Marks of a growing church 7 – alert and self-controlled

St Barnabas, Sunday November 9th 2014

Readings – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:1-13

What is the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care! That’s the way a lot of people feel about Christ’s return. They don’t know and they don’t care. Yet the Bible repeats this theme over and over again. Just a few facts I obtained from the Internet which I hope to be true: in the Old Testament there are over 1,800 references to Christ’s return; of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to Christ’s return; twenty three of the 27 New Testament books give prominence to this subject.

In 1 Thessalonians which we have been studying over the last few weeks, in every chapter Paul talks about the second coming of our Lord:

Chapter 1 v 10 – “and to wait for his Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead – Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath”.

Chapter 2 v 19 – “For what is our hope, our joy or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy.

Chapter 3 v 13 – May he 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.”

Chapter 4 v 16 – For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first”.

Chapter 5 v 23 – May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In spite of this biblical information, many of us are so familiar with the end times teaching that we have tuned out. You know when you try to get a station on the radio, you have to be on the precise wavelength to hear clearly, if you are just slightly off, then it becomes crackly and you cannot hear properly. We need to be tuned into God’s word to us, and alert, or else we cannot hear clearly; and if we cannot hear clearly, how are we supposed to know what His will is for us, how are we to heed His warnings? Do we just go about our daily lives without being tuned in, without even listening

You can be forgiven for thinking that this is Advent Sunday, but that is three weeks away and the theme is very similar. But when we get to Advent Sunday we are  often caught up with preparations of Christmas, so it will be good to think of being prepared without the thought of the impending Christmas season. We can think about preparations and getting ready, like a mother who gets her bag all ready as she prepares to go into hospital to have her baby. We can think of preparations and getting ready when we have to go into hospital to have an operation. We know that these things are certain to happen, well the baby will come definitely but whether we have the operation depends on cancellations as we all well know. But here in this chapter 5:1-11 we are thinking more of being watchful, alert and self-controlled.

Paul explains that they do not need to know the times and dates of Christ’s return since they know the scriptures very well – after all he taught this new Thessalonian Church. He described the Lord’s return to be like a thief coming in the night. When a thief comes, it is usually in the night and this is when we are sleeping. I talked at the beginning of ignorance and apathy. Well, we as Christians should not be ignorant about the Lord’s return, we have been told many times in the Bible especially in this letter from Paul.

But what about apathy? Words in the thesaurus liken it to indifference, lethargy, laziness, unconcern etc. This tendency reminds me of how we treat our alarm clocks. Those of us who still have to use them! We have grown so accustomed to hearing them sound off that we can press snooze as we sleep right through the alarm warning us to rise from our slumber. In the light of our human tendency to forget and ignore God’s word, Paul issues a red alert – Don’t get caught sleeping!

What of our walk with Jesus, what about our relationship with Him? We cannot be seen to be sleeping on the job! You remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. After he finished praying, he went back to his disciples who had fallen asleep despite Him asking them to keep watch and pray, “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?” he said to Peter. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak”. (Mark 14:37-38)

At one of the most important times when Jesus wanted them to pray for him and keep watch, they fell asleep.

Likewise our reading in Matthew 25 when Jesus told his disciples that the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in their jars along with their lamps. They were prepared. The bridegroom was a long time coming and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. We all know the story well I am sure. They all woke up when the call went out “The bridegroom is coming”, but the foolish virgins had to go and get some oil. While they were gone the bridegroom came and the wise virgins were ready and went into the banquet and the door was shut. When the foolish ones returned with their oil and asked for the door to be opened, the bridegroom told them “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” That is a stark warning isn’t it. The thought of Jesus saying to us “I don’t know you” does not bear thinking about.

Verse 13 of our reading in Matthew goes on to say “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour”.

We must keep watch and not just wait for that day. I remember seeing an interview with Prince Harry when he was serving in Afghanistan. He was performing his duties (obviously had to stop while he was being interviewed) but all the time you could see he was keeping watch, his eyes were everywhere, aware of what was going on around him, listening to what was being said in his earpiece. He was in no way unconcerned, no way lethargic and certainly not indifferent, he was alert and watchful. The call came in his earpiece and at once without finishing what he was saying, tore his microphone away and ran to his helicopter to do what he was commanded to do.

What does it say in our reading in v 6, “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep but us be alert and self-controlled”. Prince Harry was certainly that in his duty as a soldier.

Today as you know is Remembrance Day when we think of those who have served our country, those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and also those whose lives have been changed forever through injury both physically and mentally. We have the opportunity not just to remember them but to thank God for their sacrifice and, of course, not forgetting their families.

I don’t know if any of you have watched “Our Girl” on the television on a Sunday evening a few weeks ago which is a story about a young female soldier medic serving in Afghanistan. There is obviously a story line for the characters, bit of romance etc., but showing what they go through, the fear and anxiety and in fact sheer terror, brings home to us the reality of what our soldiers face each day. They don’t just hang around doing very little waiting for the Taliban to turn up, they carry out their duties and obey their commander. When they go outside their compound on patrol with the IED detectors, they are ever watchful, alert and self-controlled listening to their commander for orders. We thank God that is all over for our soldiers at least.

God doesn’t expect us just to wait around wondering when Jesus will return, yes he is expecting us to be watchful and alert but He is also expecting great things from us as He gives us the gifts to use for His glory. We just have to be alert for the opportunities that He places in our paths.

Imagine a banker who credited your account each morning with £43,200, and at the end of the day 12 hours later took back whatever you didn’t use. What would you do? Draw out every penny and invest it, of course! Well, every morning God credits us with 43,200 seconds. Tonight, He’ll write off as lost what we do not invest. We can’t accumulate any of it and we can’t borrow against tomorrow; we can live only on today’s deposits. Are you getting a good return on His gift to you? Make the most of this day, for the clock is running! Before you know it, you’ll make your last withdrawal on the “bank of time” and stand before God. To realise the value of a year, ask a student who has just failed the exam needed to pass a course of study. To realise the value of a month, ask a mother who has just given birth to a premature baby. To realise the value of an hour, ask lovers who only have one left before they are separated. To realise the value of a minute, ask an elderly person who just missed the bus. To realise the value of a second, ask a driver who has just avoided an accident. To realise the value of a millisecond, ask a silver medallist who had to settle for second place in the Olympics. 

To realise the value of a year, ask a student who has just failed the exam needed to pass a course of study. To realise the value of a month, ask a mother who has just given birth to a premature baby. To realise the value of an hour, ask lovers who only have one left before they are separated. To realise the value of a minute, ask an elderly person who just missed the bus. To realise the value of a second, ask a driver who has just avoided an accident. To realise the value of a millisecond, ask a silver medallist who had to settle for second place in the Olympics.

How much time do we waste on doing things that are really not important? We make them important but in the eternal scheme of things they are not really important, in fact much of what we do daily has no impact on eternity. Are you just killing time waiting for Jesus to return, or are you really making time productive while watching for His return?

Verse 8but since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” There again is the theme that runs through this letter from Paul, faith, love and hope.

The Bible teaches us that we are to be wide awake watching for the return of Jesus, not just waiting for it. Those who watch for it will keep themselves alert and self-controlled; those simply waiting may slip into sloppy business with other things, apathy, lethargy, laziness and let their priorities slip!

We need to be watchful, as Prince Harry listened in his earpiece from his commander; we need to be listening for the voice of our commander God. As I said a few weeks ago, many of us here are older and cannot do practical things but God knows that and it is still important to stay alert for the opportunities God puts before us whether it practical for those who can or just speaking to someone, perhaps comforting them, being alongside someone or importantly praying.

While watching a vigil at the Cenotaph the other day, the message is “to not only remember the fallen but to look to the future of the living”.

I had this sample put through my door called “Hope in a Jar”. It is a high performance moisturizer for all skin types. It made me think when I read the philosophy on the card. “All you need is hope”. Refresh, gently exfoliate and hydrate with hope in a jar high performance moisturizer.

Not sure what this moisturizer could do for my skin, I certainly need hope in that direction on my old skin!

But Jesus gives us hope for the future as we live in Him.

What does it say the cream does? It is for all skin types. Jesus is here for all people.

Refresh – makes our skin alive and renewed -well certainly Jesus can refresh us.

Gently exfoliate – that takes away all the dead skin, Jesus takes away our sins and makes us new.

Finally hydrates, gives moisture to our dry old skin –To hydrate us Jesus gives us living water, the Holy Spirit.

The philosophy on the jar says where there is hope there can be faith, where there is faith, miracles can occur.

It would take a miracle to make my skin young again as we think about the moisturizer but when we are talking about Jesus – where there is hope there can be faith and where there is faith in Jesus, miracles can and do occur.

As we keep a watchful eye and listening ear, let us be a part of the miracles not just in our own lives but the lives of others and the future life of this Church.

As we look back and remember all the saints that have passed through this Church of St Barnabas and give thanks for them, let us look to the future with hope and faith and keep watch for the miracles that will occur as we look forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapter 5 v 23 May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

JoyB

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