START RIGHT HERE
Casting Crowns released a song in 2018 called Start Right Here. It speaks loudly to what I want to talk about today. The video shows the church as the church ought to be. The church ought to be a place were people find grace and healing and forgiveness. But the song reminds us that that is not the way it always is. Look at the words of the first verse:
We watch our worship on a screen
We got a Rockstar preacher
Who won’t wake us from our dreams
We want our blessings in our pocket
We keep our missions overseas
But for the hurting in our cities
Would we even cross the street?
There is a challenge here for us. The church is supposed to a people who make a real and positive difference in the world. But do we do that or are we more concerned, as the song says, about having a comfortable pew and preachers who don’t disturb from our comfortable ways? Do we think missions only happen overseas or do we look to minister to the hurting people who are in our midst where we live?
Those are good question that need to be addressed. The song begins to address these issues in the chorus which say:
The walls fall down and our land be healed
But church if we want to see a change in the world out there
It’s got to start right here
It’s got to start right now
The message is crystal clear. If we want to be a church that changes the world, the change has to begin with each of us. And what that means is this, that we, as the church, must be willing to stand arm in arm, supporting each other along the way so that together we can build each other up to do the things that we need to do to be the church of Jesus Christ.
THE DAY OF THE LORD
Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Thessalonica found in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NIV):
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children 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 let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, 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. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
This passage talks about the day of the Lord or the coming of the Lord. What that means is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ when, at the end of the ages, Jesus will return in glory to complete the kingdom that he began when he walked the earth 2,000 years ago.
We learn a few things about what this second coming will be like from this passage. We learn, first of all that it will be a surprise. It will come upon us like a thief in the night. It will come at a time that is unexpected and it will surprise everyone. So, what about those people who think they know, that they can predict the second coming, that they can read the signs of the times? What about them? According to the Bible they are chasing a fool’s errand because the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. We do not know the day or the hour and we cannot know it, and trying to guess does no one any good.
The next thing we learn is that there is no escaping the second coming. Jesus will come again to judge the whole world and no one will wiggle their way out of it. All of us will see the coming of the Lord and stand before his judgment seat of God.
The third thing – and the important thing today – that we learn is that, while Jesus will come like a thief in the night to judge all peoples of the earth – including us – we have no need to fear because we are children of the light. We do not exist in darkness but live in the light of God’s amazing love. We are to be awake and sober so that, when he comes and whenever that might be, we can welcome him with great joy. That means that we have to ready all the time. We may not know when Jesus will return but we are called to live as though he is coming today even though he may not return in our lifetimes.
That brings us down to the very last verse in today’s passage. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says this: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” This is significant, coming at the end of a passage about the second coming, because it tells us what we are to do as we await the return of Jesus Christ. What are we called to do? Let’s go back to the Start Right Here:
But we wanna see the heart set free and the tyrants kneel
The walls fall down and our land be healed
But church if we want to see a change in the world out there
It’s got to start right here
It’s got to start right now
As we wait for Jesus to return, we need to turn our hearts to him now and become the people he created us to be. If we want to change the world, we need to be willing to let Jesus change us because it starts right here, right now. And to do that we are to encourage each other and build each other up.
You’d think that should go without saying. Isn’t that something that we should be doing all of the time anyway? Yes, it is but it is particularly important as we wait for the day of the Lord. That’s because waiting for the day of the Lord is not an easy thing. Yes, we can look forward to it but, as we’ve already said, we don’t know when that day will come. And it’s hard to wait for something when the timing is so uncertain.
I was thinking about that this week during Remembrance Day, how, for example, the people of the Netherlands in the 1940’s knew that, at some point, the Nazis would be defeated and they would be freed but they didn’t know when that would be. Can you imagine how hard that would have been waiting for freedom, knowing that it would eventually happen but not knowing how long you would have to wait? And in the meantime, the suffering continued? That would be tough.
It’s tough to wait. It’s tough to be patient. It’s especially tough when God has given us a vision of what to expect when Jesus returns. There are various passages in the Bible that tell us what that will be like. One of the ones that lifts my heart is the description of the New Jerusalem found in Revelation 21:1-4 (NIV) which says:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
What a vision of the New Jerusalem that will be ours when Jesus returns in glory. The trials and tribulations of this world will be replaced by the glory of the kingdom where God will dwell among the faithful. He will be our God and we will be his people. And there will be no more crying and no more hunger or sickness or death. And people will treat each other with kindness and grace and dignity. And justice and peace will reign. That is the vision of the New Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, that Jesus brings. We know it’s coming and we can’t wait to experience the glory of that place. Oh, what a day that will be and oh how hard it is to wait for something so glorious.
I remember as a child going through the Sears Christmas Wish Book catalogue that came sometime in mid-November every year. I kind of feel sorry for children today who don’t get to enjoy that experience. The toy section was always in the very front of the catalogue. My sister and I leafed through those pages day after day until they were doggie eared searching for what we really wanted for Christmas, the very best gift that we thought our parents could afford to get us. And when we had finally made our selections, we would give the lists to Mom and Dad and hope against hope that we had stayed within their budget.
I recall one year I wanted an electric football game. The year, I believe, was 1965 and those games were all the rage. The metal field was about three feet long by about two feet wide. The football players were on two teams in two different colours. And there was a little white football that neatly tucked under the arms of the receivers or running backs. There was a little devise that was used to either pass or punt the football. The way it worked was that, when the teams were all set up, you’d hit the on-switch and the whole metal board started vibrating and when it vibrated the players all moved forward because of the way the bases were shaped. And when the player with the ball got touched by an opposing player, that was the tackle and the play was over. It was the height of technical toys in the 1960’s and all of my friends agreed that it was the best toy that had even been created. That’s all I wanted for Christmas of 1965 and that’s all that was on my list when I gave it to Mom and Dad. I had circled it in the catalogue seventeen times just in case they weren’t sure.
A couple of weeks later I was looking for something in the storage closet off one of the bedrooms and guess what I found? There it was, a Coleco electric football game, exactly what I wanted. And a CFL version too. It was like the kingdom of God had descended down to me in the closet. I confess that I wasn’t looking for it. I found it totally by accident and I was so excited. But then I had to keep it quiet. I couldn’t let Mom and Dad know that I had found it because they would wreck the surprise. And so I kept it quiet. For four long weeks, I had to wait. That is an eternity for a ten year old. And it was so hard because, more than anything, I wanted to pull it out and start playing with it but I couldn’t. I had to wait and I did. I knew the joy that would be mine when Christmas day finally arrived but I had to wait patiently for it to come. If you can get that, then you have caught a glimpse, in a child’s eye, of how hard it is to wait for the day of the Lord.
BUILDING EACH OTHER UP
It is difficult to wait for the day of the Lord and so we need to build each other up so that we don’t become discouraged in our waiting.
But there is another reason why we need to build each other up as we wait. We do it because, while we wait for Jesus to return, we are called to live as if he is already here. We are called to live out Revelation 21:1-4 which, again, talks about the new heaven and the new earth and how God will dwell among us and how every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
To live as if that is here right now means living in a particular way. It means to live in love and justice. It means to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the prisoners and be with the broken hearted. It means to do all those things that Jesus did, to live the way that he lived and reach out to others with his love and forgiveness. And in doing that we build each other up.
And that is not easy to do because, as I mentioned few weeks ago, while Jesus tells us to build each other up, the world is filled with the forces of evil tell people to tear each other down. We see it in the media, on radio and TV and especially in the twenty-four hour news channels. We see it on social media, on Facebook and Twitter and whatever new platform is out there this week. They seek to divide people between the right and left, Conservative and Liberal, Republican and Democrat. They seek to divide people by the colour of their skin, the place they were born, the language they speak and the faith that they follow. And it is done very effectively to the point where, certainly in the US right now, there are two very different and distinct solitudes that are no longer listening to each other. I should say that I am equally concerned for us because I see the divisive tactics used in the US slowly creeping into Canada and that scares me.
And so my question is, how do Christians respond with love and justice and forgiveness when all around us the media is sowing hatred and division. We do that by listening to the word of God.
Last week, I was fitted with a new pair of hearing aids, my first ones. They take some getting used to but I am amazed at the sounds I hear that I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t know that when I walk across the hardwood floors in our living room that the heals of my boots make a squeak. I didn’t know that when I walk on the laminate floor in our kitchen that there is a slight tap when the laminate hits the sub flooring. I didn’t know that I was possible to hear the traffic on Highway 3 from the front porch of our house. And I hear all kinds of noises outside that seem so loud like when I step on dried leaves in our backyard.
I’ve discovered that the world is a very noisy place and admit sometimes I find it all a bit overwhelming. And when I do, do you know what I do? I turn my hearing aids off so that can escape the noise and find the peace. And I can shut out all of those voices that want to tear people down and I can concentrate on the word that tell us to build people up.
I yearn for all of you who desire to walk in Christ to find some way to shut out the noise and focus on the goodness of Jesus so that we can live the lives that he calls us to live as we await the day of the Lord.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God, we thank you for our world, for its infinite varieties of people,
colours, races and culture, for endless opportunities for
making new relationships, venturing across new frontiers,
creating new things, discovering new truths,
healing the hurt and the broken.
Forgive us our narrowness of vision which only sees the clouds
and misses the rainbow.
As we thank you for our abundance, we consider the poor of this world. They don’t have enough to eat. They have no security. How many of them don’t even know where they are going or what they will find when they get there? We give thanks for people who have the courage to enter that situation and try to make a difference. We pray, also, for our Canadian military personnel who are and will be involved in many international situations. May their presence assist in the process of healing and peace as they protect the vulnerable and innocent.
We pray for the sick, at home or in hospital. Grant them your Healing Spirit. Touch us all, O God, and heal our wounds, whatever they may be. Make us well in your sight. May we feel whole in our hearts.
May the mind of Christ our Saviour live in us day by day.
May the Word of God dwell richly in our hearts from hour to hour.
May the peace of God rule our lives in everything.
May the love of Jesus fill us as the waters fill the sea.
May we run the race before us, strong and brave to face the foe,
looking only toward Jesus as onward we go.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 15, 2020 / Pentecost 24
Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
CALL TO WORSHIP
To you, O God, we lift up our eyes.
To you, O God, we give our praise.
The Lord’s mercy never ends.
The compassion of God is boundless.
Let us worship the One who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Hear our prayers, O God of the Ages. Lend your ear to our worship. We come to you, lowly and unworthy as we are, knowing that, in Jesus Christ, we sing our praises to you as whole and forgiven people. Let the mountains shout your honour. May the valleys be lifted up to give you glory. Your Spirit moves where it will but you have chosen to breathe it over the face of Creation and into our lives. How can we thank you for your great mercy and compassion? Yet, we come. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Holy God, we are guilty of many sins. We sometimes hide our talents and keep them to ourselves. We fail to share the fruit of our abundance. Fear grips us and uncertainty hinders us. We hesitate to step out in faith because we are afraid to confront the gods of this world. God have mercy on us and forgive our shortcomings. We are only human, the work of your hand. Lead us home into the light of your love. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Brothers and sisters in Christ, in Jesus our sins are truly forgiven. May we walk in the certainty that our Saviour journeys beside us and has opened for us the gates of eternal life.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Accept our gifts, O God, for we bring them with joy and celebration. Use these offerings and our whole lives to encourage others to enter your Kingdom. May the Good News that we know be shared in our daily journey that hearts may be changed and the world transformed. Amen.
Let us walk forward in the light of God’s love to shine into the darkest corners. Let us bring hope into the lives of the hopeless and love into the presence of the unloved. We are all God’s children, equipped for ministry. May each and every one of us touch the heart of someone before we meet again.