Monthly Archives: November 2021

Ready . .

Paul followed up his quick ministry in Thessalonica by a visit from Timothy, and then this letter (today we read 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13). Thessalonica may have been a poor community, and certainly included converted pagans. Christian faith was a problem for them, when not only social life, but political and economic life revolved around the pagan cults and practices. So their identity, as individuals and as a Christian group becomes very important.

Paul isn’t with them, but in this (the first or second Christian document to be preserved), he uses a letter to extend his presence, and offer the encouragement and teaching he would have given in person. Apart from wanting to be with them, Paul prays that they may “increase and abound in love” (v12) Of course this is fundamentally Christian, a fruit of the spirit, a basic thing for the group to hold together and enable its members. But notice: Paul does not want them to love the people in the group and recognise the difference of people outside. Though that would build up the group cohesion, he wants their love to “overflow for each other and for everyone else”

Our identity as Christians is an issue for us (and yes, it can be difficult in a work team, school or social group where we are the odd ones). So is love – the world needs more of it. Proper love, love for the difficult and unlovely, love of the sort that God shows for us, and we reflect. There is a challenge here, and a reassurance. A Challenge, to make the comment “See how these Christians love one another” be a real mark of respect, not a cynical comment about a divided and difficult group; a Reassurance, that God could and did love a church of poor people with colourful pasts, and bring them to faith.

It would probably be popular to stop with love. Paul doesn’t, he goes on to ask “May [God] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” v13. He wants these Christians to be holy – to be separated from evil and wrong, to show the character and purpose of God in their lives. Why? not just because it would be nice, but to be ready for Jesus return. That concentrates the mind – for us too. Jesus will return, and we shall give an account of ourselves, revealed as we really are. Advent is a time to prepare for the Coming of Jesus. Do some Christmas shopping by all means, but the more important preparation is of ourselves and our lives.

Love and holiness are vital for us, as for the Thessalonians. Our identity as Christians, individually and as a group, is a strength and protection. Let us value and work on these things, as we wait for the great day.

Free Gifts – ?

Revelation 1:4-8 (the New Testament reading for Kingdom 4, or the Sunday before Advent) starts off with the offer of free gifts. Not a bad strategy, but are they worth having – you judge:

Grace and peace to you

Revelation 1:4

this is not just God being nice to us who don’t deserve it (good!) 0 the experience of God’s grace, but also we are given grace. I wonder if we take that seriously enough? Peace – again, not only are we no longer in rebellion against God, but we are given peace, not to worry about everything ?! This is not at all bad, and not finished:

who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood

Revelation 1:5

To be loved, and to be set free – that’s 4 free gifts in 8 verses – its enough to get you in the habit of Bible-Reading! But there’s more. There is a good deal here about Jesus. We tend to think of Jesus the preacher and teacher, but this is later:

  • “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness “ v5 – Jesus as the witness to God’s ways and nature, helping us to understand in Down to Earth ways.
  • “the firstborn from the dead”, first, not the only one to be raised
  • “the ruler of the kings of the earth” now in power, in the world we know
  • “I am the Alpha and the Omega” the A-Z or first and last. The last Word, on us and all our problems and perplexities.

This is a different picture, and an important one – the Lord of power, who won the highest place by obedience in accepting the lowest. Free Gifts, from a Lord with power and honour, and then there’s us:

“He loves us “ v5 you can’t truly say that of many in power, but Jesus has demonstrated the point, and still does! “made us to be a kingdom and priests” ? we are all to bring people to God, and God to people; here we are told it is what we are for. Why? “to serve his God and Father” can you think of anyone better to serve? even yourself? (do you live up to his standard?)

So here we are, in Revelation, blessed with Free Gifts, given by a Risen and Powerful Lord, so that we may not live selfishly and idly, but be equipped and ready to serve God in a ministry to all the world.

What to take?

If you are invited out, you take something with you – a bottle of wine if you go for a meal, some flowers or chocolates if you stay, the same or a card if someone does something for you. Some families do this more than others, but we try to be thoughtful. So, what do you take to God? He is our host, we his guests. (And No, it isn’t your collection. – that’s a thank offering, enabling the worship event and wider Christian work.)

Hebrews 10:11-25 has some answers. The Jewish priests kept offering sacrifices day after day. But the author has told us that Jesus was a priest, who offered his own life just once (last week’s reading Hebrews 9:24-28) – and then sat down. Why does that matter? Because it is done, past. No addition, no alteration.

When we come to worship, we cannot bring a fee, or a fine (the price is too high), we come because Jesus has made the sacrifice for us to be forgiven.

With one sacrifice, then, he has made perfect forever those who are purified from sin.

Hebrews 10:14

Not perfect as people, but able to come to a perfect God.

So, welcome to worship. We are not present as those who qualify (“We do not presume to come, . . trusting in our own righteousness, but in God’s mercy”, as the Book of Common Prayer says) – mercy shown by the provision of a sacrifice made once, once for all.

19 We have, then, my friends, complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place by means of the death of Jesus

Hebrews 10:19

Unlike those who worshipped in the Jerusalem temple, and were kept out of the central space of the temple by barriers and a curtain, we can meet with God. So

22 So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water.

Hebrews 10:22

There is a reference here to baptism, but also the reality of forgiveness following repentance and faith. That’s how we find ourselves with others in God’s presence at worship. And there are consequences:

23 Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24 Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.

Hebrews 10:23-25

It is easy to be distracted, confused or diverted by things that happen, so we need to focus. As we do that there is a responsibility to work together, and not to forget to meet together for worship. There is a reminder of the Day of the Lord – we look to Christmas, and to Jesus eventual return. We need to be ready – me, you, and everybody around. Jesus has done something quite amazing. We can’t add to it, but we need to let people know, so that they can take advantage.

Sacrifice.

Sacrifice is difficult in a selfish and materialistic age, yet it still happens – and we may be thankful. Some Parents learn to sacrifice, and benefit themselves by it, so also some carers, and some in public service. All can get it wrong, parents trying to live through their children, carers also trying to control, volunteers wanting to do their own thing . . Sacrifice is not easy!

Sacrifice means to give away something of value in hope of gaining. Literally “to make holy,” for many religions have had some idea of sacrifice. Christians would see it in the Old Testament sacrifices, especially Passover, but above all in Jesus. So letter to Hebrews has much to say about Jesus. (reading Hebrews 9:24-28).

What is so special about Jesus and his death?

  • it is an undeserved death – he was not guilty of any crime, yet he suffers voluntarily. He does not escape arrest, for he has come from heaven to die. This is strange, yet significant.
  • his death is the culmination of his life – not consequence of foolishness or risk taking, but living for others (and accepting the sacrificial consequences). He has gone without family, career, comfort, to do this.
  • he dies for people who have little idea what is happening, and offer no support. Yet his love is sufficient – and effective, for his death sets us free, and brings (not just to a local circle of friends, but to humanity) the possibility of forgiveness through repentance and faith.

So sacrifice is valued, not just when there is an accident with unpleasant consequences, but as an embodiment of Christlikeness – of Christian virtue. Remembering the sacrifice of others may not be comfortable – we prefer to see ourselves as the Saviour, rather than the Saved. Yet this is part of the “offence of the gospel”, the difficulty that we cannot do what is needed, and must rely on God to act, sacrificially, for us.

That Jesus died is history; that those who watched the execution understood little and had little hope is pretty clear; that they were wrong – and Jesus was right in his teaching, and his choices – depends on the Resurrection for support. He died, as a sacrifice, offered by himself. But for me? That is something that needs decision.