Thursday, October 09, 2008

Being Thankful for Harvest

I have just returned from conducting an assembly where I spoke on the financial crisis and the wake-up call it provides to us all.  I used the verse from 1 Timothy. It really does sound like a commentary on the present situation:

'But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil ...' (1 Timothy 6:9-10)

Sunday was our Harvest Festival Service, as I imagine it was in many churches.  A time to remember that most of us in the developed world are still considerably better off, the financial crisis nothwithstanding, than those in places like Darfur.

Paul immediately before these verses has said that if we have 'food and clothing, we will be content with these'.  Living as we do in a more complex world financially it is, of course, less straightforward, but the principle is sound.  The past ten years or so have been for many a time conspicuous consumption and excess.  Indeed, just before Lehman's went bust two directors each received a multi-million dollar pay-off.  

The present situation challenges us as Christians to get our values sorted out.  A real wake up call, indeed.

Below is the third in my series of recent talks based on the closing chapters of Romans.

3. Wake Up! 

I dislike being late which means that very often I end up instead being early.  My biggest fear is to forget that I have a meeting altogether.  If ever I am away from home and staying in a hotel if they ask me at check-in whether I want an early morning alarm call, I always say yes!  Needless to say, I then wake up before the call. 

Having urged his Roman readers to offer themselves in the service of God and having given examples of what this means in practice, Paul issues an alarm call: 

‘Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.’  (Romans 13:11-12) 

Their appointment with the Lord Jesus is getting near and they need to wake-up.  Waking up in this context means getting their lives in order and being prepared to meet Jesus.  If you have an important interview, not only do you want to be on time, you want to look your best.  You want to be completely ready.  It is worth asking how ready are we to meet Jesus? 

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, used to tell people to live every day as if it were their last.  This sentiment has been taken over in popular culture with books on 100 places to see before you die or whatever.  The idea being to get as much out of life as you can before you die.  This is not what John Wesley meant and it is not what Paul meant. 

The New Testament is not concerned in the first place with how fulfilled we are.  Indeed, the whole modern day philosophy of self-fulfilment is rather alien to the teaching of Jesus who talked about losing our lives, denying ourselves, and making sacrifices for the Kingdom of God.  Paul tells his readers ‘to make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires’.  This is not a message which sits well with the ‘do what you like, get what you can’ attitude of present day culture. 

No, what Paul and John Wesley meant was that we should live every day as if it were the day we would meet Jesus.  Paul has already explained that when we meet Jesus, we will be expected to give an account of our lives and behaviour.  Why we have lived the way we have, done the things we have, and been the sort of people we have.  Don’t let Jesus find you asleep, Paul says.  Instead, make sure you are ready, living the sort of life that you will have no cause to be ashamed of, serving him as you should. 

This is a demanding message.  Most of us would be very embarrassed indeed, not to say ashamed, if a video of our lives were played for everyone to see.  It is easy to become worried and caught up in guilt and fear.  This is not Paul’s motive.  He has already explained at length how God loves us and forgives us, and has freed us from the burden of all that would condemn us.  But this is no excuse for us to think that how we live doesn’t matter, that we can do what we like, and God will just ignore it. 

How we live does matter.  We are called to a life of service.  But it is the service of a Lord who loves us, died for us, forgives us, and seeks to help us as we respond to his love in love of others. 

Jesus calls us to a life of selfless service of God and our neighbour, even if this means going without or giving up what we want for ourselves.  Modern culture is obsessed with being happy.  People chase happiness whether it is through work, pleasure, sex, or even a pill.  We want to feel fulfilled and that we are getting the most out of life.  The Bible instead places the emphasis not on being happy, but on being holy.  On living lives that are pleasing to God and that are committed to his service.  Ironically, when we do this we discover a happiness that most people can only dream of.  Or as Jesus said: 

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.  (Luke 9:24)

No comments: