God of captives and pilgrims,
you brought your people home from despair
and gave them a land of freedom and plenty.
Look in mercy on us your servants,
deliver us from the prison of selfishness and sin,
and bring us home to justice, sharing, and compassion,
the realm you promised all the world
in Jesus Christ the Savior. Amen. (source)
Today we are going to examine our lives in light of eternity. The four lectionary texts call us to recognize our need for God (Psalm 70), to be hopeful in salvation through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (I Thess 4), and to live out God’s heart for justice (Amos 5) in order to be eagerly prepared for Jesus Christ’s return (Matt 25).
Psalm 70 Verses 4-5 in the NRSV
4 Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, “God is great!”
5 But I am poor and needy;
hasten to (help) me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!
David, the Psalmist, is in some serious dismay. He has vengeful enemies who scoff at him and delight in shaming him. But he turns his gaze from those who “seek his life” to the One who can save his life. He recognizes his need for God and delights in his salvation. Verse 5 speaks of David’s humility. He says, “But I am poor and needy;”
Friends, I think humility is our first step toward God and I think it’s required of us each and every day. How often do we go about life without recognizing our need for God? (snarky) We feel a bit proud of the Christian life we’ve been living, of the way we’re caring for our family, or that at least we don’t have “those” problems (whatever problems we most despise in others…). And with these attitudes we reject God.
So ask yourself as honestly as you can manage:
Do I need God?
How am I poor?
How am I needy?
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (page 836) Paul gives us the abbreviated version of the Gospel good news of Jesus. He says in verses 13 -14
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of humankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
Paul is saying, LOOK! THERE’S HOPE! Death is the not the final straw! We will be raised again to new life to spend eternity on the New Earth in which Jesus will reign as Lord! Amen and amen! Let it be so!
In verse 18 Paul closes by saying, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” That sounds all fine and dandy, I mean, hope is a good thing, but I wonder, is it actually encouragement if we’re not prepared? Do we have hope if we’re not living in humility and seeing our constant, desperate need for God and for building his kingdom?
Jesus’ parable about the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 (page 702) depicts a bleak picture of those who claim to be his followers and yet neglect to be prepared for his return. Ask yourself honestly, “Is this me? Am I unprepared?”
I have never really understand this parable before reading the the IVP Bible Background Commentary on it this week. First I learned the word translated “virgin” in the NIV is actually referring to bridesmaids in a bridal party. “Being a bridesmaid was a great honor;” the commentary says, and “to be insultingly unprepared and shut out of the feast was the stuff of which young women’s nightmares were made.” The pinnacle of the wedding celebration would occur at at night. After 7 DAYS of wedding festivities (yes, DAYS), it was the bridesmaids’ supreme duty to stand prepared with large torches (not small, handheld lamps like I pictured before) waiting for the groom. The Groom would arrive to be escorted by the bridesmaids’ torchlight back to his bride, whom they all in turn would escort to the groom’s house. Five of these 10 women fell asleep and didn’t bring extra oil to keep their torches lit, resulting in their excommunication from the party.
In this parable Jesus implies his divinity to the listeners, referring to himself as the Bridegroom, and exhorts them to be anticipating his return. He was indicating that one day he would ascend back to heaven to dwell with the Father, and until the day of the New Earth when He would reign as Lord, we must be busy preparing his for his return.
But what does that preparing look like?
Well, the Prophet Amos tells us what it’s not.
18 Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light. (if you’re not prepared)
Verse 20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me. (do we stink?)
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps (or pianos or guitars).
I think this prophecy is as applicable today to our middle class American churches as it was in 755 BC. The lands of Judah and Israel were disgusting God by their mechanical, religious celebrations and their mistreatment of the poor. In my Life with God Bible one of the notes says, “Although the Israelites performed their rituals of worship, their lack of love for those around them revealed the superficiality of their worship.” Ouch. I don’t know about you, but that’s like a punch in the gut for me. How often do we worship in this place and then go out and avoid those who disgust us or focus on our own goals in life or neglect to extend hospitality? Too often.
Remember that message of humility from Psalm 70, recognizing our need for God? I think we’ve gotten too comfortable, much like Judah and Israel. Material wealth abounded in their day and their kingdoms were expanding (sound familiar?) Again a note from the Life with God Bible: “This prosperity led them to forget their God and his laws.” Is our prosperity leading us to apathy in our love for God, a lack of love for others, concerning ourselves instead with our “American dreams” of owning a house and nice cars and 47 inch plasma tv and the new iPhone 10 retirement plans?
Do we even need God?
Verse 24 of Amos 5 is the linchpin of our salvation, it’s how to be prepared for eternity:
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-ending stream!
The Life with God Bible, says, “God cares about how we live our lives. By protecting justice, by generosity, simple living, and holy relationships, we will find ourselves living with God and extending his Kingdom” rather than our own.
As we enter the season of holiday hubbub, of overspending, and over-decorating, perhaps you will join me in practicing the discipline of simplicity. Let’s decide to have our hearts be singly focused on God and his kingdom, rather than pursuing our own dreams and desires. We don’t need to keep up with anyone else’s standard of Christmas presents. Let’s go against the grain of American Christmas. Let’s simplify our gift wrapping by giving more to the poor and needy like ICCM and Heartbeat. Talk with your family about changing the standard and having a simple Christmas, honoring God.
Let’s live out our salvation and be prepared for Christ’s return by getting rid of the excess and repenting of our pride, and turning humbly to God in our daily need.
As we go today, I send you with this benediction:
May the Spirit of God disrupt us in our comfort and force us from our apathy,
May He form in us Christ’s perfect love,
And fill us with authentic desire to worship God and build his kingdom
Until the day of his return. Amen.