Sermon Nov 8 2020
St Chad’s Reverend Felicity O’Brien
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
These are stirring words that Joshua spoke aren’t they? I made a tapestry of them for Kevin once – they seemed to be important words to put on our wall to dedicate our home to God.
It’s an interesting exchange between Joshua and the people. He seems to be telling them that they don’t really need to serve the Lord, that they can choose for themselves, and that serving God will be difficult, because God is a jealous God. I think it’s a bit of reverse psychology, just like a father convincing his child to eat broccoli by telling him that he wouldn’t like it and only big boys eat it!
Let’s look at what Joshua said:
15 ‘Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living.’
Here Joshua is issuing them with a challenge, after telling them that God has been with their people since Abraham’s time. They are challenged to make a choice, and then told the conditions of that choice. It will not be easy – far easier for them to follow the gods of their ancestors, or those of the land around them.
This has relevance for us too. Do we want to go on as our family did, or like those around us?
Some of us were raised in a Christian home, and have had that example from youth. But others of us were brought up in a situation where ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ was only used as swear words, and there was no understanding of the overwhelming love of God for each and every one of us. It takes courage, doesn’t it, to go against the norm of our family, and choose to follow God.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, stated Joshua boldly. It gives the best basis for a home, and children raised under God’s banner will always remember it. As parents we can do this when the kids are young, but when they get older they need to make their own mind up as to whom to serve. God has no grandchildren, as the saying goes.
How about following the gods of the surrounding people? In our context that means following those things everyone else worships – it might not be golden calves here in New Zealand, but how about the god of money? Or rugby? Or success? Or keeping up with the Joneses? Those other gods are just as relevant to us as they were to Joshua’s people.
Joshua reminds the people again that God is jealous and there will be no turning back from this decision. They had enough information, and they made a clear choice, with witnesses, that they wanted to follow God.
We too make this clear choice in many ways – by being part of a church family, not just on Sundays, but every day of the week. By promises at baptism and confirmation. By reading scripture and letting it feed us. By allowing time for God to speak to us in prayer. By treating others with the same love that God has shown for us. Sometimes it’s hard to swim against the tide of society to keep following God, but we need to do it, because evil triumphs when good people do nothing.
How does our gospel reading mesh into the story of Joshua’s’ people?
The story of the wise and the foolish virgins is about being prepared. If we are following the Lord, we are prepared for whatever opportunities present themselves- we are open to ways to serve the Lord at all times. It might be a conversation at work, or with a visitor, it might be a choice we make about how
we spend our money. If we are prepared to serve God all the time, and not just in the obvious times, we bring the kingdom of heaven closer to earth.
During November, the thrust of our readings is about the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven. Be prepared, because we don’t know when Jesus, the bridegroom is coming. Or, as the bumper sticker has it, ‘Jesus is coming, look busy!’
Part of being prepared for whatever God has in store for us, is keeping in touch with our marching orders. In any job you need to follow instructions to do what is required. Imagine if the boss is trying to give you the next task, and you won’t meet with them, or switch your phone off, and refuse to read texts! Just like this, is what happens if we stop praying. Prayer is a two-way conversation – we bring our joys and our concerns to God, and we also listen to God. Sometimes, the answer comes in a clear audible voice. But that’s the exception. It’s more likely that a thought pops into our mind, or a word of scripture, or a line from a hymn. Maybe you feel a nudge to go in a certain direction. It can be a bit like that childhood game Hunt the Thimble – the people hiding the thimble call out ‘warm, warmer, hot, or colder,’ depending on how close you are to the hidden object. The nudges from the Holy Spirit are a bit like those hints about how warm we are.
Part of the talking about the arrival of the kingdom of heaven is ‘eschatological writing’ or end-time stuff. It can sound very weird and supernatural, and makes for great if rather over-imaginative movies, like the ‘Left Behind’ series that came out in the 90s. Paul tells us a bit about what to expect when the times come to an end:
‘ 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.’
It’s not really an action plan though is it? Or a blueprint. There’s no time frame, no specifics about who will go this way.
The main point for us is this phrase: ‘and so we will be with the Lord forever.’ This is the whole point of being ready for the kingdom of heaven, that we will be with God forever. We don’t know when that will be, but there is a plan for our future. It’s something to look forward to, but it may be a long time coming. That’s why Paul said: ‘therefore encourage one another with these words.’ It sets us on a path of hope.
Our world surely needs hope at this time – with Covid, and rioting as a result of the non-result in America, and wars that have become so commonplace that our News programme doesn’t even bother to report them any more. This is a difficult time we live in. But this has happened before. There have been periods in history where people thought, surely things have got so bad that this must be the end time, that Jesus must be about to catch us all up to himself in the cloud, and we will be with God forever. Maybe this is the time, but even a thousand years ago the thinking was similar. We don’t know. But what we do know is that we will be with God forever. Eventually. This is what we must be prepared for and this is gives us the confidence to make the declaration, with Joshua, that ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.