Tag Archives: waiting

Not good news?

Paul, preacher of a wonderful gospel, is left with an agonising problem. Romans 9 opens with pain – we read Romans 9:1-5). A Jew (more observant than most – look at 2 Corinthians 11 etc) and one-time persecutor of Christians, he has been chosen as the apostle to the gentiles. His career has met with success (by grace), and a large number of churches look to him as founder. Corinth, in Galatia, Philippi, and others.

The problem? He knows, only too well, that the faith of these non-Jews, “outsiders”, has been won against the opposition of some Jews, who would have stopped them if they could. He knows that he is seen as a traitor, and there are numbers of people who would gladly kill him as a religious duty. He knows that Judaism doesn’t want to know about Jesus; there are exceptions, thank God, but the majority won’t listen.

In one sense it’s not a problem. The Christian church has made the decision – Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem, – gentiles who become Christian believers do not have to become Jews, only to keep the Christian faith and avoid some things particularly offensive to Jews. History will show that the offspring will overtake the parent, spreading further and becoming far larger. But for Paul, there remains the pain of seeing people he knows, and others he understands so well from his former life, refusing to accept what God has done and is doing.

Are we past the issue? Many of us – perhaps all of us? – know the difficulty of friends and close family, about whose faith we have no confidence. We can’t always be sure: faith is not about words, but attitudes (and I suspect the faith of a depressive or someone with little confidence is less obvious than that of the opposite personality type – but even then it needs action, reality).

How do you cope with the fact that parents or children may live, by choice, outside Christian faith and hope? I hope you pray for them – for it is a serious matter. To live without faith is to live in danger of the judgement of God, to live without the assurance of heaven. And so we pray, and take what opportunities we can to encourage faith, to explain, to take them to places where they might hear the gospel in ways that would strike a chord. We listen, to hear what they think and feel, to check for ways in, for books or films or experiences that might help.

We may be seen as traitors, “letting the side down”. We may even find religious people trying to prevent people coming to living faith. You know the sort of phrase that begins “We don’t do that here” . . We will certainly find people who will lie and cheat, to prevent the message about Jesus being taken seriously (by themselves or others). But in the end, we have to wait for God. Knowing that we don’t understand more than a tiny part of his purposes. Knowing that, while he can work in amazing ways to turn people right around, he so values their free response that he will not force, nor let us do so. No nagging, no blackmail. We have to use the methods of Christ, and offer love, knowing it may be refused.

Paul’s concern for his fellow Jews shows his human side. How will we be seen for our concern for non-Christian friends?

Proper Waiting

Waiting comes in different forms. We wait for good news, or for bad news, hoping it won’t come but half expecting it will. All waiting can do strange things to the way we live:

  • ordinary things sometimes lose importance
  • or some things get more important
  • we may do “displacement activity”, busy with irrelevant things
  • we may do nothing – and just “freeze”

When Paul writes 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, he reminds the Christians in Thessalonica that he had told them of Jesus return as King. It was, and is, an important part of faith. It should be reflected in a proper way of life, not fully absorbed in what is now, and the way people do things now. We sometimes talk about a pilgrimage, us on a journey, with the idea of “passing through”. But we easily forget that really we’re waiting for someone else, and we can’t hurry the journey along.

Of course, someone always gets the wrong idea. Some Thessalonians heard Paul, and gave up work. What was the point if Jesus was coming back? So not only did they sponge on other people for food and necessities, in their idleness they started gossiping, giving the whole community a bad reputation. Paul is not having that. He had worked – not that he might not have claimed support, but he worked to give them an example.

This is not suggesting that the unemployed should starve! It is a reminder that Christians should be usefully occupied. All Christians. If you have to work for a living, good. Do it well, and make the most of those contacts you make to witness to your faith in Jesus. Not easy? Try to find help, and learn ways to do it properly – without bullying. Students, don’t waste that course! You have a responsibility there. If you don’t have to work for a living, or can’t get a job at the moment, good. Give thanks for your freedom, but don’t imagine you needn’t account for your use of time and energy! There is a lot to be done, in family & community.

Everybody, avoid gossip, and idle chatter which leads to general (and proper) criticism. There is a story (was it of John Wesley?), who was asked what he would do if he knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow. He took out his diary, checked his engagements, and said yes, that was what he’d do. We are all meant to live, to be ready for Jesus to come, but also to carry on as long as necessary. It’s all part of our understanding of God’s Kingdom:

  • on the one hand Jesus will come back, so don’t get too used to the way things are; don’t imagine that what everybody else does must be right
  • but don’t get so focussed on the future that you don’t do a good job of work (paid or voluntary!), or forget to help people now

Christian faith is never to be an excuse for not doing what needs to be done on earth now. But we always live knowing that what is on earth now is not as important as what will be at the end.

Go on, and on, and . . (Pentecost 22c, Proper 24c)

Sometimes you find something which is hard to make sense of.  Perhaps you think it is telling you what you don’t want to hear – or, even worse, what you think other people might want to throw at you.  Take Luke 18:1-8, one of Jesus’ stories about a widow and an unjust judge.  Is it a justification of nagging? a suggestion that God is reluctant to listen and has to be bullied?  I think not (but it may explain why the other gospel writers don’t include this story).

This is about persistence, but to understand its significance we need to look at the story.   Jesus makes the point that we should always pray, and not become discouraged or lose heart.   Why would that happen? Because things don’t seem to be going our way, aren’t working out the way we expected or hoped.

So the story is about a widow (no influence, money . .) and an unjust judge (not bothered about justice – but hoping for a bribe, except that in this case, not much chance of that). He can’t be bothered to give justice – until he reckons its worth it for a quiet life.  Is God like the judge? No, Jesus is saying EVEN if a judge like that (who doesn’t care for justice, people . .) can be persuaded, HOW MUCH MORE will God (who longs to give good things) answer our prayers.  He isn’t comparing God and the judge, but making the contrast.

So, why do we need to persist? All the parable tells us is that persistent prayer works. We aren’t told why – but we can have a guess.  Sometimes our prayers sound as if we are giving God good advice on how to run the world. We flit from subject to subject. But the things that we come back to are the things that matter most to us – and the things we are prepared to get involved with.  God is prepared to work with us.  He is even prepared to change the way he deals with things according to what we will take on. And – we might guess – persistence, coming back to one subject again and again, is an indication that we mean business, and he can work with us.

Let me give you an example. We might pray for our church. We often do. The success of that prayer is not about how good we sound when we pray, or how carefully the words are crafted or read, or how long we keep producing more words. But if people who really want a thriving Christian community (so turn up, work, put up with and solve problems), the more God effectively can use them in his plans, and the greater the blessing.  That is only a guess at how it might work. But it does take seriously this parable (that we need to persist in prayer and not be discouraged), as well as the reminder in Matthew 6:7,8a that heaping up empty phrases gets us nowhere.

Don’t lose the last words, “will the Son of Man find faith on earth when he comes?” Its easy to run down, get tired, think other people ought to be doing things now. Christians need persistence.

Waiting (Easter 7c)

I wonder if it was uncomfortable being with the disciples for the ten days between Jesus’ Ascension and the Day of Pentecost?  Waiting is not my favourite activity, and I imagine other people also find it difficult.

Of course, when the waiting is over, it doesn’t always make everything easy.  Luke tells us of the need to wait by showing the power of the Holy Spirit in the adventures of the early Christians in the book of Acts.  They needed the help.  Clearly, this is not their own planning or ability displayed, but something more.

Acts 16:16-34, read this Sunday, tells of Paul’s ability to deal with spirit possession.  (This is not a denial of psychiatry – most “possession” in the western world is psychiatric illness, but evil spiritual power is also real, and telling the difference needs some care and training).  He gets no thanks, but the girl is freed – and so is a jailer and his family!  Remarkable events, catalysed by the different lives of the Christians, and their readiness to take the opportunities that occur.

Perhaps this is more relevant to today’s Church than we might like to think.  What are we waiting for?  Perhaps again the coming of the Holy Spirit to transform lives – quietly or dramatically, but in a real way.  That will help us understand how we are meant to serve our communities, be a blessing to individuals, and provoke questions from those who want to share the benefit.

I find it reassuring that Paul, like the other early Christians, is not pictured as an ideal or perfect person, simply as one through whom the Holy Spirit was able to do great things.  The challenge is that there is no reason why that shouldn’t happen to me – or to you.