Sermon Pentecost 19 September 25, 2016
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 1 Timothy 6:6-19 Luke 16:19-31
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
On our vacation this year we went to Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland. It is a beautiful and strange place. No doubt you have all seen the craggy gorges and beautiful lakes in the television advertisements. Those cliffs you saw are unique because they are made of a special rock. Not the kind in the tectonic plates that slowly crash together to make the Rocky Mountains or the Alps, nor are they from volcanic eruptions like Iceland or Hawaii, nor of the sediment laid down by prehistoric seas, like the Canadian Shield, no, these cliffs are from below the surface plates and below the oceans they are the Mantle of the Earth. When the Earth was being formed four and a half billion years ago it was a molten mass, and as the surface cooled the Mantle was formed. Those cliffs are billions of years old and the earliest rocks ever formed.
What would it be like to be billions of years old ? For me it seems that every year goes by faster and faster. So if I were billions of years old a year would seem like just a second. That is my picture of what eternity would be like. Time would become irrelevant. Time would be no more. Now that is what we pray for when we pray for eternal life. Ideally it will be spent in the nearer presence of God. We can pray for it but we have to do something to get it. Paul tells us what we have to do. He says “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness”. So we have to ask how do we pursue these things and what are they ?
Surely ‘pursue’ means that we have to strive, Paul elsewhere calls it a race (2 Timothy 4:7). As with Paul that race often means living in the face of sin, evil and strong opposition to what you know to be right. Such a way of living can lead to many dark corners where you can feel alone and even face your own doubts. For many ‘pursuit’, even today, can led to hardship at the hands of disbelievers, believers of other religions, and outright criminals. Pursuit then is not easy. It can lead to being ostracised, outlawed and the ultimate – martyrdom. That doesn’t make the pursuit very attractive does it ! But we pursue because, done right, the chase leads to glory, that is, eternal life in the presence of God.
What then is the ‘righteousness’ we are to pursue ? Well righteousness has two elements. The first is the ‘will’ to do what is right, we have to ‘want and need’ to be righteous. The second element is determining what is right in each circumstance. Having the ‘will’ to do right is not based on a fear of reprisal if we do not do what is right but on the positive desire for good interactions with others, especially God. Second, righteousness is doing what is right in each circumstance this can be a real quagmire. There is very little that is black or white in this world. This second, variable element of righteousness, gets us into judgements. A case in point – it’s morally right to tell the Truth but when a man comes to kill your son hiding at your place do you tell him he is there ? Of course not, and there is the challenge, weighing two sides of the same righteous coin, to tell the truth or to save a life by telling an untruth. What is the righteous action ? To lie of course ! Seems like we just got back to last week’s Dishonest Steward again !
Next, how do we pursue ‘godliness’. Simply by being like God. “What would Jesus Do” kind of sums that up. Godliness has to be like a ‘spellchecker’ on our actions. When we go wrong a little red line underlines our action and we refer ourselves back to the Bible for correction. ‘Godliness’ is positive. Doing positive righteous things is ‘godliness’. Pursue them !
Then ‘faith’. Faith is knowing that God is in control and will do what is right. Scripture defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Pursuing faith is always a challenge because from our limited perspective we can’t figure out why God is permitting some things to happen. Faith is accepting doubt but being comforted by the certainty that God really is in control. Rely on God, God is trustworthy, then the future becomes the present and the invisible the seen. And out of faith flow pardon, justification, purification, life, peace and glory. Pursue therefore ‘faith’ !
Next ‘love’. One of the factors that enters into our righteousness is love. And it is on love that everything else depends (1 Corinthians 13). Where would any of us be if there was no love in our lives. It is love that binds us together as spouses, as parents and children, friends and family and it is love that has us care for people, creatures and the world, and our faith in God. There was no need for God to create, yet He did so out of love, wanting to share existence with us. God is Love, love therefore should be our constant companion and guide. Pursue ‘love’ !
Paul says pursue “endurance”. You and I know it takes a lot to endure against “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as Shakespeare puts it but we must. For mature Christians, after say fifty years of faithful service are we permitted to sit back and let others do the work ? No ! We have to keep our eyes on the prize. Now that doesn’t mean that we should run off in our eighties to do the ministry we did in our twenties, but it does mean clinging to our faith in Jesus Christ and the love of God as though we are in our twenties. Pursue ‘endurance’ !
Lastly “gentleness”. More can be gained by a carrot than by a stick. You can’t persuade people to accept religion with fear or a machete or a bomb. People don’t want their lives threatened. People basically want to be loved and that love often comes through gentleness. Sometimes patience runs away faster but gentleness will win the race. Pursue ‘gentleness’ !
If you want eternal life, and we all do, pursue these things with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and it will be yours. We need strength especially because, as Paul says, it is a fight, a good fight against Evil, and we really want to win. That is the Good News for today. Amen.