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“Do you know the present value of your husband’s policy?” the life insurance agent asked his client. “What do you mean?” countered the woman. “If you should lose your husband, what would you get?” asked the agent. The woman thought for a minute, then brightened up and said, “Probably a poodle.”
Needing insurance is like needing a parachute. If it isn’t there the first time, chances are you won’t be needing it again.Â
Many people believe theyâ€™re covered. Theyâ€™re doing alright in Godâ€™s eyes. They do a good deed occasionally and this covers them. Let someone cut in front of them at a long car lineâ€”covered. Smile at a stranger and say, â€œGood morningâ€â€”covered.Â Perhaps you helped a neighbor or two before or after hurricane Irma came through, or will give some money to helpâ€”covered. Perhaps you raised some children and theyâ€™re nice people by and largeâ€”youâ€™re covered.Â
Thereâ€™s another way in which we believe we belong to God: Itâ€™s because we believe we belong to the group of people God considers good. We all belong together. Itâ€™s as if all the good people together can make a claim on God and be doers of Godâ€™s will, in a collective action. We get by with a little help from our friends, we like to sing. Good (enough) by associationâ€”the opposite of guilt by association.
But do you know what this is saying? What we have done, and not done, who we have become and not become, the sum of ourselves here and now, it suffices for God. Weâ€™re saying, in fact, it fulfills Godâ€™s calling to us and answers Godâ€™s requirements of us.Â
If we believe weâ€™ve come a long way, baby, and that we can legitimately say weâ€™ve done what the Lord has asked of us, then weâ€™re saying we have fulfilled our religious life as a Christian. But thatâ€™s a tall order.Â
We want to believe this could be trueâ€”of course with God forgiving our faults and sinsâ€”because, well, we want to be at peace with ourselves. Itâ€™s no fun to go about questioning whether weâ€™ve done enough, doubting whether weâ€™re good enough, whether weâ€™re enough.Â
We all want to live at peace with ourselves, but we ought to consider the possibility that such peace has been purchased at too low of a cost. Does our string of often rather random acts of kindnesses really satisfy as an
answer to Godâ€™s call? Can we really say that we have stood up and said, â€œHere I am, Lord. You called and I answered.â€
Our scripture this morning says something about this. But Iâ€™d like to begin at the end. The last two verses read, â€œMay the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who called you is faithful, and he will do this.â€
What weâ€™re talking about this morning is what Paul calls sanctification. Itâ€™s not the same as whether weâ€™re right or righteous before God. Thatâ€™s the issue of justification, and that we believe has been settled by the works Christ did for us in his passion and resurrection.Â
Our scriptureâ€™s point is to lift up what it means to be a Christian once one accepts Christâ€™s gifts of grace, forgiveness, redemption and justification. We call this sanctification. Itâ€™s the life of a Christian. It means how we change, grow, and are transformed throughout our lives by the power of Christâ€™s grace through the Holy Spirit.Â
What weâ€™re also talking about is not just a nice something said here and a kind act done there. The God of peace is supposed to sanctify us wholly, not partially. Paul continues with this theme when he makes the list of what is to be â€œkept sound and blamelessâ€â€”your spirit and soul and body. In other words, all of you.
Now thatâ€™s a tall order! Or is it?
A passenger on an Atlantic steamer lay in his bunk during a raging storm with a severe case of seasickness. Suddenly he heard the cry, “Man overboard!” “May God help that poor fellow,” he prayed, “but thereâ€™s nothing I can do.” Then he thought, “I can at least put my lantern in my small window,” and with an effort he did so. The man was finally rescued. In recounting it the next day, he said, “I was going down in the darkness for the last time when someone put a light in a porthole. It shone on my hand, and a sailor in the lifeboat grabbed it and pulled me in.”Â Â
Now we like this story. We like it because we view it in our terms. One small but great, one-time act of faith that we do heroically, like the nauseous passenger, saves someone and proves our Christian-ness, our goodness, our worthiness, to God and all.Â
But what we donâ€™t know is the character of this person, of this hero. Is he someone who made this effort this one time and struck Christian gold or
did he consider and make important Godâ€™s call to love his neighbor as himself all the time, so that this was nothing out of the ordinary for him?
Thereâ€™s a big difference between the two. One is a sanctified follower of Christ who has stood up and said, â€œHere I am, Lord. Your will be done.â€ The other is probably a good person most of the time, who wonderfully made the right choice on this occasion. One knows a great deal about the God of peace and the desire to live a more fulfilling life before the Lord and the other wishes to have more peace in her life but continues to put off the better devotion.Â
God blesses us when we move from the one to the other.Â
A pastor reflected one day on his ordination more than 30 years ago. She recalled receiving many cards and letters expressing heartfelt sentiments on the occasion. However, the one that made the deepest impression on her, and the only one she remembers specifically to this day, was one that quoted three Greek words, “Pistos ho kalon,” which is translated, “The one who calls (you) is faithful.”
Â Those are words from our passage. God is faithful. As the Bible tells us, â€œKnow therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.â€
When the call comes to move from becoming an occasional Christian to a devoted Christian, too often we refuse it on the grounds of weakness, inability, or lack of training. Even when take up our faith and say, â€œHere I am, Lord,â€ we think weâ€™re the only one standing.Â
In either case, we fail to count on God and Godâ€™s faithfulness when calling us. God is the faithful God, keeping faith even when we are failing; the Lord is the loving God who keeps love for us even when we wander from that love. Itâ€™s almost never easy to see what the Lord is doing for us and through us but we keep believing. Hold on to your faith. Serve the Lord.Â
In our passage, Paul seems to write to us like a golf coach trying to fix a golferâ€™s swing: â€œLoosen your hands, keep your weight back, watch your rotation.â€ â€œAdmonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them.â€ These donâ€™t seem too hard to accomplish.Â
But then he goes on: â€œSee that none of you repay evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstancesâ€”â€ and here comes the clincher: â€œfor this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
The rough part is the always and in all places thing. The thing is, we live in an era of planned obsolescence. We buy a car knowing that we will want to move on a few years to another one. We buy new clothes knowing they wonâ€™t last more than a year or two. Same with computers. You can purchase a top line computer today but you know in just several years it may become obsolete.Â
But our faith never gets old. As Paul tells us: â€œhold fast to what is good.â€Â
Itâ€™s as if even back then it wasnâ€™t easy to stick to the Lord and do what is right and whatâ€™s best. And today things move by so much faster. We feel we must keep up with so much. We get swept up in the fast-moving stream around us and donâ€™t know how to settle down and hold fast to what is good. Weâ€™re not trained in holding fast.
In fact, we do just the opposite. We believe we donâ€™t really need to hold onto anything. Things sort of just come our way. We donâ€™t need to make an effort because something new and better will pop up on TV or on Facebook or on internet or someone will send me an email about this or that. Itâ€™s like weâ€™re all in this together, each throwing things to the other. Sort of like hot potato. Weâ€™re just hoping to get our hands one something good that will change our life without too much fuss or effort.Â
But thatâ€™s not how it is with God. It takes spiritual strength to encourage the faint hearted. It takes a bigger soul to help the weak. It takes real effort to be patient with â€œall of them.â€
And it takes even more to refuse to repay evil to someone who deserves it. Itâ€™s demanding of our soul, mind, body, and spirit to do good to all, to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, be thankful and grateful in all circumstances.Â
But itâ€™s precisely in these struggles that your sanctification occurs. God blesses those who attempt the impossible. God gives grace to those who do the heaviest lifting. The Lord loves those who hear his call and obey her command.Â
The truth is, it seems that retired people should be able to enjoy a greater growth in their walk with the Lord. Now I know weâ€™re all busy but honestly I can say parents with multiple kids involved in multiple activities as well as school and work are busier than retired folks.Â
Iâ€™m not criticizing. Iâ€™m pointing out opportunities. I donâ€™t care if youâ€™ve never spent time praying, if youâ€™ve got the time, start. It doesnâ€™t
matter if you never read the Bible, if youâ€™ve got the time, begin. It doesnâ€™t matter if you never did a mission project before in your life, or went to a church meeting, or volunteered at a school, if youâ€™ve got the timeâ€”and you know you doâ€”get going.
Build yourself up. Let your soul feast for a while for once. Feed your spirit a healthy diet rather than a merely consumerist, or entertainment one. Expand your horizons. Deepen your devotion. Strengthen your connection to God. Donâ€™t let another week or month or year or the rest of your days go by without standing up and saying, â€œHere I am, Lord.â€Â
A small boy was flying a kite high in the sky when it drifted into a low-hanging cloud and disappeared. A passerby asked the little boy what he was doing. â€œIâ€™m flying my kite,â€ the child responded. The man, looking up and seeing only the cloud, said, â€œI donâ€™t see any kite. How do you know itâ€™s still there?â€ â€œI donâ€™t see it either,â€ replied the boy, â€œbut I know itâ€™s up there because occasionally, thereâ€™s a tug on my string.â€
Here I am, Lord.
Can the church say Amen?