraged from doing good. There is
the problem of evil. We believe that God is good, but we see the wicked
prosper. Then we wonder whether our efforts to do the right thing are worth it.
You may wonder why it’s worth being moral and ethical at work, when others in
the office crawl to their superiors or trample on those beneath them. Or your
company might conduct itself impeccably, only to be disadvantaged in the face
of unscrupulous competitors.

The classic expression of this in the Bible is Psalm 73. The
Psalmist wonders why the wicked enjoy the good life, while those who obey God
live precarious lives. He is about to become a bitter man, but then something
changes. He goes to worship. Then he sees things God’s way. He sees the eternal
perspective, in which God places the wicked on a slippery slope and ultimately
vindicates the righteous.

If we are to keep doing good in the face of evil, then, we
need God’s long-term eternal perspective, a perspective which is shaped by the
Last Judgment, where sin is judged, the repentant are forgiven and
righteousness is rewarded.

How might we attain such a perspective? The Psalmist did it
by giving focussed attention to God. He went to the sanctuary. Spiritual attentiveness
is what is called for. As I have said many times before, this is not
instant-coffee/microwave-meal spirituality; it is giving time to the God who
walks at three miles an hour with us. Attending to God in worship, prayer,
reflection on Scripture, both in fellowship and solitude are disciplines that
tune us in to his perspective.

But when we do, it is good news for us and those we serve. I
recall one of my favourite quotations from Martin Luther. Asked what he would
do if he knew the Lord were returning tomorrow, he replied, ‘I would plant a
tree today.’ A belief in justice and God’s good judgment is a reason to keep
going with doing good. Vindication will come. Do the right thing. Leave the
outcome to God.

3. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in the Resurrection

Similar to the discouragement of seeing wickedness succeed at the expense of
goodness is something else: a sense of pointlessness. Why bother doing good,
when you can’t seem to change anything? Everything keeps going ‘as it was in
the beginning, is now and ever shall be’. When you want to change things for
better, you are met by a stifling atmosphere of apathy. Just what is the point?

I know I’ve felt that as a minister many times, but it’s not
limited to church. You may have a fantastic vision for improving your place of
work or your community, but nobody cares enough to get on board with you. Here is
a brick wall, here is your head: they keep meeting with considerable force. Here
is your life, here is a plug: take out the plug and feel your will to live
drain away.

What kind of Christian response can we make that would
motivate us to keep doing good when all positive effort seems a waste of time? The
usual response is to say, ‘We may not be reaping, but we are sowing.’ I’m sick
of that explanation. I know it’s theoretically true, but it is just an excuse
when everybody seems to be sowing and nobody is ever reaping.

I find a more helpful approach is found in 1 Corinthians 15,
where Paul discusses the Resurrection. At the end of that great chapter, he
concludes with these words:

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always
excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your
labour is not in vain. (Verse 58)

It’s the Resurrection that means our ‘labour is not in vain.’
The Resurrection says that everything doesn’t end in death. The Resurrection
says that God’s kingdom purposes in Christ will never be defeated. That makes
everything good, godly and of the kingdom worthwhile.

So, for example, this story: in recent months, Debbie and I have
had emails from someone in the first church I served. This lady and her husband
came to that church about a year before I left. She got in touch with us when
her husband had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Every now and then
she sent us updates about his condition. To my surprise in the first email she
thanked me for encouraging them when they first came to the church. I didn’t think
I’d done anything out of the ordinary. I just thought I’d been happy to welcome
a new couple to the fellowship. But the lady’s gratitude for me was just a sign
that it was worth doing the right thing at the right time. It’s Resurrection
faith that makes it worthwhile, because God brings good out of it.

4. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in God’s Harvest

I said I was sick of the excuse that we are ‘sowing’, because it wants to
overlook the fact that sowing leads to reaping. But I do want, as a final
point, to say something positive about sowing and reaping goodness. For one
thing, in the context of mission, Jesus said that ‘One sows and another reaps’
(John 4:37), so we should persevere with our word-and-deed witness, trusting
that God will water what we sow. We need to use the ‘sowing and reaping’
metaphor not as an excuse but as grounds for prayer about what God will do with
our efforts in the power of his Spirit.

But we also need to remember that the one who sows is also
often the one who reaps. That is generally true in the agricultural world from which
the metaphor originally comes, and Paul claims it is also true in the spiritual
life. He writes these words in Galatians 6:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever
you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh;
but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So
let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time,
if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for
the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
(Galatians 6:7-10)

Paul calls us, then, not to one-off acts of goodness, but to
a persistent conspiracy of goodness. The kind of sowing that will be rewarded
with a harvest is the goodness that perseveres. It is not the one good deed
that is rebuffed or ignored, but the repeated practice of godly good living in
blessing others. It is not a battle to be won in a day, but over a lifetime. Like
the whole Christian life, it is not a hundred-metre sprint but a marathon.

Conclusion
‘Do not be weary in doing what is right.’ It’s hard not to get weary, isn’t it?
In case you haven’t guessed, today I am preaching as much to myself as to
anybody else. My old job in the Civil Service drove me to boredom and
despondency. My work as a minister is by no means always wonderful. Alongside the
joys have come the physical threats, the personal abuse, the feeling like I am
in the wrong place and even in the wrong calling. If the place where you work
out your Christian discipleship is dispiriting at times, I have walked the same
path as you.

But be encouraged by the One who went through Gethsemane and
Calvary ‘for the joy set before him’ (Hebrews 12:2). It is worth doing good,
because we are redeemed in Christ. And it is worth doing good when we look
upwards and forwards, to God’s day of justice, to the resurrection from the
dead and to the harvest he will bring from our persevering obedience, either in
this life or the life to come.

Let’s keep on keeping on.


[1] J
Moffatt, quoted by F F Bruce in 1 & 2
Thessalonians (Word Biblical Commentary)
, p 207.

[2] R
A Knox, op. cit.

Tomorrow’s Sermon: Do Not Be Weary In Doing What Is Right

2
Thessalonians 3:6-13

Introduction
Verse 10 – ‘Anyone unwilling to work should not eat’ – was infamously a
favourite text of Margaret Thatcher’s, at a time when millions of people under
her Government had no chance to eat. And it is not our text for today. Mrs
Thatcher misused it, and I am not about to insinuate that anybody here is lazy.

Our text, instead, is verse 13: ‘Brothers and sisters, do
not be weary in doing what is right.’ But the trouble is, it’s easy to get
weary in doing what is right. So I want to look at some of the positive reasons
for doing good, but beginning each time from the reasons why we get
discouraged.

1. Doing Good is a
Sign of a Redeemed Life

Let’s start with the immediate situation in Thessalonica. Paul writes in this
way, because there are some idle people in the community (verse 6). The word
carries connotations of disorderliness and unruly behaviour. Paul spells it
out, because he had already briefly addressed this problem in 1 Thessalonians
(5:14), but evidently they had not listened. Here we learn in verse 11 that
they are ‘busybodies instead of busy’[1],
or ‘neglecting their own business to mind other people’s’[2].

I think you get a picture of idle gossips. That is something
not unfamiliar to our culture, with the rise of celebrity magazines, and
newspapers that report anything other than news. And it is not unknown in our
churches. Years ago, I heard a minister say he had three ways of getting
information around his church: telephone, telegram and tell Margaret. The means
of communication may have changed, but the attitude sadly has not. Some church
members devote too many energies to passing around unchecked stories about
others, discrediting them in the process. If only they devoted the same energy
to the kingdom of God, our churches might be different.

Gossip, after all, is a contradiction of the apostolic command
to ‘speak the truth in love’. Not only do gossipers give energy to this rather
than the ‘doing good’ of the kingdom, they also suck the life out of the
church. They discourage and demoralise others by their activities. If we are
serious about doing good, we will have no truck with gossip. When someone
starts to tell us a juicy story, we need to challenge them. Do they have
evidence that what they are saying is true, or is it tittle-tattle? Do they
have permission to pass on the information? Does passing the story around
achieve anything for the kingdom of God? There is a serious need in many
churches for repentance from the sin of gossip – and that includes both the
telling of it and the listening to it.

So it is a matter of redemption when a gossip turns from
snide comments that are dressed up as well-meaning concern for somebody’s
welfare. If a person who gossips knows that God has forgiven them in Christ,
then an obvious way of expressing gratitude to God for his love will be to
repudiate gossip and pour energy into doing good in general and edifying people
in particular.

But gossip isn’t the only example in Paul’s letters where ‘doing
good’ is a sign of a redeemed life. In Ephesians 4:28, he says this:

Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and
work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the
needy.

Again, doing good is the fruit of repentance. It does not
earn us salvation, but it does show we have received the grace of God. The Church
sometimes defends herself against criticism with the slogan, ‘Christians aren’t
perfect, they’re just forgiven’, is a half-truth. The problem is with the word ‘just’.
We are forgiven, but we are more than forgiven. The world is right to see
evidence of changed lives in those who profess to be disciples of Jesus.

2. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in Justice

But there are other ways in which we get discouraged from doing good. There is
the problem of evil. We believe that God is good, but we see the wicked
prosper. Then we wonder whether our efforts to do the right thing are worth it.
You may wonder why it’s worth being moral and ethical at work, when others in
the office crawl to their superiors or trample on those beneath them. Or your
company might conduct itself impeccably, only to be disadvantaged in the face
of unscrupulous competitors.

The classic expression of this in the Bible is Psalm 73. The
Psalmist wonders why the wicked enjoy the good life, while those who obey God
live precarious lives. He is about to become a bitter man, but then something
changes. He goes to worship. Then he sees things God’s way. He sees the eternal
perspective, in which God places the wicked on a slippery slope and ultimately
vindicates the righteous.

If we are to keep doing good in the face of evil, then, we
need God’s long-term eternal perspective, a perspective which is shaped by the
Last Judgment, where sin is judged, the repentant are forgiven and
righteousness is rewarded.

How might we attain such a perspective? The Psalmist did it
by giving focussed attention to God. He went to the sanctuary. Spiritual attentiveness
is what is called for. As I have said many times before, this is not
instant-coffee/microwave-meal spirituality; it is giving time to the God who
walks at three miles an hour with us. Attending to God in worship, prayer,
reflection on Scripture, both in fellowship and solitude are disciplines that
tune us in to his perspective.

But when we do, it is good news for us and those we serve. I
recall one of my favourite quotations from Martin Luther. Asked what he would
do if he knew the Lord were returning tomorrow, he replied, ‘I would plant a
tree today.’ A belief in justice and God’s good judgment is a reason to keep
going with doing good. Vindication will come. Do the right thing. Leave the
outcome to God.

3. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in the Resurrection

Similar to the discouragement of seeing wickedness succeed at the expense of
goodness is something else: a sense of pointlessness. Why bother doing good,
when you can’t seem to change anything? Everything keeps going ‘as it was in
the beginning, is now and ever shall be’. When you want to change things for
better, you are met by a stifling atmosphere of apathy. Just what is the point?

I know I’ve felt that as a minister many times, but it’s not
limited to church. You may have a fantastic vision for improving your place of
work or your community, but nobody cares enough to get on board with you. Here is
a brick wall, here is your head: they keep meeting with considerable force. Here
is your life, here is a plug: take out the plug and feel your will to live
drain away.

What kind of Christian response can we make that would
motivate us to keep doing good when all positive effort seems a waste of time? The
usual response is to say, ‘We may not be reaping, but we are sowing.’ I’m sick
of that explanation. I know it’s theoretically true, but it is just an excuse
when everybody seems to be sowing and nobody is ever reaping.

I find a more helpful approach is found in 1 Corinthians 15,
where Paul discusses the Resurrection. At the end of that great chapter, he
concludes with these words:

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always
excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your
labour is not in vain. (Verse 58)

It’s the Resurrection that means our ‘labour is not in vain.’
The Resurrection says that everything doesn’t end in death. The Resurrection
says that God’s kingdom purposes in Christ will never be defeated. That makes
everything good, godly and of the kingdom worthwhile.

So, for example, this story: in recent months, Debbie and I have
had emails from someone in the first church I served. This lady and her husband
came to that church about a year before I left. She got in touch with us when
her husband had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Every now and then
she sent us updates about his condition. To my surprise in the first email she
thanked me for encouraging them when they first came to the church. I didn’t think
I’d done anything out of the ordinary. I just thought I’d been happy to welcome
a new couple to the fellowship. But the lady’s gratitude for me was just a sign
that it was worth doing the right thing at the right time. It’s Resurrection
faith that makes it worthwhile, because God brings good out of it.

4. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in God’s Harvest

I said I was sick of the excuse that we are ‘sowing’, because it wants to
overlook the fact that sowing leads to reaping. But I do want, as a final
point, to say something positive about sowing and reaping goodness. For one
thing, in the context of mission, Jesus said that ‘One sows and another reaps’
(John 4:37), so we should persevere with our word-and-deed witness, trusting
that God will water what we sow. We need to use the ‘sowing and reaping’
metaphor not as an excuse but as grounds for prayer about what God will do with
our efforts in the power of his Spirit.

But we also need to remember that the one who sows is also
often the one who reaps. That is generally true in the agricultural world from which
the metaphor originally comes, and Paul claims it is also true in the spiritual
life. He writes these words in Galatians 6:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever
you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh;
but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So
let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time,
if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for
the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
(Galatians 6:7-10)

Paul calls us, then, not to one-off acts of goodness, but to
a persistent conspiracy of goodness. The kind of sowing that will be rewarded
with a harvest is the goodness that perseveres. It is not the one good deed
that is rebuffed or ignored, but the repeated practice of godly good living in
blessing others. It is not a battle to be won in a day, but over a lifetime. Like
the whole Christian life, it is not a hundred-metre sprint but a marathon.

Conclusion
‘Do not be weary in doing what is right.’ It’s hard not to get weary, isn’t it?
In case you haven’t guessed, today I am preaching as much to myself as to
anybody else. My old job in the Civil Service drove me to boredom and
despondency. My work as a minister is by no means always wonderful. Alongside the
joys have come the physical threats, the personal abuse, the feeling like I am
in the wrong place and even in the wrong calling. If the place where you work
out your Christian discipleship is dispiriting at times, I have walked the same
path as you.

But be encouraged by the One who went through Gethsemane and
Calvary ‘for the joy set before him’ (Hebrews 12:2). It is worth doing good,
because we are redeemed in Christ. And it is worth doing good when we look
upwards and forwards, to God’s day of justice, to the resurrection from the
dead and to the harvest he will bring from our persevering obedience, either in
this life or the life to come.

Let’s keep on keeping on.


[1] J
Moffatt, quoted by F F Bruce in 1 & 2
Thessalonians (Word Biblical Commentary)
, p 207.

[2] R
A Knox, op. cit.

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