The end of all things is near …

St Michael’s, Sunday June 24th, 2012

Reading – 1 Peter 1:4-11 (John 17:20-26)

When I began to write a sermon for today, I already had some idea of what I wanted to say, but I soon realised that was a sermon for another day … perhaps I’ll have opportunity to share it with you sometime!

Instead, one verse kept coming back into my mind, time and time again. Now obviously, we need to read the whole passage so that we have a context to help us understand what the verse is saying, but nevertheless, I’m going to concentrate on that one verse for a brief time this morning … so look with me at 1 Peter 4:7,

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

Peter has been reminding us that, as a result of Christ’s death, we are free from sin, 4:1,

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.

When Christ died on the cross, his suffering became our suffering – and his life became our life. Jesus’ death paid the price for our sin, once and for all. So for those of us who know and love the Lord Jesus, sin is no longer an acceptable way of life.

Something to reject

Peter goes on to describe the sort of life we once lived, and that non-believers still live … you might not consider that you once indulged in the activities described in verse 3, but it simply describes the way people choose to live in our supposedly modern society – binge drinking, sex on demand and weird spiritualities. We may think of that kind of life style as modern, but in reality, there’s nothing new under the sun and the people of Peter’s day came up with more ways to live a godless, perverted life than you or I could ever imagine!

Something to remember

Peter is writing to people who have chosen to reject that kind of life style, in order to live for Christ, but he also goes on to remind us that one day we will all meet with God … believers and non-believers alike. And that’s the context of our verse –

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

One day Jesus will come back and bring all history to an end. That may be in our life time, or it may not. Some of us may have longer to prepare for it than others … but each day it’s drawing closer. When we think about God’s judgement, we may have a variety of different reactions … you’re going to think what I say next is a complete tangent, but bear with me.

Some of you know that the diocese have agreed that the Vicarage is due for a new kitchen. We’ve been wanting this to happen for ages. As we live in a Vicarage, there’s nothing we can do ourselves to make it happen, but finally we’ve been given a start date, and we’re beginning to see signs that it is actually going to happen – we’ve seen the plans and have even met some of the builders who are submitting estimates for the work to be done.

It’s something we’ve been thinking about for years, it’s something we hoped would happen, and yet my only reaction to the promise that it will happen has been to panic:

where am I going to put everything before the work starts?

how will we manage while the work is being done?

what if it doesn’t live up to our expectations?

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can plan.

Only that’s not right, is it? The word isn’t plan, it’s pray! Now I realise that having a new kitchen – even one that has been hoped for as long as this one has – isn’t in the same category as the end of the world … but it made me think!

One day Jesus will come again. There’s nothing we can do to make it happen, we don’t know when it will happen … but there are signs we can see that it will happen. Perhaps we don’t like to think about it at all, although some of us are longing for it. Yet when it’s right there in front of us, and coming closer … The end of all things is near … what is our reaction? How can we prepare for that day? Can we prepare for it at all?

One obvious reaction is to rush around telling all those we love – and anyone else who we meet along the way – that they need to trust in Jesus, now! Or perhaps we’re not that confident that we ourselves will be safe and secure when it comes to facing God’s judgement? Or perhaps we never really think about it, try not to think about it, because we can’t really get our heads around what heaven will be like and maybe we’re not sure we’re going to like it anyway.

That’s why, having reminded us that the end of all things is near, Peter goes on to tell us to be clear minded and self-controlled …

Be clear minded

What is heaven like? I’ve heard different people say many things about heaven … if indeed they’ve thought about it at all, that is. But it seems to me that peoples’ expectations of heaven are rarely anything like I’ve come to expect from reading all that the Bible says about heaven. Being clear minded about heaven means telling it like it is, not as we’d like it to be … there’s no mention of angels sitting on clouds or harps or an old man with a beard.

Instead, Jesus talks about heaven as a reunion – not with those we’ve lost – but with himself, and with our heavenly Father. He talks about it as home, and as a feast or festival. John in the heavenly vision that is the book of Revelation, speaks of worship, and singing, and silence, of healing and justice for those who have suffered, and of all things made new, of evil defeated and God’s loving plan for creation fufilled.

Above all, heaven is real … we get so caught up in our earthly lives, so distracted by our everyday hassles and disappointed hopes, that we lose touch with this sure and certain hope of a future worth waiting for. Be clear minded

Be self-controlled

and self-controlled. What do we think about when someone mentions self-control? Our weight and the diet we should be keeping to? Rooney losing his temper in yet another football match? The discipline of a top athlete or musician – having to practice when they’d rather be sleeping doing something else? Self-control is something we may aspire to, but about which we make all sorts of excuses! Starting the diet tomorrow, after tonight’s party, or having one more drink so as not to be a killjoy, or excusing a footballer’s temper because he has such skill and he’s just highly strung …

Or perhaps, in the Christian context we consider that excessive self-control makes someone a bit of a bore, maybe ‘holier than thou’ … it seems to be a harsh, unforgiving characteristic.

Yet self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit … one of the characteristics God actively seeks to develop in those who love and obey him. It’s at the end of that list we may know from Galatians 5:22,

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Actually, if you notice, in the quote the word fruit is singular … all these characteristics are part of the same thing, they are all essential aspects of the life lived by those who love God … and Peter uses self-control as a kind of summary of that life, in our verse for today …

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and practice all the spiritual fruits so that you can pray.

Though perhaps he highlights self-control because that is the one characteristic we might consider implies strength – it’s easy to think of love, joy and peace as aspects of a feeble character, someone who will always be trodden on and abused because they won’t fight back. It takes strength to live a godly life – indeed we can only do with God’s help, through the Holy Spirit he sends to be with us.

So when we think of heaven, we need to be clear minded and self-controlled so that we can pray.

So that we can pray

Why pray? Why not go and tell others about Jesus and prepare them for heaven? Why carry on as normal at all?

Because to pray is to recognise that God is in control – of our lives here and now, and when they shall end. To pray is to rely on Him, to express our faith in him, to build our relationship with him.

But also because it is God who works in people’s lives to bring them to himself. Yes, he wants us to tell others about him, to reach out to those who need his love and care and healing, he wants us to live lives that demonstrate that there is another way to live – a way full of hope and with a future worth waiting for. Yet we need reminding that it’s God’s work and he doesn’t actually need us at all! That’s why it’s such a privilege to be part of the church, working to share the good news of Jesus with others, being part of God’s plan for the world.

So Peter goes on to say more about living that kind of life … but for today, we’re going to leave it here. There was so much I wanted to say about hospitality, and that verse that brings fear to every preacher, about speaking the very words of God … but that’s a sermon for another day … maybe I’ll write it anyway and post it on the church website.

For now, let’s simply do what we’ve been told … be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

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