1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – Growth through destruction of peace

Three years ago as I was leaving to come into the office, somehow, I accidently ran over, or crushed between the car and the fence post, my dog Abbie.  For those of you who have met her, she was, as I wrote on my Facebook page,

the cleverest, friendliest, loyalist, most patient, humble and compliant pet.  She never complained about what I fed her, it didn’t bother her that the housework wasn’t done, she didn’t mind if I came home late without letting her know, she didn’t mind if I had to work on weekends, she didn’t mind if we didn’t go out anywhere, and she was overjoyed when I came home.

The result was a decision to have her put to sleep due to her injuries and the probability of success of surgical intervention because of her age.  I have lost the best material example of God’s unconditional love and I have been surprised at how devastated I am.

In the midst of this, the words of the letter to the Thessalonians ring true for me,

“There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them.[1]

In the comfort I have been feeling in my personal life and my ministry among you at this point in time, this event, this disaster, this devastation, comes and shakes that peace and security.

Some may say that God has caused this to happen because I have become comfortable.  Others may use words that reflect that sentiment.  Both these things I find inconsistent with my understanding of a God who is just and merciful.   Things do happen that break into that peace and security, but those things just happen.

However, when those things happen it is worth asking the questions, ‘What is this devastation telling me about myself and how I understand God?’  ‘What is this destruction revealing to me?’  ‘What is this crisis encouraging me to do?’

Last week you will recall that the context of the letter to the Thessalonians is concerned with waiting for the Lord’s return that has not come as soon as they were expecting, says,

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,  who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.[2]

We are to allow these devastating, disastrous, disturbing occurrences to build us up and to build one another up.  This is the stuff of discipleship, and Jesus commission in Matthew’s gospel account to, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’[3]

I wonder whether this is also the major point of Jesus’ parable of the, so called, talents.

The Religious Instruction curriculum used this story two weeks ago for the purpose of encouraging the students to think about their own and fellow students’ unique talents.  This is a worthy life skill to teach the students, although, if you ask me, it is a complete misinterpretation of the parable.

One of the issues they raised in the consideration of the story was the inequity of the distribution of the funds, one gets 5, one gets 2 and one gets 1 talent.  This, too is an interesting observation on the parable, however, I wonder if that, too is missing the point.

Note, if you will, the response of the wealthy man when calling his slaves to account.  Both the 5 and 2 talent slaves in returning a 100% profit to their master were credited with the same,

Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.[4]

This, of course stands in contrast to the slave who received only 1 talent; afraid of his master, he simply hid the money and returned it with absolutely no profit at all

If any injustice was noted in the parable it is what the master did with that one talent of the lazy slave.  Instead of dividing between the two that had made 100% profit, and were credited for it, he gave it to the one had made 5 more talents; now having 11 talents in all.  But, then, you could argue that the money still belonged to the rich man and not the slave.

So perhaps it is the reason that the 1 talent slave did nothing but bury his allocation of the funds.  The slave declared what he believed about the rich man,

‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.[5]

There are two reasons that the slave buried his funds: what he thought he knew about the nature and character of the rich man and, because of that, he was afraid of him.  Perhaps these are the reasons that we may not do anything during our waiting for Christ to return because of what we believe about God and our resultant fear of him.  What if we get it wrong, what if I am not good enough, what if I do the wrong thing?

Both the letter to the Thessalonians and this parable of the talents are concerned with this time of waiting for Christ’s return.  Paradoxically, as the Great Commission tells us,

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,

we are also waiting for Christ’s return and the fulfilment of the kingdom of God.  During that time, however, we are entrusted with a task.  As the letter to the Thessalonians tells us, I can’t help wondering whether the profit of the talents represents our building one another, and others, up as disciples of Jesus.  We are to go and make disciples, entrusted with this good news we have.

This is the work and method we are undertaking within our house and small groups.  Those things that come our way that disturb our peace and security are also moments when we can grow in our knowledge and love of God and, more importantly, as we prayerfully reflect, meditate, on our reactions and responses to them, learn about those things that are going on in ourselves.  Like the 1 talent slave, we are not to bury those disturbances in work, in busyness and distraction.  Rather, we are to let them have their profit in us, as we discuss them with others, in the light of scripture, in the conversation with God of prayer, to build us up so that we can build each other, and others, up in Jesus.

This is the nature of discipleship and discipling others.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:3

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

[3] Matthew 28:19

[4] Matthew 25:21 and 23

[5] Matthew 25:24-25

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Worship Roster for October 2017

The Worship Roster for October 2017 can be downloaded here.  If you are unable to fulfill your roster responsibility, please find a replacement.

Readings: Sunday26 Sunday27 Sunday28 Sunday29 Sunday30

Prayers: Sunday26 Sunday27 Sunday28 Sunday29 Sunday30

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From intention to natural – the process of discipleship

It’s funny how things happen that make them seem like a coincidence has taken place.  For some reason, on Tuesday, I left my briefcase at home.  Unusually, I placed it on the cage over the herb gardens, walked down to the front gate to open it, walked back to the car, drove through the gate separating the house paddock from the shed paddock, got out of the car, opened the gate between the back paddock and the shed paddock (to let the sheep in), closed the gate between the shed paddock and the house paddock, got into the car drove through the front gate, got out of the car, closed the front gate, got back in the car and drove into work.  It wasn’t until I got to work, got out of the car, opened the back door to retrieve my briefcase, that I realised it wasn’t where I normally put it.  I knew instantly where it was.

It contained my mobile phone and my wallet, the latter I needed for the evening’s meeting.  Consequently, I had to drive back home to retrieve it.  But this meant I was able to listen to Books and Arts Daily on Radio national with Michael Cathcart interviewing Tony Simbert about his new book explaining how you can achieve some of the artist Turner’s methods as well as other great painters of the 19th century.  During that interview he used a metaphor from his martial arts training to explain how he had studied and learned Turner’s methods of painting that had enabled him to paint in his style.

There are 3 stages of apprenticeship in Japanese thought, he said.  A bit like when we were learning to drive a car, it was all unfamiliar and we had to think about everything we did, but now we don’t even really notice the car, it has become a part of us.  In stage 1 you mimic the teacher entirely and it all feels unnatural and unfamiliar.  In stage 2 that which was unnatural and unfamiliar become natural and familiar and you begin to see what it is that the teacher didn’t show you.  In stage 3 you begin to do something original, there is an expression of who you are within the discipline.  It seems to me that this is a very helpful description of discipleship.  And, if I hadn’t left my briefcase at home I would not have heard this metaphor describing something of what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples in the gospel today.

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’

But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.[1]

The things of the sinful nature[2]: ‘evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander’[3] naturally come out of the heart, it is also true that the things of the Spirit[4] should naturally come out of the heart.

In speaking specifically of the heart and not the mind, Jesus is referring to the place of our feelings, desires and passions; what comes naturally to us, rather than the intellectual and act of the will.  In other words, we can be religious in our observance of laws, morality and customs, having to think about what we ought and ought not do, in contrast to a life of faith where our words, thoughts and deeds are naturally, instinctively aligned to the things of the Spirit.

The problem, of course, is that we are not naturally aligned to the things of the Spirit.  We have been conditioned to the things of the world.  We are naturally inclined; if you give me leave to paraphrase Jesus’ words, we choose to turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, we do act in ways which deny others the same fullness of life we have, we do betray the relationships we have with others, especially God, we do treat sexuality as a power issue, we do procure things at the expense of others, we do tell lies about others to make ourselves look better, and we do speak about others in order to have power over them.

To change our nature from these things of the world to the things of the Spirit is what being a disciple is all about.  I know discipleship means learning, but that seems to imply an intellectual, mind process.

In beginning as a disciple there is something about copying Jesus.  Many books have been written about imitating Christ[5]; literally and in attitude.  I am sure I was pain in the butt when I first became a Christian, and I often feel the need to give a wry smile as I watch new Christians begin their journey.  Such enthusiasm, such zealousness, such holiness and purity.  For those who look upon them from the world view this appears a drastic change.

After a time, however, the imitation doesn’t become so important.  There are aspects to our modern life that Jesus was not aware of and, therefore, the Bible does not address.  We begin to move into an understanding of being in relationship with Christ rather than imitating him.  We find ourselves beginning to work out for ourselves what is spiritually healthy and what is not.

Then, as we develop in our discipleship, we move into expressing that relationship we have with Christ, not as a clone of him or of any other person, but we discover who we are, who God created us to be, in relationship with him.  We find new and unique ways of being a part of the transforming of this world to reveal the kingdom of God.

What has happened is a move from having to be intentional, having to work, at being faithful to it being a natural process.  We don’t need to think about what we need to do, we will respond instinctively and uniquely.  When this happens we have moved from a religion of the mind to a faith proceeding from the heart.

Of course, discipleship is like learning to drive a car, or use a computer, or cook.  It begins with discipline.  We learn by doing.  It is on-the-job training: talking about things with God, worshipping, hanging out with others who can challenge and encourage, reading the Bible to hear what those who were present have to tell us, and undertaking activities we think God is inviting us to do, we have a passion for and skills to offer.

[1] Matthew  15:10-11, 15-18

[2]cf.  Galatians 5:19-21

[3] Matthew 15:19

[4] cf. Galatians 5:22-23

[5] eg, Kempis, Thomas A, The Imitation of Christ.  Burns & Oates:1959

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